When Taiwanese jazz-pop singer-songwriter Yen-J sat down to work his latest album, he wrote enough songs to fill a whole string of albums. Then he wondered whether he should give his fans something completely fresh, or something they already love.
In the end, the dashing 27-year-old singer-songwriter just decided to do both, and released two very different-sounding albums in the space of one week – the 10-song Thanksgiving (his fifth album) and the 11-song Why?Art (his sixth).
1. How did the idea for the two albums begin?
It all started two years ago in San Francisco when I read a book called What is Success To A 25-year-old Man?. After that, I had a lot of questions; so, in the search for the answers, I made these two albums. Initially, I didn’t know it would be two albums. At that point, I was working on just one album.
2. At which point did you decide to make two albums?
Well, I kept writing song after song after song. And since I was in California at the time, I kept emailing them back to the company. One year later, after 200 songs had been written, I moved back to Taipei to start on production work. The question then was, “did they (the company) want a new Yen-j, or a familiar Yen-j?”
Lots of people voted for one or the other, and the company just couldn’t decide which to go with. So in the end, I decided to make two albums.
3. Why did you go off to the US in the first place?
Nearing the end of my fourth album promotions, I was worried because my world seemed limited. I was always dealing with the same people, and going to the same places. And those are the things that inspire me to write my music, so I was concerned my songs would keep sounding the same.
So, that was why my boss suggested that I should take a vacation and go in search of my roots, which is back in San Francisco (where he was born). My family now lives in Los Angeles, which is where I did most of my songwriting. But I did go back to San Francisco for two months to revisit all the places I went to in my childhood days.
4. How did this change of environment influence your compositions?
When I was in California, I didn’t have to worry about my schedule, so I could just focus on creating music and living life in general. It was not as hard to really experience life and to care for the world. In return, you can create, because that is what you feel, and want to express.
The pace of life is also different. It’s not like the tempo of an urban city like Taipei or New York. It was there that I could rekindle family ties and experience what it was like to be an uncle.
To me, it’s not work, because I lived in my sister’s home. I would take her kid to my workspace, put the kid down, and he wouldn’t even move. Every day, for five to six hours, I sat down to write songs, documenting my feelings, and the kid would also move his head, mimicking me!
5. Would you do it all again?
Never again will I make two albums at the same time, if that’s what you mean! When I released the fifth album, the company wanted me to keep the sixth one a secret. But, it was such a challenge, as I was already listening to the songs of the sixth album.
But, if it is about going away and changing my environment and lifestyle … then, yes. I think everybody should take this break and detached themselves from their daily routine.
Composing is creative work that is not like something mass produced in factory, but more like handmade pottery, where you can feel the squeezing of the clay with your fingers.