Jackfroot: Can you give us the backstory on how you made it The Voice?
I actually first auditioned in 2012. I went to the open call in Vegas and my family was really encouraging about that. So I went, but I actually didn’t make the first cut. Then the casting agency got back in touch with me [this year] because they saw a couple of videos on my YouTube channel, and they asked me to come back in for an audition. I said sure, since I was coming to San Francisco anyways. I advanced through the producer auditions and eventually was able to make it through my blind audition.
How did you feel about getting your audition montaged? Do you think those who had a full audition shown on TV have a competitive advantage?
It’s definitely not the coolest thing to get montaged, but of course they only have a certain amount of time to go through these things. There’s a good amount of advantage that their story gets aired…but not necessarily. Everything’s been filmed up to the live playoffs, so it gives them more exposure, which is great for them, but at the same time it was amazing what fifteen seconds on television gave me. I just got so much support from the whole community. Honestly, I was kind of amazed that even though my audition was montaged, I still got so much love. It was disappointing, but at the same time I still feel so fortunate.
Will we see a musical evolution from you on the show?
It’s going to be interesting … through this audition process it has been incredible because they really set you up for success. I’ve had such a good experience with the producers and the team and everything. They set you up with vocal lessons; they set you up with a stage choreographer to really get you into your song. For this competition, it has definitely pushed my boundaries, in terms of me as a vocalist. I was in a band for a long time, and I usually just play the guitar. I was kind of on the sidelines, with a little vocal harmony here and there, but I’m relatively new to being the singer/songwriter. I’m still kind of growing into my own. So through this process I’ve learned to sing with a guitar and not be completely awkward about it. I’ve learned vocal warmups and all kind of things to elevate what I’m already doing. What is cool is that they haven’t tried to change me as an artist. They’ve only helped me harness my talents and make me better. You’ll definitely see some evolution from me.
“It’s not like I do a bunch of vocal acrobatics or anything. I had to perform, and I had to really mean what I was saying…. I knew that was probably my best bet.”
Compared to other competitions, like Kollaboration, for example, how much more did you have to prepare for The Voice?
Kollaboration was great. I think it was more of an independent thing. You kind of get up there and do your thing. There was really no coaching or anything like that. In terms of preparing for this, we had a good amount of time to consult with vocalists, teachers, and choreographers. They kind of went through every aspect of your performance. That’s really something that I’ve never done before because I’m usually up there with a guitar singing. I’ve had to think about eye contact and engaging with the audience. I went into The Voice with a lot of issues like looking down a lot or being shy, and it was nice to have a good amount of time to prepare and really focus on this minute and a half. I mean I usually have 20-30 minute sets or maybe even an hour sometimes; it’s just crazy to put all this time and commitment into this minute and a half that can possibly be the most important minute and a half of your life.
I was a fan. I’ve always been a fan of Gwen Stefani and No Doubt. She has pioneered her style and a lot of things in pop music. Just like any of the other four coaches, she’s an entertainer. During her feedback, she told me that “we are meant to be,” and she really loves what I was doing. She makes me learn that it’s not just the music and the singing and all that. It’s all about image, the whole package, and branding. She’s huge on that. We talked a little bit about that [the business side of things]. She’s just a really cool person to work with, and I just wanted to be a sponge as long as I could and soak up all the information.
Do you have a strategy to the type of songs you will choose during the competition?
There’s a method to the madness. I ended up with “Give me Love” because it was very familiar to me. Ed Sheeran is just such a good writer. Gwen Stefani said, “I sing with my heart.” It was such a good song for me to emote because I definitely had to think “how am I going to get these judges to turn?” It’s not like I do a bunch of vocal acrobatics or anything. I had to perform, and I had to really mean what I was saying. It was just a song that I really connected with — it’s such an emotional song and not with just the lyrics but also with the arrangements. I just really wanted to connect with a song. I knew that was probably my best bet.
Do you see yourself trying something riskier on the show and venturing away from the acoustic alternative sound?
A lot of people play the guitar because they need an instrument to accompany them. That’s kind of what my story is. I’m a musician, and I love playing guitar — I play all kind of instruments — but I guess the guitar has kind of been my tool that I use to make music. But by no means do I want to be just an acoustic artist. I’m a full-time producer and recording engineer. I love arranging music. The material that I’m writing right now is not necessarily acoustic music. It has a lot of different elements. I’m trying to branch into more of an indie-ambient, alternative sound. I can totally see myself doing that kind of stuff. I mean you don’t want to remain the same as an artist. You want to keep growing. I try to keep that in mind when writing music.
Although you’re currently committed to The Voice, are you still working on an album or other personal projects?
Right now, my focus in on The Voice, but at the same time I’m writing whenever I can. My process right now is really interesting. I consider myself a musical schizophrenic because I’m all over the place. One day I like this; one day I like that. Right now, I’m writing. Can I tell you what my next album will sound like? Probably not because there’s just so many different things that I have going on. I have a very humble home studio, and I have artists coming in all the time from all kind of genres. I’m always kind of bouncing back and forth, but I can tell you that I’m just trying to stay true to myself. I’m never thinking about making a Top 40 hit or anything like that. I just want to make honest, good music that people enjoy listening to, and I think that’s really all I can say about it.
How will you prepare yourself for all the criticism that you might hear or read about in the media?
I consider myself to have pretty thick skin. I love constructive criticism, but if someone is just being a jerk about me, then I never really take it too personally. While I was at The Voice, the producers warned us that there’s going to be press, and people will say bad things about you. You kind of learn how to deal with it. We had a good amount of meetings about how to deal with that kind of stuff. You can’t stop people from saying terrible things about you. But I also feel like if you have haters, then you’re doing something right. If someone’s not hating what you’re doing then you’re not pushing any boundaries and you’re not moving forward. I need haters! I’m actually trying to figure out how I can get more.
“I don’t want people to see me as just ‘the Asian Guy on The Voice.’ I want people to see me as an artist, a singer/songwriter. I don’t want to subscribe to labels. I just want people to see me as me. I just want the music to speak for itself.”
What kind of things do you want the audience/media to know about you?
I don’t want people to see me as just “the Asian Guy on The Voice.” I want people to see me as an artist, a singer/songwriter. I don’t want to subscribe to labels. I just want people to see me as me. I just want the music to speak for itself. I feel like there’s so many elements in entertainment that distract from the message. The things that happen in my personal life, that’s just kind of my business. I really haven’t thought too much about what people are going to say because I’m trying to do what makes me happy. Chasing a dream like this, there’s always people that are going to be discouraging. I remember first trying out for this show, and I had a friend who was pretty negative — I don’t know if I should call him a friend actually — he was like “I don’t know why you’re going on that show, man, there’s just so many good singers.” And there’s always going to be people who will discourage you like that and especially in this industry. All you can do is brush it off and keep doing you.
What’s next for you whether you win or lose the competition?
Win or lose, I’m going to keep pushing. I have the same dream that I’ve had for years and years. I plan to come out with a sophomore release next year. And whatever happens, happens. The main reason why I did The Voice was so that I could gain exposure and hopefully make the right contacts. Throughout the season, I’m hoping that more people see me, and I do well. You’ll definitely see more of me so nothing to worry about there. I’m just taking it day by day, and I’m honestly kind of just feeling blessed about everything and kind of just soaking it all in right now.