Did you sign a two-year contract with Warner right out of high school?
When I was 19, so I guess kind of right after high school.
You’re a great singer and performer of course, but you’re also a songwriter and a producer, so long-term, where do you want to go as an artist?
Well, just to be able to maintain what I have. I’m not looking for explosive overnight fame or anything. I like the slow and steady kind of natural fame as opposed to like going on a TV show or something, because I’ve been asked by pretty much every major singing competition, but it just feels uncomfortable in the first place to be competing with somebody because I know that I wouldn’t win anyways because you got to have a certain type of [sings operatic note] kind of voice. And number two, I understand that you can get more exposure and things like that and the ability to share your music and your creativity with the world, but I don’t know, I guess there is something about just working towards something, which I don’t even know what, but yeah. Maybe I’m being selfish or maybe just too controlling or I don’t know what it is, but I just like the pace I’m going at right now, and we’ll see where it goes; that’s the only way I can really say it ‘cause I don’t really have any, “Oh I want to take over the world, I want to hit number one on Billboard,” or I don’t really have any goals like that. It’s just keep doing what I’m doing ‘cause I’m thankful everyday to be able to do what I’m doing ‘cause a lot of people don’t have that opportunity. So yeah, just to share my music hopefully, you know. As the cliche says, “Make a difference in the world,” but it’s true.
It’s interesting you mentioned being asked to perform on these reality singing competitions, because in the last year I’ve seen many performers known primarily on YouTube on these competitions, and they never win. Never, not close.
Yeah, not that they’re not talented, it’s just the TV shows are all very kind of scripted in a way. You got to have the story, you got to come from a background of like “Oh I raised six of my brothers and sisters by myself, taking three jobs, and here I am, I have my big break,” those kinds of stories. My story isn’t really that special, so there is another reason why I would not be chosen [laughs].
Maybe you’re not enough of a character in that way?
Yeah, I’m just plain ol’ me.
Are you signed to any YouTube networks right now?
I am not, I am not. I’ve talked to a few at the moment. I am not signed to any network.
Now why is that?
After just talking to a lot of people who were signed, I just feel like I don’t really need it right now. I know you can get paid more is what they say, but I don’t really care about that. I guess it goes back to the whole control thing; I’m kind of a control freak, and it just feels weird having to sign everything to a network that will promise you things that they can’t guarantee.
Is that generally your opinion of it? You wouldn’t recommend another upcoming artist to sign with a network?
Well, you hear a lot of bad press, but there are some good things, I guess. Just make sure you don’t sign anything in perpetuity; if you see the word “perpetuity,” it’s a horrible world in any contract, so no. I guess it could work for some people.
So you know a big part of your audience is Asian — I would say undeniably so. Why do you think you appeal to an Asian audience?
I think I appeal to an Asian audience because I’m Asian. It’s simply put. Me growing up, I didn’t know of any Asian artists in America at least — Asian American, there was absolutely nobody. I could probably name two; I remember seeing Ken Oak Band [Oak and Gorski], singer/ songwriter, and then I forgot the other person’s name, but there were like two people and they’re just slowly starting to work their way up, and this whole YouTube thing came about and it revolutionized so many things in this world. And I think that’s another reason why I guess I was put in the right place at the right time so that Asian kids around the world, or Asian Americans in general, would be able to see, have entertainment, I guess, of people who look like themselves too.
Do you ever say, “I need to reach beyond this main fanbase somehow”? Is that ever something that you think about?
Of course. I think about reaching out to everybody, just human beings in general, and I do. At the shows I’d say it is predominantly Asian, but online it’s not. Well, it’s still predominantly Asian, but there is a large percentage, a very, very large percentage that are not Asian that are watching through YouTube, following me on Facebook and Twitter and all that. Music has no color or barrier; it’s just for everybody. If the song and the message touches you in some way, then it’s done its job.
Clearly you want to reach as many people as possible to enjoy your music, to enjoy your art. Do these these labels, like being a YouTube musician or being an Asian performer, ever feel restrictive to you?
They are labels, and I do come from YouTube, and I am Asian. Does it affect me personally? Not really. Everyone needs to put a label on something, right? When you think of someone’s music, up and coming person, you describe it as like, “Oh it’s kind of like Justin Timberlake meets Frank Sinatra.” I don’t know, something like that, but you know people put labels on it, so I guess it’s a way for humans to just define it and hopefully someday someone will be like, “Hey that song sounds like David Choi,” you know? “David’s songs sound like his songs” or “He’s just David Choi,” you know? Of course that would probably be nicer, but I don’t really care what labels I get put on; it doesn’t affect me personally in what I do.
Has your experience as an Asian American informed any of your music? Is there any special element in your music that you can attribute to that experience, or was it just an overall general human experience?
It’s human experience for sure. I don’t think being Asian has anything to do with it. I don’t really talk about Asian struggles or anything because I didn’t really have too many of those. So it’s just human interactions, you know. I could be black and I’d still have the same sort of stories. It could be anything: Hispanic, Asian, white, whatever. So it’s just all human experience I’d say.
And so moving into a different subject totally, you had a dog named Snoopy, and he was featured in a lot of your work. Now I know he passed away recently …
Couple years ago, yeah.
Do you feel like that affected your work in any way? How did that feel at that time?
Well, I have a video — I forgot what it’s called, but it’s like “Rest in Peace, Snoopy” or something. I wasn’t really even thinking when I recorded it. I was like, “You know what, I need to record this because this is what I do, and this is like my last moment with him.” So I recorded it, and I recorded him all the way up to the veterinarian where they gave him the euthanasia shot, and yeah, it was a very heartbreaking experience. It was the first death I’ve ever experienced — even though it was a pet, I’ve had the pet since I was a kid, 16 years he would sleep with me every night, and he was like my little buddy. So yeah, that definitely affected me. Got some songs out of it too on the topic of death and things like that. Actually, I have a lot of songs about death; people don’t know this, but it sounds like it’s not about death but it actually is. I’m kind of a little morbid in that way. Not morbid, but I just think about the big picture of like life, death, all these big deep topics. But yeah, it definitely affected me. It’s like losing a person.
A family member.
Yeah, it was a family member.
What’s one song specifically that people would be surprised to find out is about death?
I don’t know if I should say, because some people have tied it to other things, you know? So people have tied it to different things, but there are quite a few songs that mean something to me personally but have nothing to do with what people take it as, which is a really interesting thing. Maybe someday I’ll reveal the actual true meaning behind these songs, but yeah, right now I’d feel horrible revealing what it actually was about for people who have experienced great things from these songs to be like, “Oh my gosh,” and get confused and be like, “This song is about this, and I’m like feeling this way about it.” I think someday when I’m done, I’m just like, “Alright, this is what it really means. I know it made you happy, but it’s actually about killing yourself,” or something which it wasn’t.
When you started off on YouTube, like a lot of other musicians you did covers. Do you think that is the model path to take for artists who are wanting to be discovered on YouTube and to grow?
Oh definitely, no hesitation. Covers are a great way, and I still do them once in a while. It’s a great way to get a new fanbase of people who are looking for that song and they find your rendition of it. The goal is, for me personally at least, is to direct them to my original music and have them listen to that moreso than the cover itself, and luckily I’ve been able to do that successfully. It’s a tough balancing act, because you don’t want to be known as a cover artist. I guess that is one label I wouldn’t want to be called is cover artist, and I think it’s easy to not have that title just by putting out original material, releasing albums and things like that. So yeah, covers are a great way for anybody starting. When you’re starting out, or even when you’re already established, it really helps to widen your fanbase I think.
Do you think that there is an artistry to doing cover songs?
Oh definitely, yeah! You putting your own spin on a song it can change the entire mood of it. I think there are a lot of successful people who have covered songs that just make it really interesting. Boyce Avenue, for example, they’re awesome at taking any pop song and just making stripped-down acoustic version of songs with his gritty voice, like it sounds great. They’re able to do stuff like that, and there are some people who can put a quirky twist on a cover and make it sound more artsy or whatever. So yeah, a good song is a good song. A cover is just their own interpretation of it.
And so you just mentioned Boyce Avenue and lauded their work — who are some other YouTube artists or maybe just any musicians that you admire and think are at the top of their game right now?
There is this artist that comes to mind that I really like — her name is Jayme Dee. I’m like a silent fan of hers. I watch all of her videos and stuff, and I’m a big fan of hers. Besides all the big ones that are already out there … ah, what’s her name. There is a girl named Nicole, I think her last name is Tan; she goes by the name [Uuuuuuuukewithme] — it’s hard to spell it’s a bunch of u’s, and yeah. She’s from America and she plays the ukulele, and she has a great voice; I’m a fan of hers as well. So yeah, those are some people that I would say check them out and support them and all that good stuff.