“I’ve been thinking about the end of the world a lot more often lately,” comments Los Angeles, CA-based musician BAO on his debut, solo full-length album, Perpetual Heartbreak, a reflection of the constant barrage of emotions in 2020 and the years leading up to 2020. “As an Vietnamese American immigrant who has experienced a lot of change, I think the theme is summed up pretty well by the lyrics on the album’s final track reminding the listener that every day you wake up, you are ‘A Different Story.’ At least you have the potential to be. Perpetual Heartbreak is not only celebrating the beauty of the temporary, but it’s also encouraging proactive change. Like, if you absolutely need to burn it all down and start over, let’s fucking do it!”
Formerly the mastermind and frontman behind L.A.’s synth-pop band Ming & Ping, for whom BAO wrote and produced five albums over a decade, he finally decided to release a record under his own name. “Releasing under my own name was scary at first, but I leaned into that idea to express myself without any insecurities about the audience’s reaction. I really hope this album’s honesty will encourage other Asian American artists to express themselves in their own most unique way. As I get older, one of my biggest passions is to encourage Asian American creatives to freely express themselves because I know first-hand how much pressure there is for us to stay in our narrow lanes.”
Branching out from the rigid electronic pop of Ming & Ping, BAO set out to make a genre-less record that intentionally showcased the beauty of imperfections.
“The aesthetic of this album was driven by the Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi, which Wikipedia defines as ‘the acceptance of transience and imperfection.’ Wabi-sabi actually goes beyond that to include intentional imperfection. That’s been my vibe for a long time as a person and a creative. I had three influential records that I wanted to fuse together into a musical love-child: Face Value by Phil Collins for it’s tight vocal hooks, emotive performance, and innovative production. Jon Brion’s soundtrack to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for its very human production, dirty recordings, and super emotional/visual instrumentals. As well as Starboy by The Weeknd and Daft Punk, for its mashup of vintage dance instrumentals with fucked-up lyrics.”
Now he returns with his new single “No Filter,” which he comments “No Filter is a moody synth-driven anthem reflecting the dizzying confusion of being in and getting out of an abusive relationship.”
We get to also sit with him to discuss more of the single and more!
Hi Bao, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
Hey guys, thanks for inviting me to share a few words. I’m six months deep into the lockdown and trying to stay as healthy as I can under the circumstances. Hope everyone’s getting along okay.
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “No Filter”?
“No Filter” is one of my favorite songs on my forthcoming album Perpetual Heartbreak. It’s a moody synth-driven anthem with a lot of melodic vocal layering. Kind of my signature sound. The subject matter of domestic violence is pretty personal and something that’s encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone a bit as a writer. Writing the song helped me be more comfortable talking about it all.
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
Yeah, “No Filter” is a reflection of the dizzying confusion of being in and getting out of an abusive relationship. You can hear that sense of dizziness in a few parts of the song. I mainly focus on the fact that it’s really hard to know you’re in an unhealthy relationship while you’re in it, especially when that person is smart and caring and charming 99% of the time. You usually just try to do your best at being a supportive partner, but at some point removing yourself from the line of fire is the best move.
Any plans to release any sort of video for the track?
We had plans to shoot a video with Davy Drones, who co-produced the track, but COVID-19 put a wrench in it. So now we’re exploring ways of accomplishing that in a remote or socially distanced way. It’s a meaningful song for me, so I’d like to make an equally special video.
The single comes off your new album Perpetual Heartbreak – what’s the story behind the title?
The phrase “perpetual heartbreak” is simply a way of saying “it’s OK to feel and feel really hard.” The overall concept of “Perpetual Heartbreak” was pulled from a lyric in a song originally called “Another One.” It was written in a self-deprecating way at first, but the phrase encapsulated the whole vibe of the album so well that it forced the song to take it on as the title, then eventually it became the title of the album as well. The ironic thing is I’m a pretty optimistic person, so staying inside my perpetual heartbreak is usually a choice for me, thankfully.
How was the recording and writing process?
Like a lot of my songs, the phrase “no filter” came from a running list of lyric ideas that I keep on my phone. It sort of just clicked as I was reflecting on my experience with a physically and mentally abusive past relationship, so I worked “no filter” into the lyrics. I made a demo version in Logic at my home studio in Downtown Los Angeles, then spent a weekend with my collaborator Davy Drones in Ventura, CA to record the final version. There must have been 60-something vocal layers and dozens of analog synthesizer layers, which were engineered and produced by Dave. I took what we tracked in Ventura back to my studio and completed the final mix there.
How does your Asian upbringing influence your music?
Growing up as a Vietnamese American has had a huge influence, I’ve realized as I become more experienced. So much of my work touches on personal identity and navigating environments that you don’t fully fit into. When I was working more with my previous act Ming & Ping, a music executive told me that they liked our sound but that there wasn’t a market for my type of subject matter and I’ll never forget that. In fact, I knew that our sound was what caught the attention of people’s ears, but our subject matter was what captured their imaginations. Since then I’ve never ever underestimated my audience. My personal story is my own, but as long as I tell it honestly, it is relatable to anyone who has felt like they don’t fit into a homogeneous society.
How has the likes of Billie Eilish and FKA Twigs influenced your writing?
You can add Imogen Heap and Julia Michaels to that list. I love those artists and, in fact, most of the artists I’m super into happen to be women. Mainly because they’ve broken out of a decades-long tradition of glossy, precisely produced female pop artists. It takes a lot of strength and courage to do your own thing when the industry already has a profitable template they want to fit you into. With that said, these artists influence the production of my songs quite a bit by encouraging me to highlight the grit, spontaneity, and vulnerability that makes music special.
Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
I like listening to people tell their stories. I don’t read that much, so conversations are where it’s at for me. That’s why being isolated during COVID-19 times has been especially challenging. I usually write about interpersonal relationships and my social surroundings. These stories can be first-hand, second-hand, or fictional. Recently I’ve been getting more comfortable writing about my personal story: my immigrant upbringing, my identity as an Asian American, and navigating mental health. The complexity and vulnerability are what appeal to me.
What else is happening next in BAO’s world?
Aside from trying to get Perpetual Heartbreak into more ears, I’m really pushing to work more with other talented people. If your readers want to look me up and get in touch, that would make me very happy. I’m also sowing some seeds to compose more music for film and games, which is something I’ve gotten into in the last couple of years. Lastly, I’m working on a lot of new Youtube content to share my approach to music-making from the perspective of a visual artist and designer. My website heyitsbao.com is a gateway to all these various endeavors.
Official website: http://heyitsbao.com/