Five Questions for Cynthia Lin
I’ve had a recurrence of Linsanity this year – but this time, I’m going nuts about musician Cynthia Lin. Her albums Doppelganger and Microscope have been topping the charts of my gym workout and drive to CAAMFest for weeks now, and she’ll be playing this Saturday as part of Directions in Sound: Here Comes Treble along with Rocky Rivera, DJ Umami, DJ Thatgirl and DJ Roza. (Unfortunately, Suboi had to cancel due to unforeseen circumstances.) I interviewed Cynthia by email.
RC: As you know from my blog posts (Underscoring Amy Chua and Memoirs of a Superfan Vol. 9.4), I’ve been resonating with your music for the last few weeks. Thank you for your work! Tell us about yourself, personally and musically. What is your musical background? What led you to becoming an indie musician?
CL: I’m a singer/songwriter because I love singing and I love writing songs. Words and melody matter to me, as well as the way they go together (nerd alert! this is called prosody).
I grew up playing piano and singing in school choir, got a guitar for high school graduation, and started writing songs in college. After college, I worked in software for a couple years until I finally had the nerve to quit, studied acting, and returned to songwriting. I started playing in cafes, and then recording an album and touring followed suit.
RC: Your music is fun, serious and sly, from lyrics to instruments. I find it rich, appealing and also catchy. What is your process? For example, how did “Perfect” and “Doppelganger” emerge?
CL: Thanks, I try to keep it interesting for myself! I typically come up with the very first line and let it flow from there. I need a melody and lyric I can hang onto – if the first line is good, it will set the tone for the entire song. “Perfect” actually began with the cello riff, and “Doppelganger” came to me after watching Donnie Darko.
RC: How does collaboration work for you?
CL: Collaboration is something I’m still learning. Early on, I wanted to do everything myself – I wanted to write all the arrangements and completely manage the sound. For the new Blue Moon All Stars album, I wanted to band to really create the band sound. The songs are mine, but the sound belongs to the Blue Moon All Stars as a unit. I’m also producing the album with Rachel Lastimosa of Dirty Boots who has amazing musical and rhythmic ideas, and we’re working with Nino Moschella of Bird & Egg Recording Studio who has a killer ear. Or ears. Two of them. Working with these collaborators whose taste I completely trust has been transformative for me – I’m letting the songs grow on their own and develop their own personalities.
RC: Tell us about Zombie Heart, your next album (debuting at her Zombie Prom on May 10th at El Rio)? What kind of music do zombies like, and why? Can you unzombify the undead with music or film? I have a friend who keeps an axe handy for Zombie Apocalypse, and I’m a little scared of going to her house. I want to give her alternatives.
Ha! Umm, I’m not Lizzie (Walking Dead reference), I don’t believe anyone can be unzombified. As you’ll see when the Zombie Heart video is released, once a zombie, party like a zombie. The party never ends!
RC: That sounds fun and very Prince 1999-ish but with Zombies. By the way, I’m trying to reach Facebook Zombies with my book. Let’s see if my unzombifying spell works. One last question: how do you sustain yourself as an independent musician – financially, emotionally, spiritually? What keeps you going? (Thanks to Karin Chien! See Memoirs of a Superfan, Vol. 9.5)
That’s a rich question – as any artist will tell you, you do it because you love it. The art sustains you, and in my case, I have a passion for the craft of writing and delivering stories through song. Financially, I’ve had odd jobs through the years – luckily now, I’ve figured out a way to sustain myself through music and art-related jobs (teaching ukulele and voice and running my own letterpress business – lucky8letterpress.com). What keeps me going is that there is no end to making good music, or to the effect music can have on the world. I wrote Doppelganger almost a decade ago and you’re discovering it now – that’s pretty darn cool.
RC: Thank you so much!
You can find more of Cynthia Lin at her music page and her main website, where you can sign up for a newsletter. Cynthia is big on YouTube, where she has a great music video for her song Microscope, and Uke and voice lessons to boot.
Ravi Chandra, M.D. is a San Francisco psychiatrist and writer. He writes The Pacific Heart blog for Psychology Today. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and best of all, sign up for an occasional newsletter here, and find out about his upcoming book on the psychology of social networks through a Buddhist lens, Facebuddha: Transcendence in the Age of Social Networks. Buddhist teacher Sylvia Boorstein says “I think it will be inspiring to many, many people.” More CAAMFest MOSF blog posts can be found here and here.