By Nicholas Jason Lopez
With a resume that includes a performance for His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, hosting a TED talk and playing Burning Man in addition to her own headline shows, avant-garde composer/contemporary classical musician Christen Lien has amazed many with her ability to put together moving pieces based on the viola and use of loop and effects pedals.
In addition to the releases of official videos for her songs “The Great Escape” and “Breathless (Feat. Ari Afsar),” Lien also kept busy performing on the Clubhouse app during the pandemic for several thousands of fans weekly in her “Cosmic Balcony” room, at one point completing 33 straight days of full concerts.
The Music Bugle had the chance to speak with Lien about what she has been up to lately and more.
Music Bugle – What was your goal for “Breathless”?
Christen Lien – When Ari Afsar and I met, we immediately knew we wanted to collaborate. I had been looking for a vocalist that had the world-class level of talent that Ari possesses, so that I could create more mainstream music and showcase how my compositions could work across many genres. “Breathless” is a remix of my song “Horizon” from the ‘ELPIS’ album and I chose that song because it had a hopeful, positive energy and a melodic openness that worked well with Ari’s personality and skill level.
Music Bugle – What was it like getting to work with Ari Afsar?
Christen Lien – It was an incredibly positive experience for a few reasons. Foremost, Ari’s ability to express a wide range of emotions in her singing was paramount to making the song work both emotionally and on a narrative level and to watch her embody the complex Elpis character was incredible to witness. It was clear that her experience performing as Eliza in “Hamilton” was at play and her stamina and emotional depth was impressive. Ari was a consummate professional too. She wrote the lyrics of “Breathless” and did it well. As part of the creative process, we went through a few drafts of writing the lyrics and anytime I gave her feedback on how I thought certain lyrics could be better or how I’d like the Elpis character or narrative referenced more, Ari was in step with me and very focused and professional in the process. I felt a lot of gratitude, not only for her talent, but also for her beautiful attitude throughout the creative process.
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
Christen Lien – These days as I listen to music, it is not a passive experience, but an active type of listening that is like research, or study. I am always listening to Radiohead. I can’t seem to stop after all these years. They have such a diverse range in sound and I love their nuanced rhythms, time signatures and odd timings. My sound is hugely influenced by the band. I also really like studying Jimmy Page and Led Zepplin, because Page seems to make his guitar speak in so many different ways. I find that creating a diversity and range in one’s music is a noble and difficult goal for a composer, songwriter and musician, so I am drawn to artists and bands who have a diverse range in sound, such as Queen or Prince. I also am listening to H.E.R., Kid Cudi and Billie Eilish a lot right now thanks to Amazon Prime Video, since they released a high-quality video performance series. I have had that video content on loop almost daily.
Music Bugle – Did the video for “Breathless” come out the way you had hoped?
Christen Lien – Absolutely. The footage that director Heather Gildroy captured puts me in awe, no matter how many times I watch the video and I always want to give the editor Vern Moen a deep bow of gratitude, because he made creative choices that I did not anticipate that I find to be genius. Not all editors know how to edit to music and Vern both added innovation to the editing, while honoring the most important musical moments of the song in a subtle and respectful way. The angel behind the scenes of the “Breathless” video is my creative director Dilly Gent – known for her work with Phoebe Bridgers and Radiohead, who made all of the recommendations on who to collaborate with and oversaw the production from top to bottom. She deserves equal credit to all of the collaborators on this video, because without Dilly, the quality of execution and the persistence to make this video stunning would not be the same.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Christen Lien – Naturally, I missed in-person live performances very much. It is my favorite aspect of my creative work. That said, I made the most of the pandemic. For the first half, I was head-down, focused on creating new work between the “Breathless” single, another single that was released over the pandemic called “The Great Escape” and finishing up my new, unreleased album ‘Interference’ and although I wasn’t performing in-person during lockdown, I gave many concerts to a global audience on Clubhouse and performed for over 50K on the app. Clubhouse helped me be extremely connected to my community and fans and continue to grow my fan base throughout the pandemic.
Music Bugle – What has been your proudest accomplishment?
Christen Lien – My proudest accomplishment is staying true to myself and my art, while figuring out a way to sustain my career as a full-time artist. I’m proud to have executive-produced three albums and three high-profile remixes and having the entrepreneurial prowess to build a company and a powerful team and own all of my music throughout the process.
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need a break?
Christen Lien – Natural hot springs! I am always exploring and hunting to experience different natural hot springs around the world. California has several that are worthwhile, beautiful experiences in nature.
Music Bugle – What do you hope for as 2022 begins?
Christen Lien – To continue to feel proud of everything I create and accomplish, to have positive, meaningful relationships with the people who surround me and have a fierce, badass plan to continue to rise in success in 2022. We have big plans for 2022 and I want to feel excited about those plans and yet, grounded in reality. Life is fun right now and I’m really enjoying this moment in time.
Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do?
Christen Lien – “And even if this world burns up… hidden harps will still play here.” This is a quote by Rumi and it motivates me to keep going, to explore and challenge myself on profound levels and provide a space in the universe for people to process all aspects of life, including the darkest, most difficult moments. I know through experience that my music and stories help people navigate difficult, complex moments in their lives and I want to continue supporting humanity in this way. I read this Rumi quote and I think to myself, “And even if this world burns up, hidden violas will still play here.”
Music Bugle – What’s something that people might be surprised to know about you?
Christen Lien – I’m a diehard lover and student of martial arts and studied several forms for years. Beyond the practical aspect of being a woman that knows how to protect and defend herself and others, I very much appreciate the philosophical aspects of martial arts and employ the wisdom across all aspects of my personal and professional life.