Yo! caught up with 21 year-old Fay Liew (aka FIG) over dinner in New York to chat about (Asian American) music, tour, and lofi beats. For fans of MICHELLE, Tiffany Day, and KALI, we've found your newest indie pop obsession, and you're in luck—her debut album just dropped.
Yo! Magazine: Hi FIG! What's your story? How did you get into music?
Fay Liew (FIG): I did choir and whatnot in high school and middle school, but I never really thought of doing music. When I was in high school I was really into lofi music, like “sad boy hour vibe.”
Yo!: Sad boy or lofi anime beats?
FIG: A mix! There was this girl that I saw on Instagram, her name’s Ivri, and what she did was post a black screen with her singing 10 second snippets of her original stuff. I was like “Woah, this is so cool,” and that's when I started writing for myself. I wrote some lofi beats and would send them in Snapchat clips to my best friend. He was the only one that I shared it with, and that was the most I'd ever written. I went to The New School and did liberal arts because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I took a songwriting class, and there was a task to write five songs a week. You know, I had never written a song before, but then I did it and was like “this is so fun!” and that’s when I thought that I should try to write more music.
When I was in New York in the beginning, because I was into lofi still, I emailed every single lofi producer I liked. I would first sample my voice so lofi producers would notice that I would sing, and after that I thought that I might be able to write my own music. I think my personality was more like a bubbly, happy vibe, and I started pivoting to what I thought I wanted to do. From there I found the direction that I want to go into. I first did it through SoundCloud and DistroKid, and I had no idea what I was doing, like anyone who just started releasing stuff. I think it's a learning process.
Yo!: I found you through Instagram! I feel like all of your content and everything that's going on inside your music feels very coherent and silly. That wouldn't really happen if you had a governing body telling you what to do.
FIG: No doubt. I used to like making stupid music videos, and I'd make lip sync music videos to my favorite artists. I did one to Tobi Lou, a rapper I love, and he reposted it! And that's how I met my manager. I green screened myself into a Pivot Gang music video, it's so stupid, but that's how I met my manager. He was like, "I saw you do music," and we became friends and he would give me tips. During those videos, I never thought about the connections to making my music or using this creativity with my own stuff. I still direct all my videos now. I listen to so much music, and usually when I listen I like to visualize something I do with it, and I usually can't get it out of my head until I do it. I make a silly video and it's a lot of fun
Yo!: That's actually so important. Imagery is so necessary to getting an audience in the first place.
Yo!: Everything that you produce is really authentic. What are your favorite songs that you've made? What's the song that you've felt the most fulfilled by making?
FIG: I think the song Splinter, that song's really fun. The project that I'm releasing, half of it I worked on with the producers of MICHELLE, who are good friends of mine. I'm still discovering how I sing and how I could use my voice, and the way that they record stuff is insane. They make you sing the same phrase 40-50 times, and then edit it, and edit it, and edit it some more! It made me appreciate composition. That's definitely more out there, a more grimy R&B vibe. It was very different but I wanted to try it, and the process of recording vocals was so hard because it was so specific but I never really thought about vocals ever like that before, but now I do!
Yo!: In terms of community building, what's it been like in the past three months after doing these Asian American-centric showcases?
FIG: I personally wanted to start the showcases because I feel like in the music industry when people think about like Asian Americans or Asian people, it's like either the big K-pop vibes or 88rising. I think 88rising is good, but I think it started to become more "gatekeep-y" in a way where it's the really big artists like Rich Brian and NIKI, and I was frustrated by the fact that I don't think there was a community or support. They were supportive in some ways, like 88rising Radio, but there wasn't a community for smaller artists. I remember when I started, I tried to make spreadsheets of smaller Asian artists to connect with, and it was difficult. It took me a while to find, and I was frustrated. So I wanted to find a way to create community in some way. I've only done two, but from seeing the turnout and the response, it's something special. I don't think it has any impact on my music making, but I definitely have a community now. I feel like there is a place, and there could be a place for us.
Yo!: For this issue I actually put together a playlist called "API artists that don't just recreatet NIKI/Keshi songs."
FIG: [laughs] I think that what 88rising is doing is really cool, and I love Joji, but I feel like…they only really focus on the top four.
Yo!: How are you feeling about tour?
FIG: I’m really excited! I've only performed like less than 10 times. Halloween last year, I opened for Evann McIntosh, and since then, I've been lucky to perform with Tiffany Day and do random single shows. This is going to be the most shows I have ever played, so I'm excited!
Yo!: Plus you're going to see so much.
FIG: Yeah! Like I've never been to Texas, so it's gonna be an adventure... [I want to] just be in the moment, because [I] don't know when this is going to come again.
Yo!: Or vice versa. Especially when you're working so constantly, there’s periods of lulls, but then there's also periods where you’re the most busy you've ever been and it comes out of nowhere.
FIG: Yup! With music, I used to feel discouraged because naturally if you're in the art world, it's discouraging when you see your friends busy when you're not. But then when you do get busy, you realize you took the time for granted. It wasn't like you weren't busy, you were just in the developing stages of doing things.
Yo!: Now that you're doing music, how is your relationship with it changing? Do you take breaks? How do you sustain yourself?
FIG: I think like, my relationship is still good, [but] I still compare myself in some ways. I remember when I was talking with Tiffany, she would be like "I have a session every day for the next 2-3 weeks." I was like, "Woah, that's crazy." But I realized that with music, when you're meeting with producers it's like speed dating: you make, make, make, and then you find the ones that you find that connection with, and think you can really make stuff special with and stick with that. I totally have found some people that I really, really enjoy. I used to feel not productive when I didn't meet them once or twice a week, and I used to think that I had to make so many at the time. But you find it's about the quality.
Yo!: I think half of it is what you bring into the studio, and the other half is what you take out of it.
FIG: You have to live life!
Yo!: What did your parents think about you pursuing music?
FIG: My parents are super, super supportive. Both of them are pharmacists, and they were actually the ones that introduced me to music. As kids they would go to concerts, then they would bring us to concerts when we grew up. My first concert was Beyoncé at nine years old in China, then my second concert was Akon. It made me experience music and really appreciate live music. Before the pandemic, our "thing" was to go to Camp Flog Gnaw as a family, we go to rap festivals together. One summer we went to five different festivals in the Netherlands, Japan, the US, and the UK. It was a bonding experience between me and my parents because now they get to experience what we like. My one regret was when I lived in Germany, my parents bought tickets to Drake and The Weeknd was opening when he was so small. I didn't go because I had a math test, and they all went without me! That's how cool they are—they'll still go! Two weeks ago, my dad was playing Joey Bada$$ album on his own. They're super supportive of it.
Yo!: It's cool when your parents don't have a background in it but they understand why it's worth doing.
FIG: They're just super supportive. I know a lot of parents, and especially Asian parents, want their kids to do something else. But they're appreciative because I'm still young, and they're like, "Do what you're passionate about, and you can always change in the future." It's not like I'm going to do this forever—that would be cool—but it's very common for people's passions to change and I think they're okay with that.
Yo!: Thank you so much! Also, [your dog account username] @figwoof is such a good name!
FIG: Thank you! A fan suggested it because I was like "What should I name my dog?" And they said "Figwoof."
Where you can find FIG:
Interview edited by Nicole Oshima