Wanting Qu is a woman who speaks without reservation. No topic is off-limits. It’s something, she jokes, that her label probably wishes she wouldn’t do so much in interviews—they’d rather she saved her candour for her songs. Qu’s convinced, though, that her honest, heart-on-her-sleeve personality is what allows her fans to connect most strongly with her music. Today, as she reads out the praise rolling in from her Twitter followers, it’s clear they agree.
This morning is a big day for the artist. Fourteen hours prior, her new album, LLL—the long awaited follow-up to 2013’s Say The Words—finally hit the shelves. Titling the record with an acronym that stands for Love, Loss, and Latitude, Qu sent a strong signal that this collection would stay true to her singer-songwriter brand, picking apart the affairs of her heart—the good and the bad—and setting them to music. As with her previous two albums, putting emotions down on wax came easily to the artist.
“I feel like I’m not the greatest singer in the world, so for me to stand out, I need to make something unique,” the musician, who performs under the stage-name Wanting, tells the Straight over breakfast in an Olympic Village coffee shop. “It’s my experiences that make me different. Everybody has their own stories, but we all live on the same planet, so it’s easy for people to connect and relate when similar things happen to them. I haven’t written any songs that are explicitly political, or talking about societal issues. But I feel like society is built upon relationships, so I tackle those fields through the connections between people. I don’t seek out hardship, love, or heartbreak, but I’m naturally drawn to making music about them. My world is transparent. I think that the only way to draw in listeners is to be open and be real.”
Written between 2015 and 2016, LLL takes inspiration from Qu’s high-profile relationship with Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, with the album being completed the year prior to the couple’s mutual decision to split. Together with producer Justin Gray—whose resume includes Mariah Carey and Miley Cyrus—the singer built a concept album with a universal narrative arc: the bliss of falling in love, the loss of a relationship, and the freedom of being single once more. Allowing Gray to probe at her inner feelings proved transformative for Qu’s songwriting.
“It definitely made me insecure at first,” she says. “I’m used to writing on my own. Every rhyme and every melody that I used, I controlled that. I’m a person who’s easily worried. When Justin came up with a different idea, I was nervous that he didn’t like my note, or the lyric. After a while, though, I realized that it’s a part of co-writing, of sharing that with another person. You have to let go of all your insecurities and anxieties, and bounce creative ideas off each other. It’s almost like a therapy session, walking into the studio. You have to be honest and open for the art.”
As well as introducing her to collaboration, recording with Gray transformed Qu’s sound. Gone, for the most part, are piano ballads like “Everything in the World” or “Drenched” —the singer-songwriter singles from her debut record. In their place are high-energy earworms like “Kissing Paradise” and “Make Love to This Song”: tracks that sound both enchantingly urgent and gratifyingly modern. Pop music, Qu explains, was the only genre available in music stores during her formative years in 1980s China, with artists like Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, and Michael Jackson shaping her early tastes. More recently, with her ear turned towards EDM-infused radio jams like Justin Bieber’s “Where Are You Now” and Selena Gomez’s Revival, Qu has traded the influence of classic pop divas for the feel-good vibe of club-friendly hits. Blending that style with her unique songwriting, the artist pushes LLL into fresh sonic territory.
“I’m not ashamed of listening to a lot of that music,” she says with a laugh. “Who doesn’t love the dancey tracks on Bieber’s Purpose? I started listening to Selena Gomez when I heard 'The Heart Wants What It Wants'—that one really caught my attention. I wanted to write a track on my album that had a similar vibe to it—a really cool, female feel—so 'Distract You' was a reference to that. In Canada, there’s a view that pop music has no substance. I disagree. Just because it’s catchy, it doesn’t mean that there’s not real emotion behind it, or that it can’t inspire real emotion in others.”
Despite taking commercial radio giants as her muse, Qu’s record is as engaging as it is innovative—a result, in a large part, of her unique choice of instruments. A dual citizen of China and Canada, the artist gives a nod to both cultures. Floor-filler “Moon and Back”, for instance, samples an erhu—a traditional Chinese two-string fiddle—to underscore the western electronic groove, and while nearly all the tracks are written in English, the lyrics of the final song are composed in mandarin. For Qu, combining her two identities is an integral part of her music.
“A lot of the EDM or pop music that’s coming out samples tropical beats, or African beats, or sounds that you’d hear from all around the world,” she says. “I feel a responsibility as an artist in North America to incorporate elements from both the East and the West. Coldplay does it well—the song 'Adventure of a Lifetime' uses the Chinese scale, and they put it in other tracks as well, which is a big reason why I love them. With more Chinese people are living all around the world, there’s going to be a much bigger musical influence in the future.
“I gave this album so much of myself,” she continues. “I worked hard on the production, and I’m excited to finally let it go. I’m proud of it, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the world thinks when they hit the play button.”
Wanting’s album LLL is available in physical and digital formats now. Listen to it online here.
Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays