I feel like A Pure Person is really stemmed from archival anxiety, and on all fronts: film, music, language, food, a sense of personality that a certain country might have, a type of person a country might have. Even all these little details of a place, I just feel sad to think it could be gone.
And that's why movies are so amazing, because movies like Millennium Mambo, it's archiving a sense of time and a sense of anxiety that was happening in that country at the time, like how it is to be a young person in Taiwan, how it is to be in a place where everything's changing. So it's relatable because all these things that I said are so relatable to 2020, but they're also really relatable to 2001—which is when Millennium Mambo was filmed, but it was still so specific to [Vicky’s] time. It's crazy because she's going to these clubs and she's partying and she's lost. And I was in Taiwan and I was going to those clubs and partying and I was lost. And I was like, "this feels just like Millennium Mambo." And even the color of the club, they've had the same shade of blue because they were inspired by the films. Also a girl who looked like Shu Qi, that the Shu Qi character was based on, was known to go to this club—where I was going at the time in Taiwan.
Shu Qi's character was based on a real ass girl that Hou Hsiao-Hsien met and it was like her life just got robbed from her because her boyfriend really fucked her over. That film is so powerful in terms of how broken a woman gets by society. It's almost masochistic just watching Millennium Mambo. I felt so emotional watching that film for the first time. I related to this woman and her dancing and whatnot. And also, it was the first time where I remember being so shaken after the opening of the movie that I was just like...I think my life is different. I feel the knowledge that something is happening. It felt very peculiar and I remember it to this day. And it was really strange. That film has just become so important.
This project is so personal and there's so many things about it.
When did you first watch Millennium Mambo and what was the context of that?
I get sent music a lot, and then this artist called CFCF, Mike Silver, who's also a really big film buff. He sent me a track where he used the opening scene of Millennium Mambo, the narration, in his track. I've actually never seen a Taiwanese film. Watched it and was like, I cannot believe I related to these people. I cannot believe this is part of my cultural resume...is this movie and these directors. I'm fucking proud to be Taiwanese. As a person growing up in North Carolina, you're really white, I thought I was white for a really long time. As I moved to California and really learned about what it's like to be Asian, I guess, I had this whole...wow, that was rough. And then I watched these films, but I felt so empowered by them. I felt to be Taiwanese was to be fucking like gangster, sexy, and sensitive and romantic, and all of those things that these films painted me a fantasy of Taiwan. I was like, “this is a dream.” Then from that day, I was plotting about how to get to Taiwan. Because I've only gone as a kid and as a kid you don't really remember a place. I just remember having bad food poisoning...and the wild dogs.
So I saw that film and then I fell in love. I started being obsessed with Lim Giong through that opening scene because that song sold that movie. Millennium Mambo, the movie, is actually only as long as that song plays. That opening scene and every time you see "A Pure Person" play in the film, I took a screenshot of it. I think about all the moments of every time someone's pure, "A Pure Person" plays, what's a pure moment—or that commentary. I feel like that for me is the film, or that for me is what I was trying to capture with A Pure Person. It's like those moments that Hou Hsiao-Hsien used "A Pure Person" in the film as well. Lim Giong wrote this song not even knowing the opening was going to be like that. He said he wrote this song when he parked his motorcycle a little bit aways and he was sitting under a tree, and he was taking a nap, and he said, some squirrel was eating a nut or some nature thing happened to him. And he's like, the melody came into my head and I wrote this song. It came from literally sitting outside chilling, taking a nap. That's a really pure moment. Anyways, after I saw the movie and I got obsessed, I started tracking down anything Lim Giong ever put out, because I was like, there's an artist of this caliber that is fucking Taiwanese.
I was obsessed with Taiwanese music after Lim Giong, because to me, he is such a legend because he is so Taiwanese. He grew up in Taichung and his parents owned the most famous pork knuckle restaurant in Taichung. And it's like, it's so popular that it's a huge chain, so his family's relatively comfortable. But he's one of the Pork Knuckle Princes of Taichung. He also has his career as the first pop star to sing in the Taiwanese dialect (Taigi) with, 向前走. It's like Move Forward, let's move forward and it was a political anthem. It was sort of defiance, because Taigi was banned for a long time in Taiwan. Songs were still released during the time when Taigi was banned, but these songs were kind of considered lower class. You will get these beautiful, soulful Taigi...like mind-blowing shit, and they would be considered lounge singers because they were usually more poor, not that classy. So when Lim Giong put out his Taigi pop thing, it was sort of like, this is Taiwanese culture.
Yeah, when it comes to Taiwanese music, I really want to just explore more of it. But as someone that can't read or write, it's been really challenging for me to just find a lot of this stuff. I know the big names, but I've always been kind of interested in digging a little bit deeper and seeing what else is there.
I think at least when it comes to Western coverage, a lot of it is obviously because Japan has such a strong music industry. I'm able to find more there and same thing with Korea, same thing with even China. But it's just whenever I try to find more Taiwanese music, I just don't know where to go and I don't know how to contextualize.
It's really intimidating. But I feel like the fastest way to understand a country's point of view is to listen to their music.
But yeah, this project. This story also starts with my mom, because she's been sick for a long time and when I reached out and finally found Lim Giong or the internet through my friend in Taiwan. I reached out to Lim Giong's email and I used my mom as a translator. Lim Giong was a very special artist, because he was someone I admired greatly for his work in film. And then she really looked up to him because she knew Marching Forward, that Taiwanese youth anthem, which this year was the song of the choice to ring in 2021. They chose that song to drop in the new year. It's still a classic, it still hits people's hearts, because that song really was a huge moment for Taiwanese culture. So she helps me and we just got even closer working on this project together where I was just asking Lim Giong...I was reaching out to him to ask if I could reissue a Folk Paradise, which is a dope compilation of different Asian folk songs that have been covered by different artists in Taiwan to be Drum and Bass, to House, sick ass weird covers [mimics electronic bass]. I wanted to reach out to him about that.
But finally I just went to Taiwan on a trip with my partner at the time just to visit Taiwan and I met him and my Chinese was terrible. It was terribly awkward. He was like, "Oh, that's too hard to reissue, do other things." I was just like, "I'm going to do something with you, but I don't know what yet." I went back home and then a year or so passed, and we still kept in touch just talking about music and stuff. And then my mom passed away. Legitimately, the last thing she said to me on the phone was, "you should go to Taiwan." This was not knowing she was going to pass a few days later. Ever since the first day she wanted me to, but I was like, I don't want to do that. I will be so far from you because you're in North Carolina and I'm in California. When she passed, everything changed, my world was different and I just didn't care about anything anymore outside of doing something that could heal me.
I left LA and moved to Taiwan with nothing set in place. I had written down everything I wanted to accomplish and then just moved there on some savings and winged it. I told Lim Giong in an email, "I'm letting you know I moved to Taiwan so could you meet up, so we can talk about some projects." He was like, "don't move to Taiwan, you're going to hate it, you're really different, I don't think you're going to like Taiwan, but since you're here, yeah, let's meet up." We met up and—at that time my Chinese was bad—we had a kind of understanding with each other through hand motions and stuff. The new dream was that we were going to find the original master tapes of Millennium Mambo, the soundtrack, that Rock Records had lost, the label.
That seems to happen all the time.
Yeah. They owned the rights to Millennium Mambo. So we couldn't even release it, because they own the masters. So Lim Giong owns the lyrics and the melodies, but he doesn't own the actual music so you can't repress it and they don't pay him shit. It's really fucked up, actually. So, we were just going to try to find the original master tapes, because some engineer had found some old tapes from the 2000s and we were like, "maybe the Millennium Mambo soundtracks are on these and we could take them and remix them and do something cool with them." Put it out as like a fuck you. And then we went, and we listened to it and it didn't have "A Pure Person" on it, but it had a few other Millennium Mambo tracks, but it wasn't it.
And then I was like, I'm just going to ask artists to cover "A Pure Person," because [Lim Giong] owns the rights to the lyrics of this. It might be cool to get new artists to reinterpret something that is really important to Taiwanese culture, so that became a long process of just narrowing down different artists. Lim Giong, I really respect him because he has a standard of what he wants the song to be and is not scared of "this just isn't going to work." So I had to really go through a lot of artists to find the ones that he finally was content with.
And I was so nervous, because Lim Giong was supposed to make a song for the album and I was like, "where's your track, Lim Giong?" The craziest thing is two weeks after I landed in Taiwan, someone told me about a grant, so I applied to get this grant from the Taiwanese government to fund this project. So I got like $25K from Taiwan to do this project, which is more than enough. That was sick, but it was also really stressful, because deadlines—I had things to submit. You got to work the system, and so the grant stuff on top of it was really stressful, because it pushed the deadline. Anyways, he finally got the track for me, I was in America at the time, because I was in LA, I was managing this Taiwanese band at the time, and I was in LA for work. And then COVID hit, and I got trapped here. So then I had to finish the project, basically living alone while I was in Big Bear [Lake], which was sick, I was just in nature by myself, finishing up this project that honestly was ruining my life.
This project has been really painful. The day it came out, I was so depressed. The cost, the emotional toll this project took on me was just overwhelming. And when you're the type of person who is always asking, what does a pure person need? It can really like fuck with your head.
You're trying to be a pure person, but then what does that mean, this idea of good and bad. Working was really difficult with language, culture stuff, and then interpersonal relationships with the project, because everyone who worked on this project was just so dear to me and so close to me as a friend that when you start working...and it's such a sensitive project, it's very easy for things to be really painful. So it was a painful project to work on at the end. I was so unhappy, I've done this project to show my mom I could achieve my dreams and be happy. It was like a pure thought. Then the fucking actual process, I was like, lost, confused, sad, really depressed. But I had had such highs with the project, but then just like so many things...I was having a good time, and then at the very end it all just went to shit. So at the end of it, I was really like, what is a pure person? What does it even mean? Humans are cruel, very dark thoughts [laughs].
Then, Lim Giong finally sends in his track. He finally turned it in, and when I listened to it, I didn't even care because I was just so fucking numb from the whole thing. But now, listening to that track, I was like, "this is the exact track he should have sent for this project." Lim Giong, he was a fucking party boy when he was putting out those 90s tracks, fucking hot shit. He was in these films with Hou Hsiao-Hsien and he was a popstar. His daddy owned a pork knuckle joint, he was hot shit. So he was a major playboy and partied really fucking hard. He was also known as sort of the godfather of the underground club scene, because he was doing drugs and partying and throwing raves.
Then he got into a lot of scandal and shrunk from public life, and basically shunned his pop career, and became incredibly Buddhist and vegan, lives in Taichung, basically takes care of his parents, and just chills and makes music for film, and it's very spiritual. Whenever I met up with him, we wouldn't even talk about the project. He knew I was working on it, but he didn't care what I was doing. He just cared about what I was thinking about. So we'd sit down at a coffee shop and then we would just talk about life for four hours in a row. And my Chinese got so much better that I was able to actually have real conversations with him. At the end, I was like, this is how I feel about what Taiwan is, this is what I feel music is. Just deep conversations, just very inspired conversations where afterwards I was left really buzzing. And that's all the work he did for this project, and then make that song, and choose what songs made it at the end. But he didn't care about how this project was released, he didn't care what it was about, he didn't care about the cover art, nothing. He just cared about our interaction, this being an artistic relationship. And it being about how to inspire the people. I thought that was so cool of him and his track, when he finally gave it to me, it made sense. Lim Giong went from such a dark place to a place where he feels really spiritually enlightened.
So I was in a very dark place, I listened to that track, and it's called "Recite." And the song starts by sampling Chinese opera, which is invoking the gods to listen, invoking spirits to experience this. It was very Taiwanese and very spiritual and it opens with that and then it's kind of spacey and weird. Then it gets kind of violent, and he's fucking chanting in Taiwanese, and he's really going in on it. He's trying to meditate and reach this other plane, and then he does and it's a dark song. You would think that enlightenment in Buddhism would be like *ding*, but it's [mimics dark, rumbling sound]. It's called recite, because you have to do the work, you have to put in the fucking effort to understand and reach enlightenment.
I was at a stage where I was sort of honestly trying to become more Buddhist, because I was so depressed. That's what happens is when you have fucking nothing, you sort of turn to Buddhism, you return to religion. It's important for me—religion was a huge part of this—because my mom was super Christian, and watching her belief in God made me believe in God. I only believed in God when I moved to Taiwan. Because I think when someone close to you dies, I think sometimes you live in a more elevated reality. It's really weird because you're high from the grief and the shock, and it really puts your mind in a very different mind space. I was in Taiwan while I had this mind space, so it was connecting in this very intense way. So when Lim Giong finally sent his track, I finally understood what it was. I asked him to make a pop song, and he gave me this instead, and I was like...I'm happy. Because I was begging, "Can you please sing the song? I just missed your voice, just one song where you sing." And he fucking turns this in, but I really appreciate it, like to me that was just the perfect song and the perfect title. When you look at the track list, it just says, recite, a pure person, a pure person, a pure person, a pure person. It's repeating, and reciting a pure person. He didn't even know I was going to name them all that. I really like it. I'm really proud of it.
I think the fact that this story has so many connections speaks to how it is such a personal project and how it is deeply embedded in larger questions of philosophy and religion and spirituality. And these connections can prove very intense. You spoke about how it was a very challenging process. I'm more interested in asking about your reflections on that process. I don't quite understand the definition of purity in this context., but I will say what I draw from it or elements of what I draw from is one in which: when I create art, when I talk about art, when I engage with art, I always aspire to be someone that's immersed in the process over the product. So I find a successful collaboration or a successful project or explorations would be one in which the relationships and collaborations I have is one that's very generative and inspiring and exciting, and one that fosters growth and excitement and whatnot. You spoke a little bit about how Lim Giong was not focused on the end product. It is more about the creation process, this relationship right now. I don't even know what the question is. I feel like you would agree that there is importance in this process of art-making. But I guess it's more what does it mean when this process is challenging or perhaps upsetting or perhaps just—?
That's the definition of pure, I think now. My definition of pure changed every month I was working on this project. A pure person actually means you're like a child, very childlike, that's a pure thing. Or a pure person is like this, a pure person is that, a pure person means doing this, a pure person doesn't mean that. But then finally, I was like, "Okay, one shouldn't even fucking ask the question, what is a pure person? It's a stupid question to ask. It was a question I shouldn't have asked in the first place. It was actually a naive question. It was pure in its intent though. So that's the thing, I think pure just means black and white, but innocent. Both sides, both innocent and guilty. There's just complete balance. It's so hard to express this. It's more like there's no black and white, just like in Lim Giong's song, where you're chanting the Buddhist script, that script is "in emptiness, you find everything." That's sort of what I'm trying to say with, it's black and white, but it's innocent. They're the same thing and also this sense of we don't want anything. You can gain everything, but you don't want to gain everything either. So you have to be in the state of mind. That's why it's hard to express. Because it's a state of mind that can't be expressed. It's a state of mind where you're both, holding the idea that it's pure, and it's not pure, in the same space. And understanding the feelings around it. I don't know, I can't express it. It's hard to express, but every person is both capable of being pure and un-pure. Every person is pure. Every person has experienced a moment where they were pure. I don't know if that makes sense.
No, I mean, I think it makes sense. And I'm not necessarily looking for the answer. Yeah, the answer isn't exciting and nor does it matter.
It doesn't matter, exactly. But it was more of your question of your reflection on this whole thing, and the artistic intent, the pure intent. I'm just doing this for the process—that was the intent. But the intent was pure, as always, but what happens after isn't. But does that mean it wasn't pure? It is still pure.
I worked so hard in the music industry and being an Asian lady in a white-dominated music world was really hard. I just feel like I have a huge chip on my shoulder too about that and stuff and was getting really aggressive and I was getting really lost in the music industry side of things. That's why I was kind of in this dark place. Now, I just feel like I have my priorities in order. I'm not trying to do this for fucking anything other than my own enjoyment, my own selfish improvement, you know what I mean? And I think hopefully, that's how you write this article, is just out of hopefully enjoyment for your life. You know what I mean, that's all I'm trying to do with this project, that's it really.