Fifi Rong is a singer/songwriter and producer based in the UK but originally from China. Her sound is melancholic and her voice hypnotising. Having recently supported UK Trip Hop legend Tricky on his tour and recently self releasing her own album 'Wrong' it seems like now is a great time to get to know more about this exciting and beautiful artist.
EMW: You spent your childhood in China, a country that fascinates me, what music were you exposed to during your time there?
FR: In China I was exposed to Chinese folk music that was mainly about the the revolution and the war period, and idolising Chairman Mao and worshipping the Chinese Communist Party. My whole family were in the army and been soldiers so I'm prone to these kind of songs.
Chinese rock is another side of music I listened to. There are some real underground artists who made really good music but it was very tough life making real music in china, as there is little money to be made. Some of the good ones managed to blend Chinese element into rock very tastefully, although majority of mainstream rock music is cheesy and rubbish.
Chinese pop was something I listened to very selectively. Mostly shit, and sounds the same, production is outdated and soulless and all about sad love songs, yet there were a few artists managed to pull it off and wrote very beautiful sad songs.
The rest I listened to when I was there would be Brit rock.. Suede, Blur, Radio Head etc. Whatever was available on TV at the time..
So all of it was already a nice mixture of things which set out a firm background for my future hybrid styles to be born.
In fact I first came to the UK I went to school near Bristol, that's when I got to know trip hop and I really loved this dark sound. :)
"I was miserable deep down all this time to be honest until I started making music seriously" Fifi Rong on taking a break from making music. http://fifirong.com
FR: Hmm I came to the UK in early 2000 actually.. I was in a band in china, performed a little, and sang in Chinese, also when I came over to the UK I sang in school in Chinese often. They loved it! Different culture different sound. I studied music technology in A levels, but I didn't want to pursue music as I didn't think I had the talent as well as my family always told me so. But it hurts not to follow my dream.
I stopped for a long time and did lots of other things. I was miserable deep down all this time to be honest until I started making music seriously. It answered all the questions I ever asked about life, about myself, about values etc.
EMW: And you sing in Chinese on two of your tracks off your album Wrong (which is a fantastic introduction to Fifi Rong’s work) titled Cliff and I forget the name of the other, What are these two particular songs about?
FR: The two Chinese songs are 'cliff'- a dream about space travel, I took off in spaceship from earth to a planet called 'Cliff' - a very beautiful planet. Everything I saw there I still remember. And most of things I saw there is recorded in the song.. Amazing experience, it felt real.
The other one is 'Ever Rising Sun'. I have taken a traditional folk Chinese/Tibetan song that is about worshiping chair man Mao - who is the 'Rising Sun' made my own Dub Step production and sang in different Melody but still keeping the Tibetan element in the music. It was done 5 years ago but I worked again and again to perfect the production before it's release.
"...this album is fully written produced and mixed by myself, so it means a lot to me, it's the result of my hard work over these years. It's a milestone but only the very beginning one." https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/wrong/id717208079?i=717208302
EMW: How long did it take to put together a whole album?
FR: My album is a collection and a selection of 14 songs from the last 5 years, so there isn't a timeline for it. I just thought to give my past songs that were already out there a proper home.
I have a lot of other mashups and collabs on the net but it's usually for free download... But this album is fully written produced and mixed by myself, so it means a lot to me, it's the result of my hard work over these years. It's a milestone but only the very beginning one.
EMW: It's very interesting for me to see how music and politics are so intrinsically linked and how a traditional folk song in the UK serves a completely different purpose to a traditional folk song in China. 'Ever Rising Sun' is a beautiful piece of music but now knowing that it is praising Chairman Mao and knowing the history of Tibet it puts a different light on the track. What are your feelings on music being used to promote political parties or views?
FR: It had to be that way as china has one party and media is controlled by that party. I wouldn't make music to serve political purpose unless I feel its absolutely necessary. But if I was born in war period I would be inclined to write songs like that.
EMW: Let's talk about your productions a little. Are you a bit of a geek when it comes to new technologies and ways of making music or do you have a method and set of tools that you stick to always?
FR: I wish I was a geek.. I'm a very slow Learner and new technology is overwhelming. There's no way I can catch up so I just end up feeling frustrated. So I do stick to the same programs use what I know fully, the limited things I learned and taught myself. Everyone has a set of methods I imagine otherwise no result can be achieved as one can get lost in the technicality itself.
EMW: This is very true and I'm sure creativity can suffer from this. How would you normally start a new song? Hearing about your song Cliff I can imagine you leaping out of bed and writing down your ideas as quickly as possible before you forget. Do you have a time of day or special place that helps you write?
FR: Hmm yeah you are right about all that:)
Unfortunately strong emotions make me want to write.. That's why most of my songs are more sad than happy. Negative feelings just have more impact than happiness unfortunately.. And sad songs always turn out to be more powerful. Or maybe that's what I think of music. I give real credit to music that makes me cry over music that makes me feel otherwise..
EMW: How important is your look when performing or making videos? Do you design all of your own costumes and make up?
FR: The look evolved through 1-2 years.. I personally hate dressing up but it's a part of the deal for this period of time. It's good to have an identity as I could look like two different people with different outfits and people will get confused;
My look is my idea but I have people to help me materialise that.. the look embodies the essence of oriental culture but it's a mixture just like my music. :)
EMW: In the video for Over You this is a great example of your vision. Tell us a little about how the track came about.
FR: Song wise it's a celebration of getting rid of emotional bondage by getting over someone through love, through hate, then it comes indifference. It was good feeling to finally be emotionally over someone, and (to know that) he doesn't have any power over me.
Production wise I used a lot of sampling from water bottle, pen, glass, anything I can use to be production, it's something new I learned from a production course I took earlier this year. And because it's a single, more effort in production has been put in than most of my other tracks.
EMW: What was the production course called?
FR: I don't know, it's only beginner course, music production and mixing
EMW: Sounds good! You also enjoy working with other producers from around the world. What current projects are you working on?
FR: I’m actually working on my EP that's gonna go out beginning of next year.
A few collabs but I can't say yet as it's not confirmed.
EMW: You mentioned how important it is for you to be in control of your releases and all aspects of your work. Will this EP be a self release also?
FR: Yes but I wouldn't mind a bit of help from a label with distribution if opportunity arises. But I haven't had any plan for that just yet.
EMW: Who would be your dream label to release on?
FR: To be honest I haven't done my research so I can't just make up some names.
EMW: Ok ... What would be an ideal situation for you as an artist signed to a label?
FR: Enough creative freedom and respect for the art than only commercial concerns. Fair deals, good energy from the label.. Good people. Most importantly, me and the label should be working like partnership instead of a dictatorship etc.
"I don't believe in quick fame, commercial hypes, and the 'Pop Culture' which has departed from music as a form of art itself." http://fifirong.com
EMW: I have a lot of respect for you as an artist who will not sacrifice her art for material wealth. Is it true that you turned down a place on the music TV program the Voice? Do you think that programs like this are good for music?
FR: Yeah the voice UK scouted me to do their auditions. I went there once to see what the fuzz is. they thought I had an unique style, liked it, and called me back for another round but by then I found out it's not for me, as I would need to compromise too much freedom and It's probably for just singers but not for music creators. So I turned it down and very happy with my decision.
I don't believe in quick fame, commercial hypes, and the 'Pop Culture' which has departed from music as a form of art itself. I'm not saying these TV shows are good or bad. We live in a capitalist society after all, it's really understandable these entertainment programmes serve the purpose of maximising profits. But that is the basis of commercial music, to make money as priority. Whereas real music with artistic value is a different subject, art is timeless and priceless. If lucky, real music would get commercialised but profits is only a by-product.
Music to me is not a means to an end but end itself. Its pointless if I can't be true to myself, and make honest music. I thrive to improve my production and my musicality. I write about my life journey, my thoughts my deepest desire and fears, vulnerability and sadness. At the same time, creating music has given meanings to my tears and pains and got me through many difficult times. I want my audience to know the real me,on recordings and on stage, And I share my soul with with them..If they can connect to my expressions, that is priceless to me, it's what I live for.
EMW: This is a very important point that music is more than just a career for you and I'm sure this resonates with many others. What advice would you give to anyone starting to make music they believe is 'worthy' of release?
FR: I'm a newbie myself and in no position to give people advice on that. And music is such an subjective experience, there's no good or bad really.
On a more general note I'd say try to focus on the big picture, don't loose sight of the reason you're making music in the first place, as it's easy to get carried away along the way.
EMW: Of course! Five years is no time at all in terms of making music but you have had a little exposure from touring with Tricky. How did this come about?
FR: Oh I worked with him for a few years on music and this year I had a few songs on this album. So supporting his show came naturally.
EMW: Did you get a good response performing your material live?
FR: Defo yeah last year's tour was really good. I had one of the best experiences performing in Manchester academy and O2 indigo.
EMW: what's next for you in terms of live shows?
FR: Planning a tour in china next year. Keep doing as many shows in the UK and Europe, especially festival seasons. And get more experiences and get better at it.
EMW: Sounds good! You work with lots of different producers who else should we be looking out for?
FR: I like many producers and I will collaborate with more in future if they give me the chance to!
EMW: Ok I have one more question then I'll stop. After a song making session what do you do to relax ?
FR: I don't need to relax as making music is meditation for me haha. And I sleep and chill most of the time when I'm not working or making music anyway.
EMW: Anything else that you'd like to say?
FR: 'Like' me on facebook.com/fifirongmusic and follow me on twitter @fifirong for my latest news, and listen to my music on http://fifirong.com and find my album via https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/wrong/id717208079?i=717208302
Many thanks to Fifi Rong for the opportunity to interview her. Please make sure you take a listen and purchase her amazing album 'Wrong' available at all the usual music retailers. Also, as a treat take a second to download some free music from Fifi Rong's Soundcloud.