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Kristine Sa - Interview With a Rising Asian-American Pop Star
By Steve Diabo
Ever notice the subtle differences between pop music around the world? Depending on where you go, the local tunes tends to take influences from the surroundings -- with results ranging from the bizarre to the strangely addictive. Asian popular music is one kind of music with distinct qualities -- often unmistakable. For the most part, music with the signature of Asian spirituality and influence can only be found in Asia, but Kristine Sa brings a taste of Asian-style expression right to our own back yard.
I Never Knew, Kristine's debut album, paints a picture of love and reality with songs ranging from heartfelt ballads to experimental pop -- all penned and performed by herself. The depth and personification in lyrics and poetry give the impression of reflecting Asian influence. Though her album was launched this February, her voice is no stranger to many online streaming radio stations, where she made her mark on the new-world online music industry.
Living in Toronto and taking theatre acting in York University in addition to tending to a singing career, Kristine often finds herself booked solid for weeks on end. Despite that, she continues to find time to let her creativity bubble out, formulating new lyrics.
I had a chance to speak with Kristine over the phone about her influences, her experiences and her future plans. What resulted was a conversation with a multi-faceted talent I won't soon forget.
Steve/Animefringe: I've checked your website, I've listened to your album -- I found it awesome. Honestly, I found it really remarkable.
Kristine Sa: *laughs* Thank you.
AF: You wrote the music and everything; it seemed like a really... Good thing to me. Like, "wow." It's like you did "everything," you know?
KS: *laughs some more*
AF: Anyway... you tour major cities in the States and all over. Looking at Nemesis Records' website, you're the leading artist there -- you're the one they're always talking about. I mean, you wrote music and it's been produced and packaged and distributed all over the world. I wanted to know: Is a musical career for you -- a successful musical career -- a dream of yours?
KS: I guess it depends on how you would define success, wouldn't it? I mean, a lot of people would define success by "making a lot of money..."
AF: Well, yeah, of course, but success is what you make of it.
KS: Right. I don't know if I would call that success. Is it important for me to be successful? Well, I think in terms of what I do, I guess I'd like to be recognized. Sorta respected in a way. But I guess everyone wants to be respected for their position in their lives. That's what I would call success.
AF: Sounds fair enough.
KS: I don't know about money, though... Money seems to mess people up, it seems.
AF: Well, you know.. money is money and success is success.
KS: Right, right. Some people measure success by [money]. A lot of people sit around, and they're like, "Oh, you know, she's making $40 million a year.. she's really successful!" *laughs* I don't know if that's true.
AF: That just means you're rich.
KS: *laughs* That's right.
AF: A lot of people are rich -- it doesn't mean they're successful.
AF: So, to you, success would be a sense of fulfillment?
AF: How long have you been singing?
KS: Well, you know, I've just been singing all my life, but professionally... Probably for the last 3, 4 years.
AF: So you're relatively new to all of this?
KS: Kinda sorta. My sister's a singer. I hung around with her a lot. I traveled with her. I do a lot of in-school stuff, very artsy fartsy.
AF: Where are you going to school?
KS: I go to York University.
AF: So what are your favorite kinds of music?
KS: My favorite kinds of music? I listen a lot of soft rock lately -- a lot of Bryan Adams. But actually, it's rather varied. I listen to pretty much anything. And I switch very quickly -- but lately it's been a lot of soft rock.
AF: How much time and commitment does your professional singing take from your home life?
KS: Um... Gosh, I've never really divided it up. But in a week, I'd say it would take half my time. In other words, half my life.
AF: And a lot of it consists of going all over the place, right? Do you stick around Toronto that often?
KS: I do, actually. I've been here most of the summer.
AF: So, when you do have your spare time, is there anyone you like to spend it with? Boyfriend or fiancé, cat or dog? Goldfish?
KS: *laughs* I don't have any pets. I do have a boyfriend... I spend a lot of time with him when I can because it's hard to do that when I'm gone. I also spend a lot of time with my family -- little cousins and stuff. There's two babies around me; they're very cute!
AF: Hmm, that's good. nice family-oriented sorta thing. Now I'm gonna ask you something completely off-topic... What's your favorite food?
KS: Ooh, that's tough. I love food, man. *laughs*
AF: I agree. Not only does it taste good, but it's good for you!
KS: I know! Well, some of it, anyway... The better it tastes, the worse it is for you... It's so awful.
AF: Yeah, but someone who hates food still has to eat it, otherwise they die.
KS: *laughs* That's true... All right, so my favorite food. Hmm... Lately I would say... Sashimi.
AF: Sashimi? That's a good choice, actually.
KS: Thank you.
AF: So you're gonna be in Dallas August 31st for AnimeFEST?
AF: Have you ever done an anime convention before?
KS: I haven't even actually been to one, so I'm really excited.
KS: I'll get to go and look around and have fun...
AF: Has anybody warned you yet, or am I the first one?
KS: Warned me? About what?
AF: Well, a lot of people will tell you that a crowd at an anime convention is... particularly unique.
KS: *laughs* Unique? Is that a euphemism?
AF: Well, it's not something you see every day.
KS: Well, I'm prepared. I'm pretty unique myself. *laughs* [...] I have weird streaks of personality.
AF: Weird... streaks... of personality? Do elaborate.
KS: Sometimes I can't figure myself out. There are certain things that I'm really shy about, and I refuse to come out of the box, or out of the dark, or whatever you want to call it. And then I do strange things like go on stage and sing to hundreds of people. *laughs*
AF: I know exactly what you mean. I wish you luck with the con... I hope everything goes great!
KS: Thank you. I hope so too.
AF: So I wanted to ask you... Because I've been reading up on your biography on your web site (http://www.kristinesa.com/) -- yes, that's right, I researched! I noticed that when you were recording your album you want back and forth between Toronto and New York for quite a while. I wanted to know if you would let your music take you someplace to live like New York or L.A. or wherever.
KS: Um... The thing with me is that I don't like permanent changes very much. I'll do the temporary. I'm very good with "okay, I'll adapt right now..." But in the end, I need the mother ship. I mean, the time I was in New York to record the largest chunk of the album, I was there for about... a little more than a month, and I got homesick.
AF: Lived in Toronto all your life?
KS: Pretty much. I was born in Vietnam. I moved here when I was six. So I've lived here as far as I can remember.
AF: So how did Nemesis Records find out about you, anyway?
KS: Um... You know, it's a funny story.
AF: I kinda figured it might be. That's why I asked!
KS: I was an AsianAvenue freak. I would cover my pages with my poetry and my pictures and that sorta thing. Anyway, there was this old friend of mine who found out about Nemesis on the web and e-mailed Kingmin, who e-mailed me. We did a little chat over AsianAvenue, and then we did a little chat over ICQ. He asked if I sang and I was all weirded out. I was really weird, because I mean, here's this guy who's trying to start [a record label]. And you can never tell if it's just a guy trying to pick you up. or if he's really serious. I've heard from a few... Quite a few guys who were all like, "oh, I'm an agent" or "I'm looking for models" and stuff like that.
AF: And then you get people calling you saying, "yeah, I wanna interview you for an online magazine."
KS: *laughs* Anyway, I started to find out what Nemesis Records were about.
AF: And then one thing led to another.
KS: Right, right.
AF: So far you've released one album. (I Never Knew)
AF: Any plans for a future one, or singles or anything like that?
KS: Well, I guess you could say I'm working on the next one as we speak. But I'm very private about it. It's sorta like... I'll write and I'll just let it sit there for as long as it feels like it should sit there. Once I get sick of it, I pass it onto Kingmin and ask him, "What do you think? Should we put this on the next album?" I write all my stuff on my computer, so if it ever just decides to die, I'd lose everything.
AF: Geez, that wouldn't be good.
KS: *laughs* No.
AF: Use the computer a lot?
KS: Oh yeah. I'm pretty much attached by the hip. I'm starting to back off a bit though, so it's like... Once or twice a day. But I can't live without it.
AF: What are you taking in school?
KS: I'm taking acting.
AF: Acting, wow. Consider yourself a busy person?
KS: Yes, definitely. For the summer, though, I've been able to breathe. Starting this weekend I'll booked up every day. It kinda sucks.
AF: Ah well... Summer was fun while it lasted.
KS: *laughs* Yeah. You pray that next summer will come soon.
AF: What kind of stuff have you been doing during the summer?
KS: Well... I've been spending a loooot of time with Tidus and Yuna...
AF: Oh yeah? Uh-oh...
KS: Ohh yeah, oh yeah. Actually, I need to stop myself now, with school coming up.
AF: So would you consider yourself a gamer?
KS: Yes, definitely. I'm very competitive. When I start something, I pretty much want to finish it all the same day.
AF: Well, this has been a very interesting and entertaining sorta conversation.
KS: Thank you! I agree. *laughs*
AF: I'd like to wish you the best of luck with everything and at AnimeFEST. I hope the crowd is a pleasant one and that they don't throw chairs at you or anything like that.
KS: *laughs* Thanks. Good luck to you, too.
In addition to her performance at Dallas' AnimeFEST 2002 on August 31, she will also be performing at Club Soho in Los Angeles on September 1, though these dates have probably already passed by the time you read this. More information about upcoming shows and Kristine Sa's world can be found at her website, located at http://www.kristinesa.com/. Be sure to stop by!