YouTube sensation Sam Tsui, who is known for his nearly 31 million-viewed Michael Jackson medley and his covers of hit pop songs such as “Someone Like You,” told NMR in an interview back in November that he wanted his debut album “to show who I am as a musical artist and as a songwriter.” When it came time for him to share the three years’ worth of songs he had written, he used Kickstarter to ask his fans to help contribute money to create his first original album that would be produced by his longtime friend and collaborator Kurt Hugo Schneider. His strong and loyal fanbase went beyond just reaching his goal of $30,000; they donated more than $64,000.
Now the wait is over. Tsui’s first original album, “Make It Up,” dropped today and it’s a collection of 13 songs that reflects his tremendous talents as a vocalist and a songwriter. The first single from “Make It Up,” “Me Without You,” is a modern pop ballad that deals with the themes of loneliness and loss.
NMR caught up with the singer-songwriter to talk about his anticipation before the release of his first original album and how he is showing his appreciation for his fans that have supported him through Kickstarter.
What can your fans expect from your first original album?
Sam Tsui: The reason [Kurt Hugo Schneider and I] waited this long for a full album, really, honestly was because we had the fans in mind. We didn’t want to give them a representation of me and my music without being able to make sure it was exactly what we wanted it to be, how we wanted it to be and at the right time. So, yeah, we definitely spent the last couple of years amassing all of these songs, really figuring out what the right angle, the right message to say with this first album. I thinks fans can expect that this album is focused and it’s a well-thought-out album as it should be, because we’ve really been working at it for quite some time. It’s a very clear and focused message and direction, and I’m just so excited to share a slightly new, different and original side of what I do.
The album title is “Make It Up.” Can you explain the meaning behind this title?
“Make It Up,” in addition to being the title of the album is also the name of the first track, and it’s the song we’re release the first video for. That song itself is fun and up-tempo summer kind of anthem. It has a message that applies more generally towards the whole album and the journey I’ve had for the past couple of years. The song is a celebration of the fact that really nobody knows what they’re doing, and everyone, even the people who seem like they have it figured out, is making it up as they go. It’s a celebration of that, that we’re all figuring it out one step at a time. It seemed to make sense to have it as the whole theme of the album just because, I think especially for me, the past couple of years has been entering this world of sharing music online and doing these covers and medleys with people all around the world. It came so unexpectedly. It’s such a new world that a sophomore in college can put these videos online and have them seen by millions of people around the world. That’s something that could never have existed five, six years or ten years ago. Entering this world, there’s been a long of making it up and figuring out as I go because it’s such a new, bizarre, unprecedented world that I get to be a part of.
Your first single, “Me Without You,” seems to discuss the themes of loneliness and loss. Is there a story behind it?
Despite the song being called “Me Without You,” it’s actually not a breakup song. It’s actually a love song. The idea of the song is who did I used to be before you? Actually, you can take it as a song about the end of a relationship but the way I intended it was this idea that you are so attached to someone or something. The great thing about this song is that anyone can attach a story and apply it. So it’s about you become so close and invested in this person that you can’t even imagine that there ever was a time when there was me without you, you existed independently of this person. Everything in the album comes from very specific situation or person in my life, or you know, something that happened to a friend or something that I’m close to and I think for me coming from a music theater background that’s where a lot of that comes from. My songwriting style is very earnest, very emotional, personal and able to be understood pretty easily.
You said back in November that you wanted this album “to show who I am as a musical artist and as a songwriter.” How do you feel now about what you’ve done on this album after making that statement?
In the past couple of months, I’ve been working so hard on these songs and the last one percent of completing a song is the hardest and the most exhausting. You have everything there but it’s all about those little details. I’ve become so close to these songs that I think for a while, it would be hard to see the forest from the trees, to assess them objectively. I’m super proud of what I’ve done and I’m glad that it tells a story in a way that it introduces me as a songwriter and as an artist. I’m so used to these songs at this point that I’m finally excited to share them to people because they’ve been living this like vacuum of like me and Kurt being the only two people who know any of these songs, and I’m ready to take on a life. After that, I’ll be able to assess them in a new way once I listen to it again in a few years.
Is there are song that you’re particularly proud of from this album?
The one song that I’d say is my favorite is “Worth It.” It’s not a single; it’s more of an album track, but it’s the one track that’s mostly piano vocals. It’s the last song I’ve written for the album. Literally, two weeks or three weeks before we put out the album, I was like I really hated one of the songs that we had on the album. I sat down and one day I wrote this stripped down, emotional piano ballad, and that’s actually been one of my favorites, and for the few people that we played the album for and the Kickstarter donors who received the album, I found out that I got a great response from that track. I’m proud of it, and I think people will like it because it’s that simple, stripped down thing that people respond to in our covers.
How are you treating your fans who have donated more than $64,000 on Kickstarter towards the production of your album?
There’s obviously a lot of different packages that we’ve promised. Some of them are so different, like being in a music video or a free DVD or I sing a cover of your choice. We’re sort of piece-by-piece fulfilling all of them. A lot of the rewards have been dependent on the album being complete. Right now is actually the time that we’re getting all this stuff printed and packaged and sent out because we absolutely could not have done anything we did on this album without the Kickstarter and without the support of all those people who donated. We’re hard at work giving everyone exactly what we promised them. The great thing is everyone who donated to the Kickstarter got a digital copy of the album a week early. Everyone who’s donated is already digesting the album; they already have it. That was something really important to me just because if anyone helped at all, the least I can do is share the music with them, let them hear it and know what they think of the album.
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