BAO joins us to speak about the release of Perpetual Heartbreak, which weaves together different stories about his past romances, immigrant roots, and Asian American community all together into this one theme.
Thank you for joining us! Congratulations on the release of Perpetual Heartbreak! How are you feeling about sharing this album with the world?
Hi and thanks for inviting me to share a few words. It feels great to get this record out to the world and to create a variety of new content to support it. It’s cool that enthusiastic new fans are reaching out to me and long-time fans have appreciated that the album allows me to come out of my shell a bit more. Plus the opportunity to chat with the likes of Music Trails is a nice perk.
The album dives into a few themes such as interpersonal relationships, culture and identity (mostly Asian American identity), and mental health. What does this album mean to you?
There are a few important topics in this record, as you said. But overall, the theme of Perpetual Heartbreak is about giving yourself permission to feel and feel really hard. The album is a journey through a broad range of emotions, which is why as part of the album release I produced a video series of myself listening to and reacting to my album. I figure it’s another powerful way to experience the album alongside the artist, since the pandemic has put a pause on live concerts. Folks can find that on my these videos at perpetualheartbreak.com.
Which song was your favorite and least favorite to put together?
The most interesting song to produce was the opening track “Beautiful Things” because it was a working method we tried out specifically because of the pandemic. Members of the BAO live band contributed their parts with minimal direction from me. I simply sent out a bare-bones demo and asked them each to add their parts in succession, so each instrumentalist builds off of the previous work. Arranging all that together was a novel process for me. And I was delighted by how such a densely layered track worked so well with the theme.
The most challenging was “We Never Say A Word” because it went through over half a dozen very different iterations before I found something I was truly happy with. The subject matter is about the reluctance of the Asian American community to openly address mental health, which is pretty heavy. So I had to make the music interesting without overshadowing the words. There were only a couple of elements that I knew I had to keep, but the rest of the song was torn down and rebuilt several times.
How did you decide on the LP title?
The overall concept of Perpetual Heartbreak was pulled from a lyric in the title track that goes, “The sun comes out, you stare a while. You’d rather just stay inside your perpetual heartbreak.” That phrase was written in a self-deprecating way at first in a song that was originally called “Another One.” However, that phrase was so powerful that it forced the song to take it on as the title, then eventually it also became the title of the album. It’s all to say that it’s necessary and perfectly healthy to simply soak in the sadness sometimes.
You treat each album with such appreciation for how it will appear visually. How do you come up with these ideas?
That’s a great question, thank you. I come from a visual art background, having been an artist since childhood. People say that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but it goes the other way as well. A few effective words can paint a thousand pictures. So much of my music starts as a mental image first, then I use the words and aural textures to paint pictures and evoke emotions and ask rhetorical questions.
Which artists have influenced you through your musical journey?
My biggest musical inspiration is Prince for his diverse talents and dedication to conveying emotion in his work. Trent Reznor is also a big inspiration in terms of thinking about music as an all-encompassing experience. I appreciate them both because I’m not a virtuoso at any instrument, but I think out of the box because of my background straddling conceptual and commercial arts. I think of my songs and albums in terms of designing the “user experience,” where the hooks provide easy access to the song, but the carefully thought-out production gives audiences a lot to explore once they’re in.
What advice would you give someone who’s just getting started in their musical journey?
I have two key pieces of advice: The first is to just make a lot of garbage because that’s where you discover what you like and don’t like. Just puke it out and clean it up later. The worst thing you can do is hesitate and let the muse escape. The second piece of advice is to be nice to people. You cannot be a functioning musician on your own. And you’ll see the same people while you’re coming up as you do when you’re coming down, so it’s important to remember just to be a good, friendly, reliable person.
What’s the first thing you do when you begin creating a new song?
I don’t have a process that is set in stone. Each song comes about differently. But I can tell you a few practices I have to document my ideas and inspiration. I make extensive use of the Voice Memos app on my iPhone to record melodies and rhythms and textures that inspire me at random times. I also use a listmaking app to keep a huge running list of concepts, phrases, and lyrical ideas that pop up throughout the day. These work great to bring to collaborative sessions. However, none of it works unless I actively keep an eye out all day, every day for things that can become songs. So everything is an opportunity to me.
What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I’ve been pretty open about my roots as a refugee in the United States and my background as an artist. But I haven’t talked much about my aspirations to help educate and inspire people like me who straddle both the visual and musical arts. There’s not much content that effectively bridges the two fields. This is why I’ve started to create a lot of new video content to share my perspective on music-making as an artist. My Youtube channel is called baovomusic in case your readers want to look me up.
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions! Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thank you very much for the opportunity. Yes, I did want to reiterate that in addition to releasing an album, I’ve been working hard to give audiences more angles from which to experience my music, including Youtube videos of me reacting to my own album, videos explaining the meaning and goals behind each song, and videos breaking down the technical construction of each song. I’ve also just started a new show and podcast called “Coffee with BAO,” where I chat with creative people who inspire me about their process, cultural identity, and personal growth. All this is an effort to expand how people consume music in today’s 15-seconds-of-fame environment.