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Peggy Hsu's sweet dreams

How the petite songstress's music box melodies are Taiwan's boldest pop songs

In the over-produced, over-controlled and over-manufactured industry of Asian pop music, the Taiwanese singer/songwriter Peggy Hsu stands out against the generic with her wistful compositions of delicately emotive piano chords, subtle strings compositions and fairytale lyrics. Writing almost child-like and dreamy melodies, her songs influenced by French songwriters and old jazz records, it's no surprise that she's had a much sheltered childhood. Now, she's all grown-up playing out at SXSW and choosing to shun major labels for greater creative control, taking her music in her own hands.

Dazed Digital: You composed your first song at the age of 8, what was it that inspired you to start making music at such a young age?
Peggy Hsu: My mum didn't allow me to watch TV when I was young - instead she bought lots of books for me to read. Every Chinese New Year when I received red packets from my elders, I spent them all on storybooks and music cassettes. I tried to write my own stories by reading and writing songs about my fantasies. I felt singing my own songs was a sense of accomplishment.

DD: How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it before?
Peggy Hsu: I think my songs are more like 'adult fairytales'. Each of my musical creations has an individual story... talking about myths or fantasy... I enjoy using my imagination to describe imaginary scenes far from reality. Although the story was fictional, you might still feel the emotion, of either happiness or sadness.

DD: What moved you to start publishing your own music independently?
Peggy Hsu: From my past experience of cooperation with two major record labels, I knew I'd feel more comfortable to release my music independently. It won't be a big difference for me to work on my own at the production stage since I fully involved. Every album is my own concept and a record of my life. As more and more ideas come out from my head, I know I should also consider album marketing, artwork, etc, not only in producing music. In order to fulfill this goal, I choose to release my music independently. Even though I can only have very limited resources, I can have control over every detailled process of making my album. I can work with my own team for a more personal production.

DD: You are also the founder and lead vocalist of the band "Le Cirque" tell us how this music differs from your own individual solo sound?
Peggy Hsu: In my opinion, I think recording an album and live performances are two very different projects. The album arrangement and live versions of a song can be different. I always start everything from my personal lyrics and composition. Then I try to imagine the atmosphere I want for the album recording. Then work with various arrangers and recording musicians. When I produced my band's album or performing live, we started from just jamming together. It always produced an unpredictable and amazing sound!

DD: You've started to gain quite a lot of international attention, recently performing at SXSW in Austin Texas - what was your favourite moment from touring?
Peggy Hsu: SXSW is a huge music festival. The most touching thing I saw there was that all the people on street were from all over the world because of music. You can easily see the passion in everyone's eyes. I was deeply influenced by those people. I think that loving music is the most wonderful thing in my life. And I feel proud of that. To pick a 'favourite magical moment', I'd say it was the chance to see Jack Black perform in a half metre distance!

DD: Who are your favourite Taiwanese music contemporaries?
Peggy Hsu: I worship Mr. Jonathan Lee, a great Taiwanese musician who influenced millions of Chinese music lovers including myself. Even though my music and the way of writing songs is quite different from him, I still see him as my idol. I am so affected by the expressions from his melodies and lyrics. As I was growing up, I started getting to know his songs more and more.

DD: Is there a big scene there for alternative music?
Peggy Hsu: I couldn't judge if there's a big scene for alternative music in Taiwan, but I certainly know there are more and more music websites that allow people to publish their own creations. By using internet,  potential fans can gather together. With the large Chinese population in Asia and in the world, it's not difficult for it to get growing, in either pop or alternative sounds.
DD: Who do you draw inspirations from in Western music if you do, or is it a mix of influences?
Peggy Hsu: I love the French composer/artist Emiile Simon's music. I like the crystal-like aura from her music. Even some of her songs give audiences a cold, spine-tingling feeling, but at the same time it warms your heart.
She uses a lot of unusual melodies to create the environment. This inspired me while I write my songs and make musical arrangements.