By Nicholas Jason Lopez
Formerly the frontman and mastermind behind synth-pop band Ming & Ping throughout five albums for 10 years, Los Angeles-based Vietnamese-American musician BAO decided to put out music under his own name, the result being his debut 14-track solo album ‘Perpetual Heartbreak.’
Recommended for fans of Billie Eilish, Troye Sivan and Charli XCX, ‘Perpetual Heartbreak’ is described as a “pop record with thoughtful lyrics.”
BAO was particularly musically influenced by three records – Phil Collins’ ‘Face Value,’ the soundtrack to “Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind” and “Starboy” by The Weeknd/Daft Punk. The album’s overall aesthetic was driven by the Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi, defined by Wikipedia as “the acceptance of transience and imperfection.”
Since he witnessed firsthand how much pressure there can be, one of BAO’s biggest passions is to encourage Asian-American creatives to freely express themselves in their most unique way.
The Music Bugle had the opportunity to talk with him about ‘Perpetual Heartbreak’ and more.
Music Bugle – How would you describe Los Angeles to someone who has never been there before?
BAO – I would describe Los Angeles as a very spread-out collection of neighborhoods full of real families, small businesses and incredibly diverse food and culture. There’s a certain image of L.A. that people get from popular media that doesn’t align with the real L.A.. L.A. in the media is usually either about glamour and consumption or crime and traffic, but the real L.A. is about one of the most diverse combinations of people in the world within a 500 square mile area. I love L.A..
Music Bugle – What made you want to become a musician?
BAO – I’ve always been a visual artist and didn’t start writing and recording music until I dropped out of art school around the age of 20. At first, I thought it was just another artistic medium to explore, but I learned that music is the most immediate and profound way to reach an audience. It doesn’t require any education or vocabulary. You just hear a song at the grocery store or some other mundane place and it makes you feel something. A great song will grip you immediately.
Music Bugle – What was it like putting together your debut album ‘Perpetual Heartbreak’?
BAO – When I work on an album, I think of it like making a film, with several scenes forming a larger story. In the case of ‘Perpetual Heartbreak,’ the film is more non-linear and sometimes surreal. I started around the Spring by making several new songs that encapsulated the moment, but I didn’t have a solid direction until the concept of ‘Perpetual Heartbreak’ rose out of one of the song lyrics. I then went through older demos and a couple of songs I had previously released as single to see if I could assemble a collection of songs. It took a lot of production work to make the record sound cohesive, but it became one of my most heartfelt works and ties in well with the film scoring work I’ve been doing recently.
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
BAO – Probably three main categories. There’s been a new crop of emotive female songwriters-turned-artists that I’ve been really enjoying. Julia Michaels and Sasha Sloan both have recent albums that are some of my favorites. I’ve also been listening to a lot of electronic-tinged Latin music, such as Bombo Estéreo and Nicola Cruz – and Nu Disco has been a great genre at the moment, with artists like Satin Jackets and Goldroom.
Music Bugle – What’s your mindset when it comes to your solo work, as opposed to that with Ming & Ping?
BAO – Ming & Ping has a distinct aesthetic that is very melodic, pulsing and almost robotically precise 80s-inspired electronic pop. I’ve been trying hard to express myself freely as BAO while keeping what I love from Ming & Ping, being more comfortable with a looser approach, more experimentation and more emotive performances. It sounds stupid, because that’s where most artists start – free and expressive, so I partially feel like I’m going backward from hyper-produced to being an artist again.
Music Bugle – Which of your songs was the hardest to write or compose?
BAO – “We Never Say A Word” was exceptionally hard to finish. It went through so many iterations. It reminds me of a story I read about The Eagles making an insane number of versions of “Hotel California” before finding the right one, except I didn’t have their generous budget. I think the main challenge was that the subject matter was especially strong, so the music needed to be ear-catching while still allowing the words to come through. Musically, the only original element kept in the final version is the Prince-inspired high hat pattern.
Music Bugle – What has been your biggest challenge lately?
BAO – I function well with people when in person, so it’s been extra challenging lately to socialize, collaborate and network under social distancing restrictions. I’ve been trying to show more of my personality over social media. It’s given me a chance to create more in-depth content to support my album, including videos explaining the meaning behind the songs and break down videos describing the technical construction of the songs. It’s working well, but I do wish we could all be together in person again. I miss live concerts and studio sessions.
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you feel the need to escape?
BAO – The beautiful thing about Los Angeles is that we’re always an hour or two away from the ocean, mountains, desert, or city, so it’s a matter of where you are and what kind of environmental change you need. Most commonly, though, I escape through music. A good record can take you places. I hope my album becomes that for some people.
Music Bugle – Away from music, what’s something people might be surprised to know about you?
BAO – I love learning and hearing people’s stories, so I just started a new show called “Coffee with BAO.” It’s a YouTube series and podcast where I have coffee with fellow creatives and talk about their process, cultural identity and personal growth. It’s such an impactful way to hear about people’s complicated journeys to achieving their goals and it’s such an honor to share those stories with others.
Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do?
BAO – Right now, I’d probably say, “Shut up and dribble” is a quote that motivates me to keep creating and opening people’s minds. My work is about sharing perspectives and expanding humanity. People who say, “Shut up and dribble” definitely need more of that.