We spoke with one-half of the electronic duo Shuteye — singer-songwriter Elysia Hang-Fu! Herself and DJ/producer Alena Ratner released their first full-length album, Hush Hush, and we dive into the creative process of the album and talk shop. The talented ladies’ very different (but equally rich) musical backgrounds coupled with their shared hunger for artistic experimentation have helped them become a fast rising name in the music scene. Read below for the full interview…
How has your songwriting evolved since you wrote you first original piece over 10 years ago?
Elysia: It changed immensely over the last 10 years. My first song I ever wrote was when I was 15 years old. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I threw myself into it to start somewhere and learn on my own. Even then, I had no idea what style of music I wanted to do. Over time, I experimented with electronic sounds and just kept writing to save up a library of material I knew I’d want to work on in the future. As I kept writing, the way I wrote became more dynamic with layering of sounds as well as my vocals. Off the Hush Hush album, ‘Hearts and Stones’ and ‘Sun Night Sky’ are two examples of songs I wrote back when I was 17. I purposely saved them after all this time knowing I’d want to re-work them for the project I felt it fit for.
During the creating phase of ‘Hush Hush’ was there a good synergy when it came to writing lyrics and composing melodies between you and Alena Ratner?
Elysia: I think in general, her and I lucked out with the way we wrote together. If one person ran into a dead end with ideas, the other one would pick up. With how I write, there were a few times I’d start off with the vocal melody, but for the most part I usually always focused on writing the music first. As we’d go along in the writing process, I would hear melodies and harmonies in my head for the vocals, so I would record them down right away and work in the lyrics later. I guess I just see it as fitting a puzzle together. I go with what makes sense to me at the moment, and fill in the pieces as I go along.
Was your time in music before Shuteye crucial in shaping what you are doing today? Was it a good platform to learn about the industry, build a fan base etc?
Elysia: Definitely. Doing this for years has helped me grow as an artist in how I write, perform, etc. I was lucky enough to be able to fly out to LA to record in studios there as well as having my music aired in ‘Laguna Beach’ and ‘The Hills’ on MTV. Between that and playing shows, it was fun and an interesting experience to have at that age. Even to this day though, I’m always learning through everything I continue to do in music.
You have a very unique image – which stems out and becomes an extension of your music – was this an intentional thing? Is ‘the look’ as important as the music?
Elysia: It was a natural thing. It was important to me to be comfortable in my own skin and to just be myself. I’m a creative person with a particular eye, so what was important to me were the other things like partaking in the photo shoots and our album covers. My boyfriend and I would collaborate on the art direction for Shuteye. We would work on the photo shoots and also made the cover for the our EP.
What are some of your favorite Asian films?
In the formation of a track, what’s the process like for you? Where does it get its beginning?
Elysia: It really can start from any direction. There is never a clear beginning and ending of how a song is completed. I kind of keep moving around to different spots in the song to keep adding to it whether instrumentals, vocals, etc. In the process, I am also constantly playing back sections or the entire song to hear the overall progress and flow. I don’t ever try to force myself to write anything. If I feel I get at that point, I will stop and let it sit until I feel ready to come back to it. When I write, it’s the time I stop my brain from thinking and rather go with the flow in what I’m feeling and write from that. That’s usually what guides me through everything.
Now that you have another person to always collaborate with and create music, do you find it easier to get inspired to write different and unique material?
Elysia: It’s always inspiring whether writing alone or with another person. To be honest, writing with each other was at first difficult because we were so used to writing by ourselves for so long, and had all of our own ideas battling. Over time it became easier. We trusted each other more with collaborating and learned how to compromise, so every time we wrote, it just got better.
You stated that this has been a real learning process in terms of performing live and being a producer on a joint project. Could you be specific on the kind of improvements you have experienced since releasing the EP?
Elysia: I just noticed how much more intricate the songs would get over time, and I was always aware of every little thing like the tone, pitch, and overall sound of things. When I listen to a song, I feel like I more so disect and study every part in it because any little sound or something slightly off and not right can make or break a part. With our live performance, we had to figure out how to duplicate everything live, so that was interesting to figure out and learn.
What are the future plans for Shuteye?
Elysia: In everything I just take day by day. In being creative and a musician, we’re always looking to expand in music, no matter what project. I truly love the music we do in Shuteye, and just want to put it out there as much as possible, accessible to whoever wants to tune in and listen.
What’s the best piece of advice you would give to a young band, that may be just starting out in the industry?
Elysia: My advice would be to know that when trying to make a hobby into a career, it does become a business, so to make sure all things are agreed on first and legally protected before further investing. Also, don’t second guess yourself in the music you create. Not everyone is going to like what you do because everyone is different thus likes different things. As long as you are happy with what you are doing and it feels right to you, that’s all that matters.
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Unwatermarked photo credit by Ryan Van Ert