The otherworldly sounds of FOONYAP.
Speaking with the Chinese / Canadian songbird about growing up split between two cultures and how a mix of classical training and rebellion has shaped her sound.
by FOONYAP & J.Scott Stratton
Artist info: Link
Photography: Anastasia Lutz-Orozco
Finding a categorical way to describe the music of Calgary native Foonyap sometimes feels a fools errand. She moves seamlessly between dark wave, classical violin compositions, to pulling from what I can only describe as more traditional Chinese folk harmonies. Her training and skill as a violinist is prominent in much of her work, which add this tone of folk to the mix, but not expressly drawing from one particular cultural source. One thing that I found quite pleasant, was her use of restraint. Songs like ‘Gabriel Moody’ are almost entire built from violin plucking and her voice – simple and beautiful. With nearly an entire childhood of classical training, Foonyap could easily use her music to show off her instrumental prowess, but she doesn’t. Her skill as a violinist helps define her music, but she does not define herself through her violin.
This becomes apparent in songs like ‘Neon God’, which are more reminiscent of classic Depeche Mode or Siouxsie and the Banshees, which lack the express use of violin altogether.
I will admit that my exposure to Foonyap and her music has been rather recent, so I fired off a couple of emails into the interwebs hoping that one of those messages-in-a-bottle would reach Foonyap while she wraps up the last of her summer tour dates. I wanted to dig a little deeper into her history with music and how living a life between two cultures affected and shaped her sound.
You grew up in an Orthodox Chinese Catholic household in Calgary as a classically-trained violinist. How has that affected the way you compose your own music?
Growing up in these patriarchal and repressive systems instilled within me a searing sense of inadequacy, guilt, and resulting perfectionism – themes which my latest LP ‘Palimpsest’ confronts. Now I make music to reconcile these dark, childish strands; to unite my experiences and techniques together and speak with my own voice.
Were there any tugs between Chinese and Canadian cultures that shaped your specific sound?
In western culture, individuality is celebrated. In my culture, individuality can be interpreted as a threat to social cohesion, and one may only distinguish themselves through achievement in limited realms – academics, classical music, business. As a sensitive young person, I internalized this struggle – I desperately wanted to please my family, but there was no denying my creative self, and I never felt like I fit in. I make music from this personal and vulnerable space; I sound like I’m screaming to break free, then tying myself back up in a cohesive way.
Outside of this classical training, what more modern genres of music do you pull inspiration from?
I’m inspired by experimental jazz, noise, drone and IDM. But frequently I’m not inspired by music at all. Lately, I explore the techniques and feelings of magical-realism and Zen.
Tell me a little bit about your process when you begin to write a song?
I begin with a mental evacuation of emotions, tunes, lyrics, and chords. Then comes the arduous step of recombination, like holding up puzzle-pieces and seeing if they fit together.
What are some of the themes and concepts that you work with when you write?
Themes that recur in my work are feminism, my Chinese heritage, my spiritual practice, sexuality, texture.
Tell me a little bit about your latest EP ‘Apropos’?
‘Apropos’ is a four-track remix EP of ‘Palimpsest’ songs by electronic specialists in drone, ambient, house, and glitch. It is a sonic inversion of the dark and introspective universe of ‘Palimpsest’ and ranges from dense drones to glimmering beats.
You have been on quite a touring schedule through Canada for the last few months, but you’re only playing two shows here in Europe.
You’re right! I’ll be back next year!
Once you’re done with this tour, what is next in store for Foonyap?
My work as an artist is to crawl in the fringes and transmute my personal experiences into original material. I’m eager to conceptualize a queer-asian, feminist sexuality influenced by avant-garde and noise.
Do you have any famous last words?
I give myself permission to think for myself.
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