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Artist Spotlight: Lucy Liyou – Our Culture

Artist Spotlight: Lucy Liyou – Our Culture

Lucy Liyou is a Korean-American composer who grew up enjoying classical piano competitively for a few years. After experimenting with totally different sorts of music throughout faculty, she launched her debut album, Welfare, in 2020. The file – which drew inspiration from childhood recollections, Korean folks opera, and Korean drama soundtracks whereas combining text-to-speech readings, subject recordings, manipulated electronics, and extra – was reissued in Might 2022 by American Desires together with a sister LP, Observe, that Liyou made inside a two-week interval whereas staying at her mother and father’ residence in Seattle. Partly as a result of she didn’t have entry to her MIDI keyboard, Observe noticed her reincorporating lush acoustic piano, an instrument that additionally options prominently on her newest LP, Canine Desires (개꿈), out Friday. Capturing the artist’s recurrent goals with hanging immediacy, the album serves as a love letter to the self, documenting experiences which can be usually deemed, from the skin, as nonsensical, whereas embracing their ineffability. Without delay tender and daring, the three compositions hint the injuries and wishes of a physique in quest of path, trying to make the unconscious slightly extra tangible. As an alternative of drowning the voice, all the weather that permeate it – trauma, romance, whimsy, desperation – finally swell in direction of a sure type of readability.

We caught up with Lucy Liyou for the newest version of our Artist Highlight sequence to speak about her piano background, documenting goals, the concepts behind her new album, and extra.


As a youngster, did any of your daydreams revolve round making music? What do you bear in mind about them?

The reply is completely, however I believe my understanding of what making music was modified drastically all through the years once I was youthful. Earlier than, I assumed making music was actually simply making sound occur; enjoying the piano, enjoying these items that I used to be studying. I used to be a piano pupil. After which that developed and adjusted as I listened to different kinds of music, expanded my listening horizons, and realized that there’s one thing known as songwriting, and there’s one thing known as manufacturing, there are these concepts of association that transcend simply the correct hand, left hand on the piano. After which there’s one thing known as making one thing of your individual. I’ve been daydreaming it my entire life, however I’ve been daydreaming very “various things” that summed up in a single entity of simply music generally. However it began off as simply enjoying what I used to be studying and discovering ambition and pleasure and studying new sorts of items, after which transferring in direction of one thing that felt like, “Oh, that is my very own. That is one thing that I’m creating for myself.”

Is there a component of the piano that’s nonetheless connected to childhood in your thoughts?

Positively. And I believe a whole lot of that basically has to do with the strategy to it. Three years in the past, once I put out Welfare / Observe, I used to be doing my greatest to avoid the piano as a lot as potential, as a result of I felt prefer it was virtually like a crutch. I needed to discover this type of p’ansori, Korean folks opera, in a really totally different manner that veered as a lot away from my understanding of music generally, which clearly began with the piano. P’ansori’s components are just about discernibly the vocalist and the drum accompaniment, and I used to assume earlier than that the vocalist was actually simply the voice, the human voice, or it was a text-to-speech voice, and the whole lot else was the drum accompaniment transmogrified. And I believe I returned increasingly more again to the piano as a result of I noticed that the strains aren’t that strict between the vocalist and the drum accompaniment. After I went again to it, it’s like, “Oh, I’m utilizing the piano as virtually a vocalist.” And that does hearken again to childhood as a result of it’s actually the primary impulse, the primary voice I had in music. It’s a return to type.

Do you thoughts sharing another early recollections of enjoying music?

It’s so humorous, as a result of it’s not essentially my reminiscence, I don’t bear in mind it. When my mother and father first obtained their place to reside in Seattle, they’d a bunch of relations go to, together with my great-aunts and my grandparents, and so they all inform me the identical factor: I believe I used to be like 3 or 4 years previous on the time, and I’d simply rise up to the identical piano that I’ve had for a very long time, which is that this electrical Yamaha that my grandma obtained me  an extended, very long time in the past, and I’d apparently go as much as it, play just a few notes, and simply sing actually loudly and obnoxiously, like I used to be doing one thing. [laughs] It had these set tracks that you possibly can play on it, and I’d apparently simply play these songs and sing alongside to it and play random notes on the piano. That’s one thing I’ve been informed, however I do bear in mind actually eager to be taught the piano; actually, actually wanting my mother and father to get me to be taught piano.

I believe a great way into speaking concerning the new album is the title, Canine Desires (개꿈). Are you able to speak concerning the significance that Korean time period has for you personally?

So, gaekkum, “canine goals,” is a time period sometimes used to dispel and dismiss goals as nonsensical or foolish or ridiculous. And people goals can span wherever from one thing actually ridiculous and really random, or it may be a dream that’s so good but additionally out of the realm of risk, or perhaps a nightmare. I bear in mind I’d have all these totally different sorts of goals I’d carry to my mother and my mother would say, “Oh, gaekkum.” Like, “It’s not one thing it’s essential to take into consideration, it’s simply ridiculous.” It ties into this file, as a result of I really feel like at one level, particularly the goals I had on this file, I actually needed to imagine that there was a significance there, regardless of how a lot of a naive try or concept that was for me to even need that.

I simply needed a whole lot of this to have which means, as a result of a few of this needed to with my queerness and transness that I couldn’t discuss with my mother and father, but additionally how that pertains to simply my familial historical past, my private historical past. I simply actually believed that a whole lot of these goals that I used to be having held a whole lot of this significance that I couldn’t simply let go of. However I can’t inform my mother that, as a result of I’m not out to my mother and father but. I can’t carry that up. So I believe it’s like a private rejection of that time period of canine goals, of like, “That is simply foolish.” No, it isn’t simply foolish. Possibly on the finish of the day it’s, however I don’t need it to be foolish. I need it to carry a sure sort of which means that I can actually bear in mind and latch onto, if that is smart.

It does. I believe in that dismissal, there will also be a recognition that it does maintain some weight for the opposite particular person, nevertheless it’s not price spending any extra time with it.

I believe that’s why it’s me wanting to place weight on it. I don’t wish to dismiss it but. I wish to have it sit with me earlier than I simply let it go. And naturally, I’m certain, once we say that sure goals are gaekkum, we imply it as in, “We don’t need you to carry any thought in direction of it. We don’t need you to waste your time enthusiastic about it.” However I’m sort of saying like, “No, I wish to waste my time enthusiastic about it.” [laughs] As a result of I wish to imagine it has a significance to my life.

You talked about the phrase “good dream.” What makes dream for you?

That’s a fantastic query. I really feel like when a dream offers me with a sure sort of trajectory or path, it’s dream – regardless of how “good” or “unhealthy” it’s. Though, after all, there are higher ones the place there are simply totally different feelings connected to it. However once I imply good, I actually imply, like, quixotic, but additionally romantic within the sense that it offers me a way of path with my ideas and my life, and even my music. There’s a lot craving on this album for various issues: for a friendship, for love, for my physique in numerous methods, and for the self. I really feel like there’s a very weighty romanticism to that that additionally contributes to my understanding of what dream is.

Given how a few of your earlier releases had been involved with reminiscence, I’m curious what impressed this new fascination with goals, the place there’s possibly extra of a presentness. Did it really feel like a pure transition from one sort of craving to a different?

To start with, I believe the immediacy of my course of truly speaks in direction of how this was made, and the particular craving that I needed to seize. The particular craving that I needed to seize is one which felt actually shut however distant – actually shut within the sense that, you simply skilled it, however the concept is usually a trajectory that feels such as you’re going in direction of one thing that’s so far-off. Whether or not that’s, like I mentioned earlier than, a friendship or a romance, or simply “gender euphoria,” no matter that could be. These had been, and nonetheless are, very, very far-off ideas for me in a dream state, after all, however whenever you expertise it at evening, it’s one thing that’s concurrently faint however very current. It additionally appears like there there’s a proximity to it that makes the overall understanding of this craving all of the extra sophisticated and dense.

I made the meat and bones of those items as quickly as I wakened from the goals, as a result of I actually needed to seize that particular closeness however distantness that, I don’t wish to say everyone experiences with their goals, however particularly I expertise. For me, these goals felt extra like confirmations about concepts that I’ve been having for a very long time, by way of, for instance, my gender euphoria, or my concepts of what I needed from a friendship. Affirmation itself, I believe, actually represents that closeness and distantness – it’s not even giving your self a solution about the way it’s going to finish, nevertheless it’s letting you understand that no matter shut thought you simply had in the meanwhile is, as soon as once more, offering you that thought trajectory which may lead you to that finish purpose that you just’re pondering of. It’s a whole lot of this simultaneous closeness and aloofness that I used to be actually making an attempt to seize within the music organically by doing it as quickly as I wakened.

What makes you say “aloofness”?

I believe within the second, a whole lot of these concepts – that’s so unhappy, however I felt like they had been concepts that I didn’t assume had been going to be totally realized for me ever as an individual. Possibly not essentially the romance a part of it – as a result of I’ve a associate proper now, that’d be horrible of me to say [laughs] – however I assume extra so, like, the gender facet of it, understanding  my relationship with my my physique and my being. I didn’t know if that was one thing I used to be ever actually going to comprehend on the time. That’s what I imply by aloofness: this concept that I can actually see clearly, I can determine this concept, however I don’t know what the precise finish purpose is. I see the affirmation, however I don’t truly see the final word final result.

Through the making of this file, had been you preoccupied with the query of find out how to translate a dream into sound, or was it one thing you actively pushed away?

So, the file is the dream taking place –  I believe I sort of made certain that it wasn’t this clear, nevertheless it’s the recounting of the dream, nevertheless it’s additionally the response to the dream. It’s each me doing my greatest to recount it as greatest as potential, nevertheless it’s additionally me making an attempt to grasp what elements have essentially the most which means by way of what it supplied for me thought-wise. For instance, within the title monitor, I’m recounting what’s taking place within the dream, by the shore, by the water, being pulled up, all of that, however then the primary time I sing is I really feel like my first response to what’s truly taking place. So it’s as soon as once more capturing the narrative trajectory, but additionally, I assume, the emotional trajectory of it too.

On ‘April in Paris’, you embody this radio interview with a lady who describes her expertise as fairy tale-esque. It made me surprise concerning the intersection between fairy tales and goals and what that appears like for you.

To start with, that’s Mariah Carey, that’s my idol. It was in an interview from her Daydream period, and he or she’s speaking about how her profession began and her interplay with fame. I believe what I beloved about what Mariah Carey was saying in that second when she describes one thing as fairy tale-esque, I believe it simply reckons to so many various concepts and contextualizations of what fairy tales maintain and signify. For me, the thought of a fairy story, what makes it so highly effective is much like what these goals signify for me – how quixotic and romantic it’s. But additionally, fairy tales are constructed on the notions of projections; regardless of how infantile or how grownup, they’re constructed on projections, whether or not they’re classes to heed, or whether or not they’re beliefs or morals to have, or simply goals you’ll need by way of like, “I wish to meet Prince Charming” or no matter. These fairy tales create so many layers and so many detailed concepts of projection.

I’m not saying that is precisely what Mariah Carey was going at, however I believe that’s sort of what she was describing by way of like, “That is I’m certain what individuals are enthusiastic about by way of my journey as an artist, my relationship with fame.” And I believe the funniest half is that’s precisely what I’m doing with the music, too, is I’m projecting this story, this concept I’ve along with her particular quote in her particular interview as properly. So, the primary relationship is that projection, that romanticization that I believe makes goals possibly deceiving, but additionally so ripe for locating which means.

There’s positively been a robust development in the way in which that you just deal with your voice, which is the place a part of that romanticism comes from. Are you able to discuss how your relationship to your voice has modified over the previous few years?

I assumed concerning the two sort of in a different way, and what I imply by two is talking and singing. I used to be utilizing text-to-speech for many of my work earlier than, and I believe what I preferred about text-to-speech was – it’s humorous, as a result of I actually preferred the gap that the text-to-speech created within the music. I used to be recounting and narrating all these very tough issues for me to really acknowledge and maintain, nevertheless it supplied me this avenue to precise it and in addition really feel a relative quantity of distance in direction of the precise issues that I used to be saying. There have been moments the place I assumed like, “Am I going to make use of text-to-speech for this?” However no, I felt prefer it created a distance that didn’t make sense with this in any respect, as a result of there was already a distance in the truth that the subject material has that closeness and aloofness; it created an excessive amount of of a distance that didn’t actually correspond with the opposite components at hand. That’s why I began talking in my music. And to be truthful, that additionally sort of got here naturally. After I was recording this for the primary time, it’s me recording these phrases stream-of-consciousness slightly than writing down precisely like what I used to be going to say, virtually script model that I did earlier than on Welfare.

However singing, yeah… I simply was by no means actually assured as a singer for a really very long time. I used to be by no means the very best singer – positively nonetheless am not the very best singer. But additionally, I really like singing. My favourite artists are the very best singers. I really like Mariah Carey, I really like Brandy. And I used to be additionally enthusiastic about, p’ansori itself is the work of unimaginable vocalizations and singing. I felt like, if I actually needed to deal with these concepts, I wanted to deal with it with an immediacy. And what I imply by that immediacy is, if I really feel like I’ve to sing in these moments, I’ve to sing these moments. I’m not going to simply cease and calculate the whole lot. If it feels proper, it feels proper. It was very spontaneous.

For instance, once I was making ‘Fold the Horse’, the final monitor, once I attain this narrative level, I simply felt like singing this, and it seems that the singing was like a unconscious response to what was taking place within the second, like, “Please don’t let me go.” I needed that immediacy to really feel palpable, and I needed to really feel fearless concerning the course of of constructing music. No matter feels proper, no matter comes organically and naturally. Earlier than,  I did slightly little bit of singing on ‘Unnie’, and I’d simply pore over these vocals, simply enthusiastic about each single factor that I used to be doing, as a result of I used to be like, “I’m not singer, I’m not singer.” I similar to didn’t have time for that for this. I’m so glad that it went this manner, as a result of I’m actually pleased with the way it sounds.

The vulnerability of ‘April in Paris’ leads instantly into ‘Fold the Horse’, which nonetheless has that blurry, elusive high quality we connect to goals, nevertheless it ends with this plea of desperation that you just alluded to. Did you are feeling any trepidation round it?

No, and I believe that’s the magic of it. I didn’t really feel any of that; I didn’t really feel any fear. I didn’t really feel any hesitation. It was similar to, “Let’s do it.” Even the phrases, I used to be simply singing no matter got here to thoughts. Capturing the emotion of that was not even a calculation or one thing I used to be enthusiastic about as a result of I used to be similar to, “No, we’re doing this, and no matter involves thoughts goes to return out.” I re-recorded these vocals as a result of the demo that I had earlier than, due to that immediacy, the recording of it wasn’t that good, however the very first recording I believe was actually one take. And a whole lot of the music on this is only one take. Like ‘Canine Desires’, the entire piano half was one take; in ‘April in Paris’, when the Wurlitzer is available in, that was all one take. All of the talking was just about one take, all of the singing was just about one take. That’s why there are errors right here and there are the timings are typically off. Due to the fearlessness and the true lack of calculation of any of that, it allowed, for me not less than, to have these narrations and feelings really feel extra palpable.

You’re releasing this album in direction of the top of spring, which appears like, if not an intentional determination, actually a major one. Are you able to discuss what it means so that you can put out Canine Desires throughout this time?

It’s humorous as a result of it actually wasn’t deliberate. It was extra so only a timing factor of when it may come out. My birthday is in April, truly, and I actually needed it to return out on my birthday as a result of my birthday was on a Friday this 12 months. I did need it to return out round springtime for plenty of causes; clearly, the center monitor, and a whole lot of the romance round it. However I believe a extremely loopy a part of that is, politically, the laws happening round – not solely the objectification, but additionally actually the eradication of trans folks, trans concepts, trans thought, trans tradition, the whole lot. I’d have by no means anticipated this music to return out throughout a time like this, and I believe that’s why I’ve like a whole lot of worries and hesitations about it, frankly. As a result of particularly the center monitor, I don’t need something to be misconstrued about my gender, my course of, my trajectory with it. I don’t need folks to assume that your journey with gender has to return from a spot of trauma, as a result of I don’t assume that’s true in any respect – that’s particular to me, however not even fully.

So it’s unusual, as a result of I’m excited that it’s popping out in springtime by way of the symbolism and what it brings, however I’m additionally very anxious – but additionally feeling daring, in a manner, that it’s popping out throughout a time like this. I’m going to talk for myself, however I believe it’s vital to have trans narratives and trans concepts and tales that don’t all the time simply contact up on how vital it’s to achieve that gender euphoria. I believe it’s vital to speak about sure hardships and processes very explicitly or truthfully. I believe it’s vital to reside and signify my expertise as truthfully and honestly as potential, and I believe that’s the easiest way I can actually signify who I’m as an individual throughout this time.


This interview has been edited and condensed for readability and size.

Lucy Liyou’s Canine Desires (개꿈) is out Might 12 by way of American Desires.

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