Even at the tender age of 20, SPARK's first solo album has both the maturity and freshness of a hip-hop veteran. Conceptually, the album takes individual stories from the classic compilation of traditional European morality fables, Grimm's Fairy Tales, to craft a twisted interpretation of their deeper, darker themes and meanings for today's world of modern perversions and indulgences. He displays these stories and themes with a flair that only someone so young just starting out could really capture. He's not judgemental or jaded, he's just observing and living it and exhaling the verbose truths of the day into a microphone and pounding them into beat machines in the studio. He composes his own beats and collaborates consistently with both older producers and up and coming rappers, singers, and beatmakers. Versatility in production, style, and an openness to experiment with all genres is definitely an aspect of being a musician that SPARK embraces.
He is a musician's musician, spending years behind the boards in the studio. He can play erhu, cello, violin, and a multitude of other instruments. Not to mention he's a whizz on the claw machine game. As a freshman at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, his future as a student of music is uncertain, but his music is proof positive that he has the chops to make major moves in the immediate future. His ten track debut is a catchy mix of hip-hop's most relevant subgenres, crossing over with EDM, trap, pop, classical, R&B, and everything in between.
Taiwan Beats: Why did you choose the University of Michigan to study music?
SPARK: I chose U of M to study music because it is ranked pretty highly. My subject is performing arts technology, which is a unique subject in the US. It's not only composing stuff... it's sound design and monitor design, speaker setting, microphone setting, it's all digital music production and audio stuff. It's a really unique program that U of M offers, so that's why I wanted to go there instead of somewhere else. For this specific subject, after (students) graduate they work for Ableton or Logic... They don't really go on to become artists.
Taiwan Beats: What have you enjoyed about studying that particular field?
SPARK: It's really fun being in this unique program. I think I'm the only Asian in the program in my freshman class. There's a lot of collaboration going on between students and our professor is really open to any kind of genre of music and has taught us a bunch of details about plugins and sound design to program hardware, software, audio stuff... And we have more hands on (time) with all these machines and equipment that the school has. They have the best studio monitors and stuff.
Taiwan Beats: Who are some contemporary inspirations for your music?
SPARK: I got a bunch of lists... I would say Ariana Grande. Her stuff is really poppy, but it's personal, and I like it a lot. Some of my inspiration comes from her… Also, Kris Wu, ØZI, there's a bunch of guys out there that are producing great music. I appreciate a lot of genres, not just hip-hop.
Taiwan Beats: On the same note, who are some more old school influences?
SPARK: Alex Ni... I was listening to his tracks when I watched this show about basketball. I was really inspired by his flow and raps. That's when I started listening to rap. That's a lyrical inspiration for me. … I also read a lot of poems, Taiwanese poems, like Pan Bo-Ling. I really like his stuff. His poems are about the dark side of society and those emotions that come from nowhere, and I got a lot of inspiration from him… Also, I'm fascinated with new media that has music and machines interacting with each other.
Taiwan Beats: Tell us about your creative/songwriting process.
SPARK: My songwriting ideas... It's really random. If I get an idea, it can range from lyrics or a melody idea. If I get a lyric idea, I will start to make a verse out of all the lyrics. Then, I will make some beats and get a chorus. For demo beats, I use Captain plugins. It's really easy. You can type with a keyboard and get chords out of it. I use Serum for sound designing. I usually put the beat together first. The drums are always the first step, but it's both. I come up with lyrics or the beat first depending on the song.
When I get stuck, I'll do a bunch of weird stuff. I'll play with claw machines, I will run up mountains, I will go fishing, or shrimping. I do a bunch of activities not related to music to get inspiration. I started listening to songs while I was doing other stuff like when I go shrimping with headphones on, and doing that together helped my creative process.
Taiwan Beats: How did growing up in Taipei influence your taste in music?
SPARK: Growing up in Taipei, I got a lot of access to any genre of music since our WiFi speed is pretty fast. It's the best! As for Taiwanese music, the KKBOX music charts are usually stacked with American songs. The charts are similar to what is popular in the US. That's why we have an international view of this music industry. When I was 14, I started looking up copyright-free sounds. At that time, Alan Walker released his first song when he was 17, called "Faded." I was really inspired by him because he's only 3 years older than me, and he was doing a bunch of stuff that I can't do. That's when I started looking up YouTube tutorials and learning how to produce my own music.
The culture in Taipei... I had a lot of classmates, and we share the music we like. Because of having access to different kinds of music online, we can share our thoughts and the things we like with each other.
Taiwan Beats: Who is your dream collaboration?
SPARK: Lexie Liu, she's a Chinese rapper. Recently, I listened to her music and it's really strong. I don't know exactly how to describe it, but it's unique and fits my taste of music.
Also, I would say Hans Zimmer! It's really crazy... I got a lot of cases to make the score music for commercial advertising, and I think it would be really cool if I got to work with Hans Zimmer on a project like that.
Taiwan Beats: What producers have you worked with and how did you connect with them?
SPARK: I have worked with F.I.R…. The producer for F.I.R. is my teacher's mentor. He (my teacher) actually wrote a recommendation letter for me and so I got to work with him. He listened to my music, and we got a chance to interact and collaborate. He guides me, like a mentorship... I produced and composed all the beats, lyrics, and music for the album though.
Taiwan Beats: Who is your favorite rapper or singer/vocalist at the moment and why?
SPARK: Rappers, I like Johnny Jay. He’s my favorite rapper. His lyrics are the best. His flow, and his style, and his chill. That kind of swag he has. I really like him.
As for singers, recently, I really like Bugzy Malone. I heard his track in the movie, The Gentleman. I dug around and found his other music, which was really cool.
Taiwan Beats: What do you feel defines underground hip-hop versus mainstream hip-hop?
SPARK: I think it's hard to define that nowadays. It was (maybe) easier to define before. Right now, hip-hop is a big genre that encompasses everything. And there are so many subgenres and crossovers, so it's hard to really define what is mainstream and what's underground. I have only one year of experience making beats for underground rappers in Michigan. But it's really hard to say that they are not mainstream because their style is mainstream, but their aesthetic is very underground. It's really mixed together.
I consider myself more of a producer. It's hard to describe myself because (before) I was working on the backstage work… you know, mixing, songwriting, studio stuff for other artists, rather than trying to define myself as an artist. I just recently broke through to rap in front of people and started as a rapper. I worked before as an underground beat maker, but now it's more mainstream pop stuff. That's the style I like. It's not that I don't like underground stuff, but what I like to make is catchy and easy to make and that falls more into the mainstream hip-hop style. It's just my taste. I like easy stuff to remember. Something relatable and memorable.
My classmate I worked with before in Michigan (he's from New York), Ethan Matt is one of my peers that I think is on the same level as I am at this stage of my career.
Taiwan Beats: Your logo looks like the Supreme logo. How does satire play into your art and the concept of the album Fairy FakeAss Tale?
SPARK: I wasn't thinking that much when I first came up with the idea for the album. I was just going with my gut. It came about naturally. Actually, I named my album Fairy FakeAss Tale, because when I found out that the first edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales is actually really sexual and really violent, so this extreme contrast inspired me to put out my stuff.
As for the Supreme logo, I would say it's just like a mark of something that is shiny, bright, and something hip-hop stars look up to as a brand. But really I want to portray that people are easy to follow stuff blindly. Right now, Supreme is trendy, and people are following it without knowing what it actually stands for.
When it comes to satire in my music video, it's the main idea of this album. Because this album focuses on extreme contrast. I really like Childish Gambino; that was a major influence for the ("Fairy Fakeass Tales") MV. "This is America" gave viewers a bunch of information through the minor details of the music video. His storytelling and MV spoke to me. In the song "Fairy Fakeass Tale," there's a scene where the king's crown is made of dolls hands and feet. It symbolizes that the king killed a bunch of people to gain power.
Taiwan Beats: Tell us more about the music video for "Fairy Fakeass Tale."
We (the director and myself) discussed the topic and collaborated. I gave them some thoughts and we talked about it. It needed to make sense with the song. The director is a famous Taiwanese director, Lee Chun Hong. He's the editor of this TV show that won a Golden Bell Award. His production team put together the animation and the costumes and casting and everything. I consulted with them throughout the production... They sent me the pictures of the actors for casting. This video has all ten characters from the different stories I used on the album.
The songs are each based on a story from Grimm Brother's Fairy Tales. For example, one of the songs is called "Tinder," and I linked it with "Jack and the Beanstalk." What the song is actually about is using (the app) Tinder and the lust can't stop, so basically the beans always grow and grow like the lust between people. I tried to link all the stories with the songs I'm writing about.
This one ("Fairy Fakeass Tale") is kind of based on "Bluebeard," that's why at the end, I put some blue paint on my face. The original story of the Bluebeard is that he killed all of his wives. So I included all the ten characters from each song.
Fairy Fakeass Tale
Fakegasm: Puss in boots
Fairy Fakeass Tale: Little Riding Hood
Tinder: Jack and the Beanstalk
Fendi Girl: Cinderella
Black Mirror: Snow White
My Zone: Town Musicians of Bremen
7. 扣我 (打給我)：睡美人
Call me: Sleeping Beauty
Part Time Bro : Hansel and Gretel
I Can't Say No：Beauty and the Beast
Troll: Frog prince
Taiwan Beats: Where do you see the future of Taiwanese hip-hop heading?
SPARK: Hip-hop is trending up these days because it's opened up with more subgenres and collaborations with different people together making different things. It's a big genre. It's not just hip-hop... it's pop, EDM, it's everything right now. So I would say it's going to continue to be the next thing leveling up.
Taiwan Beats: How did you link up with HIM Records?
SPARK: My teacher's mentor at F.I.R. introduced me to them. They helped me with promotional stuff, distribution, etc. My mentor is one of the artists on the label, and I was working as an assistant producer for my mentor and he works here, so he put me on.
Taiwan Beats: How did you choose the singers to include on your album?
SPARK: On "Fakegasm," I worked with Karencici. That's the other single for the album. I really liked her voice when I first heard her first solo single. That's when I started following her... when she got into the was nominated the best new singer of Golden Melody Awards. Her stuff is really cool, so I contacted her through mutual connections.
The other singer, Lydia, is from F.I.R. as well, since I worked there, we already had contacts. We’re already friends.
The last one is my friend, Sydney. She goes to Berkeley School of Music in Boston. We were classmates. She was a couple years older than me, but we went to the same high school in Taipei, and we both came to America to study music. That's why I contacted her to sing this. This song was originally made with my American friends, so the original was an English version, but I decided to change it to Chinese for this album, so I had to ask a singer to do it in Chinese. That's why I asked her to help out.
Taiwan Beats: Tell us a little bit about collaborating with Karencici on "Fakegasm."
SPARK: It was a really interesting experience, and I never got to meet her in person until we shot the music video. I thought her voice was really amazing after hearing "SHA YAN", and really had to pull some strings to get her contact info, as I wasn't on any social media at the time. The recording she gave me was basically perfect, which goes to show just how amazing a singer she is! The music video shoot was also hard for her. She had to carry 8kgs worth of LED lights, so I'm really grateful for everything she did!
Taiwan Beats: Is there anything in particular that you'd like to share with your fans?
SPARK: Thanks for all the love and support, and please follow me on instagram at _s8rk_.
With a growing buzz and following around SPARK, the fire has been lit. The album really speaks for itself. SPARK’s first solo performance is slated for June 14th at NuZone in Taipei's downtown district. It's sure to be the beginning of the fairy tale that is as real as you want it to be.