I met with FOONYAP in her tiny and perfectly well-kept apartment which is literally the power-room of her building (this location works as a kind of cheeky metaphor for her as well by the way), during our chat the Power guy came to peer into a cupboard full of the old-style glass globe power meters for the whole building. We shared a pretty impressive co-produced charcuterie board, and talked a lot about how upbringing influences a creative path (for better or worse). We also discussed the transformation of difficult experiences into beautiful art, and the heightened sense of exposure that comes with solo work. Later we traveled to her studio, a space in the basement of another apartment building that she shares with fashion designer Kristi Woo. We talked a bit more about the process of producing and recording with a significant other ( in her case fellow musician and producer Mike Gratton), and I was treated to a private performance Foon wrote about a dear friend Morning Coup. What has stayed with me since our discussion is the somewhat common assumption that minimalism and a high degree of technical skill are at odds with an artistic process that is free flowing, intuitive and emotionally driven, in Foon’s case this could not be further from the truth!
Learn more about everything FOONYAP on her website, and stay tuned for her upcoming release.
Q: We spoke a little when we met about how you started playing the violin, under your parents insistence it was a highly-regimented obligation. The music you are making with it now is obviously pretty different from what your parents might have desired when they got you into the instrument, I’m wondering if you can tell me when you realized the full potential of the instrument for your own purposes and really began to claim it as your own.
A: Growing up, I hated practicing. So instead of working on the pieces my teacher had assigned me, I would pace around the room, look out the window, and mess around. Years later, I broke up with my boyfriend and got a new one. It was around this dramatic time that I realized my hours of messing around were great starting points for my own music.
Q: How has the strictness and discipline you described as rebelling against when you were younger informed your working process now?
A: I practice. Unfortunately, as I have recently discovered working on my album, there is the tendency within me to overpractice – to approach music-making in a rigid and perfectionistic way. It’s definitely a remnant of my classical upbringing. My teacher would circle difficult passages on the score and write “x50 daily” and stuff like that.
Mike, my partner and co-producer, has a great musical sensitivity so when he says that my music’s fragility and vulnerability is what drew him in, and that that is lost through overpractice, things shift within me: 1. I start to not hate my own music (and myself I guess) 2. I practice intelligently.
Q: I’m a bit of a magpie who is inexplicably drawn to the detritus of peoples workspaces, so I’m really fascinated by the contrast between the richness of your sound and the minimalistic nature of both your home and studio.
A: My minimalism is a reaction against my childhood environment. I grew up in an immigrant household in which we never threw anything away, tried to pay the least amount of money for the most amount of stuff, without regard for quality, and scorned paying a high price for anything. I remember sifting through endless crap looking for a pen that worked.
My minimalism is also about possibility. I love the void of a blank piece of paper – I feel like I can do anything. In my simple work and living spaces, I like to evoke that sense of boundless exploration, of untethered experimentation. I can create chaos in my music.
Q: Please tell me a bit about your own experience of working in bands, and how that changed when you started your own band FOONYAP and the Roar. Now working on a more specifically solo project it must have changed yet again?
A: I’ve been working in bands my whole life. At the Conservatory, I played in orchestras and chamber music groups. I loved it. From my orchestral experience, I learned how music is shaped by the attentiveness of the players to each other and the conductor. Playing in Woodpigeon was not much different that that. I treated Mark as the conductor. If you watch videos of us performing, you will notice that I stare at him intently.
In FOONYAP and The Roar (FYTR), I was the conductor, composer, and leader. At first, I was intimidated, especially since I was bossing around three grown men! Add to that, Garrett and Dean were former Summerlad members, a band I’d listened to growing up. But I learned how to trust my leadership style. When I wrote a song, I usually had an idea for everyone else’s parts. Then I would teach the song to the band, with the caveat that they individuate their part however they wish to achieve my creative vision. FOONYAP and The Roar made singular music better than anything I could have composed myself.
Mike was actually the bassist in FYTR and now we’re producing my solo album together. The dynamic is more equal. In the beginning, we argued frequently. Then we had to focus on different aspects of the process – Mike on the technical elements, and I on the performance and creative direction.
Q: You describe the subject material in this current album revisiting things that have been with you since adolescence, territory that is suffused with a lot of sadness.
A: Yes. I had three distinct episodes of depression – grade six, nine, and twelve. I used to be scared – would I be depressed every three years for the rest of my life?
My family life was difficult. My parents fought and in grade seven my father left. My mother was a single parent with four children. She did her best, but her parenting style was authoritarian and I was a smart kid. We fought violently. My extended family didn’t know what the hell to do except to reinforce our family’s suffocating value system upon me. I grew up feeling alienated, ashamed, and terribly sad.
That sadness culminated in my grade twelfth year, when I struggled with bulimia and dropped out. For the next two years, I rioted. So yes, this album revisits those scars – the main scar being a sense of trying desperately hard and never measuring up.
Q: What for you defines a really productive and inspiring workday as an artist/musician. What is the most challenging part of that work?
A: I’m a musician with a day job, so I’ve stopped trying to define the perfect workday because then I feel bad about myself. Sometimes I have the energy to work on my art; sometimes I don’t. Any meaningful work shares the same challenge – believing enough in yourself to keep on going.
Q: What allows you to keep working as an artist, what support are you most grateful for?
A: My day job and my belief in my own potential allow me to keep at it. I’m so grateful for the many opportunities I’ve had to perform – whenever someone books you, they’re taking a chance. Actually, you were the first person to take a chance on me. My first performance ever took place at May Day in Arbour Lake. I felt so honoured that you’d booked me without ever having heard me. After I finished, you said “You should keep on making music for a long time.”
Q: What subjects or themes do you keep returning to in your writing and music?
A: Feminism, my Chinese heritage, and the sublimation of the individual.
Q: What are your hopes and goals for this next album?
A: I hope this album is heard by many people and allows me to take the next step in my career. I want this album to mark a new level of artistic achievement. Also, I want to have fun.