BACKSTAGE WITH: SURI WONG | SURI WONG MUSIC on SPOTIFY | CHICAGO, IL
Main influences on making music?
Mree, Aurora, Billie Eilish, Nina Simone
Can you tell us a bit about the Chicago music scene? How has living in Chicago influenced your art?
I’m super proud of Chicago’s local artists. I feel as if there is inevitably a rawness, an authenticity, and a groundedness to our creativity. It’s never too commercial, it celebrates music that has come before us, speaks the truths we hope to embody, yet is still accessible.
All of this speaks to the nature of living through brutal Chicago winters into brilliant Chicago summers. We are all gonna make it through and it through and in style.
How has COVID-19 changed the way you work as an artist? What are the main challenges and how are you coping with the challenges at hand?
There has been an obvious loss of playing live shows. This hasn’t been too much of a tragedy for me personally however, because I’ll admit that aside from Sofar shows and playing at the Uncommon Ground, live shows can be taxing for me.
I was already building up my online game, presence, and really looking further into studio recording, so being stuck at home to focus on those things, while exploring livestream possibilities has been helpful.
How is the Chicago independent music scene adapting to changes brought by COVID?
I think everyone is moving on and adapting as best as they can. Sadly, the reality is that many of our beloved venues have been closed due to state and city gathering guidelines. Best we can do is to support them as take-out restaurants and bars.
Also, many artists who have canceled entire tours (I had to cancel some out-of-state shows). On the other hand, I have seen my fellow artists take up studio recording, live streams, or tik toking to continuously connect with fans.
Or, it could be the opposite, where the artists feel they need a solid break. All these options are good ones, and I feel like we should feel the freedom to do what we gotta do during this strange transitional period.
Holiday times are intense and filled with inspiration – you just released your Holiday Excuse Album, can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for the album? What did the creative and recording process look like for the album?
One of the first albums I ever got for myself as a tween was Jaci Velasquez’s Christmas album. That was a magical album and I knew that it would be a dream come true to record one someday.
The pandemic really got my moods down and while I tried working on my other music, it didn’t seem like any of it was really working. I had My Holiday Excuse written last year and I really wanted to make that song a reality so I searched for a solid jazz producer and instrumentalist and landed on Leo.
We had so much fun working together, that the songs kept tumbling through. I wish I could say I played the piano on the studio recorded songs, but he did and it sparkles. I added in the voice memos because part of me wanted to put in “palate cleansers” and take everyone back to the living room piano moments when some family member clunks out holiday classics and there’s a family sing-along. Those moments aren’t necessarily glamorous or flawless, but they’re special.
Your voice on the album is unique and holds within it different ranges and colors of emotions. What feeling or thought would you like your audience to take away from the album and is there a specific song which reflects that feeling?
I’m glad you can hear the colors and the emotions. Timbres depend on which part of my range I vocalize. Highs tend to be pure, whimsical, breathy like a Disney princess and the lows are dark, gritty, melancholic.
The song in which I play with my range the most is “Christmas Time is Here”. We messed with 3 keys and in the end, I really wanted to bring out both my low range and my high one because the melancholic and childlike natures of the original really hit me at the core. I didn’t want to totally sound like a child, but I knew there was a part of my heart that understood the sweetness and innocence it needed.
What is your next music project? What excites you most about it?
I oscillate between releasing singles and going for a full length album and in the end it might be something that incorporates both. I have a pile of love songs from my 20’s (I just turned 30 this year) that I need to get out of my system before I feel like I can truly move on. So I’m working on bringing them to life.
I love them because they’re simple, sweet, naive, and quite catchy for what they are.
Which venue are you waiting to perform at? Why?
The big dream would be Royal Albert Hall (merely a dream at this point). In Chicago, the MCA or Art Institute. But for now, I’d be content even just being able to sit in someone’s living room or back porch again to bring them magic. The intimate settings really get me.
Recommendations for up and coming artists to take and treat their art as a business?
Gosh I mean, I’m still an “up and coming artist”, so I’d be right there with all y’all. Always remember why you’re doing it. It’s not for the fame, the money, to validate your ego, identity, etc. If those are the reasons why you’re embarking at it, I assure you, no amount of business wisdom, no manager, no fan-base is gonna be good enough to pull you through the valleys into the mountains.
If the music, the art, the beauty, the message aren’t enough, then I’d caution you to find yourself first, or else the stress, responsibilities, even successes will crush you.
Who are your favorite collaborators & people you just love to work with?
Oh I have so many. I can’t just name one, but I’ll throw out my awesome collaborations of 2020. Leo from Leo Music/Leomode really blew me away with this holiday project.
I also did a collaboration with Abstrak Mind, Koryn Orcutt, and Brian Squillace that I feel has given me a new lens for writing uplifting pop (check out Til the End). I can never thank my drummer, Mike Hoyt, enough for sticking through with me these past few years (Where Were You? Is his drumming chops).
And last but never the least engineers: Brok Mende, Colin Althaus, and Sam Moses have done their magic to bring out the best in every project.
All these people I couldn’t be more grateful for.