With the release of her new song ‘Under the Cherry Blossom Tree’ this week, Lili Liu is an up and coming artist from Australia looking to inspire young audiences about Chinese culture. Collaborating with international musicians and composers for her latest projects, Lili Liu is developing her career on the international stage. Currently in production on her new musical drama series Life as a Summer Flower, Liu is setting a new kind of trend, bringing back the style of ancient Chinese culture and philosophy to the forefront through her creative projects.
Discover Lili Liu’s unique vision and her influences as well as her perspectives on Western and Chinese musical culture in our exclusive interview.
Who inspired your musical tastes?
Lili: Disney movies of course! I was very into Aladdin and Lion King. I started to write love duets for Kovu and Kiara after watching Lion King 2 in high school. There is a Chinese musical drama series called Legend of the White Snake, and watching the drama in my childhood, I felt very fascinated by the actors singing the dialogues – the music is so beautiful. I think about that show very often now as I work on my own musical drama series Life as a Summer Flower.
During my teenage years I was also very much into R&B, including artists like Alicia Keys, John Legend, so sometimes you might hear me trying to do R&B in my own music. There is a music genre in China called “China wind” which is the use of Chinese pentatonic scales. Many of the songs in the style of “China Wind” are used in Chinese ancient palace/costume dramas. Jay Chou also wrote many songs in the style of “China Wind”. I’m definitely going to write more songs in the style of ”China wind” maybe in combination with the Peking Opera.
You’ve performed at a number of prestigious venues including the Sydney Opera House. What was the experience like?
Lili: Back in that time, I thought it would be really cool if I could perform in an iconic venue such as the Sydney Opera House. So I could finally feel I had made it! It was an ambitious attempt and I invited an Erhu Master to perform together with. We played some Chinese and Japanese tunes, also some arrangements from film music. But after the performance, I started to feel somehow empty inside though the concert was well received by the audience. I didn’t know what was missing but now I know deep inside my heart, I wanted to perform my own songs, and I wanted to sing. I wasn’t confident enough to show the world my own songs so I hid myself behind the piano for too long. It was a journey for me to transform myself from a low self-esteem person to now – more confident and accepting of myself. A friend said I was like the phoenix reborn from the ashes. I actually feel like that.
What’s the music industry like in Australia compared with China?
Lili: I came to Australia when I was in high school, so I’m not an insider of the music industry in China, but I listen to C-pop/ M-pop. The younger generation of Chinese singers receive a lot of inspiration from mainstream Western pop music, R&B, African-American music, hip hop, rap, street dance music and so on. They all play a very big role in shaping the current music industry in China. I feel singers and songwriters in China are big admirers of the Western music culture, and many of them write English lyrics in their songs. I share those inspirations. My background is in Western classical music, but I feel myself becoming more and more interested in my own heritage. I want to know the Chinese history, and I want to find my own roots. I also want to find a way to introduce the ancient Chinese music/culture/fashion to the world and I want the younger generation to feel inspired.
Australia is a very unique and blessed country, with a lot of talented music producers and actors. There must be something in the air or water that there are so many artistic people in Australia! I feel very lucky to be able to work with some of the best musicians and producers and I’m happy that the project I’m doing has an international crew.
What’s your favorite musical genre?
Lili: At the moment film music. I’m rediscovering some of my childhood favorites, such as the music from Dances with the Wolves by John Barry – I couldn’t stop listening to it. I like musical theatre too, and I enjoy everything Disney and from Studio Ghibli Inc.
How did the ‘Under the Cherry Blossom Tree’ song come about?
Lili: I actually wrote the verse of the song when I was probably 7 or 8 years old. I used to play the game with my childhood friends—-they wrote lyrics and I wrote music. I probably came out with the first draft of the verse in my maths classes. I used to pretend watching the maths teacher talking but actually I was developing melodies in my head, and I rewrote the song when I was a teenager after watching Lion King 2. I was imagining the two lions singing a love duet, and then I rewrote it again and added a new chorus a few years ago, imaging it as a monologue for myself. When the script of Life as a Summer Flower came to me, I found the exact right spot for the song in the story. A perfect alignment.
If you could collaborate with any artist on a future track, who would it be?
Lili: I would love to learn from Alan Menken, who has won most of the Oscar awards than anyone alive I think. I grew up with his music watching Walt Disney, and I would really want to sing his compositions. Hisaishi Jō too. I love his music from the animations. Jay Chou – I like his creativity and blending the Chinese elements in pop songs.
Any projects we should be on the lookout for in the future?
Lili: Life as a Summer Flower, the current musical drama series which we are starting to film in 2021 that will be an ongoing project. The script writer, Xiaolin Shen, who is the author of the novel Life as a Summer Flower, is continuously creating and arranging the script to adopt the environment of the screenplay. I will release more music videos as well. I’m also working with renowned fashion designer Athanasia.
And finally, what would be your advice for any up and coming singers who want to get into the industry and make their own music?
Lili: I always believe in collaboration. It’s like building any business, the most important thing is to find the right people that you enjoy working with. On the way to my success I want to bring other people with me. For up and coming singers, I would find other musicians to put performances together as it’s a very valuable experience, because you learn organization skills and marketing skills. With these days of age, there are literally endless opportunities with social media platforms, and I would make best use of them.