These two laowai, fronted by Maia and Jordan, have quickly risen in my chart of the best tunes I have heard in a while, never mind Chinese tunes. I ordered their CD some time ago and have been listening to it non-stop! Cleverly written acoustic folk vibes… but in Chinese. The lyrics are easy to understand and very relate-able. For instance, in the song Pengyou, they sing 朋友真的不想你走, among many other excellent lines.
So, I asked them a few them a few questions on music, laowai and learning Chinese. Maia answered the questions:
1) Why did you guys start learning Chinese, and how long has it been now?
Jordan started learning Chinese in High School in NYC. I started learning Chinese my first year at Oberlin College in Ohio. I had studied Spanish and Italian in High School, and really enjoy learning languages, but wanted to try something new. I had been interested in Asia for a while so I was deciding between Japanese and Chinese. I basically chose Chinese on a whim, and ended up sticking with it for all four years of college.
2) What are your experiences learning Chinese? Was it a battle, or was the motivation always high?
The first two years of taking Chinese were extremely difficult for me. I almost decided not to take it again my second year since I found it so challenging and time-consuming. I had lost sight of why I was even taking it (and at that point majoring in East Asian Studies.) Not until I studied abroad in Yunnan the Fall of my Junior year (the first time I traveled in China) did I realize that all of the effort I put into the language wasn’t in vain. After learning more about Chinese culture, society, and what it’s like to actually live in China I re-gained motivation for committing myself to learning the language. The following summer, I attended an intensive Chinese language program in Beijing, which was when the language finally clicked for me.
3) How did La Loupe form, and why did you guys decide to sing/write in Chinese?
Jordan and I became close friends when attending Oberlin College together. We also both grew up in New York. The spring after Jordan and I both studied abroad in China, we lived together in a room at College. We had been playing music together, mostly fooling around with some English songs Jordan wrote. I wrote a song in Chinese for fun, “Ni Shi Shei?” and played it for Jordan. He thought it was pretty cool, so he started writing songs in Chinese as well, and then we started writing the songs together. It all took off from there. By the end of the semester, we had written over 10 songs, all in Chinese.
4) How do you guys go about writing lyrics? Is there a marked difference in writing English songs versus Chinese songs?
When we first started off, our songs were written completely collaboratively, especially lyrically. Recently, though, usually Jordan or I will write a song on our own, and the other will add guitar parts or vocal harmonies. We both find that writing songs in Chinese is easier, for it allows for more freedom and depth of expression. For example, one Chinese character can convey the same meaning that one whole sentence in English does. Each character holds more weight and layers of meaning, which gives the listener a more enhanced field for interpretation. Also, writing in Chinese as opposed to English makes me feel less self-conscious, which makes me feel more comfortable to be very direct in my lyrics. I find that this is often the nature of speaking a second language.
5) What was the response so far to La Loupe, especially in China? How do the Chinese experience your music?
We were very excited to play our first show in China, since it was the first time that we played to an audience that could understand our lyrics (as opposed to shows at Oberlin where only our Chinese language classmates got our jokes and would explain to others what we were singing about.) Chinese people in Beijing were extremely receptive to our songs and the fact that we’re Americans singing in Chinese. Our lyrics especially resonated with the Chinese audience. After most shows, Chinese people would come up to us to explain how much our lyrics meant to them, since we cover topics that most Chinese singers don’t.
6) Do you guys think more laowai should start writing Chinese songs, and has writing Chinese songs improved your Chinese?
Sure, we’d encourage other foreigners to start writing Chinese songs, it’s a good way to practice your Chinese! Yet, we would discourage people from writing songs in Chinese as a sort of schtick, as in just for the sake that it’s in Chinese rather than actually adding a new dimension/something positive to the songs.
7) What is the future for La Loupe? Will you guys continue to write songs in Chinese?
Last summer was an important time for us. We self-released our first full-length studio album, which we spent the spring/summer recording in Beijing at The Sweet Factory. We also filmed our first music video! Right now, since I’m living in Taiwan and Jordan is still in mainland China, we’re taking a break playing live. But, we’re still writing songs and thinking about future music videos and projects. I’m sure you’ll see La Loupe back together again in the near future!