Interview/Author: Jocelle Koh
Translation: Carolyn Ting 陳芷瑩, Jocelle Koh
What would you give to be able to fulfill your dreams? To many people, this is nothing more than a rhetorical question that can be tossed aside with no further thought; but for Fan Yangjing, it is a question that he has asked himself many a time on the road to pursuing a career in music. Although he realised his affinity with music early on; he has nevertheless spent a great deal of time putting his blood, sweat and tears into creating music that can influence a wider audience. Stumbling and fumbling; going through trial and error, Fan has arduously found a little niche for himself in Taiwan’s mainstream music industry. Producing on award-winning Taiwanese singer Sasha Li’s critically acclaimed album, and working with Lara on her track ‘Little Tree’, Fan constantly challenges his boundaries, hoping to be able to show his true self through his music. This is his story.
1. Can you introduce yourself to readers who might not know you?
I sort of debuted at 18 years old in the second season of ‘One Million Stars’, why ‘sort of’, you may ask? Because at that time I only appeared a couple of times before failing to advance to the next round. Afterwards in 2013 I took part in TTV’s ‘I Want To Be A Singer’, and kind of officially debuted as a singer. Everyone probably sees me as more of an arranger, but I think writing my own songs and singing them myself is an important point I wish to achieve.
2. Yangjing is a jack of all trades in terms of all things music, not only do you produce, compose, play instruments, and can also sing. In the beginning how did you realise you had a natural affinity for music?
Hahaha, actually I became a jack of all trades because I was very poor during my student days; one couldn’t be getting all these professional teachers to help you as it was too expensive, so I had no choice but to learn the hard way myself every day. A memorable experience for me was sitting in front of the piano for entire days while I was in high school—it was really the entire day. (Other than eating and going to the toilet.) Before university I questioned why, when I wrote songs, I would play the wrong chord. I’m not sure why but before I entered first year of high school I completely didn’t understand musical theory, I had only learned piano in junior high and took Chinese flute and violin lessons in primary school.
I began harnessing an interest in it because when I was in primary school I saw a movie called ‘My Sassy Girl’, and at one point the male lead was on the bed quietly looking at the female lead playing the piano. I felt this was too beautiful, and from that moment began to pick out notes on the piano one by one, just like picking up coffee beans. Afterwards I then became used to performing via improvisation without sheet music. But afterwards I was required to learn musical theory for getting into university, and so I had to learn it, if not it would become embarrassing if I were to play a song for a girl I liked and I kept playing wrong notes.
3. Can you talk about when you first decided you wanted to be a musician?
This question is a little deep, and I have a lot of feelings on this topic. It was probably when I was very young, when my parents took me out to play. In the car they would put their favourite classical music, and my mother lightly said: ‘I really hope one day I can see you on stage performing such amazing music.’ After hearing this, at the time I was still small, but I already had a very strong sense of : hmm.. yes, I’m not very good at academics, at least this can allow my mother and father to have a little faith. Something like that, and so it formulated the concept of being a musician in the future for me. Because I feel that actually I have a lot still to learn; right now I feel like a musical experimenter, full of passion. In the past I was too young and silly and thought that being able to play the violin on stage at the National Theatre was the coolest thing, but playing the violin is too expensive haha, so afterwards I came to focus on song-writing and singing. Perhaps this method of pushing out songs and lyrics can have a quicker influence on society and can more easily give positivity or strength to those who need it. This is probably the main motivation behind me wanting to do music as a career.
4. We believe that on the road to pursuing your dreams, you definitely must have met with some ups and downs. Can you talk a little about some tough times you experienced? How did you overcome these obstacles?
This question really requires me to dig deep. Actually to those within the mainstream music industry, living and sustaining is something that is very hard to do especially for newcomers, because a lot of things are pro-bono, and if you don’t do well the first time, then you won’t have a second chance. So I remember beginning when I was 18, and until the middle of 2014, a lot of arrangements, song-writing and performances had no remuneration at all. Yet I did it all without caring. At the time this process was very hard, for example, if I bought a 5000NT guitar or a recording tape, speaker or keyboard, I had to pay in installments. At that time I remember clearly every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I would ride to LuZhu to perform on a 150cc motorbike (not Luzhou, Luzhu!) In the winter because I needed to get there within the hour, I rode very fast, and by the time I got to the restaurant, my hands were like popsicles, I could only put them under hot water for a while before going onstage.
But I’m very grateful to the bosses I had at that time who helped me so much; in the end it was the money I made from singing at these restaurants which helped me to buy the instruments I needed to produce some albums and my own musical works for everyone to hear.
Another experience I had was because my personality is more straightforward, so when I was in university I would compete in some songwriting contests or do some projects given by seniors. I would often feel injustice for myself, especially over getting credit and would go straight to the senior or the judge to try and fight for a better result. But you know that this world is unfair; being cheated, being burned out, your work being affected by things out of your control; these are all things that happen frequently. Previously I would feel very wronged, or felt that my savings really had no way to sustain this passion. Each time I would carry an 88-key keyboard on the bus, running here and there, feeling wow, this is like a trip to the gym, this is really the feeling of someone fighting for their dreams. The most common way I vented was to turn an amp up to the highest volume, or to go running. When the night was silent and all was unbearably quiet, I would hide in my blanket and cry, thinking why must these adults bully young people.
But then I was still young, so I didn’t understand how the world works. Now I know better, and can understand why some unfortunate events happened to me. But I still persist in upholding the principle of no one bullying anyone else in the music world; in music everyone is free, equal and honest; no matter how dejected this world makes us feel. After experiencing these things, I felt even more so that I should make music with a positive attitude for everyone around me.
5. In your many years of experience, you’ve worked with several critically acclaimed artists, including Lara! How did you feel working with her on this Coldplay mashup?
Yes! The feeling was really strange! Imagine that at that time I was in a classroom, listening to her album, I would even sing along! And then suddenly we became friends doing a mashup together, it was like a star who you had been admiring in the sky all this while had suddenly appeared in front of you. Possibly because Lara and I are the same age, our ideas click pretty well. My point is, she is someone who looks very relaxed, very cute, but actually in terms of vocal ability through and through she is a true singer of mettle. This conflicting dichotomy is what I find most infectious about her. I am also quite curious as to what she thinks of me, but I’m too shy so I never asked haha.
6. Throughout your experiences, can you share a precious memory of yours? Or a memory that was like a milestone in your career?
I think a lot of them are equally important, but one milestone that really had a memorable impact on me was having worked on an album which had won an award. The second is the one song a friend and I wrote together that was picked for the Taiwan Universiade competition theme song, and they even used a video that we edited ourselves (welcoming readers to check it out on my Facebook page, haha). The third is of course working on this cover with Lara, because Coldplay is a band both Lara and I really like, so when producing and arranging this song, I was full of passion and feelings. The filming of the music video was also a really awesome memory!
7. Please complete this sentence: “For the sake of my dreams, I would________.”
I would definitely say: for the sake of my dreams, I would first prioritise my health; because only when you are healthy can you do what you set out to achieve!
8. When pursuing your dreams, what do you think is essential for every dream chaser?
I’d still say health, but even more importantly is being conscientious and discerning of reality. Because dreams and ideals are often easily confused with each other in my opinion. For example, I am very clear in my goal to pursue music, and it is inconceivable for me to pursue another career path as I would need to spend a lot of time fumbling around trying to discover what I am good at. So I think pursuing a dream that is suitable for yourself; this is what is most realistic. Of course, you can dream bigger, but you must also consider if there is enough time in life to finish colouring in the blueprint of your dreams.
9. If you had to give one piece of advice to all the dream chasers, what would you say?
Life is really short, do not hesitate to do what you have always wanted to do. While pursuing your dreams, always bear in mind that family is the most important.
10. What is your ultimate goal that you would love to be able to achieve?
My dream is to be able to meet somebody who can help me produce my own album. I think this really is the unchanging dream of a singer-songwriter.
Every dreamer has a story that is uniquely theirs; and Fan’s story is full of his passion and impulsiveness towards music. Along the way he may have gone through painful experiences because of his hot-headedness; but at the same time it is because of these very experiences that he has learnt the value of slowly picking oneself up and dusting himself off. In doing so, he slowly but surely demonstrated to himself that choosing to dedicate himself to his music was the right decision after all. He has given up all he could afford to give; and in return he has received affirmation time and again. We hope that after reading Fan’s story, our dear readers are able to re-evaluate their contribution towards their dreams; finding interests and passions that are just right for you.