Interview with Magdalen Hsu-Li by Steven Digman
Born in rural Martinsville, Virginia, Magdalen Hsu-Li began her musical career in 1997 by founding her own record company, “ChickPop Records and releasing her debut EP “Muscle And Bone”. Since this musically successful but unlikely rural beginning, Hsu-Li has released two additional CDs, “Evolution (1999)” and her latest musical expression…”Fire”. Singer-Songwriter, Piano Player, Poet, Painter/Artist, Speaker/Educator and Business Woman, Magdalen Hsu-Li is indeed a Renaissance of Musical Expression (Evolution) — A frontier’s woman into the ‘wilderness of song’!
How does the Past both musically and personally relate (effect) the present and future tense of your music?
I have done a great deal of work on myself to develop as a musician and as a person in the past 5 years and certainly this has had an effect on my music. I am always reviewing my live show in videotapes and looking for ways to better it. Personally as my social life has blossomed and I have gotten better at building community with others…I think this has taught me (as a performer) how to better connect with people on an emotional level through music. Relationships are often are about balancing your own needs with the needs of others. Having a successful live performance is also built on that concept. The performance is for the audience…not just for yourself. Every great performer knows this.
Are there any non-musical influences that have influenced your music?
Definitely…the five element philosophy of Chinese medicine has had a huge impact on my work as well as the poems of Rainer Maria Rilke and the way he looked that the world. Also painting has had a huge impact in my musical process and how I go about creating songs. I am still painting…just through music
How would you describe your music?
Pop rock alt folk singer songwriter music with a tinge of country, jazz, and punk.
As a singer/songwriter what do you consider to be the greater (deeper) art: writing the song or singing the song? And which do you enjoy most?
I’m glad you asked this question! Hands down I love the process of songwriting more than performing. Performing is great but often I feel a great deal of pressure when touring even though 90% of my performances go very well and there are great turnouts. When songwriting…. I feel free and powerful. I could stay up writing songs all night long. I love the actual act of creating and the craft of songwriting. I love listening to and studying other people’s songs and trying to figure out how they did what they did. Sometimes I analyze other people’s songs and pick them apart in a scientific way to understand them…just because it turns me on.
What one rule or rules in the business (theory) of music do you like to break?
I love breaking the myth of the starving artist. That is such a lie that people tell artist from the day they are born and it’s so sad that so many artists psych themselves out with this myth. There is always a way to make a great living from music or any art form if you are willing to use your creativity to the business aspect. People think that creativity should only be in art and the business should be in business. But the most successful business people use their intuition and creativity to problem solve and figure out how to make things work. It’s important to work from both ends using your creativity. I also would like to break through the glass ceiling for Asian Americans in the American music industry. People don’t think it can be done right now but I know it can and it should happen soon!
Why (what inspired you) and when did you form, “CHICK POP RECORDS”?
I formed CHICKPOP in 1997 when I first started touring and making records. There was the inspiration of necessity I suppose in why I created my own company.
What is the most difficult thing about running (owning) your own record company?
I work full time when not touring at booking and being a boss and manager. I don’t mind the hard work but sometimes I would like to spend 100 % as opposed to 50% of my time in practicing and creating and bettering my songwriting and live show. I would also like to combine my music and painting. I currently don’t have any time for painting. I think if I did that I could just take off and become a monster musician and artist…. music and art would just pour out of me like a force of nature.
What is the most surprising thing about running (owning) your own record company
That it can be done successfully and that there are thousands of other indie artists doing it right now. That was not something people did 20-30 years ago. People didn’t just make their own records and retain their power and profits. Major labels controlled everything back then.
And finally Magdalen, what will you be (sing) tomorrow?
The set I will be performing today at Luther College in Decorah La
All Those Words or Bittersweet
I Still Don’t Love You
Where Would I Be
As I Am
Country Fried Chinese Girl
Muscle & Bone
Fuck Bush (Possibly)
© Steven Digman 2003