Name: Joanne Tang aka 9m88
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, actress
Recent release: The new 9m88 album 9m88 Radio is out via Jazz Baby Co. and Waves Collective.
Recommendations: The Awakening by Almad Jamal Trio (album); 10:30 On A Summer Night by Marguerite Duras (Novel)
If you enjoyed this interview with 9m88 and would like to find out more about her work, visit her official website. She is also on Instagran, and Facebook.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I grew up listening to Mado-Pop. I’d say it plays a big part in my early influences.
I think my first R&B/Soul album was Alicia Keys’ The Diary of Alicia Keys and it opened up my ears in a different way. Mando-Pop didn't have that sound in the 2000s, you know.
Ever since I started to dig Hip Hop and Neo-Soul music throughout high school and college, Erykah Badu has been my biggest influence in this genre. The way she expresses sounds and vocalizes total honesty in her music is appealing to me. Watching her perform live was another wow moment to me. I noticed a vocalist should have the knowledge and courage to be a band leader.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
If I start bopping my head when listening to a song, it must be a good one. No matter what genre it is.
Music also triggers so many memories. I love listening to certain records while traveling. I love to have those records bring back the vibes of those cities when I listen to them again.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
I’m always seeking something that has a few new elements apart from my previous works. They don’t have to be huge breakthroughs, which can be from fun rhythmic changes, a different aspect of writing lyrics, a new expression or tone of singing, to working with someone I’m not familiar with.
To keep my passion of wanting to play music and singing is essential to me. By performing the same songs with different approaches also help me to find new lights and possibilities.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I grew up listening to Mando-Pop. At some point, it no longer stimulated me as a music lover so I got into Soul/R&B music. I started by listening to Stevie, Michael Jackson …who introduced me to grooves.
I started digging Neo-Soul artists like D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, and Jill Scott. I then embarked on a journey of exploring Jazz, which had a big influence on the way I write and sing.
I’ve been listening to more Brazilian music lately.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
To break through the daily struggles, to document lives, to provide myself with a proof of being alive, and to overcome the fear and loving moments with my listeners together.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I’d say I fit in the latter category. I always feel there are so many new ideas when I listen to music from past times. At least, that's how I feel when listening to Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd.
It might just be the right time and the right place to create a timeless piece like that again.On the other hand, the way we value and view things is so different right now. We might not need a “timeless piece” anymore. Who knows!
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
I’m a vocalist. The voice memo app from my phone helps me a lot.
I try to be spontaneous. When I have any ideas, I just press record and try to capture snippets.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
I water plants, try to make myself a cup of coffee, and start to work for a few hours. Sometimes, if I have a long photo/video shoot session, that's basically what my day will consist of.
I always make sure to listen to guided meditation tracks when going to bed. It became a ritual this year.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
9m88 Radio is my sophomore album.
I invited 8 musicians from different parts of the world to produce my songs. This album is a pandemic baby. This album is my way to reconnect with the world during the pandemic. Like switching channels between different radio stations, I wanted to include each artist's distinctive sounds intertwined with my compositions. Almost every song was produced and formed through online discussions.
The songs talk about heartbreaks, womanhood, and scattered upbeat/bitter moments in lives.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
I love experiencing magical impromptu moments with other musicians on stage and in the studio. Working with others helps lighten up our dark corners and fixed preferences. I write my own songs a lot, too.
It can be really expressive and personal, like trying to write a journal.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
I thought about this question a lot when I lived in NYC. I wrote songs about race, womanhood, and my expectations for this world.
After the pandemic struck, I focused more on myself. Life is short. Staying on track mentally is more important to me right now.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
When I’m going through pain and loss, I tend to document the feelings in music. I write or listen to help me remember that “yes, I’m really sad right now, but these feelings will later become blurry and I won’t even know why I had them at some point in the future.”
Music is therapeutic for me. Through it, I experience an expressive existence that makes me feel properly understood.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
(Laughs) I’m not really friends with science. At least so far. But I guess science has its sentimental part within the laws of nature. Music has it too, like overtones.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I think making music and performing can be treated as craftsmanship, just like a coffee lover trying to master that cup of coffee. I don’t see them as mundane, I actually love to see what other angles I can take in in terms of writing and performing music.
Putting myself in a rather vulnerable situation (some ideas I’m not used to) makes things more exciting.