Interview with Effie Liu of PNKYSWR
PNKYSWR was born from a musical secret 26 years ago.
Today, with “Solid Gold,” PNKYSWR’s second single released in March 2012, the digital doo wop duo of Effie Liu and David Zamora (better known as Dave Zee) are growing a bi-coastal fan base into a bona fide digital following. Fans are falling in love with Liu’s sultry vocals and playful tease, coupled with Zee’s soulful, infectious rhythms.
The secret is clearly out.
But both band members kept their musical passions closely guarded for years. Growing up in the 90s, in a conservative Taiwanese family of doctors in San Francisco, singer/songwriter Liu hid her golden voice and natural ability to learn music, and even write melodic punk songs. Private school was equally straight-laced, and frowned upon her personal expressions of unorthodox fashion and ‘different’ tunes. As Liu’s love of music grew and became apparent, so did her family’s fear of her musical aspirations.
That didn’t stop her.
“I found salvation in music because of its universal way of relating to people,” Liu explains. As a teen, she taught herself to play the guitar, and in high school sang in a pop punk band she secretly formed with friends. They got their feet wet performing in the Bay area. The group lasted three years; the future impact would be far greater.
But not before Liu would pursue take a different, more ‘stable’ path. After high school she studied at the FIDM, Los Angeles, earning degrees in fashion design and business administration. After a few years in the industry, she took time off to pursue some of her other passions, including branding and graphic design, and eventually circling back to music.
This time she consciously drew on the influences that had shaped her singing style along the way: iconic songstresses such as Ella Fitzgerald, Julie London and Sarah Vaughn. It took about five years to find the perfect partner to share her vision. In 2011, after a brief stint in an Asian girl group called TKO, and a visit to Los Angeles, she reconnected with an old friend and soon-to-be producer/songwriter Dave Zee.
Twenty-seven-year-old Zee grew up in East LA in the 90s, amidst a backdrop of violence, drugs, gangs, and religious fundamentalism. Music was an escape in a household where he lacked attention. At 13, he started DJing and collecting every kind of music he could find, prompting his eventual music partner Liu to dub him a “musical encyclopedia.” That drive quickly led to writing, recording and learning software production. While still a teen, he was part of several metal, hardcore, punk, reggae and hip hop bands.
Zee was well established in LA’s underground hip hop scene in the mid 2000s. As founder and resident DJ of the Uptown Soundclash, he also brought in notable hip hop and experimental music producers. Eventually when the charts started falling under the spell of hip hop’s shift towards glamorization, Zee started feeling nostalgic…
Two months after their fateful reunion, collaborating in LA, PNKYSWR emerged.
Blending their shared vision of retro classics with a post modern twist was the recipe for a signature sound: old school songs of love laced with new school digital technology.
Digital doo wop was born.
Their debut single “Major Player” was released in February 2012.
“Our music has a distinct sense of nostalgia to it. We want to bring back the fun of a classic soul recording, where love and loss, dedication and perseverance meant something cool,“ Zee explains.
Liu + Zee continue their bi-costal partnership, with Liu based in New York City and Zee based in LA.
Effie, it is a pleasure to meet you. Sounds like you grew up in a strict household. What career did your parents originally hope you pursued?
My parents really pushed the idea of being a doctor or lawyer since I was very young. The funny thing is even as a 5 year old, I knew I wanted to go into something creative visually or musically.
You went to school for fashion design and business administration and now run your own design company. Tell us a little about your company and can you give us some examples of your work?
I run a creative services company, Pinkbutter Creative. I took a break from working in fashion and decided to spend a little time embracing a passion of mine, graphic design and branding, that I discovered when I was still in Los Angeles. It’s been great applying that service and knowledge to the band because it just makes us that much more self-sufficient. Any time we need something in the art department done, there’s no middleman! It’s quite convenient.
You and Dave seem to mesh perfectly in attitude and style. How did you hook up with him and decide to start PNKYSWR? Did you have each other in mind all along?
Dave and I were buddies for a few years already. In fact, shortly after we first met, he DJed my birthday party. We kept seeing each other at events and got to know each other over time. Finally, when I was in LA working on some music, our mutual friend, who introduced us years ago, was like “Dude, why don’t you and Dave work together?” So then we hung out at a show and shot around some ideas, and two months later, I was back in LA to write together. We didn’t have each other in mind all along, but we definitely felt like “Where have you been my whole life?!” We are a great team and also great friends.
What was your creative process like. Who did what and how did you work so far apart?
Since we live so far apart, we are constantly emailing and calling each other. Dave makes beats and I write lyrics while I’m riding the subway around NYC. If I come up with a melody over something he sends me, I’ll record it on my phone and send it to him, and we go back and fourth until we have something we’re truly feel excited about.
One of your songs, “Major Player”, has been well received. Tell is about this track.
This song was the first single we put out. It was crazy because Dave sent me abut 30 seconds of the beat 36 hours before my second trip to work with him in LA. He was like “Just see if you can come up with something over this,” and the second I heard the beat, I was 1) obsessed, and 2) immediately had a melody. I sang it into my phone while the idea was still fresh in my head, sent it to him, and we were both like, “This is the one! This is the first single!” A few days later, we completed writing, recording and boom, it was out. The process was so incredibly fast.
Your voice is wonderfully powerful on “Solid Gold”, one of my favorites. Who would you say most influenced your singing?
Ella Fitzgerald. I grew up feeling very awkward about my voice because I knew it was lower than other grls’, even while talking. A friend’s parent commented on it once when I was around 10 years old, and I felt so embarrassed! Then I heard Ella’s voice and noticed how rich and beautiful hers was, and began to accept and embrace my own.
Have the internet and the explosion of social media affected the way you try to reach an audience or is it simply about the music?
Absolutely. With the advent of the Internet and social media came accessibility. With accessibility came the ability to do nearly everything ourselves, which in turn creates a much more hands-on way of reaching out to our audience as well as new audiences.
What future plans do you have for PNKYSWR? Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
We are playing our first show on May 3rd, at Broadway Bar, Downtown LA! Also, we are gearing up to film our first music video, so keep your eyes peeled!
Where can we go to keep updated on you and your work?
Like us at www.facebook.com/pnkyswr.
Follow us on Twitter @pnkyswr.
Listen to us and download our music at http://pnkyswr.bandcamp.com!