Unearthing the Warmth Within

by publicationarchive

By Dee Dee Chew, Tempo Editor It is often said that a person’s eyes are the windows to his or her soul. If this sentiment is true then singer/songwriter Vienna Teng’s eyes must shine with the light of an entire galaxy of stars. Integrating soothing vocals with lush melodic ballads, Teng explores the complex emotions that dwell within the depths of the human psyche. Her music has been described by critics as “classically inspired folk,” but placing it in such a vague genre doesn’t seem to do it enough justice. Her latest album, Warm Strangers, is more than just a compilation of folk/pop songs — it is an ethereal juxtaposition between fantasy and actuality. This unique blend of realities is the combination of two essential elements: Teng’s vivid imagination and the real-life experiences which have shaped her into the person she is today. A native of the Bay Area, Teng said she did not always know whether she would make it as a musician. Worried that her music would not be enough to pay her bills, the young aspiring singer/songwriter graduated from Stanford University with a degree in computer science – a decision she says she made in order to carry out her “grand plan.” “Around the same time that I picked my major, I realized that I wanted to do music and I wasn’t really sure how I was going to do that because I really didn’t have any backup,” Teng said. “So I thought, ‘Well I’ll just finish my major and then I’ll work and then while I work, I’m sure I’ll have time during the weekends to pursue music.” Soon after graduation, Teng was accepted for an internship at Cisco Systems in Silicon Valley, where she was eventually hired as a full-time computer engineer. For the next two years, Teng struggled with a Superwoman-type career – working as a dedicated technician by day and an aspiring musician by night. This changed in 2002, when she finally received the big break she had been waiting for her entire life. “While I was working and just playing shows in the Bay Area, I got approached by Virt Records,” she said. “And once I signed with them, life got really crazy because I was trying to do stuff in the day and then sneaking out of the building to make phone calls all the time.” So Teng quit her high-paying job in Silicon Valley to pursue music full time. Less than six months after she made this life-altering decision, she released her first full-length album titled Waking Hour. “On Waking Hour a lot of the songs came from just me and my own life and occasionally the people around me,” Teng said. “But even then, I started to write about hypothetical situations. I would imagine what it would be like to run away from home or to be someone who was much older or much younger or who grew up in a much different background.” Naturally, the idea of writing songs based on fictional characters followed Teng into her second album, as Warm Strangers became a byproduct of sleepless nights she suffered wondering how it was to be someone else. A perfect example of this can be found in the song “Passage,” a mournful ballad in which Teng sings from the perspective of a girl who has died in a tragic car crash. As the years pass by slowly, the young girl watches her loved ones move on with their lives, quickly forgetting the life she once led. The tone of the track is disturbingly somber, and yet somehow, it is strangely revitalizing in a way one would never think possible. In the song, “Shasta (Carrie’s Song),” Teng sings about a young girl named Carrie who struggles with the decision of having an abortion. Though Teng has never dealt with this issue in her own personal life, she seems to understand the hardships that come with making such a life-altering decision fairly well. In a disturbingly lulling voice, she sings, “You’re thinking about how someone died that day / The you that was so carefully planned / Then again maybe this life is like a sleeping mountain / Waking up to shape the land.” Like most of the characters in Teng’s other songs, Carrie is a figment of the artist’s imagination — and yet her entire existence addresses an issue which is very much real. “I started reading about abortion on a Planned Parenthood Web site,” Teng explained about the song. “Then just to explore the other side of things I started reading some pro-life stuff … And so it got really interesting and I started writing this little story in my head about this girl who decides not to have an abortion.” Though many may find the idea of writing songs based on fictional characters a bit unconventional, Teng said she chose to do so because she was tired of writing music based on her personal life. “I think the truth of it is in college I had a lot of romantic drama,” she said. “And after that blew over, I thought, ‘Well maybe I should write about other things because what I think about has changed.'” With Warm Strangers, Teng made a conscious decision to write outside of her own experiences in order to help others realize that there are bigger problems out there than “silly, romantic drama.” In a way, this quality is what separates her from all of the other singer/songwriters in today’s music industry. She doesn’t waste time lamenting over an unrequited love. Instead, she creates songs that encourage her listeners to take a step back from their lives and celebrate the simple things in life which make each day worth living. Vienna Teng will be performing 7:30 p.m. Sept. 25 at Acoustic Expression Music 2852 University Ave. For more information, please call (619) 303-8176 or visit www.viennateng.com.