Lan Li is a NY/London-based YouTube singer-songwriter. Another musician that is part of the upcoming wave of newer YouTube musicians including gunnarolla, Sam Hart, Micaela Reyes and the like, she spared some time to answer some questions during her busy school life!
How long have you been doing music for? Are you doing it professionally or independently?
I don’t know how to describe when I first started playing music, since I’ve been playing around with it since the first time I knew how to hit “record” on a cassette player. But I’ve been studying Chinese music for most of my life and started playing the zheng (21-stringed Chinese zither) when I was 10. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college when sister inspired me to pick up the guitar. Once I knew how to play chords, I began writing my own songs. It was mostly for personal enjoyment and I don’t think that I will go into music professionally for now.
What style of music do you generally play?
How did you first get involved in music?
I grew up surrounded by Chinese music. When I was 8, my sister and I discovered Radio Disney and thus began my relationship with pop culture.
What made you decide to starting YouTubing your musical talent?
I had my YouTube account for a few years before I started posting videos regularly. After completing three songs and getting positive reviews from my family, I decided to just post it online. I think this was the summer before I studied abroad in London, so my intentions were to get my music out when I still had my guitar, go abroad, and forget about it. But then I suffered from severe withdrawal from my guitar, so I bought a kid-sized guitar in London (which they only in blue) and started to write and record again.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
Adele and Justin Nozuka basically made up the soundtrack for my life in London, so they were my immediate influence for my writing then. In general, I love the Ella Fitzgerald/Michael Buble style of singing, and Irving Berlin/Dorthy Fields/Jason Mraz/Beatles style of writing.I also, not surprisingly, get some of my idiomatic sense of melody from Chinese music. There are some parts of my songs, say at the end of “Save Me,” where I can pick out a melodic phrase and tell you which Chinese folk tune it came from.
How does it feel to be getting all this support from people for doing what you do?
Indescribable and mostly unreal.
Is there ANY musician that you would like to do a collaboration with in the future?
There are too many musicians whom I admire, but if my embarrassing fantasies were to come true, I would love to have a cup of coffee and jam (hah, pun…) with basically anyone I mention in this interview : )
What have been some of your most memorable experiences as a musician thus far? And have you ever met any other YouTube musicians?
I took a road trip to San Francisco with ninjadrops (Christian Quiambao) last year to see blinktwice4y (Sam Hart), and that guy can work a guitar like none other! Sam’s voice becomes ten times more sultry than it is online when he sings to you live. I hope to be half as awesome as he is. I also hung out with tsud123 (Dustin) and hummed a few tunes. In the meantime, I’ve been randomly collaborating with gunnarolla (Andrew Gunadie), but I’ve never met him in person.
What has been your most popular cover on YouTube? Your most popular original song on YouTube?
I think “Fly Me to the Moon” has quite a bit a views, even though I recorded that song three months into learning guitar and couldn’t really sing with it. Kind of embarrassing, but I keep it up for sentimental reasons. For original songs, I think “Quite Comforts” (aka “the cell phone song”) and “Simple Promises” are quite popular for reasons that are beyond me.
I imagine you have a lot of music tastes; what do you normally play on your iPod and/or when you’re at home?
It depends on my mood. When I’m studying or researching for work, I turn on my Pandora stations and tune into a lot of classical and instrumental music (lots of Bach and Ratatat). Recently, I’ve been getting into Chrisette Michele,The Noisettes, and Eric Hutchinson, but my happy song is still “New Shoes” by Paolo Nutini. Actually, that song was the reason why I learned to play the guitar.
Where’s the one place where you can go and get your creative flow going in order to write/create music?
I don’t have a secret lair where I get my fix of creative juices since everything that I encounter somehow contributes to my music. For me, the most powerful emotional inspirations come unexpectedly from a crush to a lecture on the Vietnam War. In other cases, I write a song with an intention, for instance I wanted to base a jazz song on Chinese folk melodies, so I wrote “Winter” that’s jazzy and is adapted from tune I grew up with.
Who is your closest musician friend, and how did you two meet?
I’m at the edge of the music world, so I don’t have a group of musicians friends with whom I chill and jam and bread. Actually, most of my closest friends are not musicians.
What do you do in your spare time when you’re not playing music?
Well, my situation is quite the reverse—I play music in my spare time where otherwise I would be studying, editing film, or researching for my senior thesis. I’m just a regular college kid who happens to enjoy writing music.
What do you hope to accomplish while being involved in music?
I fell into singing and songwriting fairly recently and still don’t have any grand ambitions. I just want to make music that I enjoy and that other people find tolerable : )
Do you have any final words for the readers?
Keep it real and thanks for reading!
There you have it folks - thanks to Lan for the interview, keep it real as she said!