June 10, 2005

Interview with Dawn Xiana Moon

By Shawn Paul, Are you part of a band, or more of a solo-artist?

Dawn: I'm a solo artist, but occasionally I play with a violinist or another vocalist/pianist. You have been involved in music since you were 5? Tell us about this:

Dawn: When I was five I started taking group lessons in piano at the Yamaha studio in Singapore, and when my family moved to the US I started taking private lessons. (Hey, every Asian child seems to study piano or violin at some point.) In fifth grade I started playing the flute in my school's band program and a year later was auditioning for a music camp scholarship when one of the judges decided that I had talent and should study the flute with her (but no, I didn't get the scholarship that year). It took a bit of convincing on her part, but my parents ended up paying for those lessons too--and at some point in high school I started formal voice training, though I've been singing my entire life. The real change for me came when I taught myself guitar my freshman year of college; all of a sudden, I wasn't working in the classical mentality, needing every note spelled out for me. I learned to improvise. As a child, did you have a strong passion for music, or were the lessons more something your parents wanted for you?

Dawn: I remember many arguments with my mom over practicing when I was younger, but I've always loved music, always loved playing. It was the discipline that I had a hard time developing (and still do!). What instruments do you play, what are your favorite?

Dawn: These days I only play guitar, piano, and flute, but I also played piccolo and xylophone for a couple of years. Maybe it's because I've played it the longest, but I've always been most connected with the piano. For me, home isn't necessarily a place or a group of people--it's a piano in a dark room. At your age, you have visited more countries than most people will in their entire life. Tell us about your trips, what places stick out in your mind, what experiences?

Dawn: Wow, this could be a very long conversation. I'll just mention the trip that made the most impact on me, a five-week stay in Paris working with college students--I was there with a summer coalition made up of Campus Crusade, the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, Bethel College in Indiana, and the Grace Brethren. I've had an interest in French language and culture for years, but actually being in the country gave me a heart to work there; France is a thoroughly postmodern and secular nation, but it's one that needs God just as badly as "traditional" mission fields like Africa. One important lesson I learned was that in a postmodern, disconnected culture, we need to reach out to others in community--it's so much more effective when we demonstrate God's love in our interactions than just talking to people in isolation. And God has a huge heart for the poor and marginalized in the world--we as Christians need to be faithful to demonstrating love through serving them as well. Has the variety of world music exposure had an influence on your personal, musical artistic direction?

Dawn: Probably, although it's not necessarily obvious. Many of my ideas about art have been shaped by exposure to thinkers in aesthetics and a wide variety of media--I worked for a performing arts presenter for years and go to around 35-40 live performances of music, theatre, and dance every year. All of this definitely has an influence on my music, but it's impossible to pinpoint. How does Spirituality influence your life, your music?

Dawn: God has been a very real part of my life ever since I can remember. He's not a vague concept to me--rather, we have a relationship in which I've experienced truly unconditional love. So often I'm disappointed in myself, all too aware of my failures and struggles; but he's actually excited when I talk to him, not perpetually angry at my weaknesses. He's overwhelmed by the sight of us. Even when you're convinced that if anyone really knew you, they'd run far away--he knows, but thinks you're incredible just the same. It's a love we don't deserve, a love we can't earn. How many shows have you played over the years?

Dawn: In the last year and a half, I've played 40 shows--but this year alone, it looks like I'll end up playing around 50. What places, shows stick out in your mind? Any stories to share?

Dawn: I once drove out to Petoskey to play, and after a series of misadventures that included meeting a one-handed guitar player at a music store, driving frantically through non-existent visibility and slippery roads because we'd made a wrong turn (thanks Mapquest) and were late (as my pianist for the trip put it, "Come rain or shine, sleet or snow, we will not go slower than 80 miles an hour or we'll probably die"), we spent $50 on gas and played for tips to an audience of one because the cafe had been dead since 4pm that day. His name is Neil. Would you tell us about some of your songs:

Dawn: "All I Wanted": I wrote this a year ago, shortly after breaking up with my best friend--we thought we were going to marry each other. Obviously that didn't pan out, and the song's title refers to wanting his last name, wanting to spend my life with him. He ended our relationship on Easter, "Resurrection Day"--I don't think he would have chosen to end it then, and it was kind of an accident that we broke up on that holiday.

"A Song For Dreamers": This song came to me in its entirety in a half hour one night while I was just playing with my guitar. It's pretty lighthearted, but it's easier to say that we're going to reach for our dreams than to actually attempt do so.

"Keep Holding On": I wrote this for a friend of mine during our freshman year of college because she was struggling with her faith. Questioning God isn't wrong--he invites our questions, invites us to engage with him intellectually; doubt is healthy. The problem comes when we just passively doubt without seeking answers, without talking to God himself. I wanted to encourage her that even though it's difficult to go through those seasons of questioning, in the end what survives is a faith that's more real.

"Pas De Deux": This was written about the same breakup I mentioned earlier--it felt like history repeating itself with us, since before we'd started dating we'd had a "pseudo-breakup," saying that we wouldn't start a relationship even though we both wanted to--we didn't think it'd work out. And when we tried anyway and it didn't, it was familiar and unfamiliar territory for us at the same time; in the real breakup, so much more was at stake. Tell us about your EP: "First Verse." The recording process, likes/dislikes, etc:

Dawn: Wow, there's the proverbial can of worms. I had no idea going into the project what I wanted the final product to sound like--and figuring how you want things to sound while paying for recording time is not a good use of money. We actually had a full band version of one of the songs that was scraped because I just didn't sound like myself. I'm also a perfectionist, so hours and hours over budget (studio time isn't cheap), I finally had to stop and say, it's done, and I'll just know what to do differently next time. But some of these things you can only learn from others or by making the mistakes yourself--and it was my first time in a recording studio. How do you feel this EP has gone over on people?

Dawn: Interestingly, I seem to be my own worst critic. A number of people have told me that they love it, that it's heartfelt and honest, musically excellent. I've gotten a lot of compliments on my voice. What do you hope for the future of your musical career?

Dawn: In an ideal world, I'd make a living from music, writing, and dance. But more than that, I hope that my music reaches people, that they can see a glimpse of God in the notes even though I only occasionally mention him by name. I hate shallow, cookie-cutter music--I want to make art that's honest, art that has passion, art that actually means something. And I hope to use this gift to build relationships as well. What words would you give to all the people (especially teens) that are desperate for direction?

Dawn: Surround yourself with a community of people that are solid, people that care about you and are willing to call you out when you're doing something wrong or simply unwise. And look for mentors. They're hard to come by, but a mentor who will encourage and challenge you at the same time is invaluable. Any last comments?

Dawn: Thanks for doing this interview (and thanks for reading!)--it's been a pleasure.