Earlier this month, Darian Chen released his latest song ‘Endless Summer’. Deeply nostalgic, and yet somewhat whimsical and dreamlike, the song reminds you of the very human need to pause, and to listen.
And listen, we did! We were lucky to chat to Darian about his most recent EP, exploring the unknown, and his ongoing process of reinvention.
Darian, tell us more about yourself! For people who may not have listened to your music before, how would you describe yourself?
And have you always wanted to be a musician? Were you musical growing up? Did you come from a musical family?
No, not always. When I was younger, I was obsessed with the idea of the unknown and the exploration and discovery of the unknown. Space was a big part of the obsession, so I wanted to be an astronaut.
For me, space is this perfect zone between science and the esoteric and unexplained that allows room for magic. Similarly, it’s what I like about music. I feel the same excitement when I listen to songs that sound unknown – not just in their sound, but if it makes me feel new things or if it makes me remember old things in new ways. It’s the sound of old with new, new with old that excites me. Like, what does the future sound like?
I played a lot of instruments as a kid, but I didn’t think of music as something to explores ideas with. I sang in a choir or played in a band almost every year since I was 7, and I studied classical piano from 10 to around 17 years old. It was an obligation more than anything else, though. My whole family is super musical, everyone sings. Recently my dad picked up the piano, saxophone, and guitar and he’s been playing every day. My older sister is incredibly musical, she’s got an amazing ear and she’s a great singer. My mom’s an incredible singer too, she slays Tibetan hymns to mandopop standards.
Did you have any musical influences when you were growing up?
I didn’t listen to too much music when I was younger. I only have this one vivid memory from when I was 9 or 10 when my friend came over and we sat on the floor in the living room listening to music from a radio station she flipped to. I remember being confused about the whole idea of just sitting there and listening to music, it was so surreal for some reason. I got more into music a few years later when my sister gave me her old sound system along with like two dozen CDs of albums and mixes. It was a big collection of records: Miles Davis, Nirvana, Stevie Wonder, Aaliyah. I remember that there were so many songs from that part of my life – when I was just starting to get into music – that I would listen to and be in awe of every second of the song. There was this mystifying air around all the music I listened to. I would just sit back and think “how did they even do this?”, or “why do I feel like this?”. All those experiences influenced me, and those same kinds of things continue to influence me today. New experiences.
Talking about influences, who influences and inspires you? Why?
I feel like everyone I meet has some kind of influence on my life – I haven’t met anyone who didn’t influence my life in some way. Some passing comments have ended up being as important to me as some serious conversations, so I always try my best to listen. It’s gotten to the point that I don’t think about who influences and inspires me, because I feel like it would fry my brain. All this energy passes more-less unfiltered into my head. It makes every day exciting and new because I don’t know who I’ll come across or what I’ll see, and what that would mean for me the day after.
If you had the chance to perform or collaborate with another artist, who would it be?
Wong Kar-Wai, Yohji Yamamoto, Pharrell, … the list goes on. They’re all master world builders. I’d just want to learn. They have such deep understandings of the things they do, who they are, it shines through in their work. They’ve been able to bring this deeply impactful and far-reaching energy into the world, it’s amazing to think about.
What are you currently listening to now?
The Ryuichi Sakamoto x Taeko Onuki concert that they did a couple of days ago. I didn’t even know there was a vocal version of Bibo No Aozora, it’s so sick.
What’s your songwriting style? Do you have a particular style that you write all of your songs with?
I like to keep things open for most things, same for writing. Sometimes an idea will gestate into a process, and I’ll follow that process for a while. Other times I’ll try out a few processes in a day, everything is super open. I like being 100% inspired when I’m writing, so when something doesn’t feel right I tend to go directly for the nuclear option and end up nuking the song. When bq and I were planning for the EP, I made 100+ demos to bring to Toronto. By the time we got there, I had 10 demos to share, and by the night of the second day, I deleted them all. bq had to constantly talk me out of deleting songs over minute details/vibes that didn’t feel good.
Are there particular themes that you write about that you always go back to, or any sort of favorite topics you like to write about?
I write about a lot of things, but I don’t feel like I have the authority to talk about the themes of the music too much. I feel like themes are for everyone else to make for themselves. Everything I wanted to say is contained in the work, so everything else is owned by them. They’re all important songs to me, but at the end of the day, it’s all about what they end up meaning to whoever listens to it. Some of my favorite songs are my favorite songs because I listened to them at the right time in my life.
We ended up developing a lot of ideas and ways to navigate around it. For the EP we tried a few processes. One of the overarching ones that stayed throughout the whole development was this idea of tunnel-visioning this strong vision of what we wanted the EP to feel like and never compromise on that feeling. All the other micro-processes under this larger process were kept open though, constantly reimagined and reinvented. So instead of deleting songs, I’d imagine them from another angle.
What can we expect from you in the future? What are your plans for the rest of 2020, going into 2021?
My EP is coming out on June 5th, and I’ll be releasing some videos for the songs too. Also, I’ll be releasing more music over the summer. Besides that, I’ll just be hanging out until the world reopens.