Odessa Chen

Odessa Chen

by Brent

Odessa Chen is a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist with a knack for writing haunting songs that linger in the listener’s heart. Her CD, “One Room Palace” is the best independent CD you didn’t hear in 2003, featuring highly developed vocals over stunning and sensitive music. Odessa graciously answers our questions below:

What kind of musical training have you had?

I’m a self-taught guitarist, although some people comment that it sounds as if I had classical training. I’ve have had classical voice training on and off over the years and I’ve sung in choruses. But a lot of that training isn’t directly applicable to my music. It gives a good foundation, but the styles are very different. I took cello lessons for a few years in my early 20’s. I don’t consider myself a pianist or bass player, I just bang around and do what I can.

How did you get your start in music?

I was poetry major in college but kept hanging around the music school wishing I was in that department instead, using their practice rooms. I took my first basic singing class there and met my first bandmates. We formed “Port” which had drums, guitar, voice, classical bass and electric bass.

Describe your songwriting process. How do you approach the task of coming up with music and lyrics?

It’s always changing. When I first started, I was a poetry student and more comfortable with words. Most of my first songs began as poems that had no choruses or repeating parts–they were essentially through composed. I couldn’t play an instrument then, so i just sang melodies and we wrote the music underneath. Now it’s give and take. Sometimes it starts with words or a experience I want to capture, sometimes a musical idea that I have to decode with words. I try to make the words and music equal and work together. Sometimes one element wants to end but the other wants to continue, it’s important to negotiate.

What kind of lyrical themes are you attracted to exploring in your lyrics?

So far I’ve been writing about love, nature, death, memory, longing, transcendence/purity/spirituality, things you feel but can’t touch, regret, connection and disconnection, joy. My newer songs have more joy and transcendence in them. There is more contentedness in my life now.

Which artists/songwriters have inspired you?

Way too many to mention! Earlier on I was really inspired by Peter Gabriel, Jane’s Addiction, Kate Bush, Sade, U2 {joshua tree/actung}, Sinead O’Connor {the Lion and Cobra}, Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac. I listened to a lot of classical music as well as classic rock while growing up in Baltimore. I was a huge Gun’s and Roses fan during the Appetite for Destruction era. More recently, Jeff Buckley, Songs:Ohia, Elliott Smith, Iron and Wine.

What did you think of your release “One Room Palace”? Did it turn out the way you intended? What was the recording process like for this CD?

That’s a hard one. I felt like playing live {with just a guitar} couldn’t capture everything I had in my head. The cd reveals a more complex picture of who I am musically. It was ambitious trying to fund the project, play the instruments, organize, arrange the parts, and design the art but I did my best. I always hear how my performances could have been better, or the recording could have been more spontaneous and live sounding, but I really gave it my all and I’m proud of it. The process was really grueling, but it is the most amazing feeling to have the music realized.

Do you think of music as a career? If you do, is it hard to balance creativity and art with providing an income for yourself?

Yeah, this is the BIG issue of my life right now. I’d like music to be my career, but that’s not the reality yet. So far, I’ve spent a lot of money and it’s just now starting to trickle back to me through cd sales and shows. I don’t have any label support or booking support so I get stressed trying to do it all. I’ve been laid off from my day job for about 7 months and I’m trying to make ends meet and still have the flexibility to do music.

Have audiences responded to you differently in any way due to the fact that you are a solo female artist?

I think it depends on the listener and how they see the sexes. There’s an idea that women write about being women and men write about being human. Like women can’t see the universal perspective, they can only write for other women. Some people trivialize me before even listening because they choose to see me as a “chick singer-songwriter”. There’s an assumption that I will be technically substandard or sound like Ani Difranco. But I know women and men both have a lot to offer the world and each other and I don’t think of things in a segregated way. I’m not solely influenced by women or men and my audience is an even split between the two.

What do you think about the state of music, both mainstream and independent?

There are so many amazing musicians out there in the independent world. They are so inspiring and give me hope for the state of things. There also is a lot of posturing. People pretending they have a vision, but are just emulating what’s around them. Most mainstream music I just can’t relate to. It’s glitzy and sounds like a video game. The songs are written for the lowest common denominator and remind me of beer commercials. The music industry seems to be more about marketing and contacts than musical merit. In the independent world people care more about good music, but it can be just as insular. Recent technologies have changed everything. I don’t know, it’s overwhelming. I hope things move towards more originality, diversity and community.

How important is image in the marketing of your music? Is image a necessary evil, or do you market your CD based solely on the music?

It’s about the music. I’ve always wanted to be seen for who I am and what I do, not for how I look. People use the excuse that other people use sex or looks to sell music so therefore it’s acceptable, but I don’t believe that. That thinking hurts the integrity of the industry. Since MTV and mass media coverage, there’s a lot of good looking people with successful careers in music that sound terrible. I make my own decisions and my decisions have an effect on others. I didn’t include a photo on my cd or on the first page of my site, or my posters because I hoped people would be interested in the music, not my image. That said, things aren’t black and white. I think portraits can be tasteful and artistic. They can serve to humanize things. In the future, if I find an image of myself that I feel embodies the music, I may use it.

If you could work with any artist, who would it be, and why?

Jeff Buckley and Elliot Smith were two, but now I think it’s Songs:Ohia and Peter Gabriel.

To me motivation is the most important thing in music. Why do you make music and where in yourself is it coming from? Is it about the ego or the spirit? I relate to and feel their music on a deep level. There’s a purity to it. The root of their music is somehow similar to where I’m coming from. Also, they’ve taught me things and I’d like to meet and thank them.

What is in the future for Odessa Chen?

I’d like to tour more, make more records, and have fun doing it. I’d like to tour Europe. I’d like to continue growing and eventually become a full time musician.

Any other comments

buy the record at http://www.odessachen.com or live shows and write to odessa at odessa@odessachen.com

Share This: