Wanting Qu, a Vancouver-based singer-songwriter is the first person of Chinese descent to be signed by one of the largest and most influential independent record labels in the world. Nettwerk Music are responsible for over 400 albums that have amassed worldwide sales in excess of 100 million albums. They discovered superband Coldplay, and are the management for bands such as Stereophonics and Family of the Year.
Nee Hao Magazine talks to Wanting Qu, the girl with a dream, in an exclusive UK interview.
(1st of 2 parts)
The singer/songwriter is making good on that dream. Prior to being signed by Nettwerk, Wanting’s tunes had already soundtracked the 2012 Chinese cult film Love in the Buff, appeared on a Mercedes Benz sampler, and amassed combined views of millions on Chinese YouTube. Her full-length debut album, Everything In The World, was released in North America in April 2012. Soon after, Wanting left for China, where Universal Music China released the album in July 2012. Everything In The World went Platinum in its first week. Wanting remained in China for the summer, playing various headline shows and festivals in front of audiences upwards of 40,000.
Today, Everything In The World has erupted in and around China, going Triple Platinum in China, Double Platinum in Hong Kong and Platinum in Malaysia. Wanting has achieved more than 10 million combined views on YouTube, 8 million combined views on Chinese YouTube (YouKu) and has more than 600,000 followers on Chinese Twitter (Weibo). She has also been featured in a slew of North American press, from CBC’s The Q with Jian Ghomeshi, The Atlantic, Billboard.biz and CBC’s The National, to major Chinese-language media like Sinovision, World Journal, Sing Tao and Epoch Times.
Two years ago, Wanting returned to her native China for a show. Her mother, who was among the screaming fans in the sold-out audience that evening, was about to see her only child perform live for the first time. At the behest of her rabid following, she asked her mom on stage. Says Wanting, “Mom told all parents to believe in their child. Then she started bawling.”
No one has motivated Wanting more than her mother—a woman she rebelled against, yet was determined to please. These days, Mom boasts about how her only child could sing the theme to Undercover Cop, a Chinese TV drama, before she could even speak. This, despite the fact that for years, she tried to divert her daughter’s musical ambitions to a more stable path. “When I was 4, one of her friends asked me what I wanted to be,” Wanting recalls. “I said, ‘a famous singer.’ And my mom’s like, ‘No, no, no—didn’t you say you wanted to be a doctor?”
Wanting’s passion for music took flight when she left the industrial city of Harbin, China, at age 16 for boarding school in Canada. “Mom sent me because she knew I could handle it,” she says proudly. “I was a tomboy, not a typical Chinese girl.” She went on to begrudgingly get a degree in business management. “I finished that for mom,” Wanting says. “She was supporting me. I would have felt wrong studying something different.”
That didn’t mean she didn’t cheat. Wanting, who played piano as a child, bought a keyboard to pick up where she left off. “It cost two courses of tuition,” she says. While visiting China in 2004, she brought back a guitar, taught herself to play it, and penned her first song, “To Markus,” a tortured lullaby about an ex. When she graduated from college, she told her mom that she needed to be a musician.
Despite being penned in English or Mandarin, Wanting’s piano-swept music has won a following because her compositions—pop musings that plumb emotion—resonate universally. The lilting first single “Life Is Like a Song” is a reflection on life’s ebbs and flows, the cascading song “Drenched,” about surrendering oneself to love. Meanwhile, “You Exist in My Song,” sung in Mandarin, is about old friends alive in one’s thoughts.
Wanting’s ascent has been steady, if fated. In late 2004, she wowed a crowd by covering Dido’s “Thank You” at a Much Music singing contest. Inspired, she attended a music workshop where she fleetingly met Nettwerk co-founder Terry McBride in 2005. Later that year, she approached him at a Sarah McLachlan concert—and never one to give up, Facebooked him four years later to give him her eight-song EP. Now she is on the same label that was once home to her two biggest influences: McLachlin and Dido.
Last year, Wanting played to a crowd of 30,000 in her home-town of Harbin as part of a large line-up for a China Day celebration. Hearing the crowd roar, Wanting was reminded that this was where she was always meant to be. “It was like, ‘I belong on this stage!” she remembers, beaming. “I want more of this!’” And more of this she has achieved. The sky is the limit for this ambitious talent.
What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently recording in Los Angeles for my second album with my producer, Ron Aniello. It’s been an intense few months in the studios, putting the final touches in, and I hope it will be a very special album, keeping with the values of honest and true music.
When writing a song, do you follow any processes?
It all depends really, I can be sitting at home and playing around with the piano for hours. I would create a melody, then work on some chords, and as the song progresses I would then add some lyrics, or maybe hum the tune for a while until something develops.
It’s been said your songs carry strong emotion, where do you draw your inspiration from?
All my songs come from my own experiences and observations, and sometimes what my friends have been through. I like to tell a story in the songs and convey the happy, sad, highs and lows of life. It all comes from the heart.
‘Drenched’ was the soundtrack for Hong Kong Movie Love in the Buff. How did that come about? And who was the song written for?
It was quite coincidental, the director Pang Ho-
As for who the song was written for, it was about an ex boyfriend, but I’m not going to say anymore haha.
How did you get signed to Nettwerk Music?
I was studying a BSc Business Management course at university back in 2005. Feeling a bit depressed at the time, I decided to buy a keyboard to give me a distraction from my studies and to reignite my passion for music. I went to a music workshop and one of the speakers was Nettwerk Music Group’s CEO, Terry Mcbride. It was not until 5 years later that I came into contact with Terry again through a chance meeting, subsequently I sent him a demo and now, the rest is history.
You toured Asia in 2012, what countries did you enjoy the most?
Malaysia was fantastic. The fans were so kind and respectful. It was also brilliant in Hong Kong and Singapore too. One of the most special memories for me is performing in my home town of Harbin, China. I left for Canada when I was 16, and it was so good to be singing in the city I grew up in.
Do you get nervous when performing?
I guess there are always some nerves before you perform, or if you are under-prepared, but most often they disappear once you get into the stride of things. I love performing, it creates a warm feeling inside my heart.
What’s your favourite fashion style?
I don’t follow any trends really, I like natural colours, red is probably my favourite. In the past I adopted a rock style, but this has changed.
What do you do to relax away from music?
I like to go for long walks, and generally chill out when I’m not working on my music. Maybe go sit in the park with my favourite coconut juice, catch a movie or go out to dinner with friends.
Would you like to say anything to your fans in the UK?
I wish to say hello to all my fans in the UK. I have received a few letters from there, so I wish to thank all of you for the support.
To those who are going through a challenging time, be hopeful and everything will work out, because everything happens for a reason.
I know a lot of the people reading this are overseas students and I would just like to wish all of you the best in your studies, and hope to see you guys soon.
Would you like to come to perform at a Nee Hao Magazine event in the UK?
I would have to speak to my manager first, and if there is an opportunity, I would love to share some love and music with the people of the UK. I have heard many good things about the Nee Hao Parties.
Ask Wanting a question to win a copy of her new album.
Nee Hao Magazine have 4 signed copies of Wanting Qu’s upcoming album to give to readers in a competition.
To stand a chance of winning a CD, all you need to do is submit a question you want to ask Wanting for the second part of the interview and the four best questions will win a copy.
Please include contact details and send question to [email protected]