On August 17, the Wechat public account of Zhong Le Ji Entertainment and Chen Hongyu’s Weibo official account issued a statement to invite musicians to participate in their fourth compilation album. “Join us to create the fourth compilation album of Zhong Le Ji”. This compilation will be a collection of original songs funded by Zhong Le Ji. Chen Hongyu will supervise the entire production process of the compilation album.
Zhong Le Ji was founded in 2015. They started with nine folk songs and nine illustrations in the first compilation album “Zhong Le Ji I. Singing in the Lost City”. In 2016, the second compilation album “Zhong Le Ji II. Living in Dreams” was released, and the music are increasingly tied to specific locations. In 2017, the third compilation album “Zhong Le Ji III, Dancing while Singing” was released. Zhong Le Ji publicly solicited cover art for this musically diverse compilation. By 2018, Chen Hongyu hopes that this album can fully incorporate the spirit of the name of the company: “inclusivity, happiness and memory.”
On January 17, 2018, Chen Hongyu released the eponymous song “The Wilderness” of his new album. He also announced the launching of “The Wilderness” national tour. Chen collaborated with S.A.G Entertainment on this tour and invited visual artists Ding Dong as the general director of stage art design.
On March 16th, the first performance was held at the Zhengzhou Xiang Ju Theater. On May 26th, the last touring stop was held at the Nanjing Tai Yang Palace. This was the first time that Chen Hongyu’s solo tour was held in a theater instead of a live house. It was a brand-new experience for him. Chen Hongyu said, “Performing your music live gives your audiences a three-dimensional experience, kind of like a movie.”
The following dialogue is edited based on Music Business News’s interview with Chen Hongyu:
The media love giving you labels, such as folk poet, the next Pu Shu. How do you think of these descriptions? Do these labels limit your development in style?
Chen Hongyu: Everyone gets labeled. Conceptually speaking, the market gives names and symbols to classify what’s difficult to classify. I don’t really care about these labels, it’s just the way most people look at you. But you shouldn’t let these labels affect you. You don’t fit yourself into the box that people draw for you. That’s the most important thing. And when you start doing things differently, their labels of you will change.
If you are to describe yourself in one word, which one would you pick?
Chen Hongyu: I would say I am an independent musician. For me, the word independent musician represents a kind of independent spirit. It means having your own thinking and judgment, and more importantly a unique aesthetic.
Of course, there is no absolute independence. Independence is relative. You can’t completely insulate yourself from the outside world, but you can try not to go with the flow as much as possible, do not change yourself according to public opinions on the internet.
△Chen Hongyu <In The Wildness>
Let’s talk about your third solo album “In the Wilderness”. The original inspiration for this album comes from the movie Into the Wild. Do you remember how you felt when you first watched this movie?
Chen Hongyu: Yes, I remembered. I felt a deep personal connection with the main character. I felt like it was me who went into the wilderness, into the wheat fields, chatted with the peasants and random people on the road, and then kept on walking to Alaska, by myself. I felt that.
I feel like people can only be touched by something that’s already in themselves. So I read, I travel, and I make friends. These things gave me a lot of interesting experiences. If you don’t open yourself up, you may never know that there’s a movie in this world and another person in this world that can connect with you so deeply that the yearning and excitement erupts in your heart.
In what situation did you watch the movie?
Chen Hongyu: I watched it when I was in college in Inner Mongolia. My friend recommended it to me. I was at that point in my life where everything information I received at that time left a strong impression. I was young. I longed for exciting experiences and places, but I didn’t have the resources to travel everywhere. Ever since I watched the movie, I wanted to go to the wilderness and experience nature in a massive scale where you’re alone but not lonely. In fact, I grew up in the wilderness in the Inner Mongolia Hulunbuir Grassland. As a child, I used to run in circles in the grassland and watch the starts at the stars. The wilderness is rooted in my heart.
The second album is more nostalgic. Can you tell me a little bit about it?
Chen hongyu: I think there’s a lot of philosophical discussion in In the Wilderness”. The contextual relationships between lines is not very strong. It may be a little hard to understand.
Do you feel a little disappointed that this album is not as popular as the?
Chen Hongyu: No, I’m not disappointed. I don’t see popularity as the sole measure of success. I care more about mastering my music. As long as I know what I’m doing is what I want to do. I don’t get too disappointed. I can control my music much better now. But if the style and message of my songs doesn’t come out as well as what I expect, I get more disappointed.
Does the message conveyed through this album have anything to do with you getting older?
Chen Hongyu: A little, but not much. My attitude towards music is that I can’t let myself stop making music because of lack of inspirations. You have to continue to create. You only make progress in the process of doing, just like doing anything else. Gradually, you will get more profession and familiar with this process, and some new angles of seeing things. If I didn’t go through the process of making the first two albums, my third album wouldn’t be like this.
Are you not sensitive to aging?
Chen Hongyu: I’m not very sensitive about change in age. I think that sensitivity to age changes stems from boredom. People who has things to do often don’t have that feeling. But there may be something new in your spirit as your experience or age grow. I think the reason why many old people are able to keep a young spirit is that they are always doing something that keeps them energized and curious about the world. These people never get sensitive about age.
Is there any pressure coming from getting famous?
Chen Hongyu: No, fame didn’t give me pressure. Why would there be pressure? How famous do you have to be to feel the pressure. Everyone would want that kind of fame. I am just kidding. I don’t care too much about to being famous. Honestly, it’s just that my fan count went up a little bit on the internet and there are some people who likes my songs. It’s not that different from before.
Many people started to follow you, and be curious about your personal experiences, or pay more attention to you.
Chen Hongyu: I don’t have that level of fame yet. I don’t have people directly physically get into my personal life. It’s not inconvenient to go anywhere. So far so good.
Would you say that you have your own expectations and goals so you don’t feel the pressure of sudden attention in the process?
Chen Hongyu: Yes, I think I know myself relatively well. I don’t have too high of an expectation for my career. People gets really moody when they expect a lot. I once posted in Weibo: “Before you enter a new environment, you’d better know what it is. You should tell your own characteristics apart from your environment’s characteristics. In other words, you know where the whirlpool is and where you are.
The environment is like a whirlpool. If you don’t have a direction before entering, or if you don’t reflect after entering, you will be swept away. Sometimes you forget your dreams if you become famous too early. I think the timing is just right when you can tell where your whirlpool is and where you are.
In 2015, you made the album <Zhong Le Ji>. Until today, is there an external thing (or a period of time) that affects you more than your ability to withstand? As if you were sucked into a swirl, or pulled away by other people?
Chen Hongyu: No, I don’t have too many expectations so feeling out of control doesn’t happen to me. Why would I be pulled away by other people? As I said earlier, there’s no absolute independence. Everyone’s affected by their environment. I can only try to stay relatively independent and think for myself under this political and economic environment.
Before I become a musician, I was running a fast food restaurant, and I rode electric bikes to deliver food and things like that. Now, if you ask me to go back to that life, honestly, I could go back and be ok with it. I guess what you’re saying is when you get rich and famous, your life becomes more comfortable, and you can’t go back to being poor again. But as for me, I think I maintained my lifestyle, I stayed truthful to people around me. Maintaining the respect to life, to yourself and everyone around you no matter your circumstances is very hard to do.
What has changed since you started your own business?
Chen Hongyu: The biggest change is that I got happier. I don’t have things in my life that makes me really unhappy anymore.
There’s just a slight problem. It doesn’t bother me to a point that I’m unhappy. I’m sure you are familiar with the music industry. It is really unstable. But I’m used to being unstable. I used to go from company to company and had to start everything all over again and again. It was because I didn’t like the things I was doing and I didn’t figure out the fundamental issues of my life. It’s just like dating. You only feel like settling down if you meet the right person.
Musicians and entrepreneurs think differently, do your musician side and your entrepreneur side clash?
Chen Hongyu: Occasionally, not very often. I think my left brain and right brain is basically equal. When I was making my album in high school, I used to write songs, practice instruments, sing while keeping up with my school work every day. That was 2004 and 2005, I started to do business with the record store close to my school. I tried to get the store to sell my album at 11RMB because the cost of making the physical album is 10RMB and I was trying to sell more for cheaper price because students don’t have a lot of money. But the record store wouldn’t do it because they think they aren’t making enough money and they would only sell them at 15RMB. I was like you have to support local up and coming musicians. And in the end that one store sold our albums, but they wouldn’t sell them in their other chain stores. But it was still a pretty big achievement for me.
Which part do you prefer to play more, musicians or entrepreneurs?
Chen Hongyu: I like being a musician better because it is the foundation of what I do. I have to make good music, to keep up the revenue stream for my company. But I also have to manage the company well with clear logic so that I have more energy to make music, is a virtuous cycle.
How did you feel about completing your third tour this year?
Chen Hongyu: This is my third solo tour and my first theater tour. This one is really different from the previous ones in live houses because the theater is a more expressive, more three-dimensional space. The performances fuller and more detailed.
About a year ago, a colleague of mine interviewed you. At that time, you said that you were not prepared for a theater tour. You prefer to perform in live houses. How about now? Have you changed your view on theaters?
Chen Hongyu: The theater tour was a great experience for me. I believe everything happens in a specific form at a specific time for a reason. So did the theater tour. Performing on tour to me is a very long vacation. It’s a two to three-month vacation where you travel to different cities, meet different people and fans. If you look at it as a vacation, you don’t stress out about it.
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