We live in troubled times. Turn on the news and all you seem to hear is how the world economic system is plunging further and further into recession. The news is bleak, but many independent musicians can at least take some solace in the fact that they have day jobs to subsidise their musical endeavors. Not so for Sydney based artist Sui Zhen.
“I’ve actually just stopped working a full time job so I can concentrate on music.”
Perhaps somewhat intimidating given the current environment, this wasn’t an impulsive move. While Sui has been making her melodic folk music since at least 2003, it was several years later that she contemplated the pursuit as something of a career.
“Yeah, I’ve been writing for a long time, but I guess I was always working and doing music as a hobby until about 2006. It was then I actually spent some money on recording my first EP and started playing a few more shows.”
“I had finished uni and was about to get a job and started thinking about what I really wanted to do. I think I was just happy enough to do it for myself. But then obviously you start the whole kinda public persona thing; other people start getting interested.”
That public persona provided an opportunity to meet other artists and musicians who have encouraged her to continue writing, offering chances to collaborate and further develop her unique sound. It’s something that has surely helped to keep up the motivation.
“Yeah, I’ve gradually met a lot of really inspiring people locally. Like-minded people help each other out, and everyone’s different, but you kind of find the similar minded people in the music industry. You work together, and get inspired by each other and that’s the whole reason you do it in the end.”
Still a daunting move to abandon a guaranteed pay check every week, Sui Zhen remains confident with her change of vocation. She has other things in mind too.
“It was good. It was a good move. It took me a while to adjust to the different lifestyle but it allows me to do all this other stuff that I want to do. I’m trying to do a lot of things with the visuals as well.”
“It’s just small kind of stuff at the moment. I’ve just started getting back into drawing and a bit of painting. I like doing small scale visuals, some animations and some drawing, but I’m not sure how far I’ll be able to take it. I’d love to be able to make whole music videos, but they take a very long time for the kind of style I have. I might work for months and months on one thing and it’d only be twenty seconds.”
While entire video clips might be too time consuming, she has already developed ideas for “projections behind the stage” as she performs live. Her upcoming tour involves a mix of solo performances and shows with a full backing band. Both incarnations will be playing the same songs, and hence keep the same name, but she tells me there are some significant differences between the two.
“With the band it’s more of a band experience; it’s not so much a singer songwriter vibe. It’s kinda more like the recording because we can do all those different sounds and stuff but then a lot of people still really respond to the solo shows and I enjoy playing them too. Some people really enjoy just seeing the one person.”
The apex of this tour will see Sui bringing the whole band along to deliver her full atmospheric sound to the main stage at the Peats Ridge festival. It’s a gig that she looks forward to with a surprising lack of nerves, given she’s never played a festival before.
“Nah, it’s really cool. I’m really excited about that. A lot of my good friends are all playing and I think it’s gonna be a really great festival. It’s part of a festival too, so there’s people who are there anyway so you’ve gotta try and get them to come and watch you.”
That challenge, getting complete strangers to connect with her music seems to be part of the attraction of playing live for Sui Zhen.
“I really like that challenge. That’s probably one of my favourite challenges about performing is playing your first song and drawing people in. I really like watching people if don’t know who the hell you are and then you start playing and kinda getting a bit interested.”
Devoting her time to music, she is currently working on two albums of material. One is a Sui Zhen release, the other a little different.
“I’m writing for a Sui Zhen album, which has kinda been a slow organic process. I’m also working with my partner Jamie on a collaborative album together, but it’s a bit more experimental so we’re using lots of different sounds from all over the place”