Sui Zhen interview & exclusive single preview
Marcus Thaine caught up with Becky Freeman, aka Sui Zhen, and talked to her about her many projects. Not only that, but Becky was kind enough to give Something You Said the world exclusive of her brand new single. You can listen to its brilliantness at the foot of this interview:
I like to think of myself as a creative person. I strum the old ukulele, do some writing (here you go), and carry around one of those arty notebooks with textured paper (I’m yet to write, doodle, or score a symphony from my mental orchestra – but hey, it’s ready and waiting). If that wasn’t enough, a chiropractor once told me my creative brain is “switched on”. #fact
Evidently though, I’m not one of those super freaky creative types. Becky Freeman is. I doubt she’d admit to this, but with two musical projects under her belt, a bunch of documentaries underway, and frequent dabbling in visual art, she kinda qualifies as freaky creative to me. And, just to top it off she documents the creative processes of other artists for InFrame.TV (creative inception).
I’m a massive fan of her musical endeavors, being her solo project under the name Sui Zhen and as part of the duo, Fox + Sui. In May of this year Sui Zhen released Two Seas, which (I know I say this a lot on this site) is one of my favourite albums of the year. There’s an untiring intrigue and natural craft to it that I love. Equally, the Taboo EP of Fox + Sui is already the soundtrack to my summer, and clocks in as one of the best things I’ve heard for a while. From genuinely loving these projects so much, I couldn’t help but feel anxiously excited to meet Becky and spill my love for the music, which most of the time came out as me blurting over the top of her. Sorry about that.
Relocating from Sydney to Melbourne last year came about after meeting fellow Red Bull Academy alum Andy Wilson (aka Andras Fox) and joining him to form Fox + Sui. Melbourne’s North Richmond seems like the perfect home for Freeman, with kooky cafes around every corner and the bustling you-could-be-in-Asia Victoria St running through the Suburb’s heart – it’s a home away from home for Becky, bringing back the connection with her Chinese name, Sui Zhen.
“My music usually reflects what I’m wearing at the moment” she confides. Decked out in a pink baseball cap, fluro nylon jacket, and a floral dress, you would expect something sounding hip, vibrant… and what… tropical? And that’s exactly it.
Sui Zhen’s latest release, Midriffs, is a departure from the tinkering sound that defined Two Seas. While Two Seas was rippled in fluctuating inflections of deep horns and staccato strums of the guitar, Midriffs opens in a soundscape of howls and nattering birds while steel drums chime in behind.
Dripping in sensory references, “Do you see the sky is turning/It bleeds from grey and into navy/Can you feel the condensation/Yes I think I feel a slight vibration” and the tongue-in-cheek choral vocal hook of “I show my midriff and things start working”, Midriffs is a quirkier Lisa Mitchell meets a lo-fi Jaime xx.
Accompanying the song is Sui Zhen’s first straightforward music video, with lip-syncing and all. “I just got obsessed with this idea of setting the music video in a basketball court” she jokes. “I bounce a ball… but mostly use the setting to create nice shots.” With its foundations set in electronic beats and sampled animal soundscapes, it’s evident that the work of Andy Wilson has rubbed off on Sui Zhen.
I was relatively unaware of Andy’s work as Andras Fox previous to the introduction of Fox + Sui. I’d seen his name alongside Sui Zhen’s as there was lots of press talk of the two forming Fox + Sui, though he became one of those names I knew, but never took the time to listen to. What a regret.
Wilson crafts some of the most interesting textual beats and samples that take you anywhere from African chants to childish glockenspiels. The term electronic music, as broad as it is, used to make me squirm and think of the type of music people lose their minds to, with huge spacey synths and harsh and heavy drums samples. Andras Fox redefines electronic music as the opposite. Grooving lightly along jazz and blues influences, all the while sounding like an old vinyl spinning in a downtown cafe. This is my kind of electronic music. Forming the backing to Fox + Sui, Andy’s beats take a little different direction to his solo work, being more spacious and less sample driven. I’ve heard them define their music as ‘Adult contemporary’ which seems apt in the way in which there’s a sophisticated serenity to it all, though I’ve seen kids go nuts for Fox + Sui. Playing recently at a market, toddlers crawled along the front of the stage, babies clapped along and hipsters dipped to the beat. They’re impossible not to love.
The writing process for the EP was mostly done through the correspondence, with Andy sending the beats and Becky immediately singing straight back into the laptop. Funnily enough these are the vocals that stuck. “We tried rerecording them, but they sounded too harsh and clean,” Becky explains.
Lead single Summer Storm hums along, while Becky coos and quavers on EP highlight I Don’t Wanna Go over a muffled crackle, which sounds destined for vinyl.
The whole EP is packed with bouncing hooks and subtle lines, which has rightly so, gained mass blog and fan hype. This has only been heightened by big delays in production, pushing back the EP by a year.
Just like any Sui Zhen song, Fox + Sui leave you yearning for more. “Andy and I have new stuff but we’ve been waiting to put out our EP before we can totally get into it. We don’t want to be stuck playing old stuff if we have these new songs going on.” she says with a guilty giggle.
“I like to write songs that you can play without electricity,” comes as a bizarre sentiment in the context of Fox + Sui, as these songs thrive and flourish through their samples and electronic drum beats. I’m sure they’d be easily translatable to a guitar, but it seems as though this isn’t the point. Becky Freeman’s music doesn’t need to come down to just a guitar.
Her music works on so many levels that you might as well chuck a Furby and plank of wood and you’d have an album’s worth of unwavering enjoyment. It’s a stretch, but we joked about her forming a punk band, and even with fast guitars, crashing cymbals and piercing vocals I’d sign the band in a second. Why? I’m not sure. Granted, this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it’s just the faith I have in Becky’s creative understanding of how to structure a song and make it appeal to people which grabs me.
Whether, she’s showing her Midriff, bridging Two Seas or uttering Taboo, I’m always down for Who-ui + Sui.
Now, check out Something You Said’s world exclusive preview of her new track, Midriffs:
Midriffs will be officially released on November 27, together with the music video. You will be able to buy the song as well as Gratitude, Sui Zhen’s Beastie Boys cover, from http://suizhen.bandcamp.com. Meanwhile, Fox + Sui’s Taboo EP is out now through Two Bright Lakes.
Interview by Marcus Thaine.