Rachel Wong has been involved in music in some way for most of her life, starting with piano lessons at the age of three. Her dedication paid off when she was chosen as a Top-12 Finalist for Ford’s nationwide “Gimme the Gig II” Contest in 2012. Rachel just recently released her second album, Letters to You, which showcases her songwriting skills and her "acoustic pop" style. We caught up with her to ask her about her new album, her inspiration and influences.
Growing up in Vancouver was pretty great. Although I lived and went to school there, I was just a short car-ride to tax-free shopping, great eats, and lots of great music in Portland. I'm a total child of the suburbs so I love driving my car around and being a 10-minute drive to a Target or Applebee's but most of my musical influence comes from mainstream artists like Lauryn Hill and John Mayer. I did sing several school choirs and you could definitely say that competing in choral singing competitions around the US only helped my vocal abilities.
Does be an Asian-American woman impact/influence your music at all?
As an Asian-American woman, it's definitely important to me there are no Asian women in the mainstream music industry. As an artist, not being able to see someone in your desired field who shares your life experiences can be discouraging. In terms of how it influences my music, I'd say it just pushes me to put more of my heart and soul into the songs and lyrics that I write. I'm not looking to become the face of Asian-American women in pop music but I do hope that sharing my music helps young Asian girls follow their dreams even though there isn't someone that looks like them on the radio.
Tell us a little about your family. Is your family musical as well?
I love my family. My parents are incredible. They both came to America at a very young age and made hugely successful careers with no resources or help. They fought for everything so that my siblings and I could have everything. All of us were enrolled in piano lessons really early but we've all branched out in our own ways. My brother is a bass player and music producer in Philadelphia and my sister sings and plays piano for church. My brother played on the record and my sister helped write harmonies to some of the tracks as well. When we're all together we almost always find ourselves singing and playing together, even if its guitar hero or karaoke.
Was it easy going from piano to playing drums?
Definitely! Piano is a really rhythmic instrument. You have to get used to playing different rhythms and parts on the left and right hand so the transition to drums was pretty seamless. Also at my Yamaha piano lessons we got to incorporate tambourines and shakers to our class when I was 3-4 years old, which helped later on.
What inspired the first song that you wrote?
This is pretty embarrassing but it was about my 7th grade boyfriend. I wrote a painstakingly long 5 verse song called "Heartbreak" that talked about our relationship starting with how we got together to why we broke up. So embarrassing. A lot of my friends and family quote that as my catchiest song. Years later, I took a part of the chorus and rewrote a brand new song with it called "Sandbox Sweetheart" on my debut album.
Who would you like to do a duet with and why?
I was a HUGE American Idol fan. I was 14 when it first came out and still have my shirt with Kelly Clarkson's face on it. Not many artists can really make you feel the passion in their voice but she totally does. I think she's a phenomenal vocalist and would be honored to sing a song with her.
Which three adjectives would you use to describe your music?
I think three adjectives to describe my music would be relatable, empowering, and introspective.
Tell us a little about your second album, Letters to You. What was the inspiration? Was it more or less difficult to write/put together than your first?
Letters To You is my proudest musical accomplishment so far. Curtain Fall (my debut album), will forever be so close to my heart. A lot of those songs were written when I was just getting out of high school and trying to find out who I was as a person. Letters to You, is a collection of stories about life as a whole. Where Curtain Fall was a lot about being in and out of love, I forced myself to dig deeper and be more varied and creative with how I wrote the songs for Letters to You. For example, "Clue To My Heart" is a love song written in only board game references, "Weight of the World" is an anthem for overcoming sadness and darkness, "Center Stage" encourages you to follow your dreams, and Invisible Strength acknowledges those incredible people who overcome adversity time and time again.
I really draw my inspiration from the people I surround myself with. Some songs were written out of ideas and imagination and some were transformed from life experiences of friends and family. I think as songwriter, I just hope to bring interesting anecdotes to life paired with meaningful musical accompaniment.
I'm not sure I'd say that putting this record together was more difficult but rather it took more effort. I don't think I really believed wholeheartedly that I could pursue music until I began writing for this album. I realized how much my heart lies in writing and producing songs and that meant I had to put more effort into finding the perfect producer, working with certain artists and photographers and having more of an opinion on how songs should sound. Regardless of the added stress, I'm so proud and happy with how Letters to You came to completion.
Do you ever get stage fright? If so, how did you over come it?
Always! I go through this giant roller-coaster of emotions before every show no matter how big or how small. I think that I'm totally fine and then right before I hit the stage. I get those nervous shakes. Usually, closing my eyes and counting to ten helps to center myself. Ironically, I get less scared performing in front of the the big crowds of a few hundred because you're less connected to the audience. The smaller venues where you're only a few feet away from listeners makes it easier for people to see and hear your mistakes. Either way, once I actually hit the stage and start singing, those nerves seem to just disappear.
Where do you hope to be five years from now?
Hopefully in five years I'll be successfully a part of the pop music scene. Hopefully I'm not the only Asian American face in the crowd, and my mom and the rest of my family would probably like me to be married by then. :)
You can earn more about Rachel at rachelwongmusic.com and buy her music on iTunes.
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