FOONYAP Talks, We Listen: Alternative Music Doesn’t Have to be Frightening!

by Carey Rutherford

“We created a character concept to evoke a playful fragility and articulate gracefulness.” Image by Anastasia Moody

“A ‘palimpsest’ is a manuscript in which traces of the original can be found, and through performance, I rewrite my emotional scripts.” – FOONYAP

In a normal precursor to the interview, MUSICAlive! asks Calgary-born alternative musician FOONYAP to tell us what instruments she played on her debut full-length CD, Palimpsest:

“On (that album) I played violin, synth (and sang) as well as a curious instrument called a Mandobird: a cross between a Thunderbird guitar, and a mandolin.”

We recall Walt Ohama in the 80’s Calgary, demonstrating Laurie Anderson’s “difficult listening” music, and ask FOONYAP how her 21st century version of challenging music is going:

“My career is blossoming in a way I could never imagine, and I’m so appreciative that the environment, the cultures of Alberta, of Calgary, are open to pushing genres and exploring new sounds . . . When I was in Wood Pigeon, it was an indie-folk rock collective. The group has evolved to become the solo project of Mark Hamilton with a rotating cast of players. I would say that Wood Pigeon is one of my greatest mentors in my musical career; our performance aesthetics are quite different, though.”

She’ll be performing solo when she opens for Nêhiyawak at Studio Bell on the 19th of April.

“On Palimpsest I worked with my partner, Michael Gratton, and we collaborated: so he played bass, and he played synth as well; all of the other instruments are midi-controlled . . . The performance of Palimpsest is in-between performance art and local live music performance. I play solo, and it is an unfolding of the self, laying down layers of sound on my loop pedal (and with other pedals). How I approach performance, particularly with Palimpsest, is like glimpses into moments of personal transformation in my life, and I create a narrative.

“For Palimpsest, I worked with a team to create a visual aesthetic drawing from Asian minimalism and 60s graphic novels.” Image by Anastasia Moody.

“Onstage, I embody a character, and that character is fragile, vulnerable, and powerful: and what I try to do in my performance is to embrace every aspect of the human condition as it is, when I’m onstage at that moment. And it’s a cathartic, moving experience . . . Right now my performance is primarily songs from Palimpsest; I’ve also begun introducing a little bit more of my work from my next album.”

MUSICAlive! points out that, with the wealth of info available online, we try to avoid that overload and allow the artist to speak for themselves: what kind of information does she want to present about FOONYAP the artist?

“I think it’s important to a (listener) to know that this album is a culmination of personal growth and transformation, and it’s helpful for them to know a a little bit about my struggles, for them to place what they’re going to see in context. So I do talk very openly about my experience growing up in a traditional Chinese Catholic household, and about the personal kind of shame and humiliation I felt being an independent young person, and a young woman at that. Struggling agains the ideas of what I should and shouldn’t be.

“As well, I am a classical violinist by training, that IS my primary instrument, and my performance on Palimpsest is an experience; it has a lot of weight, and hope as well.”

MUSICAlive! mentions a split amongst Canadian music fans we have discovered, between Tragically Hip fans and Rush fans: we have yet to meet someone who’s a big fan of both. And since Rush is the cerebral demonstration of creation, and the Hip is the emotional expression of creation, we ask if FOONYAP sees herself closer to the emotional expression end of the spectrum, given the personal topics she addresses.

“I think parts of my performance are definitely like that. I guess lately when I’m performing I like to think about the totality of the human experience: not just ‘tearing your heart out (and throwing it on the stage, as The Hip’s Gord Downie described), but being quiet, or being attracted to someone, or showing regret, or nostalgia . . . It kind of feels like a movement of the rhythms of ALL the emotions that it means to be human. Instead of running away from them because (they’re) overwhelming and difficult; to sit with them and accept them. Because they’re all ephemeral, and I feel precious in this moment in time.”

“For me, the artistic process is an expression: it’s an intuitive ‘feeling-out’ of what I think goes together, so I never consciously decide to insert my culture anywhere. (laughs) Or decide to ‘do something folkie’. (laughs again) It’s just what serves the emotion, or the feel of what I’m trying to achieve. I find later, when I look at it: ‘Oh, That’s so interesting! I didn’t realize that was something I was influenced by.’ While I’m in the creative process, I don’t think about where it comes from.”

Final thoughts?

“I’m really appreciative of the opportunity to play with the Nêhiyawak, who are an Indigenous band from Treaty 6 territory: we did a workshop together at (Calgary Folk Festival’s) Block Heater, which was lovely, and they’re just wonderful; talented musicians, and I think our pairing is an excellent opportunity for Calgarians to experience emerging talent.”

You heard her! Experience it at Studio bell!