photo by asuka chen
Every so often I visit the BBC Scotland channel on the iPlayer and head to the music section. I stumbled across a feature length episode of Tune and proceeded to watch it all. One song and performance in particular caught my attention.
Sarya AKA swoo is a musical poet from Taiwan, now based in Edinburgh (although back in Taiwan with her family for now). Sarya performed her song I'll Break My Heart (So You Don't Have To) in her bedroom. The song has a beautiful homemade lofi loving quality to it - melodic keys, fuzzy synth bass, sparse beats, leaving loads of room for Sarya to sing.
It's better to feel sadness and pain
It's better than nothing
I break my heart so you don't have to
The attention I'm directing at you
Is a manifestation of my boredom and a little love
I couldn't know what I was looking for before it was gone
I couldn't know who I was looking for before you were gone
With her hood pulled up, headphones on, light blue streaks in her hair and a big smile, Sarya won my heart in 4-minutes. She gets lost in the music, making movements to the keyboard riff, dancing ... just beautiful to watch and listen to.
So I got in touch to find out a little more and was delighted when Sarya emailed back some answers to my questions. I look forward to catching Sarya playing live - hopefully in the not too distant future.
photo by asuka chen
What is your earliest musical memory?
Earliest musical memory: I'm not gonna lie, I think that my first musical memory must have been at like 2/3 years old, singing along with Blue's Clues. Most specifically, MAIL TIME!
I think even to this day, a lot of the music I heard on this show still slaps if I'm being perfectly honest.
When did you start creating your own music? Was there a specific moment when you thought - I can do this?
I started writing and creating music with shitty ukelele chords in 2016, with a song called "Doesn't Matter", which I showed my friends and they loved it! Mostly because it was thoroughly "me" with my highly emotionally blunt lyrics, It eventually encouraged me to host an open mic night that forced me to practice singing every day. I eventually learned guitar in 2018 and then some electronic music stuffs the year after. I didn't really start to take myself seriously as a musical person until I wrote some songs that I thought were worth recording, some of which were songs like "idk" and "insomnia song".
When I was performing around Taipei and Edinburgh, I started feeling more like a real musician. I thought, "Hey! People seem to like this! Maybe I can do this after all!" And I figured that since so few people who looked like me were doing music in the Edinburgh music scene, it really inspired me to be my own role model. Then when I started to get more comfortable making electronic music, I finally felt like maybe I can do this music thing..I've always been writing poetry and songs, and I never for a second didn't think it was worth doing, but it wasn't really until two years ago, when I moved back to Edinburgh the second time in 2019, did I really think that it was worth showing people.
Photo by Ceridwen Angharad
You create very loving and playful vocal and keyboard melodies. Where do they come from? Do you hear them in your head, or create them through playing?
Sometimes I will randomly sing on the street and then a sentence that randomly pops from my brain sounds really lyric worthy, so I write it down. Then, I kinda sing it randomly in different ways until it sounds like it fits what the meaning is. Songs kind of pour out of me, and I don't need much time to complete a song. I once wrote a song in 30 seconds, and sung the chorus in my voice memos, and I came back to it 3 months later and the entire song just flowed out.
It sounds cliche, but a lot of the time it really is a matter of translating those words and feelings into music correctly. It's like I have the picture and the puzzle pieces, and then I have to just assemble them. I started as a spoken word poet and I figured that I was writing songs all along. Some songs start with a melody or a few chords, and then some sentences perfectly fit into it. I kind of work from there to make most of my melodies. The vocals are my favourite thing to make because there is so much you can do with backing vocals and harmonies. I like to think of them as a whole other instrument entirely, which really opens up how a song can sound.
What music do you listen to? Would you say you have any key influences?
My main music taste seems to float around DIY sad indie folk (Death Cab For Cutie, Daniel Johnston, Joanna Newsom), Icelandic experimental postrock (múm, Sin Fang, ), country music (Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette), and experimental electronica (Tami T, Holly Herndon) or queer scandi-pop (AURORA, Beatrice Eli, Ji Nilsson). There's absolutely a lot of emotional influence from early 2000s indie pop/folk, as well as Scandivian soundscapes of ethereal caveness + sincere and simple country songwriting. All those musicians are my idols and I think I sculpt my shape around all those elements. I guess my ideal sound is like Björk but sing-crying about mums in a large reverb-laden cave while melodica billows in the background.
What's been your favourite thing that you have done as an artist to date?
It's difficult, because all songs are like our lil babes that we have helped nature into full grown ideas, but at the moment my favourite project has been a song that hasn't been released yet called "WHY DO I CRY" (which will be released in June/July). (I can talk about this but I imagine maybe you want something I've released?)
All my songs have a specific mood and emotional purpose, so it's difficult to actually say which is a "favourite". Since fans have their favs, I always seem to want to give my less popular songs more attention. "incredible" and "waking up is always a disappointment" are two of my more experimental poetic songs that last no longer than 2 minutes. They are both pieces of musical poetry which remind me where I came from and to never forget how music can be played with to create a specific emotion. It reminds me that songs always be a complete verse chorus verse structure, and that I've done it before! Those are both songs that when I listen to them again, I just remember so exactly how I felt when I wrote them, every single time.
How has the last 16-months been for you as an artist?
The last 16-months have been a whirlwind! I essentially had to spend half of my visa in lockdown, and I had to move back to Taiwan immediately afterwards as a result. It has been excruciating to see so much devastation in the creative communities and other industries, impacting the livelihood of so many wonderful people. Not being able to perform was definitely on the list of missed things. However, to see the silver lining, it proceeded to make all musicians homebound and very keen to collaborate and work together long distance and otherwise, and I was able to get a lot of angsty music and skill building out of the way. I've written many many songs that I plan to properly release this coming year and the next, because I plan to use the time I have not locked at home to go out and hug people!
It broke my heart that I had to leave Scotland so suddenly, but I will be back this autumn. At the very least, Taipei is free from lockdown and quarantine, so everything is pretty much normal. I've had a few gigs in Taipei already, and I've been out and about every week trying to make up for lost time. It was so weird to perform though, I think it's definitely impacted how comfortable I feel performing in front of a live audience. It'll probably take some time to regain that eagerness to perform.
What was your last release?
On May 31st, I released a song called 'PROFESSIONAL WOMAN'
which is a house music ballroom inspired song dedicated to trans women and female identifying people everywhere. It's meant to highlight the work it takes to have your gender recognised, especially when it's done so flawlessly and professionally ;) . In light of the GRA not getting passed and just general transphobia across the country and the world, I wanted a fun song that all my lady friends and they/thems to pose and strut to. It's mixed and mastered by a dear friend of mine, maniatrix, who also did a "WHITE GIRL REMIX"
of the song that will also be released with it as a bonus track.
Any concrete future plans? Or are you taking things as they come?
It's hard to make any plans given COVID and the inability to travel. I'm dying to come back to the UK, but at the moment it seems unwise until the vaccine is more available in Taiwan. My plans so far are to do a few gigs and festivals in Taiwan, and then go back in November to participate in the Great Western Festival. Everything is still quite up in the air!