On Friday, June 24th, 2022, Lan Miao (pronounced lawn meow) made her debut EP “The Keep” available for digital download and streaming. “The Keep,” a collection of six songs 20 years in the making that chronicle and examine the family fallout that followed her parents’ divorce in 1999, was recorded during the pandemic at home in Berkley and Campbell. Lan grew up in Taiwan, where she was exposed to Mandarin Pop music and wrote her own songs. Her family moved to Los Angeles in 1995, and it was there that she first heard alternative rock radio, which gave her new ideas for musical and lyrical expressions.
She relocated to the Bay Area in 2012 despite suffering from a crippling case of writer’s block. She has been playing original music at open mics in Berkeley, Alameda, and San Francisco since 2019. The Women of Substance Radio Podcast features her music.
Lan wrote the songs for her upcoming EP “The Keep” in her late teens and early twenties. She explores her relationship with her parents in three songs: unspoken longings, sadness and rage over their separation, fear of betrayal and abandonment.
Lan created the songs in a temporary home studio set up in the bedroom she shared with her husband over the course of the past two years while she was under quarantine. The pandemic cost her her day job, but it freed up time for more creative work, and she was mentally prepared to tackle the songs’ darker themes. Strangely, it was her time and experiences in the bay area that gave her the motivation to work through old emotions and memories and changed the way she perceived these relationships. Check out her debut EP “The Keep” and the exclusive interview below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how you got started?
LAN MIAO: I grew up in Taiwan and moved to Los Angeles at the age of 12. When I was 5 or 6, I saw a girl at school playing a classroom organ and, upon hearing the melody, I realized that that was how music was made. And I just knew I wanted to get into that. I asked my dad for music lessons, and was very fortunate to receive them. I got a radio as a birthday present one year, and I started listening to Mandarin pop on the station. I became obsessed with this new music – they were so catchy! – and started writing songs. Then, in the late 90’s, in LA, I discovered alternative rock radio, which I found exhilarating. It was great knowing that you didn’t have to only write and sing about love, which was what a lot of Mandarin songs were like back then; that you could write about anything you wanted, and express strong, ugly emotions through the music and your voice..it was life-changing for me to say the least.
2. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
LAN MIAO: As a kid, I took about 4 years of music lessons through the Yamaha music program, which was very popular in Taiwan. I learned on my own how to sing and accompany myself.
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences and why the name ‘LAN MIAO’?
LAN MIAO: Lan Miao is my given name. “Lan” like Mulan; Miao like a cat’s meow. I was named after Lansing, Michigan, where I was born. In Chinese, my name means “blue”. Growing up, I loved Beethoven’s music and life story. One of my favorite artists singing in Mandarin is Faye Wong, a phenomenal, intuitive singer who also writes beautiful melodies and lyrics. Wu Bai and his band China Blue is another favorite of mine. He’s poetic and prolific. I also love Tori Amos and Nine Inch Nails. Before I really listened to Tori’s music I didn’t get how you could write contemporary songs on the piano because I learned it as a classical instrument.
4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that would resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?
LAN MIAO: In The Keep, I’m exploring grief. Loving and losing people, connections, beliefs that define us. Identities we hold for ourselves. The sound is classically-inspired led by and an alternative rock attitude.
6. What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative and entertainment?
I think music is all of those things and more. It is language – every piece is a part of the documentation of our collective humanity. It’s our history, too – so it tells our emotional and literal history, including technical achievements. I love the idea of music as building on top of each others’ ideas, tracing our roots back to the beginnings through the most current bit of expression. I am a firm believer of the personal also being political. I think the act of any kind of expression is by default a political act. We wouldn’t be so afraid of being our authentic selves if it weren’t.
7. Do you feel that your music is giving you back just as much fulfillment as the amount of work you are putting into it, or are you expecting something more, or different in the future?
Yes and yes! I do find it fulfilling, not just response from people but also my own growth in music-making .. and I want more of it. I want to keep going and see where it takes me.
8. Could you describe your creative processes? How do you usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head?
I used to write from the heart and things would just pour out. These days I’m more practiced when it comes to feeling my way around the world. I am more deliberate about what I have to say, too. One process that really works for me is to start with a free write of ideas, phrases, keywords – whatever it is I’m trying to capture or say. Then I look at the word “sketch” while playing on my keyboard and try to get into the zone and “translate” it into music. New words will come up which then feeds into the music again. And I go through this a few times until it feels right, when the words and the music support each other. Right now I’m really interested in using music to highlight or underline words and lyrics, and that is a fun way for me to experiment with what music means vs. what words mean. There are so many things I want to write about/talk about, so even though sometimes I get a new melody or beat in my head, if it doesn’t have words I stash it away.
9. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your life or music career so far?
All those years when I didn’t know what was wrong with me or my life, including the time period that inspired the songs on The Keep.
10. On the contrary, what would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your life or music career so far? LAN MIAO: Every moment since I’ve discovered that nothing is fundamentally wrong: Life is just hard and unpredictable. Like everything else, it takes practice. You “get better” at it by living it everyday and allowing yourself room to grow. I don’t always remember that, but when I do, it feels as though I have a superpower.
KEEP IN TOUCH:
Photo credits: David Romero, Lan Miao