An Interview w/ Aileen Xu

Los Angeles native Aileen Xu is a singer, songwriter, and producer with a semi-acoustic, soulful, vibey sound.  A classically trained musician, Aileen has found her passion in music from a very young age.  She got her start by posting acoustic cover songs on YouTube in high school, and since then, her musical tastes have developed to encompass a wide variety of styles.  Recently, her music has been recognized and praised by top EDM artists such as Dash Berlin and Nicky Romero and featured by various music blogs and curators. 

You graduated from USC a year ago, and seems like you’ve been really busy in that time. What have you been up to?

 Man, I can’t believe it’s already been a year!  I’ve really been all over the place and back - After graduating, I decided not to take up a full time job like my peers did and instead, lept into the unknown and let my passions drive my career path.  The week after graduation, I joined the 626 Night Market team in May 2012 and started working part-time on marketing, PR, hosting and video production.  My favorite part about this gig was that I got to be an on-camera host for the first time and spend my time interviewing chefs and getting fed.  A year later, the 626 Night Market is still a big part of my life and as we’ve grown, I’ve taken up more responsibilities in creative content and PR: running our YouTube, acting as the spokesperson, landing media partnerships, producing a short film, and much more.  I never thought I’d get the chance to do all of these things in just one year - it’s been the most fun and rewarding experience. 

I also spent the summer after grad on a Taiwanese televised singing competition called ETTV Top Idol - that definitely improved my Chinese & I learned a lot about how different the culture is with Asian media. My relationship with ETTV also led to some sparks of opportunity in the Asian world of pop culture, like meetings with Sony China A&R reps or the producers of The Voice of China show; it’s definitely been an interesting ride on that end and still going.  But deep down, I’m 90% sure I don’t want to become an Asian pop star because I’d rather develop my own unique sound; but hey, it’s all a good experience anyway.  For the past few months, I’ve also been freelancing as a host and video producer for a social enterprise start-up which designs tees and donates a percentage of their apparel sales to local nonprofits.  I think making a positive social impact is super important, and I hope to incorporate that in everything I do.  

And in-between all of this, I’ve been performing consistently, making music (learning to produce) and videos, and working with some friends on fun collaborations such as the “Bobalife” MV with the Fung Brothers, Kevin Lien, & Priska.  I’ve also had some random gigs along the way—for example, I sang on a track for Hawaii Five-0 (The episode is titled “Popilikia” and I’m the chipmunky voice in the intro song of the episode haha) and I got to perform at The NAMM Show 2013, which is a huge music industry trade show.  But the highlights of my music career this past year have been getting shout-outs from my favorite EDM DJ’s Dash Berlin & Nicky Romero. :)  A lot of my EDM covers have gained popularity lately, and so I’ve been contacted by aspiring EDM producers to collaborate on a few tracks.  I completed one trance collaboration with British producer Thyde and a few other collaborations are in the early stages of works.  I’m all over the place - but what’s important is that I always make sure that everything I’m doing is what I want to be doing.  As long as I’m still happy and loving life, I’m pretty sure I’m getting it right. (well, time will tell.)

Do you write you own music as well?

I do write music and that’s the secretive side of my music—I haven’t fully released anything original for many reasons.  I’m very private about my own songwriting because first of all, it’s so personal; I truly write from my deepest emotions and so there’s that huge vulnerability with sharing very personal songs likened to sharing my deepest secrets.  And then other songs that I’ve written years ago I feel aren’t “me” anymore; I think they’re cheesy now because I’ve grown out of them.  I feel that as you grow as a person, your music grows and develops as well, so it’s always changing so as long as you are.  And finally, I’m still developing my sound and I want to make sure there’s consistency when I start putting out original music.  I don’t want that acoustic singer-songwriter sound to stick with everything that I do, so I don’t want to release an original song in its acoustic state and have that be the first impression of my music.  I think it’s beautiful to strip songs down to acoustic versions sometimes, but I think it’s much more interesting to produce music and play with beats and layer sounds.  There’s a wider range in the type of music you can create that way. 

What inspires your songwriting?

Anything that I’m feeling strongly about at the moment.  If it’s something that I’m going through personally or something that tugs at my emotions - I usually start jotting down phrases about how I feel and develop them into lyrics later.  But most of the time, I’m inspired by good music that I’ve discovered - if I find a really awesome beat or a melody that makes me cry (yes, this happens), then I’ll be inspired to recreate something using that special element.  Sometimes I’ll have like three favorite songs of the moment - or three songs that I aspire to sound like - play them all at once, and try to create something using my favorite elements of each song.  I think because I started out as a musician, I’m inspired by music more often than lyrics; it’s so easy for me to just let music flow out of me because I love to improvise on the piano.  But good lyrics don’t come as easy.

Are you working on any big projects at the moment?

Right now I’m working on a few potential collaboration tracks with various producers - just trying to write lyrics & melodies and put my vocals on them.  I’m kind of overwhelmed with freelance work right now that I don’t have as much time to work on music as much as I’d like to, honestly.  But definitely my focus is honing my music production skills and continuing to write songs and experiment with sounds—it’s kind of a hibernation stage; I’m not cranking out cover after cover for YouTube at the moment, but I’m happy because I’m taking the time to work on my craft and really develop my original sound.  And I’m also glad to have met many musical friends in this past year - we plan to have producer parties this summer and teach each other different programs and share sounds and write songs together.  It’s like a creative nerd’s party. 

Where do you see your music heading? 

I just want to make dope music.  Just honest, original music that will move people in some way.  I honestly want to be good enough that I’m considered innovative - and my music sounds fresh & visionary, if that makes sense.  I’m definitely a long way away from that ultimate goal, but at the heart of it all, what drives me is the desire to hone my skills and constantly push my creative boundaries so that I can become exceptional at something. And finally if I can utilize my artistic talents to impact the world in a positive way and make a tangible difference, then I could die happy. 

Who are you listening to right now?

I was seriously jamming to Major Lazer just now.  I saw them at EDC LV and they blew. my. mind.  But I absolutely must also shout-out my favorite new artist of this past year: AlunaGeorge.  Go listen to them.  Right now.  I absolutely love that mix of electro/r&b/indie-pop/groovy-

vibes.. honestly that’s the kind of sound I aspire to have.

If you could collaborate with any musician(s), who would it be?

I would love to work with Tokimonsta - I think she’s definitely killin it with her music right now; she’s so soulful yet calculated with her productions and everything about her music oozes cool.  And she’s so gorg; it’s kind of unfair how talented and cool and gorgeous someone can be.  And in a dream world I would absolutely love to duet with Justin Timberlake and also write songs with Frank Ocean.