Fiona Soe Paing - Interview

An interview with Fiona Soe Paing

An interview with Fiona Soe Paing

Electronic producer and vocalist Fiona Soe Paing's latest album Alien Lullabies is a dark, rich visual experiment. Based up in Aberdeen, Fiona wrote the album in an Eco village in New Zealand and she's one of many producers of this genre emerging from the underground and challenging visual and sonic expectations.

Hello Fiona - please tell us more about yourself?
I'm an electronic producer and vocalist living in Aberdeenshre, Scotland, in a small country town about an hour's drive from Aberdeen. My mum is Scottish, and my father was Burmese - that's where the Burmese influence in the lyrics of some of the tracks comes from. I've been involved in music for a long time, singing with various bands when I lived in London and Brighton, and I started learning to produce my own tracks around 2007 . I'd wanted to make my own material for a long time, but found the process of forming a band much too much of a hassle. When I started working with a couple of dance music producers as a vocalist and co-writer, I saw how simple it could be to create computer based music, and I was totally hooked, and started to make my own electronic tracks. When I discovered that I could do on a laptop what you used to need a big professional studio and a record company to do, I was in heaven.... no wires, no boxes, no tangles of cables messing up your room making it look untidy! Having all my music-making kit on a laptop also came in really handy when I went traveling, as I cold take everything with me really easily, without having to dismantle and re-assemble a whole studio in a different country!

What is your album Alien Lullabies about?
I only realised the underlying meaning just recently, after going over each track and picking it apart and trying to analyse what it's all about! I discovered it's really all about the expression of emotions that are so intangible, and difficult to express that there aren't even words - not in the English language anyway! The nearest thing to describe it is a word in Portugese - "Saudade" - which very roughly means a deep emotional state of yearning and nostalgia for something or someone in the past, that will never return, and in its strongest sense, something that's felt towards people and things whose whereabouts are unknown, such as a lost lover, or someone who has gone missing or has died....The fact that' there's not a direct translation of the word "Saudade" makes it pretty apt that many of the vocals on the album are in improvised sounds rather than words.'s also about discovering and creating identity through language...and the inadequacy of language.

The videos for the tracks are interesting, tell us more about your decision to make this a visual project?
After I had written the first couple of tracks on my laptop, I started thinking about how I was going to eventually perform the songs live - the initial reason I started producing my own tracks , was that I really wanted to sing, but couldn't find the right band to sing with, and I really wanted to sing live. Since I wanted to concentrate on my vocals performance, having as few gadgets and buttons to press onstage as possible was really appealing, but I didn't just want to stand onstage with a mic and a laptop, which I thought would look really boring. I wanted to do something much more theatrical and visual that I could perform solo, so I thought of having projected visuals. I did a couple of live shows with some VJ's in Brighton called MetaLuna, which worked really well, and then I met the animation artist Zennor Alexander, who at that time was just starting out in animation, and was looking for some interesting music to accompany his visuals. That was ten years ago now! We're still working together, although he lives in New Zealand now, and we have been collaborating online for the past few years.

What are your influences?
Aaaaaah... my influences are really wide ranging... everything from classical right through punk and eighties electro, ambient, great pop, film sountracks...choral music... contemporary classical. Producers I listened to a lot while writing the album were Nicolas Jaar, Fever Ray and the Knife, and vocals wise, I've been influenced by the jazz greats like Billie Holiday ad Nina Simone.

There are more women slowly popping up in this genre, why do you think female electronic producers are a rarity?
Female producers have been around for years, they've just not been getting the credit or the publicity, and I think they've been more of a rarity as they've not had many role models in the media. So often when you look at a website on electronic music it's just a sea of pictures of guys, so women would tend not to see this as an option open to them. One of the original pioneers in electronic music was Daphne Oram, a sound technician at the BBC who set up the BBC Radiophonic workshop, which later became most famous for creating the Dr Who theme. No one's heard of her as she was overshadowed by her male colleagues, surprise surprise! If anyone wants to find more female producers, just have a look at the Female Pressure database, there's 181 pages of entries to start with....

Your wrote the album in New Zealand - what brought you to that part of the world?
Zennor Alexander, the animation artist I started working with in Brighton is a Kiwi - after he went back to live in NZ, we carried on collaborating online. Out of sheer coincidence, another Kiwi friend had also just gone back there to live. I also have family over there who I'd never got around to visiting, so this seemed the perfect excuse for a long holiday! Shortly after arriving I was gobsmacked to discover that my old singing teacher from London had also moved to Auckland a few years earlier... so it was like having a home form home! My six week holiday turned into a two year stay in the end. Zennor and I carried on working on the animations for the songs, and developed most of the visuals for the Alien Lullabies album. We tested out our live show over there too... the first ever performance of my music and Zennor's animation was in a tiny 50 seater cinema on the island we lived on, Wahheke, near Auckland.

You're now based in Scotland again - do you feel there are any other Scottish artists making music quite like you at the moment?
I don't think there's anyone making music quite like me really, but a couple of artists who I think have a similar approach, and who are in the same ball-park perhaps are Ela Orleans and Lesley Rankine - I'm really excited to have them both on the bill at my launch event in Glasgow on 29th Sept at Stereo!

Tell us about your decision to combine Burmese and English lyrics.
My mum is Scottish, and my father was Burmese, but he died when I was very young. Growing up in rural Aberdeenshire, there weren't any Burmese influences around me when growing up , and so I never learned any of the language, and didnt know much about my Burmese heritage. .as we had lost touch with all the Burmese side of the family. The military dictatorship was very repressive and with the country still closed off from the west then, it was difficult to maintain contact. I eventually went for a holiday, when I met all the family, which was the most amazing experience.... I bought a tourist phrase book which I brought back with me. I've still not learned to speak Burmese properly, but reading the words from the phrase book were my attempt to keep the contact alive in my memory, and get more in touch with the Burmese part of me.

What are your plans after the album's released?
Straight after the album release I have the launch gig at Stereo in Glasgow on the 29th, followed by a show in Aberdeen at the Sonada festival of Sound Art. Then in October I'm doing a gig for the Vic Galloway show on Radio Scotland, which will be broadcast live from the Spree Festival in Paisley.... I hope to have a wee break then get back performing more shows in the new year.

Finally, what would be your ideal gig line-up (with you headlining of course!).
I've always wanted to get away from the whole concept of "headlining" and having conventional set-ups for music gigs... I wouldn't have other live music acts, but instead it would be a cross-discipline event with screenings of music videos, animations, live art and installations, spoken word performances and a DJ/VJ set to finish the night off.

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