Photo credit: Dikka Vega.
Singer-songwriter Fiona Dawn’s summer EP release “Tricks of the Trade” is equal portions Mandarin and English, Chinese and American.
“This is kind of what you’ll get if you listen to my music,” the Seattle native explains. “I think it’s really fun to write in Chinese because it challenges my language acquisition. It truly has to come from the heart, and it has to make sense in order to connect with people who listen to my songs.”
It’s part of her mission as an artist “to be pushing Chinese music forward to be liked by everyone,” she says.
In the title track of “Tricks of the Trade,” Dawn rides the wave of an otherwise ordinary pop song with pitch-perfect Mandarin enunciation and a bit of controlled grit in her voice that exceeds her 24 years by about six. The song crescendos into an unexpected bridge — an impressive Chinese guzheng string solo by Dawn that is the stunning result of studying with string masters at the Seattle Chinese Orchestra.
In the first English song on the EP, “Love Drug,” Dawn delivers a Rhodes piano intro, a whisper of the earlier hushed, indie synth-pop tones from the Northwest. As the chorus builds, so does her more acidic R&B vocals — ones that many a (white) young, indie, singer-songwriter girl tries to master. But Fiona Dawn’s got something of her own: a deep, cultural discipline, a young intellect, untarnished earnestness and, of course, the soul of C-pop in her heart.
Raised as the daughter of Chinese business owners from Vietnam and Burma in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, Dawn was classically trained as a singer and pianist. Pop music wasn’t in the picture till much later in life, and it wasn’t until college when her Chinese tutor introduced her to Taiwanese pop artist Jay Chou, that she considered Chinese music a viable medium.
“He definitely revolutionized how Chinese music sounded,” Dawn says. “He incorporated rock and hip-hop with Chinese instruments. … And his lyrics were just phenomenal. He wrote in Tang(-era), classical Chinese and incorporated modern sounds.”
Chou inspired Dawn to embrace Chinese as her language as well as her music. Soon, she started finding her own voice writing her first song on the piano in the summer of 2011, while studying abroad in Taiwan. She recorded her first album that fall, played her first show in January 2012 and released her most recent “Tricks of the Trade” EP this summer. With the support of friends, family and key collaborators along the way, a lot of creative evolution has happened since her first song.
“Collaboration is key to progress and change in music because it’s not just you and your idea,” Dawn has learned. “We’re always influenced by a lot of other people, and that’s how we create great things.”
Dawn plans on recording another full-length album before the end of this year.
Listen and learn more at www.fionadawn.com.