Humorous, chatty and bubbly on one hand and sincere, honest and compassionate on the other; my interview with Taiwanese singer-songwriter Eve Ai was a crockpot of all things interesting as she generously doled out anecdotes that highlighted the multifaceted and intriguing nature of her personality and music.
Indeed, it has been her music’s eclectic yet electrifying nature that has afforded her musical works so much critical acclaim since her debut. Nominated for six categories at this years’ Golden Melody Awards including in heavyweight categories such as Best Female Mandarin Singer, Best Mandarin Album and Best Single of the Year (Note: She eventually took home ‘Best Female Mandarin Singer’ for the first time, congratulations!), her latest album ‘Talk About Eve’ is a colourful interpretation of her personal experiences which have deeply moved many.
One particular song for which Ai has garnered especial critical acclaim for was her first single ‘The Sum of Us’. Turns out, Ai was inspired to write this song on a particularly serendipitous bike ride:
“The creation of the song ‘The Sum of You’ was actually quite mystical, I came up with the idea in my head while I was riding my bicycle. I don’t know why but suddenly the melody for the chorus came to my head (hums), and once I sat down after reaching the end of the ride my brain began to play with the notion of cherishing time. In that moment I wrote ‘The Sum of Us’, even the lyrics in just two hours. In the beginning I didn’t wish to write this song for myself, but for a logical guy. So I allowed my neutral perspective to make itself prominent and tried to use a very logical perspective to find an answer to love’s complexity. Actually my personality can be very emotional, but when it comes to logic, I can also be extremely logical; I always have to find the reason, the conclusion, what’s right and wrong. So to that side of me, finding answers in love is very very hard. I used those thought processes to write this song.”
Eve Ai – The Sum of Us
Given her interesting perspective on her creative endeavours, I decided to delve deeper into understanding her songwriting process. While others may give vague answers or perhaps treat song-writing as a professional task, Eve describes it as a diary for her to articulate her emotions and experiences in their most raw and faithful form. Having written for some of Mandopop’s most well-regarded artists such as A-Mei Zhang and Rene Liu, it seems that whatever Eve is doing, she’s doing it right.
“Actually my attitude is a little selfish in that even if I write songs for others, I will still write it as if it is a song for myself because I want to write about things that have actually happened, and have stirred real emotions in me. As for what kinds of things inspire me, actually lots of different things in life have been inspiration for my works, especially things that have happened or are currently happening. Like the one I wrote for Sister Mei, A-Mei Zhang’s ‘What D’ya Want?’, the song is full of anger and emotional release, this was in line with my personality a few years ago; then I liked to take things to the street, was angrier, and liked to argue. And within that situation I really could not get used to seeing society’s bad habits, not being used to seeing people saying one thing and doing another so this is how the song came to be.”
A dark horse in the Chinese music industry, Eve has wowed time and again with her raspy, sultry vocals and inimitable ability to write songs that cut deep to the core of what it means to be human. Indeed, where others refrain from talking about past versions of themselves (such as the awkward teenage phase) Ai is unafraid to discuss her past experiences and selves, doling out anecdotes about how much baby Ai sang the national anthem louder than her classmates just so she could, the Jay Chou rap battles they had in middle school, or sharing about her changing outlook over the past few years.
Eve Ai – Escape Plan
The affable artist got personal when sharing with us one of her favourite songs on her latest album, ‘Then You Come Along’; showing how her ability to look back on her experiences as ones of value has shaped her work in deep and special ways:
“This song is actually one of the most clearly articulated songs about my anticipation of love. Because previously, I didn’t believe that I could be lucky enough to find someone who loves me, someone who can change my thoughts and open my door to happiness. But that person really came. So facing up to the past self who had reservations, because you suddenly feel ‘Hey, where has that unhappy person who imagines things gone? Were they so happy that they’ve forgotten their original principles; the skeleton that you’ve pieced together yourself? But that love is so beautiful, and I so yearn for happiness, what should I do? Being trapped in the middle of these conflicting ideas, in my heart I feel a sense of wanting to cry. So taking these feeling of yearning for love while shoving depression to the back of my brain I wrote ‘Then You Come Along’. I especially want to recommend this song to city dwellers, I think in every big city, a lot of things have already become very hypocritical and you decide to first protect yourself and lock up your emotions. But when that person really comes, I really encourage everyone to let go for once and tightly hold on to this love.”
Yet despite the masterful, authentic nature of her compositions and the critical acclaim she has received from them, Ai says that she is still uncomfortable with being labelled as a songwriter. She divulges that the unique ability of her works to hit close to home come instead from this lack of musical training she has received, allowing her to pour her emotions in their rawest forms into her musical works.
“Actually in attaching the label ‘songwriter’ I still feel a little uneasy because these works are merely my record for myself, and when this diary becomes a piece of work, after passing the hands of many talented musicians to package and produce is beautified for your ears, actually this has never been something that I had ever expected. So of course I’ve never had any training, I have never had any knowledge of musical theory or basic song-writing training. And it is possibly because of this that my very natural human reactions and so-called ‘amateur writing style’ allow things to become more pure. Just continuously living life, and putting all my effort into this, and trying my best to write these diaries.”
Eve Ai – Waterfall
As seen from her experience-centric writing style, the best way to describe Eve is as someone with a ‘zest for life’. Throughout the interview, the bubbly singer has continuously expressed the inspiration life brings her, and in various ways encouraged readers to live theirs to the fullest. But Eve is certainly no happy-go-lucky hillbilly.
As previously mentioned, in the past she was deeply unhappy with the way society worked, and sought to voice her thoughts through her musical works. However, the new Eve has transformed this concern into love for the world and for her listeners; changing tactics but never losing sight of her initial aim. Her positive global outlook is most clearly found in her song “Blank Check”, which tells the story of a train heading towards an unknown utopia.
“If I can pick a song encompassing my hopes and dreams for the future I will definitely pick ‘Blank Check’. This carriage is part of an old train and is headed towards a field that no one knows. But what I can be sure of is that everyone who gets on this carriage will together be able to find a better future. That place that we are heading towards will definitely have sun, you won’t have to wear makeup or high heels, you don’t have to worry about lies because no one has any reason to lie. We will drink together, dance and talk about our secrets and feelings. That is a very secure world where everyone loves one another. I know this situation is very hard to accomplish, but if you don’t have a starting point, you will never succeed. This is the story behind ‘One Way Ticket’. Hope everyone will just hurry up and get on the train! gin ey (‘hurry up’ in Taiwanese)!”
Both a lover and a fighter, Eve’s possession of highly emotional and logical sides to her personality has created a dynamic that is unique within her musical works. From it, she has found the ability to create hauntingly beautiful melodies that come straight from the soul. On the other hand, she is just as able to produce works which are based on logic, creating a plethora of musical works that are eclectic but balanced. It is this continuous struggle between emotion and logic which plays out in Eve’s creative processes that have allowed her to assign value to experiences of pragmatic relevance to her listeners, but yet touch them in ways that are sincere, authentic and meaningful.
As a result, her personality and her conversational style are similarly eclectic; soft and sophisticated when she waxes lyrical about a particularly meaningful song, the next minute a smile enters her voice as she animatedly recalls a different experience altogether. Although the freewheeling Eve Ai may be adorably all over the place, there is most definitely a method to her madness, as her ability to coherently navigate and balance logic against emotions guides her worldviews and creative works. Bringing audiences uniquely textured works from the ground up, Eve’s music which embodies her life experiences are certainly worthy of more listeners, both within and outside the Chinese music industry.