Checking in with Wendy Hsu

Checking in with Wendy Hsu

What are you working on right now?
I’ve got a few projects going on. The newest one is this band called Dzian!—with emphasis on the exclamation point. You have to say it with your thumbs up. It means “super cool” in Taiwanese. It’s this project I started in September, involving some friends of ours who were all improvisational musicians, and we got together to play songs we all really loved. Mostly vintage ’60s surf and garage rock we found on the Internet from digitized LPs that people have posted.

Who does Wendy Hsu want to collaborate with? Buckingham Branch Railroad. “They have these trains that sit out by the Belmont bridge that produce this amazing percussive noise, so I’m trying to get them to consent to some weird improvisational sound project.”

Another project includes Pinko Communoids, an ongoing improvised music project that I’ve been involved in with two other people, and there’s a duo that grew out of that…

What were you doing just before this interview?
I was working on my dissertation, which has been a struggle. I was trying to write a chapter. It’s on Asian-American indie rock, and it’s been difficult juggling playing music and writing at once.

What is your favorite tool of the trade?
Electricity is something that ties everything together…used to amplify objects, like the electric guitar and various effects pedals. But I also like to amplify other objects, and I recently got into amplifying bicycles and broken accordions.

What would you say is inspiring about Charlottesville right now?
The Bridge [Progressive Arts Initiative]. That’s where things are really happening in town, and I love their mission, bridging different types of media by uniting members of the community, because that’s what I’m all about.

Tell us about an idea that you’re carrying around with you.
I’m trying to revive this Taiwanese burlesque performance style called Nakashi. It was around in the ’60s through the ’80s, and it’s completely gone, so I’m trying to piece it together from memories that I have as a child, going to company parties that my parents were invited to.

What is your favorite snack food while you’re working?
I’d say green tea. I used to think green tea was only good for writing, but I’ve found that it keeps you going, gives you kind of a sustained kick.

What are you listening to right now?
Yesterday I popped in a CD that I love, some of Yoko Ono’s ’80s stuff on an album called Starpeace, this beautiful, melancholy post-Lennon celebration of life. It just radiates with positive energy, definitely feel-good music. Also, Dengue Fever, this L.A. band that’s playing Cambodian rock.

What single article of clothing would you take with you on a long trip?
A pair of mid-ankle boots made by this company called Earth Footwear. They have negative heels, which apparently engage your body to stand in a certain way, so you don’t strain your back—you use your thighs. And since I’m a practitioner of tai chi, I really feel the difference in my body.

Guilty pleasures?
I love “The X-Files.” My partner and I recently started at the beginning, and now we’re on Season Eight.

Who is your favorite artist working in your medium? Outside your medium?

I would say Yoko Ono for now. I started studying her a few years ago, strictly from the perspective of a musicologist, but then I started getting into her music and was overwhelmed by the breadth and the depth of her work as an artist, musician and conceptual performance artist… In different points of my life I’ve been drawn to different parts of her artistic output.