I will be performing at SXSW in mid-March, which will be an exciting opportunity to perform with some of the best Asian-American music talent (make that some of the best music talent) in the country. I was pleasantly surprised to see another performer at my showcase who lives in Brooklyn. Reonda, who also designs her own line of travel and instrument gear (bowoonyc.com), sings quiet meditative folk, reminiscent of Cowboy Junkies. I caught up with Reonda to talk with her about her latest release, Lightness of Being.
st. lenox: I would say, from the start of the record, one of the first things to jump out is your ability to use sparseness to great effect. I would imagine that for a lot of people my age, growing up in the 90s especially, comparisons to Cowboy Junkies and Mazzy Star come to mind. Are they some of your influences? Or what would you say are your main influences as writer?
Reonda: It’s funny because I actually never listened to Mazzy Star until people started to bring them up as a comparison. Which is of course a “yuge” compliment! (haha). You’re the first to mention Cowboy Junkies though. Well, the short answer is neither was an influence. I actually didn’t listen to a lot of music growing up, but I did always knew what I liked. The first time I heard Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, I was like… wow where did this come from? Same with Johnny Cash’s I Hung My Head. Then there was period when I listened to Bossanova all the time. And all this on top of pop stuff you hear everywhere.
st. lenox: Why did you call the record “Lightness of Being”? I mean, I think from an atmosphere perspective, I think the title really works, but was there something else you were going for in terms of the title? I maybe see the songs as capturing these very longing moments out of as few words as possible, and then leaving you to kind of meditate on the space created by those words and the music. Or what did you have in mind?
Reonda: As I was recording and listening to my own songs… I felt, how “light” life can be. Each song is about a specific moment or moments, or a scene from my memories. It came and went and only now lives in the songs. Often I can’t help but to feel that, nothing really matters. Of course I always contradict myself because I do take things very seriously, I can’t seem to make up my mind on whether life is light or heavy. Maybe my next album I’ll write about the heaviness. Oh and yes the title has a reference to The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.
st. lenox: You taught yourself how to play the various instruments that you use – what was the impetus for learning to play in the first place? Was it because you had been listening to music and wanted to learn how to play that music? Or did you want to start writing on your own?
Reonda: Learning to play instruments was actually THE IMPETUS for writing music. I always loved playing anything I can get my hands on. As a kid, I used to wish I could take piano lessons. Unfortunately I only took 1 lesson when I was around 4 or 5 and that was it. My mom thought I was too young to learn… etc etc. I think it all really began when I stole a classical guitar from school (apologies). I taught myself how to play, and it just went from there. I sing only because I write songs only because I play music.
st. lenox: Why did you go to Hong Kong for the release of your record? How.was the experience of doing that? For my record, because it has subject matter about Korea, I was inclined to try and make some attempts at reaching out and had the lyrics translated into Korean. And it felt different putting the music out for that audience. How was the reception of the record in Hong Kong compared to the United States? Have people reacted differently to your music there?
Reonda: I lived in HK for one year and I met some great friends in music while I was there so naturally when I was recording my first EP, I shared it with them. They liked it enough to want to help me release it over there so I went! It was one of the best things to have happened to me. I felt my experiences in Asia was far more encouraging then the US. Who knows, maybe that will all change after SXSW!!
st. lenox: One of your songs, the title and the song aren’t in English – can you tell me about that song? Do you want English-speakers to know directly what the song is about? And do you want listeners in Hong Kong to know what you’re singing on the remaining tracks? (Although I bet a lot of people in Hong Kong know a decent amount of English, no?).
Reonda: I think you are referring to track #5 on Lightness of Being. It translates to something like “Unconsciously” or “Without knowing”. It’s about the moments before dying, without realizing that it’s actually happening. I think about that a lot, I wonder what those moments before dying feels like. And I hope it will be like what I imaged in the song -“Without knowing, my breath is thinned. And here I am at the final scene. Eyes closed, I listened quietly, all the surrounding noises has suddenly calmed me”.
st. lenox: In “Staring Through Windows”, you take a different direction in terms of the tone of the music, and on the last track of the record. The tempo picks up and I think the chord changes get more edgy. (Actually, I feel that “Peter Pan” picks up in terms of feel as well). I guess listening to the record, I hear the beginning songs and I feel like maybe it was a kind of catharsis, and towards the end you are starting to move past that? Was writing the record cathartic for you?
Reonda: The songs were all written at different times. The album was sequenced that way because I wanted my listeners (and myself) to walk away a bit more loose after listening to the entire album from start to finish. Actually the first and last song was written about the same time. And I thought it would be nice to start and end with them. If “Staring Through Windows” didn’t exist, then “Peter Pan” would’ve been the last track.
st. lenox: What’s going on with your music now? Any plans for the future? Are you working on another record?
Reonda: I am trying to recording a new album now hoping to release it sometime this summer. I just released a new song and video on youtube call “Mount Fuji” and that’s the first peek in to the new album. I just moved so I am trying to figure out some sound solutions in the new place. Any suggestions for soundproofing from airborne noise?