TaiwaneseAmerican.org has been a proud supporter of talented singer-songwriter Dawen since his journey began in Chicago and then took him to Los Angeles. He began gaining immense popularity after winning Kollaboration Acoustic 4 in 2010 and after releasing his Mandarin covers of several pop songs (including Rebecca Black’s “Friday”). Shortly after, he was signed to Universal Records Taiwan.
TaiwaneseAmerican.org’s Eric Kao recently caught up with Dawen to see how he has been doing since relocating to Taipei, Taiwan, where he currently resides.
Be sure to also check out Dawen’s debut album “Hello” and watch his “Beautiful” Music Video which surpassed 2 million views as of last month.
Alright, so let’s get started! For people who don’t know you, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Okay, my name is Dawen, now I go by Wang Dawen, (王大文) I’m a singer-songwriter and I’ve just debuted my first mandarin-language album on Christmas Eve (2013). About two years ago, a famous Taiwanese producer saw my covers online and brought it to Universal Music. Approximately 4 months after being first contacted, I signed with them.
What’s it like being signed with a major label?
It was a complete 180. Beforehand, I had spent 8 years as an independent musician. I started off in Chicago for 4 years, and moved to LA for 4 years. I’m kind of at an awestruck phase, because I’ve just started my major label career, so everything is very fresh and new and awesome and overwhelming. It’s been an amazing turn of events. Nothing about my life here in Taipei is the same as it was in LA or Chicago. I’m in the middle of promotions, and it’s a nonstop roller coaster ride… but I’ve got this exclusive one hour set aside just for my friends at TaiwaneseAmerican.org – friends that have helped me and supported me when I was just starting off, even back in Chicago!
I came from a classical musical background, but my indie album was full of jazz, R&B, soul, and funk. Since moving to Taiwan, it has organically shifted to something else – I wrote all ten tracks on my album, and I had a co-lyricist on the album, an amazing guy named David Ke. But the style changed as I used a different language to express the music, so it became something quite new, and for me, it was quite interesting. It still has hints of jazz and classical, but it has kind of morphed into this awesome hybrid, which I’m just going to call “Dawen-style”. And I hope when people hear the song “Hello – 你好”, people will get to feel what Taiwan is like, through a newcomer’s perspective. It’s my first time living in Taiwan, not as a tourist, but making it my new home. There is one English track on the album which I wrote in Chicago, which to me represents where I come from, it has a jazzy flavor, and it kind of bridges the gap between this album, and my indie album. It’s more topical, which is to say that it talks about Asian American issues, but it uses humor to celebrate Asian America.
What language skills did you come to Taiwan with?
Off the bat, I got here, and I found out that my Chinese sucked. So I arrived in the evening on April 30th, and on May 1st, I started taking an intensive Chinese class for about half a year, and got it up to currently, a communicable state – I can converse just fine now, but I want to get it to the level where I can deliver a speech, converse about politics – I’m not quite there yet, but it’s certainly much better than it was, living in the States. I still take it very seriously, because I write my own lyrics, and my goal as a singer-songwriter is to eventually completely write on my own.
People who are major influences on your music?
I can think of three off the bat. One is my brother, George Wang, who has supported my music ever since I was a young kid. He’s pretty much the reason why I got signed – he grilled me and encouraged me to push myself to my limit in my music and in my ambition. There were times where I was really doubtful of whether or not I could keep doing music as an independent musician, and you always need your best friend to light a fire under your ass, and that’s my brother. My brother also introduced me to a lot of my musical influences – he introduced me to jazz, R&B, and rock as a kid.
Second – Bruno Mars. He’s an amazing performer, and amazing singer, and can write songs for himself and for other people. His songs are great – he’s somebody that I look up to, and inspires me because he embodies what I think a modern entertainer should be.Not only can he can sing the crap out of anything, but he performs really well, and he writes well.
Third – I want to pick a Taiwanese singer, but there are so many to choose from. I guess I would have to start with David Tao (陶喆). When he came on the scene in 1997, he changed the paradigm as it were. I think a lot of ABCs in America weren’t even aware of Chinese language music before David Tao, and then all of a sudden he was singing in a style that we could understand, but in the language of our parents. I think my Chinese language music education started with David Tao, and then it moved on to 張震嶽. A few years later, it was Jay Chou (周杰倫), who kind of rewrote the game again. Lately, some of the singers that I really like A-Lin and JJ Lin
Is there a separation between the ABC scene and the Born-and-raised-in-Taiwan scene?
Yeah there is. I think I was guilty of this at first, but when a lot of ABCs come to Taiwan, they’re understanding of it is only like, Din Tai Fung – which is to say their appreciation of Taiwan is pretty superficial, and English-oriented, I say that because I felt like I was like that for two weeks, and then I realized that Taiwan really wasn’t what I thought it was, and I started to change my own thinking. When I first moved to Taiwan, everything was really exciting – it felt like being a freshman in college. Actually, it felt like freshman student week, before you even take class, where you just get bombarded by stimulus, and you’re learning everyone’s names, and you’re exploring everything new. The second week in, it clicked that my idea of Taiwan was very different from what Taiwan actually is, and what Taiwan actually is, is amazing.
When I got here, there was a three month period where I didn’t speak English. On cable, there would be all these international channels at the end, like CNN and HBO, but for the first half year or so I wouldn’t even turn to any of those. It was sort of a self discipline thing. We’re doing this interview now in English, but when I first got here, even when I met other ABCs, I would speak to them in Chinese, which is really weird – you know, it’s a comfort thing.
We have an identity crisis. I certainly had an identity crisis in those Lexington years – my parents would speak to me in Chinese and I would respond in mandarin too, but as soon as I left the house, no more mandarin, and I would shy away from it.
Even speaking mandarin now is a struggle, you make mistakes – and even after moving here, I still have a little bit of the mentality I have from living in the States like “Oh, I want to fit in, I want to be American,” so even being able to speak mandarin on an everyday basis is a struggle. Like if you tell a cab driver “我要去忠孝敦化路口” It sounds like it’s one street name but it’s really two. But you know, there’s no way around it but just put one foot out in front of the other and dive right in.
Life has been pretty chill though. I was training, taking language classes, interning at a label, and I was writing my own album. My understanding of Taipei was like this too. I finished my album, which was great, but then I released it, and now it’s a completely different thing. People always say that when you sign with a label, your life changes. And I was like, “Oh okay, that sounds great!” but I didn’t really feel that until quite recently.
The thing I eat the most: cold noodles (涼麵), but I also love a good bowl of lu rou fan (滷肉飯), niu rou mian (牛肉麵), and huo guo (火鍋).