Comfort Zone: Dou Jingtong talks about her music and life

2017-10-09 05:37:59 GMT2017-10-09 13:37:59(Beijing Time) Agencies

Singer-songwriter Dou Jingtong talks about her latest album and music that runs deep in her family.

Dou Jingtong wears her hair down. Her slim figure barely fills out an oversized jacket. As the lights dim on a recent evening, she edges toward the microphone and slowly begins to sing. Dou's voice fills the air, mesmerizing her audience. She is in her element.

Eighteen months after releasing her debut album, Stone Cafe, the singer-songwriter is rolling out her second one, Kids Only.

"I finished more than half of the songs of the second album when I released the first album. I am really excited about this one and I cannot wait to release it," Dou says to her fans, before she performs five new songs at a live-house venue in Beijing.

At 20, Dou has lived most of her life so far under media spotlight.

The daughter of pop diva Faye Wong and rock veteran Dou Wei, she is familiar with the questions posed to her and she is not too bothered about them.

Her mother, a Beijing-born singer who rose to fame after moving to Hong Kong in the late 1980s, is one of the country's best-selling female artists. Her father, the former lead vocalist of Beijing rock band Black Panther, is considered to be a musical genius by Chinese rock fans. The couple divorced in 1999 and both later moved away from the public life.

Dou Jingtong's grandparents and aunt, singer Dou Ying, also showed up for her recent performance. Dou Ying's husband, keyboardist and bassist Bei Bei, plays in Dou Jingtong's band.

"I'm not annoyed or offended that I'm always introduced in the context of my family. But it's nice. It's refreshing to be introduced through my music, rather than something that's irrelevant to my music," Dou Jingtong said in an interview last year while touring the United Kingdom as a supporting act for the indie pop band Bastille.

A day before her latest performance in Beijing, Dou Jingtong showed up in a five-star hotel downtown, diving into a conversation about her new album.

"While making this new album, I started to think about a question - what is Chinese music? Maybe it's the instrument I use, the lyrics I sing or it's just in my DNA to make music, which is from China," says Dou Jingtong, adding that she gave an erhu (two-stringed fiddle) to the band Bastille. She also toured the United States early this year.

"People came to my shows not because of who I am. They may not know me (in the US) but they came to listen to the music. It felt great."

Dou Jingtong's new album, released in digital form by Tencent Music Entertainment Group, took her one year to complete. She says the process of her songwriting usually begins "with a feeling".

Like her first album, she wrote all the 11 new songs in the latest offering, most of them in English.

The title song of the new album, Kids Only, was inspired by a BBC documentary, in which people of various ages were asked the question: "Do you want to swim with sharks?"

"The children reply unanimously with 'yes', while the adults answered 'it's crazy,'" says Dou Jingtong.

"Children are open to the world with their curiosity. I want to create a club, called Kids Only, to those who dare to dream and are willing to try everything."

One of her new songs is called Wu, which is her first one performed in Chinese. She had planned to make it into an instrumental work but during the recording, she felt right to sing in Chinese to the music. She wrote the lyrics in the recording room impromptu, she says.

Dou Jingtong also tried performing a small part of the classic Peking Opera piece, The Legend of the Red Lantern, which she learned from her grandmother, a huge fan of Peking Opera.

"I felt much more relaxed when I made the second album," says Dou Jingtong.

The cover of the album is a photo of her cousin, an 11-year-old boy.

"He looks serious, arrogant and rebellious in the photo. I asked for his permission and edited the photo myself. I guess he thinks that I am weird," she says, laughing.

It is difficult to ignore the impact of Dou's family on her career. Her talent was already obvious when she released her first guitar-driven song, With You, online in 2012. Her performance attracted millions of views. In 2015, Dou Jingtong gave her debut show in Tokyo and her stage persona reminded her fans of her parents' legacy.

Dou Jingtong also opens up to a variety of musical styles, which, as she puts it, remains a form of education for her. A recent favorite album is From Left to Right, released in 1971 by the late US jazz pianist and composer Bill Evans.

"When I was a child, I learned to play the piano but gave up later. I also learned the guzheng (Chinese zither), but I was very energetic and couldn't sit still to learn it properly. However, I am now often surprised to find out how beautiful and versatile these instruments are and I want to learn them again."

Dou Jingtong finds it difficult to tackle questions about her current life. She pauses, searching for the words to express her thoughts, even as she looks at the cars on the streets during an interview.

"I really cannot describe it in words so I say it with music," she says. "What I am trying to do now is to be honest with myself, which is not easy."

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