Sandy Hsu

It’s your voice and it’s what you’re born with, and it’s really powerful

 

This blogject (sorry) has blessed me with the opportunity of meeting and finding musicians and writers from all around the place, and the more involved I get, the more amazing people I find. Sandy Hsu is someone I came across as I started to connect with more people, and I was drawn to her haunted harmonies on her new EP. We met up at Hash Specialty, and discussed teenage drama, finding your voice, and cults on the moon

 

So, Sandy Hsu, I think it’s so cute that your Instagram is ‘Sandy Shoe’

You gotta help people out you know, you can also could me Sandy’s Hoe

Sandy’s Hoe is good as well!

Sandy Hsu on Instagram is taken! One day when I have enough power behind me I’ll say Hey Instagram, give me that handle

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So ‘Woman’ was the first of your songs that I listened to, really cool stuff! and congratulations on the new EP! 

Thanks! It feels good because I’ve lived with this EP for a long time, and I just needed to get it out. For some reason, I feel the need to publically archive things in order to move on

And to also to stamp your history

That’s right! And it is very personal. I just need to have it out there, and then I can carry on

In some ways putting it out there, letting other people see it, let’s you know that it’s done, those feelings can be moved on from. Thinking about the relationship between this new EP and the old EP, they sound quite different, what changed?

The EP that I just put out is a very transitional record. I wrote all the songs while I was at VCA where I was studying composition. I was learning a lot really fast, and discovering a lot about what I liked and what I didn’t like, and what kind of music and artist I wanted to be. It’s sort of an archive of the ‘best of’ from some of the things I made at Uni. Obviously, you change a lot as a person, and that reflects if you’re an artist, especially because I was going through this phase- this transitional period from 16 to 21. Those are just such pivotal years in your life! I felt like I was a different person every three months! I was learning a lot about music production, and before going to music school I was really self-assured as a songwriter, but not a producer. I started to learn about production and figuring out the sounds that I liked

It’s such a different world isn’t it

So different, but I started to appreciate that side a lot more, and to also believe in my ability. A lot of learning, a lot of growing

Production is like a new instrument isn’t it

Yeah and they can be really separate- songwriting and production, but I’ve always wanted to do everything with my music, and it was like pandora’s box opened

Did you study composition right after school?

Yeah I went from high school straight to Uni, which was a massive jump

Composition is a pretty different pursuit to just music generally, how did you know that was something you wanted to pursue specifically

I had a friend who studied that course and she told me about it, but also it intrigued me because it was called ‘interactive composition’, it was about composition within other media. I didn’t even know I was going to study music until I got in- I loved music, and I wrote songs as a teen, but my strength was in visual art, and I thought I was going to probably pursue visual art at Uni. I applied for both and was like okay I’ll get into one and then that’s my life decided, but I got into both courses so I had to make this decision! It’s so crazy that you have to make such a pivitol life decision when you’re 18 and you don’t know anything like okay I’ll just dedicate the next three or four years of my life to this. I mean it’s music, not medicine but still! I chose music because it was scarier to me, there were things that I didn’t know about music business, music technology, and I wanted to learn how to record at home. I think it intrigued me more than Visual Art at the time

And you can do that in the realm of music too, you can approach music with this visual sensitivity, it’s harder to do that the other way around

I think as well because the course was about music in other media, and we had to collaborate with dancers, artists, filmmakers. I wanted to have my fingers in as many pies as possible

It makes a difference when musicians care about the visuals. Even your Instagram is so nicely presented, and the music is all related- it makes a big difference

It makes me feel like a massive imposter- I still have major imposter syndrome. I love music but it’s almost secondary to writing. I love music because it’s the perfect vessel to carry poetry and singing and fashion and visuals in one place. I’m super greedy! Why would I do one thing when I can do everything?

Maybe it’s not greed, maybe its hunger? The desire to do these things so why not do them?

I’m a hungry girl! When I was studying there were so many people who were just so amazing at what they did and had a long history of being a composer or knowing how to do all the shiny things in Ableton, and that’s not me and it made me question myself a lot. But everyone was so supportive, and everyone had their different strengths, it was a really nurturing environment to be in

Sometimes when there’s a lot of people around you who are good at other things, you kind of have to fight yourself to be yourself- and be okay with your abilities

It’s so inspiring though, I think maybe a performance course would have felt more competitive and stressful, but the people I was studying with were caring and encouraging to each other,  and played to our own strengths

And you can realise what you want to focus on

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It’s nice to hear someone’s discography all together, and see the strands of similarity and difference. With this first EP that you released a hundred years ago, a lot can change for you by the time you release the next EP. As a consumer listening back to back, it’s cool to see a bit of the journey. Is there an underlying message you wanted to communicate with this new EP?

I think Limbo which is the last track kind of connects the previous record to this one, I actually wrote that song on the night of the last EP launch. When Savage Youth came out I wrote Limbo the night before, and now it’s on the following record. That song has been with me for the entire duration of the last three or four years, and I still play it now and I still believe it. It’s crazy that this song I wrote when I was 17 or 18 is something I still believe in because I’ve changed so much, yet it’s still a song  that I think is still really accurate throughout all those changes

A lot of people won’t hold onto a song for that long before releasing it

That was me as well, I feel like I grew out of a lot of songs that I wrote but I didn’t with that one in particular

The lyric,

Happiness is a myth but I don’t feel like dying anymore

 

When you hear your 17-year-old self saying that sort of thing, what do you think of that girl?

She’s wise! She’s way wiser than me now! I feel like that was a really pivotal moment in my life because I  was dealing with a lot of mental health issues at the time, but that was the first song that I wrote where I revealed to myself that I wanted to be better, that was the first time I admitted that to myself and it was in a song so it felt real. Every time I sing it I mean it. I used to really wallow in my angst as a teen, which is fine and you have to do that a little bit, but that was a big moment where I thought, I think I want to be better 

That’s a real growing-up moment too at that age. Knowing that there are things beyond feeling that way that are important too

Yeah and I was so comfortable being sad all the time, and it doesn’t have to be scary to want to seek joy- this is after like four years of therapy! But we got there. It was a big moment emotionally for me

It’s such an individual experience because people can tell you that a hundred times and it can mean nothing until you get to the point where you’re in your room and you’re writing a song about it, and you’re like holy shit I actually want things to be okay!

That’s exactly what happened!

To have a song that is that moment is so precious. I always try and think about how lucky we are to have music because not everyone has that way of commemorating those moments

It’s immortalised! I don’t really listen back to my old music- even with this new record I’m like it’s done. But I like that it exists out there and it archives that time of my life. Even if I don’t listen to it now, or even if I feel like I don’t relate to her anymore, maybe someone else is going to listen to it and it might mean something else to them. There are 7 billion people on the planet, it has to speak to someone!

Absolutely! The songs on your previous EP are pretty special, I really like ‘Trip Fontaine’, very 80’s and cheeky. I like the line

 

I know you you’ve kissed other girls

So maybe I’ll go cry about it

 

So cute, and in ‘Blue Light’ the lyric

 You don’t deserve to feel this sad

 The songs are so beachy and sweet but dark

That seems to be my shtick! People get sucked in with the sweet sound and then they’re like what did she just say?

When you’re being really vulnerable like that, when you’re being honest about your mental health and your feelings, is there any hesitation before you release it or do you stick your fingers in your ears and go la la la! while you hit publish

That’s it! La la la publish! I think I write like that because I don’t know how to be any other way. I don’t really censor myself in music, it’s 100% for me. It’s written for me first. I feel supported by music enough to be vulnerable, and it’s safe for me

It’s like a public diary, and it’s for you and for your feelings but you put it out into the world, and it becomes a release of something. It’s not just contained into your head and memory

It’s like I’m yelling into the void, and it just takes it

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This new record is very different, feels more sci-fi experimental like an alien church on mars filled with women singing curses

You literally described my fantasy, that’s my dream! Like a witch cult in outer space just hanging out

Sounds like a good time to me

 

Let’s talk about ‘Woman’,

She comes to me in a fever dream

Why did that line the stick out to you enough to call your EP that?

I really liked that line when I wrote it, I think it encapsulates the entire vibe of how I’m feeling and the record. It sounds quite tender, but it’s also a bit violent.

Yeah, like she comes to you in a fever dream as a release from the fever, or as a sleep paralysis demon

I think it’s a cool balance between those feelings. I wrote the song for a Uni project which was based off of movement, so I wanted to make something that was undulating. I’m quite a visual person as well, so I pictured women dancing in circles and stuff on a lake, and then I needed to create the sound that was that picture. I did an acapella demo and I tried to add stuff but it worked as an acapella piece. I wanted to create something that was undulating and pans back and forth in your head

It’s quite dissonant, a lot of the vocals in your songs are done in a way where they sit together, but it doesn’t necessarily make you feel at ease. You can hear all these voices together and it sounds kind of cultish and ancient and scary, but it’s beautiful. I felt similarly about ‘Angel Energy’, where you have all these harmonies and sometimes they spring together and it’s this diatonic relief from some of the dissonance. Peter Pan also comes to mind

Oh like sirens! They are my inspiration. I love dissonance, and I love the very strange overtones that come out in group singing, so beautiful. It’s your voice and it’s what you’re born with, and it’s really powerful. I also really like cult imagery, and witches

Did it take you a while to figure out what sound you wanted?

I think I always knew what I wanted my sound to be, I just didn’t know how to physically get it out of myself, or where to find the ability to make the sound. I could always hear it in my head, and that was the frustrating part because I didn’t know how to make those sounds real. I feel a lot more confident in my ability now that I’ve learned a bit of production

It’s so important to be able to represent yourself and your ideas the best way you can

I think it also really matters who you’re working with. Working with Aphir was amazing,

Right so you worked with her?

Yeah so ‘Limbo’ was produced by both of us, I had had this song with me for ages and it was a guitar song in my head but I knew I wanted it to be a bit more but I didn’t know how to get it to the next stage. I was so used to how it sounded, I couldn’t hear it any other way. I played a gig with Aphir and she came up to me afterwards and was like ‘that song! Limbo! I wanna work on it!’ and we did it! She helped me carve out a new sound for it, and it was amazing. She was the first female producer I worked with and I felt like I could just be real and not embarrassed, she understood what I was talking about

You don’t have to pretend you’re less vulnerable

She would also point out lyrics she loved which was special, the song became hers too in a way

I like at the end of that song when the reverb gets a lot dryer before it breathes out at the very end. There’s a lot of love in that production so it makes sense that you both connected with it

It was a really rewarding experience for sure!

I love ‘St Venus’, how did it feel writing something that feels a lot more experimental?

That song was inspired by a statue of Venus at the NGV, and I imagined her drifting through space. It felt really good because that was the kind of music I wanted to make in my mind. It’s my David Lynch tribute song! It felt really good to have it end up sounding exactly as it did in my head

How nice is it to find a way to represent your vision and make it sound the way you always wanted it to be!

I wanted to write a song that could exist in Twin Peaks. I also started experimenting vocally a lot more, I’m used to writing songs where my vocals are first and in the foreground, so it was really fun to wail in the background into space

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Do you have a song or lyric that you’re especially proud of?

I’m very proud of ‘Limbo’ lyrically.  I think I’m self-assured as a songwriter, even if I might not feel confident as a beat maker. I know writing is always first for me, and that that is what I’m good at. I would never sing something that I didn’t mean, everything on the record is very intentional. I like in ‘Limbo’,

 

In honour of wisdom, in honour of truth

I can take the salt to the wound

 

I’m proud of that song! I also like in ‘Heavenly’ there’s a line,

 

I wonder what it feels like to be a beautiful woman, the kind that they sing about

 

I like that lyric. I might change my mind tomorrow! I’m having this revelation now that I actually like all my lyrics… I think when I was younger I used to be way more chatty in songs

Definitely a lot more words in the other record

Yeah, and also like I was a lot more brazen with what I’d say maybe?

 

What’s the ideal fictional listening environment for the new EP?

Outer space

In a forest

Space forest, maybe on a lake, summoning the devil

Sounds like a Wednesday night plan!

People always tell me that my music is kind of coming down music for them? Like after a party or driving home late kind of music

When I saw Maggie Rogers in Sydney, she had done her whole set with her bangers, and for her encore she came back and sung an acapella song as her encore, she was saying the leaves the stage so hyped and full of adrenaline and she needs to come down, so she wanted to come down together

So powerful! I love that

I think your music sits in that world, that sort of power of maybe coming down, or maybe going up into space

Going up into space definitely

Do you find songwriting generally easy?

It comes to me naturally, and it’s something I have to do in order to move on with my life, there are definitely songs that are challenging and take time to piece together, and then there are songs that write themselves pretty easily. I think it exists somewhere between the two. I don’t find lyric writing challenging, I think I always have something to say

Your first record has a real teenage tragedy vibe

You’re right about that. ‘Savage Youth’ was about teenager and high school tragedy. ‘Trip Fontaine’ is based on the virgin suicides. I was obsessed with being a teenager

It’s important to feel that way, I think Lorde does that well too. I read that her first album is about her being obsessed with being a teenager, and she wrote this piece when she turned 20 almost mourning the fact that her teenagehood was over, but also being hopeful for the future. When you’re a teenager you’re sort of dismissed as being melodramatic and dumb

When you’re a teen you experience those emotions for the first time and they are so heightened, and so vibrant. I don’t know what happens to you later in life, but you’ll never feel those feelings as vividly as you did when you were a teen. It’s really special and a bit tragic

Some of the most important things you feel first happen when you’re a teenager

And it’s so intense when you’re a teen! Everything is so dramatic

And it’s not even fake dramatic, it just is dramatic

It feels so intense

Do you wish you were still a teenager in some ways?

I don’t think I want to be a teen anymore, at least not the teen with the brain that I had back then. Sometimes I do think about what it would be like if I was a teen again

There’s a lot about being a teenager I know I’ll never experience again, and is hard to get back

Teen girls are so powerful, they’re the most powerful form of human, and I loved being one. But I’m pretty happy with the way that I am at the moment

And the teenage-hood that you had

It’s so crazy, when you’re a teen it feels like it’s forever, and now I can’t believe I’m not one

Especially if you released music at that age as well, I think that makes a difference. Not everyone who does music gets to release it that young

I was just so antsy! I had to put it out, they have to know my teen mind!

 

What do you want to stand for as a musician and a writer?

I’d say that being vulnerable is powerful, as humans we should share our emotions with each other and connect with each other. As a songwriter, I don’t know how to write about anything other than how I feel or what I think, it’s always a really rewarding experience to have someone tell me that my song means something to them in a way that I might never understand because it belongs to them now

And that connection wouldn’t have existed if you weren’t vulnerable in the first place

I had a friend tell me that being sensitive is a superpower, and that’s something I keep close. I’ve been told before that being too emotional makes me weak, but I’m out here trying to make a career out of being real with my feelings

I think the world is changing too, being real is being celebrated. There are too many people who hide from how they feel and it’s self-destructive and poisonous. To have a vessel to express yourself, and to have other people to connect with it, there’s nothing better

We have music and it’s so special because it gives you that. It doesn’t judge you or tell you you’re wrong. Music supports you

 

You can find Sandy Hsu’s music below,

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