Vienna Teng Photo by Ivy Jean Vibar, ABS-CBNnews.com
Freddie Aguilar and his wife listen to Vienna Teng as she performs at Ka Freddie's.
MANILA – Thanks to a Kickstarter project, now-indie artist Vienna Teng made it a point to travel to the Philippines to perform here.
On her Kickstarter page, Teng wrote that if they reach either 1,400 backers or $80,000 -- whichever comes first -- she will perform in Canada, Singapore, the Philippines, Taiwan, China, Japan, and Australia in 2014. Fortunately for her Pinoy fans, she got over 1,452 backers who contributed US$82,640.
Her original goal was to raise US$20,000 to create a video for her song “Level Up,” a track from her new album “Aims.” With more than $60,000 over the original goal, Teng said the video will have “more awesomeness” as it has a new budget — for a great choreographer and performers, as well as more detailed sets with moving parts.
Teng added that the money raised will help her pay off album recording costs of $50,000 as well as promotion and manufacturing costs of about $20,000.
Vienna Teng sings "Soon Love Soon" with her fans onstage.Photo by Ivy Jean Vibar, ABS-CBNnews.com
“I’m now a fully DIY artist, with no record label, and I’ve paid for all of this out of my own savings and lines of credit. So the funds from Kickstarter are a very welcome boost to paying off those expenses,” she wrote on the crowd-funding website.
Ka Freddie's is packed with fans of Vienna Teng on August 18. Photo by Ivy Jean Vibar, ABS-CBNnews.com
However, crowd-funding, Teng clarified in an interview with ABS-CBNnews.com on Tuesday at her hotel in Quezon City, is more useful as a tool to connect people and rally them around a project than it is about raising money.
“To be perfectly honest it's a lot of work to earn the money that way. I'm still working to fulfill the rewards from the Kickstarter campaign. Some of them are very personal,” she said.
Still, she found it an amazing way to create something in collaboration with other people, and to bring artists closer to the people they make music for.
Vienna Teng signs autographs for a crowd of Filipino fans. Photo by Ivy Jean Vibar, ABS-CBNnews.com
Freddie Aguilar and his wife listen to Vienna Teng as she performs at Ka Freddie's. Photo by Ivy Jean Vibar, ABS-CBNnews.com
“That's what I found most rewarding about it. It was enough of an event that an entire music community of music fans could really come together. That felt amazing,” she said of her Kickstarter campaign.
In the Philippines, she had help from fans and Chrishnel Tan in organizing her performances here.
A simple decision
Prior to striking out on her own, Teng was signed up with a couple of labels. However, when she decided to go back to school to study business and environmental science then work a full-time job, she decided with her label that it might be better for them to go their separate ways. She described the move as a “simple decision.”
“I think my relationship with music would be healthiest if it wasn't my full-time career anymore,” she said. “It has worked out well for me because I felt that I can do music on my own terms without other people's livelihood relying on me.”
“It's good for me because I can make decisions like touring Asia and it doesn't have to be profitable, and it doesn't have all these expectations attached to it.”
Despite the cons of not being attached to a label, such as the lack of a team dedicated to promoting her, she said she felt it was a way of getting back to her roots -- just traveling and connecting with her fans. She took time off from work to go on tour, but is also looking forward to going back to the office because she likes what she does, namely working on environmental sustainability issues.
“I am working full time, that’s why this tour is so fast, one show after another. My work is flexible and they’ll allow me to pursue my musical projects but I do have to go back to work again. And I’m happy to do it because it’s a great job,” she said.
Cards showing Vienna Teng's tour dates. Photo by Ivy Jean Vibar, ABS-CBNnews.com
The video she promised her Kickstarter backers, which she described as a “dance video,” was released in December 2013, and has received a good response from fans.
“Aims,” Teng’s latest album, has been described by critics as taking a different direction than her previous albums "Waking Hour" (2002), "Warm Strangers" (2004), "Dreaming Through the Noise" (2006), "Inland Territory" (2009), and "The Moment Always Vanishing" (2010), which was in collaboration with fellow musician Alex Wong.
“Aims” has been described as more joyful and experimental than her previous albums, and as Teng told the Huffington Post, before, she had tended to write melancholy songs.
Her shift towards more positivity, she told ABS-CBNnews.com, was because she did not want to react with helplessness and depression to the things she learned when she started studying environmental science issues, which she had gotten interested in because she thinks of herself as a global citizen.
It is very easy for someone like her, she said, who has lived a very comfortable life, to think that life is very nice. But once she started looking at other things happening in the world, she found that a lot of it is “really sad.”
“A lot of it is very troubling and not only people but the way we do things either in ignorance or half in ignorance. It can sort of make you angry and sad and frustrated and eventually very powerless because it can feel like there’s nothing I can do to change anything,” she said.
“I started to look to music to try to figure out, what is my response to this? I think my response to this was I wanted to write uplifting music, energizing music, but I don’t want it to be oblivious, shutting out the things that are sad. I wanted to embrace the things that I am learning, to feel hopeful.”
Teng’s songs have also been considered empowering by some of her fans, particularly women, which she said has been encouraging, and surprising because she has led a very comfortable life, and has been able to do what she wanted on her terms for the most part.
She had not, until recently, really thought of herself as feminist, but had an “Aha!” moment when she came to understand that feminism is actually that you really support the full potential of a woman.
“It’s taken me a little longer to realize that other people face more challenges and I’m glad that my music has accidentally been helpful to people like that,” she said.
Teng, whose legal name is Cynthia Shih, said that this tour is her first time in Asia since the '90s. Her parents hail from Taiwan, although she said they think of themselves as Chinese.
Prior to performing in the Philippines, Teng went to Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, and Japan as part of her Asian tour. After performing in the Philippines, she will be going to Taiwan and China.
“It’s really exciting for me [to be visiting Taiwan and China] because my mother will be with me for that part of the trip,” she said. “I think it will be really great to hear her stories not only of when she was growing up but also, she travels there on business so it will be great to get her perspective of what it’s like.”
Her parents did not take her back to Taiwan when she was growing up because her father told her the country he grew up in no longer exists. And if he took her there, she would not be able to see the place he remembers.
“I know that I will be seeing a contemporary Taiwan, but I think even so it would be really fun to finally be in the country where my family is from. Then China…it will be good to come back as an adult, and see it,” she said.
The first time she went to Asia was when she visited China with her parents in 1991. She remembered seeing an ocean of bicycles, and shared that she had never been in a place where there were so many people on bikes.
“I also remember it being very hot and humid, and I wasn’t used to that, being from California,” she said, adding that she visited museums with her parents to learn more about China’s history.
However, she said her favorite spot was just being in the street. “I think to this day, I think when I go to a place, my favorite thing is just to walk around and understand just a little bit of how people live.”
“Over the years I've gotten a lot of requests to go to the Philippines,” Teng said, noting that she knew her albums had been released in the country.
She joked that she heard if she came here, there would at least be 20 people at her show.
“I think it was the first country I thought of including in a list. Then everything else was about who had written me emails through the years and where I would like to travel to,” she said.
A couple of her online friends, she said, one of whom is a US-based Filipino, were also helpful in collecting information around the internet on where and what to perform.
Based on their “research,” Teng said they found that one of the songs most requested by Filipinos is “Eric’s Song” from her first album released in 2002, “Waking Hour.”
“She made a whole list, and eventually it turned out that everybody was asking for this song in the Philippines,” she said. “She wrote a joking note. She said, ‘About 10,847 people have asked for ‘Eric’s Song’ so you have to play it.’”
More than 20 people came to her shows at Ka Freddie’s in Quezon City on Monday and Tuesday, packing the small bar owned by controversial musician Freddie Aguilar.
Teng said she would definitely consider coming back for more shows. She originally only planned to play for one night, but when the tickets for her first gig sold out “very quickly,” she said they were glad to add a second night, “which was lucky.”
“I really enjoyed how different a lot of the shows throughout Asia have been during this tour. Actually the show last night here in Manila was a big contrast to the ones in Japan,” she said.
Teng enjoyed her shows here, she said, as the audience surprised her by singing entire songs with her.
“I came over here and I was so surprised that people were singing an entire song with me, and knew all the words, and had all of these requests that they wanted me to do. It was really, really exciting,” she said.
This was in contrast to Japan, where people were very polite, and did not give any song requests. However, she said she had fun performing there, too.
The streets of Metro Manila
As she loves walking around, Teng said she took a walk around Quezon City, near her hotel, when she arrived. People were taken aback, she laughingly shared, when they learned of her trip.
“I took a taxi first to Ka Freddie’s from my hotel, but then I had a little time before the show so I just walked back to the hotel,” she said.
“I think that was one of the favorite parts of the day yesterday because just seeing the jeepneys going by, and the tricycles and people grilling meat out on the street, and students coming home from school, then the people who are driving and parking their trucks at the end of the day. There’s a lot of life in the street that are different from other places.”
One of her favorite streets, she said, include some in Manhattan, New York, that feel magical. “You step onto them and you look into the distance and it seems just to never end. It’s like the city never ends,” she said.
However, she enjoyed walking around in the Philippines because “it’s really fun to experience life that feels very different.”
As she did not expect to have a sizeable Philippine fan base, her show has been limited to Ka Freddie’s in Quezon City. However, she promised that if she comes back, it will be more organized, and will be a bigger concert.
“I’m really sorry that I won’t have a chance to perform for [them],” she said of her fans who were unable to make the trip. “But I also think that this won’t be my last time in the Philippines. You will know in advance, and there will be more tickets available.”