Interview No. 31
Interview By: @Ryanson
I interviewed the great, the humble genius (I'm not biased at all, why do you ask?) Andrew Huang, the man behind Songs to Wear Pants To and various other music projects. Since this was my first REAL interview with someone famous (kissing butt? who, me?) I was pretty nervous, as could be expected Of course, being the online deity he is, he cast mercy upon my soul -- the interview went rather smoothly. We went almost an entire hour, him pretending I'm funny and me pretending I was important.
In all seriousness, the interview went better than I expected -- It was kinda fun. I did stumble a bit, but Andrew was very patient and friendly with me. With the interview itself being an hour in length (done with our voices via Skype) I've trimmed it just a small bit -- but most of what we said is still in there.
I also must admit that I forgot to start recording it until halfway through the second question (which I didn't tell Andrew, so shhh). Until the third question, don't trust anything I say he says.
Q: Hello, and thank you for your time -- I'm sure you're a very busy person. Speaking of which, might I get a song?
A: Of course, Ryan. You're my favoritest fan in the whole wide world. In fact, I'll throw in a 2nd song absolutely free. Only the best for the best.
Q: Fantastic. So how is Canada this fine summer day?
A: The weather's been good, but it's been raining lately. If my favorite fan were here, the rain would go away and the sun would warm us all with its smile!!
(Ok, I had my fun.)
Q: Since I'm posting this interview several different places, for those who don't know, who are you and what do you do?
A: I'm Andrew Huang, and I run a website called Songs To Wear Pants To. I take instructions sent in by anyone who visits and the ones that inspire me the most, I will make short songs out of. I also for a living make music for people who want to commission me for more personal types of projects, special occasions, things like that.
Q: Now on your FAQ page, you got your website name from a CD you had at age 17. What kind of music was on that CD that required it to be titled "Songs to Wear Pants To"?
A: It was just a title that popped in my head one day. I was working with that CD when I was 17, and at some point I guess I needed to name it... and I don't know, it was a collection of really different kinds of songs I had been writing and a CD I managed to record at my school and wanted to put out. I needed a title, and for some reason "Songs to Wear Pants To" jumped into my mind out of nowhere so I named it that. When the website needed to get started, needed a name, that seemed to fit as well.
Q: Your FAQ also says you started the website at 2004. I don't think I'm presuming too much, but how long has music been a part of your life?
A: Pretty much my whole life. I don't know exactly when I started getting into it, but it was definitely from a very, very young age, like before I can remember -- taking piano lessons and making little raps I would recite to my parents in the car, and eventually just listening to more and more stuff, learning more and more instruments.
Q: Going back to the title... if you didn't have "Songs to Wear Pants To", what do you think you would name your website?
A: That's a good question, um. I threw around the name "Magic Song Land" for a little while (laughs). I'm not sure. I have another website which has my portfolio on it, it's called andrewismusic, so it might have been that, but I'm really not sure. I think actually a lot of the success of the site has to do with the fact that the name is so weird, it gets stuck in people's head. I don't know what else I would have called it. For all the zaniness that's appeared through the songs on the website, it seems like a perfect name for it.
Q: Speaking of zaniness, your songs for the most part are known for their whimsical, cartoony lyrics. Do you happen to watch any cartoons for inspiration?
A: Uh, nothing regularly, but I do enjoy stuff now and then. I went through a phase of really being into Futurama and Family Guy. Tons of Simpsons when I was a teenager, Adult Swim now and then. I appreciate a good cartoon sure, but there's nothing I'm a dedicated watcher of.
Q: Did you ever think that because of your goofy songs, or the goofiness of the name Songs to Wear Pants To, you could have turned off some of your potential fans or listeners?
A: Yeah it's definitely possible. In some ways, I maybe have been hindered by that because I also do have a few songs that are more serious in nature. But, um, the humor on the website is definitely the main reason why it's been passed around so much. So I think that on the whole that it's probably beneficial that it does have the zaniness in the foreground.
Q: You said you have serious songs; the first song that comes to mind is Never (Extended) which is one of my favorite songs. Could you explain how that came about?
A: It's one of my favorite songs as well! It's complicated in a lot of ways -- it came about because I got a song request saying "what are some things that you've never done? Please tell me in song in 5/4 timing with no percussion. That was like the 279th song I'd done for the website, and I remember I was at a stage where I guess was feeling like I'd run out of jokes -- like I only had a certain number of ways to twist the song requests I got into funny ideas, like I exhausted all the premises I had. For that song, I was thinking the joke I'd play would be incredibly serious.
My first reaction was to sing about parachuting and hang-gliding, but I quickly moved away from that idea. I decided to settle on this idea of having never moved on from a beautiful romantic relationship. It's also something that I've like never been sure how much I really want to publicly reveal, so the song isn't about a real person or relationship I had. In a way it was a joke for me, but at the same time I realised as I was writing it that it was a really beautiful song and, uh, it is still one of my favorites, for both the joke I originally wanted to play and for what it's come to represent for a lot of people. Uh... yeah, that's the story behind it.
Q: It's alright, I'll trim it down. (chuckles) So what were you doing for a living before the you started the website Songs to Wear Pants To?
I started it when I was in my second year in University, so I didn't really have a career yet. I was just a student.
Q: And how did the actual concept of "you request a song, I'll record it" actually come about?
A: I started it on eBay, actually, because I was just... I was having time finding a part-time job, any kind of job. I decided "Well, maybe because I have this home-recording hobby, someone will pay me to record some kind of song that they want." I tried a few options on eBay and it worked pretty well. I did it for a few months... maybe not even, maybe one or two months before I had the idea to start the website. I happened to be living with my friend named Jen who I've known since I was 14, and was pretty decent at HTML code so she helped me get the website started up. I started posting songs almost daily in the beginning, and it kinda took off from there.
Q: Sounds like a great friend. Musically, you cram every style you can into your songs, but who are your inspirations?
A: Oh, there are so many... um... and I definitely go through phases, too. Like right now, I'm really into the Arcade Fire. They have a new record out so I've been playing that alot. I've always love Radiohead, Portishead... all those cool indie, innovative, experimental bands. I don't know, alternative rock was a big thing for me in my teens.
That's sort of where I go in the mainstream world, but then I have phases where I listen to pop. I love Lady Gaga, and I was quite into Rihanna for a while, and all that kind of stuff. So there's that, and on the other side I had a lot of classical music when I was growing up. And actually pop music back then too, I loved Ace of Base when I was a kid. And then I had a jazz phase, so all the big jazz names: Miles Davis and Charley Parker and all those guys were all inspirations for a while too.
See, it's like all over the map and I really do like almost every kind of music out there.
Q:For some reason, I thought I'd hear you say Cyndi Lauper or Madonna too. (laughter) I don't know, maybe I'm a loser.
A: Well um... I don't know, their music is great too. But I wouldn't cite them as HUGE influences.
(this is in reference to a question I asked him on Formspring "Cyndi Lauper or Madonna", which I asked after he answered "Anything by Cyndi Lauper" on another question)
Q: What was the first song you've ever written, if you can remember it?
A: I remember a rap song that I wrote when I was four or five. I never wrote it down, I just had it memorized and it took me a few minutes to get all the way through it. I started with maybe four lines of rhymes and every once in a while I'd add another couple of lines to it until it grew to be this huge, long story about how I got hurt and went to the hospital and knocked over some flowers, or... I don't even remember what it was about, but I remember it being pretty long and that I just kept extending it and extending it. Every once in a while I'd start rapping it when my parents were driving us somewhere. I don't know when I actually stopped, but that's the earliest memory I have of composing anything.
Q: What is an average day like in the life of Andrew... you?
A: (chuckles) Well I get up usually pretty early, also when ever I feel like it. Sometime between 6 and 9 on average. I pretty much, from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed, just make music and make food and hang out with my friends. (chuckles again) Um... a lot of the times, when it's busy time for the site I'm doing a lot of social media, promotion, dealing with a lot of emails, dealing with a lot of song requests, obviously recording and writing stuff. It kind of fluctuates. If I'm not working on music for the website, I'm working on music for myself.
Q: You mention cooking and making food quite a lot. If you weren't a musician, do you think you could be a chef?
A: I'd need training. I love being creative in the kitchen, but I'm not totally sure if I have a knack for it, and I definitely don't know a lot of technical stuff about it. But I really love putting meals together, and I also think it's important -- I don't know, nutrition and health is important to me.
I guess maybe that's why I involve recipes in my news letter and contests and things like that. Sharing the cool meals I've discovered with as many people as I can. I don't know if I'm chef material.
Q: How many song requests do you get usually on a daily basis? I know I send in quite a few
A: Lately it's been maybe 20 or 30 a day. Yeah, I see the ones you send. I remember because anyone who ends up sending that many, I'm like "Oh I've seen this dude before." I guess the average amount is 20 or 30 a day, it's rarely been less then that. Every now and then if I do a radio interview or get featured somewhere big, I'll get an influx and it'll go up to maybe 100, 200 a day.
(not sure what I should feel, considering he probably thinks I'm a crazy stalker.)
Q: What's the largest amount you've received in a day?
A: About in the hundreds for sure... I remember, it was right after the "Touchtone Genius" animation came out, and that exploded on Newgrounds really quickly and that was the time I got the most requests all in one short period. Definitely a few hundred a day for like a week.
A: I don't know if I can explain it. I do remember when I was 14 or 15 and getting serious about my passion for music. I made a decision that I was going to try writing stuff in every genre, or even not pay attention to genres and just experiment. From that early of an age, I wanted to be really diverse and prolific and get my hands on every aspect of music -- from the composing to the recording to the performing. I'm not sure where it comes from, but there is a huge love for music and a drive to always be creating.
That's why I put so much of it online; I have to get it out there. There's something about when you're working on something, just wanting to get to a point where you can say that it's done and it's ready for anyone else to hear it even if it's just two people. Then you can finish it and say "this is something that I made at this time in my life," and be able to move on and work on some new stuff.
Q: Your SWTPT CDs have very... colorful names. Pink Pants, Sweat Pants, Blue, Green, Skinny Jeans... what's next?
A: This is, um... something I have not been able to think of yet. I don't know what the next one's going to be called. Could be called anything to do with pants. The working name I dumped all my songs under on my iTunes is "Super Pants," but that's not going to stick. I have no idea what the next one's going to be called.
Q: You and your fans seem to have a special connection some fanbases don't have with their favorite artists -- you connect with them, you talk with them, communicate with them. Why do you think this is?
A: I guess... uh... I don't know how much of it is something that comes to me naturally or how much of it's a deliberate decision, but I do feel a lot of times when it comes to a celebrity -- not that I'd necessarily call myself a celebrity -- but in terms of there being a person whose work is appreciated by a significant number of people, I feel like a lot of times there are these walls between, say, the artist and the audience, and.... I guess maybe I'm uncomfortable with being on the pedestal or whatever it is, but I don't think there needs to be this elevating of the artist... I don't know, this is such a convoluted answer (chuckles).
Q: It's a complicated question, I'm sorry.
A: Oh no, it's all good. I think it's great for the work that I do to have such a great reach, to be appreciated that much, but I don't feel like I need to be seen as untouchable and unreachable. I like to be down to Earth. I have a form on my website where you can contact me if you want to talk about something that's not a song suggestion. I'm on Twitter and Facebook, and I do try to respond to a lot of people who ask questions or leave comments. I can't respond to every single one, I'd also run out of things to say sometimes (chuckles).
But yeah, I guess I like to think I don't have to be some distanced person making all this music, that I can have a personal connection with people who are enjoying it too. It's as much of a favor of them to me that they appreciate my music that I am making it for them.
Q: For every fan, there is a hater. How do you deal with hate or criticism?
A: On the whole I don't let it get to me. Sometimes, shrouded in all the hate, there is a solid critique I can take away from it, that I can see as advice. It doesn't necessarily have to make me feel bad because I am always looking for ways I can improve my craft, and I think criticism or constructive feedback -- even if it's kind of veiled in a mask of hate and some cuss words and caps lock -- can be positive because it helps me improve. Generally, I just let it roll off of my back.
A lot of the comments that come in are very strong opinions, and if someone doesn't like a song I made I'm totally okay with it; some people just choose to voice it very strongly. In other cases there are comments that are unfounded or not researched or ignorant, like people who would say "Oh, country music, rap music... that's not real music." Which first of all, both of those types of music are wonderful types of music and not all of it is great, but a lot of it is beautiful. And secondly, they also haven't been exposed to the fact that I've been making music in all of these other genres as well.
I'm not really too bothered by any hate that comes in. Thankfully, there is a lot more than hate.
Q: On your FAQ, you say you'd rather not do songs that could "offend the average grandma." Yet you have your own collection of tributes on Newgrounds, a website that has in the past been very controversial with its cartoons and games. Why do you think this is, all things considered?
A: It's hard to gauge exactly what will be offensive, and I think the main reason I'm popular on a site like Newgrounds is, um... the way I take a lot of song requests that come in and twist them. While I still fulfill the song, I also really poke fun at the person who asked it. It's sort of this irony that I've really enjoyed while doing this site. Like, why would you ask a song from me when all I'm going to do is poke fun at you? And I think that kind of irony and the fact that I'm really zany and random in a lot of songs, that kind of teasing might be part of the draw. A little bit of the bite in the humor.
Q: Newgrounds is known for making fun of other people. I'll definitely have to go back and check some of your songs, I don't think I really paid attention of how often you poke fun at the request.
A: I would never do it in a hateful way, I really love the irony. I'm running a website of songs people request, and no one should be requesting these songs because there's a 90% chance that I'm going to make fun of them or not make the song, which is the case most of the time. It's just something I always thought was funny.
Q: Have you yourself ever visited Newgrounds? Any favorite games or movies?
A: I'm not there regularly but I've seen most of the stuff people have made with my songs, and I've played a few of the games and watched a few of the movies that I've been linked to or stumbled across. There's definitely a lot of talent on there!
Oh, I've been to the Audio Portal a bunch of times, and there's a lot of good stuff there too. I wouldn't say I'm a regular user, but I've seen a lot of the stuff on there.
Q: Have you any songs in your repertoire that is basically... Newgrounds, in a nutshell?
A: A lot of the songs that the Newgrounds community have found and animated already is their kind of material, like "Don't Feel Bad" and "I Love You More Than Bunnies." A little bit random, a little bit off-color, that kind of quick humor is the kind of thing I think they appreciate a lot over there. I think the ones most fitting for that community have already been animated.
(The ones he mentioned, and more, are in the "Shorts to Wear Pants To" animation -- check it out.)
Q: (chuckles) Not going to lie -- I expected "Crunk Juice" to be the answer there.(laughs) Now, besides singing and playing instruments like the piano and the guitar... you also rap. You say you wrote a rap when you were four years old. How did you get so good?
A: I would definitely say that it comes down to practice. Probably, if I was doing it at four, it's some part natural to me, just playing with words and with rhythm and delivery. But I also remember in high school I'd spend a lot of my class time just writing down lists of rhyming words or even just writing just rap songs, depending on whatever kind of phase I was in with the music I was listening to.
I spent a lot of time jotting things down in notebooks, drawing things out. Also once I got a recording set up at home, I experimented a lot more with my voice and how to use it, just trying things out, playing with delivery and every literary device I could think of, just... practicing it.
Q: Is there anyone in the music biz that you'd like to collaborate with?
A: Hmm... pretty much everybody (laughter). I think I'd have a lot of fun collaborating with almost everyone. If I had to narrow it down... I'm in a huge Lady Gaga phase right now, so her definitely. The really innovative people that are at the top of their game... I already mentioned Radiohead. There's a guy called Son Lux, he's with the Anticon record label, he does really cool stuff. Owen Pallett is a genius!
Those are some of the people I really admire the most right now. I love collaborating. There's something really cool that happens when you collaborate musically with someone; you end up creating something that probably neither of you would be able create on your own or with any other person. It's like having a baby almost.
Q: I have to ask -- have you received any requests that so bizarre that they stick in your mind, that you'll like to share with us?
A: Actually, no. So many of them that come in are so equally bizarre that they cancel each other out. I'm just opening up my email now, because I can look at some of the ones that just came in if you want, give you some examples. There's tons -- well, I would say that the most popular thing that people request is some funny story, possibly relating to an inside joke that they have with their friends, and usually involves an animal who can talk and goes on an adventure or does funny things.
For the most part, the song requests that come in are so weird that I don't think there's any one that sticks out. (chuckles)
Q: You also perform live -- what songs do you usually perform live?
A: With Your Heart, it's a band of eight people including me, so we have a more limited repertoire because we all have to get together and practice to get sounding tight. We play a lot of the tunes off of the few albums that we've done -- "Autumn," "Love #1," "Love #2," "Stay," "I'm Not Going To Break Your Heart," "Oh No" -- plus a few new ones we're working on.
With Songs to Wear Pants To... I've rehearsed some of the stuff with a band before, but I didn't end up really taking that anywhere yet. Usually when I do it live, it's more like a comedy show. I'll just be talking, explaining the site to people, reading them song requests, and playing them tunes off my iPod the same way you hear them on the site. When it comes to that, I usually pick the funniest ones.
Q: Now, earlier you said you were really proud of your song "Never." Are there any songs you've recorded that you consider yourself proud of?
A: I'm definitely the most proud, I think, of all the songs on my album "Autumn" with Your Heart. I really think that in terms of their composition, arrangement, lyricsm I think it's my best work; I'm really proud of that. Oh, and "Never" is on that album actually.
Q: You use a variety of equipment when you record. Any bit of equipment you're hoping to obtain?
A: Um... it depends. I definitely have the tools I need to make the music I wanna make and the only thing... I mean, there's always bigger and better versions of what I already have -- good speakers, good microphones, things like that -- but at this point I definitely have what I need to get the job done. It's only if I get to a point where I'm rolling in the money where I'll be making any major changes or upgrades.
Q: So when you're on the level of Lady Gaga, just rolling in money?
A: (laughter) Uh, well then I'll have a much bigger space definitely, and a lot of vintage gear. I appreciate the digital world too, but there's a lot of really cool old gear made from like the '50s and the '70s I'd love to get my hands on.
Q: Recently, you've been extremely active on Youtube. Why the sudden interest?
A: I dunno when it started to pique my interest, but I realized that videos are really important to promoting your music online. For one thing, having a music video with an interesting concept that's gonna be passed around a lot, that can help. But even in terms of connecting with an audience, having that visual there can be so much more effective. That's something I've been thinking about for a year or two.
The reason why I've recently started doing a lot of it is because I was finally able to get my hands on a good camera. I'd still say I'm in an experimenting kind of phase with it right now, but I do have a lot of plans with where I'd like to take it. It's definitely going to be a big part of Songs to Wear Pants To.
Q: Will we get to see any of your friends or family in any future videos? Your wife, for instance, whom we hear a lot about?
A: (chuckle) Not sure. There will definitely be a lot of musical collaborations that will appear. If any of my friends or my wife are involved with those, they will be in the videos too. But right now... I'm talking with a couple of people already on Youtube about collaborating a bit, but other than that it will be Your Heart or me doing videos on my own. Could be anything in the future.
Q: Any place you never visited that you want to?
A: I have a dream of going to New Zealand. I've only seen pictures of it, but it seems like the most beautiful place on the planet. If I had the chance to go one place and one place only, it'd definitely have to be New Zealand.
Q: What have you been listening to on your iPod or Cd Player as of late?
A: Other than Arcade Fire and Lady Gaga... I'm trying to think. It hasn't been much. Normally I listen to a variety of stuff, but it's been... very saturated lately, but I know there's been more stuff than that. Oh, Benga! He's a guy from the UK who does a lot of dubstep stuff, been listening to a lot of him. A bit of Janelle Monae, have you heard of her? I really have no concept of how well-known she is. She's kind of an R&B/pop singer. I know there's more...
(8 seconds of silence)
Yeah, I don't know. It's not coming to me right now, and I don't have my iPod down here. But yeah for the most part it's been Lady Gaga and Arcade Fire anyway (chuckle).
Q: We've talked about music a lot... but what are some of your favorite movies?
A: Hmm... All the big ones that came out during my kind of formative teen years, like Fight Club and the Matrix, I've really been in to. Amalie I really loved, and Moulin Rouge, stuff like that. I know I'm naming stuff all from one period, but stuff that's either very much about love or very much about some kind of twisted reality that kind of plays with your mind.
I saw Inception recently and I really loved that, and on the flip side I saw Step Up 3D (nervous chuckle) and I really loved that. So I guess I'm kind of in the same place with music as I am with movies in that I really appreciate a lot of different stuff.
Q: Step Up 3D seems an odd concept -- dancing in 3D. Aren't all those pelvises thrusting at you in 3D (chuckles), that's kind of an odd experience wouldn't you say?
A: Well I really love break-dancing and street dancing, and Step Up 3D I figured is like the grandest, most sensationalized version of that scene to date so I had to see it for that. It didn't disappoint. I mean, I wasn't going for the plot, but there's great music and great dancing, so it delivered.
Q: I expect to see a video of you break-dancing on Youtube sometime in the future (laughs). Speaking of, any big plans for the future you're excited about, or that your fans should be?
A: Well the "Never" video is definitely on the horizon. I know it seems like it's been a long time because we did start fund-raising for that in February, maybe even January. We reached our fund-raising goal in March and we shot it in April. Most of the kick-starter awards for those who helped us have already been sent out but I've still got a few left to go.
As for the video, my friends are still working on the editing and the special effects for it. But it looks really good, what I've seen so far, but it looks really good what I've seen so far. It's going to be huge when it comes out, which could be in... hmm.... three months? Possibly six, I don't know. It could be done earlier, but I also want to plan a kind of release event around it.
Q: Will it be released on your Youtube page, or will it be released on the same page as the "In the Sun" video?
A: It'll be released on that Youtube channel. I have a Youtube channel for Songs to Wear Pants To and another one called "suturesound" and I've decided that since I do have so many musical projects, I'm going to break it down into Songs To Wear Pants To.... and everything else (laughs). And eveything else is what's going to be put into suturesound.
"Never" was a Songs To Wear Pants To song, for sure, but it's also been usurped by Your Heart, so it's also a division between serious songs and funny songs.
Q: Is there anything about you that you'd like to share with us? A secret perhaps?
A: A secret? Um... I don't know if I have any secrets I can share. I will say this, because it's something I've been planning on doing but haven't really publicized or anything, but I'm probably going to do a lot more Youtube videos like the Lady Gaga-styled one where you can see me actually recording it and cutting between the different layers of instruments. I'm definitely planning to release, maybe even... the majority of my songs in that kind of format.
Q: Awesome. Any words of wisdom or advice to give to people who wish to become musicians?
A: Yeah! Um... everybody knows it, but it never hurts to re-enforce it. Practice is paramount. Equally paramount is having fun, and striking a balance between those two. Work hard!
Q: Thank you for your time. Do you have any last words before we finish?
A: Well, I want to thank you for being so interested, for doing this interview. I can't wait to read it!
(Right before I posted this interview, Andrew started a new side project known as The Cloud. His new song is called "Shy Knife." Check it out!)