Jane Lui will play music, bake up a storm, and eat your cantaloupe
Jane Lui is an award-winning musician and actress whose videos have been brightening YouTube for almost a decade. In fact, before reading this interview, you should check out her music on YouTube, iTunes, Soundcloud, or Spotify, and get acquainted with her dazzling virtuosity with an unusually wide array of instruments and/or things-turned-instruments.
We caught up with Jane over Google Hangouts.
1. What did your parents want you to be?
Jane Lui: Like every family, mine was complex. We were both distant and close in very nuanced ways. I think deep down my mom wanted me to fulfill the role of a wife, just as she did. She’s the creative side of my family — an incredible Chinese painter, calligrapher. But in her time, she had to repress all of it from herself and public eye. So I think she had a difficult time watching me develop my craft and believing it was the right thing to do. We’ve had exactly one conversation about her painting process, and I was crying with joy on the inside because our creation processes were exactly the same. My taste, chaos, visual brain, and overall approach to my own creation palette, it’s all from her.
My dad knew I leaned toward music. As a kid I did nothing but obsess over singing, the piano and my bike. When I was picking majors at 18, my dad said to me, “You can choose between music or security.” His way of persuading me toward security!
I can’t say that he was wrong, and he didn’t mind me changing majors to music from communications, but he wanted control — of how I did whatever I decided to do. What kind of musician, the studies within the major, sending instructions from HK while he stayed there for work. The “parachute” family structure was really popular.
I think this might have led to a slightly wider cultural gap than the usual immigrant family. I was a happy kid, but like so many, immigration comes with mountains of peripheral issues that each family has to face, many unexpected. They wanted us to have better lives here. Hong Kong’s future was or is unknown after being returned to China in ’97. Despite the legitimate geographical and emotional gaps we had as a family, my gratitude to them for my life here is pretty endless.
2. What gets you excited to create your work?
JL: Every time I write a song, without fail, I end up at a place that feels wild, tipsy, and sort of back to my actual natural self sans social mechanics. Feels bigger than me, where some past, present, future all converge, I feel life, death, and its timeline.
It’s never morbid. And I don’t need to sleep, I don’t need to eat, I’m just adrenaline. I look forward to that. I don’t look forward to the hard work. (laughs) I’m pretty inherently lazy.
I always kick myself for not working harder to get to there. I love that wilderness within where I can exercise child play in the music. The front edge of that place — where you push a little bit at a time and build that muscle, plan new trees in the forest — your craft just naturally keeps evolving. It’s so incremental, but very exciting to live with this internal access.
3. What do you do when you hit a creative block?
JL: Oh, I admit I’m an escapist. Leave the scene of the crime as quickly as possible. From getting out of the house, head out of town, to sometimes leaving the country. I don’t always have money to do that, so I bake.
It’s helpful have things that have nothing to do with my passion, but that you can grow to love. For me — the more I work, the more I bake. It’s creative, I get to squat in front of the oven to watch chemistry work, and I devour it. Unlike songwriting, where you can write for a week and not have something definite. It’s a nice counterpoint to the elusive.
4. What’s something you’ve been really into lately?
JL: Been eating a lot of cantaloupe.
TS: Nice. Tell me more about that.
JL: (laughs) Well, they’re really high in potassium, in which I am deficient! I turned pescatarian last year, so, paying more attention to where to get which nutrients. I love salt, so I have to eat foods that have a lot of potassium, which includes cantaloupes, dried apricots, and carrots.
TS: Not bananas?
JL: Bananas make me fart, otherwise I super would. It’s also surprisingly calming to go through the motion of cutting it and spooning the gunk out.
TS: Do you have, like, melon scoops?
JL: I don’t like them! I don’t get it! I’m not a fan of gadgets that do one thing. (laughs) I mean, I guess … ice cream scoopers — They scoop ice cream. But I can also just use a spoon?
TS: Yeah, I was just cleaning out my kitchen, and I was like, “some of this stuff is just going to go in the trash.”
JL: Yeah, you’ve got to wear more hats than that if you want to survive. This is why they don’t survive! ‘cos they only do one thing!
5. When did you first feel successful?
JL: So I think it was after I made my second album. I finally had longer sets and started to gig a lot.
There were a couple years where I was doing like a hundred shows a year. Not all full sets, and mostly small rooms, opening for other acts, coffee shops, it was a sweet busy time and I was getting really familiar with my own songs.
Then I entered a competition in LA — Kollaboration. It was my first time playing for 1,500 people. I had three minutes to do my thing. I was shaking all the way til I got to the piano, then the switch turns itself on.
All the gigs added up to a familiarity that freed me from the act of playing. The song played itself and I had room to think outside of it. It was the first time my brain did that and I thought, “wow, this is really fun and calming”. I’m sure the large room, stage lights, divide between performer and audience all added up too, but that felt like what a messenger in music should feel. I had a renewed sense of loyalty to songwriting after that gig.
TS: What song did you play?
JL: One of my really old songs. An old closer called “Pigeon Woman,” off of my first album.
We’re all building muscles in our own industry. We train little by little so by the time you run the marathon, you’re actually not thinking about the running itself. Just enjoying the scenery.
That was a really bad answer. (laughs)
TS: I thought it was really nice!
JL: Oh. (laughs) I thought it was really — you can cut that down to whatever. (laughs)
6. If you were a dog, what breed would you be?
JL: I’d be my breed that I have now, ‘cos she’s my first dog and I feel that she’s my spirit animal. Well, actually, Buzzfeed thinks my spirit animal is porcupine. Cute, sharp to the touch.
But my dog right now is a schnauzer terrier. Can I put a photo of her up? Maybe?
JL: Oh, cute! So, my schnauzer terrier — her name’s Dashi. And she’s the most gentle, quiet, loving dog I will ever have. She is the most everything. I can’t imagine having another.
BONUS QUESTION from actor Joe Ngo: “If you could have one free small thing every day, what would that be?”
JL: A cup of coffee. Black. That’s nice.
TS: What do you want to ask the next guest?
JL: Fight or flight? And has it ever backfired?
Jane Lui is a musician, songwriter, and actress. Her video, “Southern Winds,” won 2016 Best Music Video at Dublin Web Fest, and has been featured in Virgin America In-Flight, MAKE: Mag and UPPERCASE Magazine. You can find her work, including three studio albums and more singles, on iTunes, Soundcloud, Spotify, and her YouTube channel. You can also find her at her website and Facebook.
Jane Lui will be starring in Lauren Yee’s play, Cambodian Rock Band, at South Coast Repertory in Los Angeles, CA from March 4–25, 2018. Tickets are on sale now.