Interview With Artist Wesley Woo of 11th Avenue Records

One thing I like to do on Daechoong Mama, is interview and highlight other Asian Americans out there doing something worth reading about. Wesley Woo is an award winning Chinese American singer and song writer from San Fransisco. His first record album is scheduled to be released on April 4th. His record label reached out to me asking if I would be willing to do an interview. At first I wasn't sure, but they sent me a few links to his music and I really enjoyed listening to it. There was a depth and a sincerity to his songs that had me hooked. His music is a mix between blues, motown and with a touch of country and pop. Some songs had a delightful element of surprise, where I would think it would sound a certain way through the whole song, only to transform, and it's a journey I greatly enjoyed and appreciated the whole way through. It's hard to speak generally of his music because each track was unique and each one offered a different experience.

Here are links to some of his sites:

Have a listen here:

I got a chance to interview him. I greatly enjoyed speaking to him. He was really down to earth and easy to talk to. I also felt like I could relate a lot as a blogger when he spoke about music and song writing. I walked away feeling like I learned something. Which is always good =)

Here is a transcript of the interview:

Tell us about your upbringing and how your parents played a role. Did they foster your love of music?

Not quite, I did go to a magnet music school called Marin School of the Arts, I sort of got in there on a fluke and my parents were supportive at least through high school. After high school it wasn't up to them anymore.

Me: How did they feel about you pursuing it full time?

They were mostly indifferent (laughs).

Me: Oh!

I live  on my own and they don't pay for my bills (chuckles), as long as that's the case then they're okay.

Me: They weren't like "You have to be a doctor or lawyer etc."

They did encourage me to explore some of those things. They wanted me to go to business school when I was at UC Berkeley. I started out there as an architecture major and I don't know, it just didn't really fit for me. It wasn't something that I could imagine myself doing for long periods of time. Everything just sort of fell into being a music major at UC Berkeley. Nothing else really seemed to make sense for me. It kinda happened by accident. I wasn't planning it. 

Me: Tell us about the journey in pursuing music from college till now. How did the events fall into place?

When I graduated from college I had been playing jazz and classical guitar a lot. We started a couple projects, mostly jazz guitar stuff. It was called Jazz and Stuff.

It happened, then it didn't. Then I started playing in a cover band and that project started to fall apart and our vocalist took off after awhile. I couldn't really sing covers because I just wasn't a good enough vocalist. So I ended up writing my own songs because that was the only way I was able to sing, was to sing my own songs (laughs).

I probably starting writing songs maybe 4-5 years ago. After that I don't know, I play a lot of gigs. A lot of bad gigs.

Me: Tell us about your worst one.

There were a lot of worst ones. (We both laugh) The worst one was this one in Oakland were literally zero people came.

Me: Aww

We went on at midnight. It was really rough. (Laughing) I remember thinking "What the heck are we doing?? I have a college degree! Why am I here? The interesting thing is., even though I hit rock bottom, it still didn't make sense to do anything but music. I have a need to do this. Even at the lowest point, I was encouraging myself, that I need to do this.

Me: Right, and I think that's when you know you are doing what you are suppose to.

I pretty much ask myself that question basically everyday. I need to do this for my own survival as a person.

Me: So that moment was how many years ago?

That was 2011. I played a lot of really crappy gigs. I found out which ones are good and useful and productive for me as a musician. 

Me: Where did you find these gigs?

At first I trolled Craigslist for awhile, but I saw that wasn't working. You connect with a certain kind of musician on Craigslist  and it wasn't the kind of musician I was looking for. Especially in San Francisco there's a lot of garage rock bands on Craigslist. Which is not really my thing. After awhile I realized I need to connect with more of a song writing community and went out of my way to look for it., like open mics and other musicians that had a similar performance style as me. Then I started to get better gigs. That's actually how I met the people that started 11th Avenue Records. We actually co founded that record label together with a couple friends of mine. Now we have this thing that no one really knows what to do with, but we are sort of feeling it out. Its one of those things where you start all over again and say "Let's do it wrong enough times till we figure how to do it correctly." (Laughs)

Me: Right, sometimes that's the best way to learn. So that's how you ended up with 11th Avenue records?

Yea, and I'm really excited for the record label. We haven't done anything yet, my record is actually is the first record to be release for 11th Avenue Records.

Me: Tell us about your creative process in writing a song.

Yea, its never just one thing. My goal as a song writer is to write the most honest song as possible, whatever that sounds like, it's going to sound like that. I think I did a good a pretty good job on this record. What this record ended up being is, me writing the most honest songs I could possibly write, and doing that on a huge volume. I think I wrote maybe 40-50 songs worth of material for this record and I ended up picking 9 songs that made sense for a record. Once you've written those 40-50 songs you have to pick which ones can go in the record. For example you need 3 songs under 3 and 1/2 minutes for radio edits, we need a couple ballads and a song on piano etc. The record is not a complete representation of who I am as a song writer, it's just a representation of what I want to show people, the 9-10 best songs I am most proud to show people.

Me: So the song on the website Stay, can you tell us about that song in particular?

It probably took about two solid years to write that song. It took a very long time for it to get out. I came up with this guitar idea. It was really cool and interesting, which is the guitar riff in the beginning. I had tried to write a song for it, for at least a year and nothing came out. I just thought this riff is not useful, it's rhythmically unstable. But for whatever reason, every I sat down to write a song that riff kept coming back. I think back then, every time I picked up that riff, I was not quite ready as a song writer to write that song yet. I would try and write half a verse, maybe a hook to a chorus. There are one or two songs on that record that are based on that song because I had tried to write Stay. I had given up on it. Then one day I had taken some days off work and I had no plans to go anywhere and made no plans to travel so I sat down and said "Where am I gonna go? I have no commitments I can't just sit here." So I got in the car and I started driving and I got 20 miles outside of Sacramento and I realized that, there's really no where I want to go. The only place I really want to be is back at home with my girlfriend at that time. So I stopped and pulled over at a Subway, and I sat down and basically wrote the first verse to the song. It was a really interesting inspiration for that song because I had tried so long to write that song and it never came and all at once everything came out.

Me: It's kinda like the song chose you. (laugh)

The interesting thing was that I thought the song was done and I brought it to an open mic and it fell flat on it's face. No one cared about the song and then I sat down after that and I was like what else can I do? And then that's when I wrote the intro, originally the first 8 seconds of that song was a guitar intro, so that's when I wrote the intro. Then everything started falling into place after that.

Me: So people started connecting with the song more after that?

Yea. That is probably one of the most genuinely inspired songs I've ever written. The scary part about that is, I have no idea how that happened. I can't replicate it.

That's what's so fun about song writing. No matter how good you get at it, there's still no guarantee that you will continue to be good at it. (Laughs) You are only as good as the last song you wrote because after that who knows?

Me: So true. I'm relating to you as a blogger (laughing).

I actually won 2 song writing awards for that song. I won the West Coast Songwriters competition and I won an Oaktown Musical Competition. Yea I'm very grateful that song manifested itself when it did.

Me: Tell us about some of your highest moments thus far.

The CD release for one. I was telling my friend this is my most significant accomplishment thus far ever because when you think about "What are my biggest achievements in life? I graduated from college.. and that's it (laughs).

Me: Well that's the case for many people.

Besides college, the biggest achievement, I've had so far, is this record. The fact that now that I have to share it with people is kinda terrifying. This is the most honest thing I've ever done and now I have to share it to see if you like it (laughing). Its scary.

Me: I'm not int he music industry obviously, what is the process in having your record released?

That whole process is new to me. I spent the last two years recording this record, which is a long time to be recording a record. Up against 1 month before finishing the record, we booked the venue for the CD release show for April 4th, at the Lost Church. We had to book it 5 months in advance. It's the only way to get that venue. It's probably not the smartest thing to book your CD release show, before you actually finish the record (laughs). Everyone knows in San Fransisco that the venue you have to get for your CD release show is the Lost Church. It's the most beautiful venue.  It's very small and intimate, maybe seats 60 and 10 for standing room, for where I am as a musician that is a lot of seats to fill. So we finished the record and booked the show and now we are promoting it like crazy to get the show packed.

Listen to the rest of the interview on the sound cloud link below:

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