(11 May 2003) Born in rural Martinsville, Virginia, Magdalen Hsu-Li began her
musical career in 1997 by founding her own record company ChickPop
Records thereby expressing to the public (releasing) her debut EP
"Muscle And Bone." Since this musically successful but unlikely
rural beginning, Hsu-Li has released two additional CDs,
Evolution (1999) and her latest musical expression
Fire. Singer songwriter, piano player, poet, painter/artist,
speaker/educator and businesswoman, Magdalen Hsu-Li is indeed a
musical renaissance of evolution. A musical frontier woman into
the wilderness of song!
Interview. Musical Discoveries: How does the past both musically and
personally relate to the present and future tense of your music?
I have done a great deal of work on myself to develop as a musician
and as a person in the past five years and certainly this has had an
effect on my music. I am always reviewing my live show in videotapes
and looking for ways to better it. Personally as my social life has
blossomed and I have gotten better at building community with others.
I think this has taught me (as a performer) how to better connect
with people on an emotional level through music. Relationships are
often are about balancing your own needs with the needs of others.
Having a successful live performance is also built on that concept.
The performance is for the audience--not just for yourself. Every
great performer knows this.
Are there any non-musical influences that have influenced your
Definitely--the five element philosophy of Chinese medicine has
had a huge impact on my work as well as the poems of Rainer Maria
Rilke and the way he looked that the world. Also painting has had
a huge impact in my musical process and how I go about creating
songs. I am still painting--just through music.
How would you describe your music?
Pop rock alt folk singer songwriter music with a tinge of country,
jazz, and punk.
As a singer/songwriter what do you consider to be the greater
art: writing the song or singing the song?
I'm glad you asked this question! Hands down I love the process of
songwriting more than performing. Performing is great but often I
feel a great deal of pressure when touring even though 90% of my
performances go very well and there are great turnouts. When
songwriting, I feel free and powerful. I could stay up writing
songs all night long. I love the actual act of creating and the
craft of songwriting. I love listening to and studying other
people's songs and trying to figure out how they did what they
did. Sometimes I analyze other people's songs and pick them apart
in a scientific way to understand them--just because it turns me
What one rule or rules in the business of music do you like
I love breaking the myth of the starving artist. That is such a
lie that people tell artist from the day they are born and it's so
sad that so many artists psych themselves out with this myth. There
is always a way to make a great living from music or any art form
if you are willing to use your creativity to the business aspect.
People think that creativity should only be in art and the business
should be in business. But the most successful business people use
their intuition and creativity to problem solve and figure out how
to make things work. It's important to work from both ends using
your creativity. I also would like to break through the glass
ceiling for Asian Americans in the American music industry. People
don't think it can be done right now but I know it can and it
should happen soon!
What inspired you to form ChickPop Records?
I formed ChickPop in 1997 when I first started touring and
making records. There was the inspiration of necessity I suppose
in why I created my own company.
What is the most difficult thing about running your own
I work full time when not touring at booking and being a boss
and manager. I don't mind the hard work but sometimes I would like
to spend 100% as opposed to 50% of my time in practicing and
creating and bettering my songwriting and live show. I would
also like to combine my music and painting. I currently don't
have any time for painting. I think if I did that I could
just take off and become a monster musician and artist. Music
and art would just pour out of me like a force of nature.
What is the most surprising thing about running your own record
That it can be done successfully and that there are thousands
of other indie artists doing it right now. That was not something
people did 20-30 years ago. People didn't just make their own
records and retain their power and profits. Major labels controlled
everything back then.
Album Review. A delivery system of harmonic gravitational convergence that revolves
around the voice-controlled lyrical curve; thereby producing the
coefficient properties of 'listener elicitation,' which
consequently is: the musical mean value theorem yield of both
songwriting (stimulation) and vocal (exponential) projective
power function of Magdalen Hsu-Li.
Poem salt with sinusoidal vocal icing, Fire is a
twelve-track emotional transfer of thought into songful soul.
Beginning with "Redefinition" Hsu-Li vocally stretches the
mundane definition of words into a lyrical redefinition of
melodic musical meaning.
And she sings what she writes Listen! A superwoman all bluster and
bluff/a wimp who can barely pick herself up/yellow with pride/white
at the gills/black with anger and burning skills/red with passion and
brown with age/because my mind is set/my heart is a stageí. And she
plays as she sings--the piano.
"Compassion" features the well-tempered ostinato work of Timothy
Young (guitar) that kindles into acoustic-conduction under the low
heated ardour--the boiling point--of contralto low-keyed vocal
passion with just enough musical temperature--the instrumentation--to
keep Hsu-Li vocally warm. Itís a personal song that is sung in
a heartfelt voice.
The track "As I am" is a folk song played (sung) under the
influence of blues ambiance--jazz. It has a nice (almost hidden)
edge of brass (Dave Carter) and a good taste of funky bass
(Arne Livingston). Itís a feel-good to listento song. The last track
is a zany almost fantasia chick-rock and pop song and is definitely
a good coda, to the opus of Hsu-Li!
With all songs written by Magdalen Hsu-Li, with the exception of "As
I Am," co-written with Dale Fanning, Fire is a well-played,
well-produced, arranged musical art of CD pleasure. For more information
on the artist, please visit her
website.--interview and review © Steven Digman 2003
Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album
here. Mr. Digman tells us that this album is worth a trans-Atlantic journey. It is a must listen!