Team Member Spotlight: Quyne
In this special blog post, I would like to welcome Quyne, our wonderful vocal coach who has been training our main actors in mastering their performances for this musical film. Quyne is a storyteller from the Bay Area who believes that social justice, world views, and imagination can be explored through the media. She will be sharing a little bit about herself along with her journey in her soon-to-be-released album “Charlie and the Storyteller.”
Q: Thank you for answering the questions I have today about your music career. I want to start off if you could provide a couple sentences about your background, that would be wonderful.
Quyne: I have grown up in a family of musicians and because of that, they have sent me to jazz camps at Stanford University and I trained with musical theater coaches Claire Hosterman and Dr. Marc Reynolds. It's just always been a part of me. It's the embodiment of my soul. I have this whole concept of "Nobody's Girl." It's all about free will and agency and that's actually kind of like, you know how Beyonce has an alter ego called Sasha Fierce? "Nobody's Girl" is my alter ego so I am Quyne, but lately, my friends have picked up the habit of calling me “Nobody’s Girl” and that's the kind of identity that I want to assert moving forward in the industry. I'm still going to be "Quyne, the artist," but it's like how Beyonce had that Sasha Fierce album.
The concept of "Nobody's Girl" is kind of like the artist's identity that I'm going to have moving forward and regardless of having a partner or a romantic partner, I'm still gonna be nobody's girl because I'm not gonna belong to my partner. I'm gonna belong to everything that is the embodiment of my soul, which is music. That's kind of where I'm coming from in terms of heart, passion, and stepping into your own power.
Q: You mentioned how you grew up in a family of musicians. What was the type of music that you got influenced by?
Quyne: Bee Gees, Eagles, Barbra Streisand, musical theatre for sure. My mom got me into musical theatre at a very early age. The first musical I fell in love with was "The Sound of Music." I actually did a whole broadway album last year where I covered songs from many different musicals including "The Sound of Music." My dad exposed me to Bee Gees, Eagles, and Barbra Streisand. Both parents also influenced those music tastes too in terms of Celine Dion and such, but the first band I ever liked as a kid was Bee Gees.
Q: How would you describe the music that you typically create?
Quyne: It's an evolution. My first album sounds nothing like me now. It's called "It's a Wacky World." It is heavily inspired by Dalton Rapattoni. He's a major influence in my writing and he still influences me now, but I don't sound anything like him. Because I was heavily influenced by him, I was trying to sound like him as well that it wasn't my true sound. That's why I'm trying to step away from "It's a Wacky World" identity because that's what the people only know me as right now. It's kind of an alternative indie album. Now "Charlie and the Storyteller'' is my upcoming album and it's just an acoustic album to get the ball rolling. There's way more content that I am working on behind the scenes that aims to assert the Nobody's Girl identity even further.
Q: Do you find it challenging to pursue a career in music? How did you overcome these challenges to continue pursuing music?
Quyne: Everyone runs through challenges in a career. It's nothing new personally. I don't feel like it's something that's gonna set me back knowing that. Honestly, determination is all you need. Not general determination, but determination to improve on your craft. You can't stay stagnant.
You can look at your work and be proud of your work. I'm personally very critical of my own work, but it's my determination that allows me to get better and better each time. I keep myself grounded, like I really get excited when my stuff gets better, but I know there are still ways to get up from here. Determination and the desire to improve and get yourself out there shows your will to fight. You can’t have a soft shell in this industry. While I’m extra critical of my own work, I definitely have my tenacity to be proud of.
Part of my resilience is likely credited to my history with mental health problems, as one can be crystallized with opposition throughout one's life. I personally have a lot of pride in terms of when I speak about mental health illness and it has helped a lot of people, and I’m lucky that it has been met with positive response. Ever since I started coming out with bipolar stories, people messaged me like, "Oh my gosh, thank you so much. I needed to hear this." And it was difficult at first to just come out with it. There were people who are also bipolar or have different forms of chronic depression or mental illnesses who have said that my stories have helped them in some way. I appreciate that. I guess having a heart of steel is not always easy. You do sometimes get discouraged. You just have to work with people that you trust who will elevate you as you elevate them. Having a good and collaborative attitude is important and again, you can't stay stagnant in this industry. You have to love being "on-the-go." That's kind of me. I don't like being in one place. I don't like being in one level of mediocrity or so.
Q: How would you describe your creative process?
Quyne: I write songs in the way that a photographer carries his camera at all times like he's walking through life with it slung around his neck at the ready. If he sees a flower, he'll capture it. If he sees a beautiful bird, he'll capture it. If he sees a beautiful woman, he'll capture her - hopefully, with consent, of course! That's the way I live life as a recording artist.
I am enamored by the things around me. I'm enamored by people, people I don't even date. I turn them into songs. Why the hell not? I'm even enamored by the aesthetic of people who I don't even know and my whole thing is just having a story. If there is something clever that comes up in conversation, I'll write it down or I'll put it in a voice note. I carry my phone and sing in little voice notes and then I go back to it later on and put it into a file or something. Sometimes the lyrics come first, sometimes the melody comes first, sometimes the music comes first. Sometimes the general concept. There's nothing I can really tell you that is at the forefront other than maybe concept, you know, because it changes every time. Sometimes a melody out of nowhere will inspire you. Other times, you'll just think of a really clever line you want to use in the lyrics.
My process is really observing and absorbing the world. Being a good listener, being observant, and also, documenting the personal things that have happened to me - "Charlie and the Storyteller" and a secret project are all about that. "It's a Wacky World" was just a bunch of fun songs I put together, but "Charlie and the Storyteller" and the secret project is my whole life story as of being 26 now, of course. My stories are going to be open-ended. They're always going to be open-ended because as long as we're living, life is open-ended. I'm just gonna keep telling stories that are open-ended until the day I die.
Q: If you could share with us about "Charlie and the Storyteller," we would love to hear that.
Quyne: All of the songs are correlated to this young man I call "Charlie." His real name is not Charlie. I dubbed him Charlie for several reasons. "Storyteller" is definitely me because like I said, I love telling stories. The reason why I call myself a storyteller is because I had another interview with a journalist and she was like, "I don't know what to put in the headlines. Is it 'Quyne, the Musician'? 'Quyne, the Singer?' 'Quyne, the Painter?' 'Quyne, the Writer?' 'Quyne, the Actress?'" Look, I do all of these things. She was like, "Ok, I should put them all in the title, right?" And I told her, "That's such a mouthful. You know? I just had an interview with 'Quyne, the Musician, Singer, Writer, Painter, Actress.'" It's just a lot and it didn't feel right; I didn't want for her to gloat on all the things that I can do. So then, I thought, there has to be something I can share with her, and I came up with "storyteller." I was like, "Yes!" Storyteller is everything that I am because whether I am painting, whether I am singing or acting, it is all to tell a story, and I have so many stories in my life that I think are worth telling not just because it's about me, but because I think it'll make people feel things.
I think people can relate to them. My whole thing is I want to make music that makes people think, music that connects to people. Connection is something that I highly emphasize whenever I write a song or whenever I want to come out with something. Connecting through that is just, you know, like I'll love compliments like, "Oh! You did really great with the singing. The high notes were really pretty." But the thing that fulfills me the most is when somebody comes up to me and says, "This made me cry because it made me think of my ex-wife." Or, "I really miss my ex-boyfriend and your song helped get me through it." I've heard comments like that and they just filled me up more than anything. So, I've really been grateful. I feel that it's a blessing to be able to connect to people like that. That's why I make music.
Going back to "Charlie, the Storyteller," it's about a very special friendship that I have for 8 years and there’s a bit of an age gap between us. He's younger than me and I called him "Charlie" because of the book "Perks of Being a Wallflower." He and I were kind of outcasts. We didn't have a very positive high school experience and we just found some kind of escape within each other and so, Charlie and Sam are very much like that. Sam from "Perks of Being a Wallflower," Sam being a senior girl, being older than him and experiencing things he hadn’t yet - that was very much kind of the scenario we were in. As I was reading the book, I was interacting with him at the same time and I was like, "Oh my god, why is this resonating so much?" It's one of those coincidences in life where you're living through life and then you're watching a movie like, "Oh my god, why? Is the universe trying to speak to me through this movie?" I felt that way with that book. Charlie and Sam being in freshman and senior in high school respectively was just one of the parallels that I saw. We were each other's escape. She was on the cusp of adulthood and because she is so stressed and pressured, because she's about to turn 18, she finds a lot of comfort in Charlie. This youthful, young boy who kind of makes her feel like she doesn't have to grow as fast. That's kind of the foundation of "Charlie and the Storyteller." "Charlie" is still one of my best friends today. We've gone through different phases of our friendship.
Personally, I feel like we’ve always loved each other, just in different ways. The feelings came and went and were mostly never reciprocated at the same time. It started out as a fun and light friendship with “Truth or Dare” Skype sessions possibly once a week or every other week. I cared about the kid a lot and eventually, I stopped calling him “kid.” It took me about three years before I finally felt a romantic pull towards him and by then, he had his first girlfriend. That was in 2015 and I decided to get over it by writing the first track, “Chasing Pixie Dust.” I brushed the crush off as a phase. Then in 2018, I ran into a situation where I almost lost Charlie. I was with an ex-boyfriend at the time. I remember feeling devastated since I had taken our friendship for granted the previous year. It kicked in how much Charlie meant to me. We were just friends, you know, kickin’ it, saying stupid things, but then I realized, “We’re not kids anymore.” And in Summer 2020, Charlie and I both go through breakups in the same month. We catch up as good old friends do but for the first time in a while, we start looking at each other differently—mutually this time. I thought to myself, “Oh my gosh, it’s actually happening.” He dreamt about it in 2012 - 2013, I’m sure, and I definitely thought about it in 2015.
Maybe one would expect for things to fall into place between you and a really close friend who understands you so much. But there was immediate friction and we didn’t know how to draw the line between friendship and the newer connotations we were introducing into our connection. It got complicated rather quickly. For the first time ever, I felt like we didn’t get along and it scared me. I cried to another friend and said, “I don’t want to lose my best friend.” Were the romantic feelings worth it at that point? I couldn’t bear it any longer so I wrote more songs to get it out of my system. Charlie and I didn’t talk for a month. He called me on my birthday to apologize and I apologized. We made up and I figured, “You know what? Let’s just exist.” Why does there need to be a line drawn between friendship and romance? Why can’t we just, you know, exist, and whatever happens happens? I’m not a fan of over-complicating things so once I got over that vulnerable period, I’ve been rather free-spirited about our connection.
Also, I refer to his hazel eyes in my lyrics. I always loved how hazel is an “in between” color - it’s either green or it’s brown or something in between. The entire story that “Charlie and the Storyteller” captures is often sandwiched between different ideas and concepts. It’s about being in between childhood and adulthood. It’s in between love and friendship, you know, taking the leap of faith. It’s a bunch of stuff relating to being at a crossroads. You can look at it as a romantic album but it’s also kind of like a coming-of-age album. There are songs that are childlike because that’s the nature of how the friendship began. And then I hint in one of the songs that sexual tension seeps through over time when two people have matured a bit. I like to think of the album as a collection of time flashes that will be perceived differently by everyone who listens to it.
I feel like a lot of people in this world are always actively looking for romance. That's great and all, but at the end of the day you can just exist with another human being - there's nothing more beautiful than that. As our story unfolded over the years, I felt like I had to write this album. I felt like it's...I don't know. When it comes to dating guys, I am so happy for people who find love through apps, but I can't do that. Like, I've dated guys on apps, but for me I'm always gonna be a sucker for a good story. Two of my ex-boyfriends, I've dated them after three years of knowing each other, but this Charlie guy, this special Charlie guy has such a deep story with me that I had to turn it into an album. It's a long story but that's how I would sum up the album.
Q: What are your future ambitions as you lead on to 2021 on the way you work with your music team?
Quyne: Ambitions...well, we wanna try to get me signed. Hopefully by the end of 2021 I get signed because there's a lot of work that needs to be done before then. That is my goal for sure.
Q: What advice would you share for upcoming artists/songwriters who are inspired by your music and want to follow into your footsteps?
Quyne: Ha ha, I'm not where I want to be yet. Let's see...stand by your gut. Stand by your spirit. Before you stand by who you are, know who you are. I've come out with stuff before that I'm no longer proud of because I didn't know who I was. The more that I knew who I was, the more that I was able to really let my identity seep through my music. Once I had a very strong identity, I stood by it. Knowing yourself brings you an amount of confidence and then once you do that in front of people, stick by it. Be determined and fight for it. Realistically speaking, you have to be aware that this is a tough industry and you need to be tough yourself. That's why I’m emphasizing, "Know who you are. Stand by who you are once you know who you are."
Q: You were mentioning earlier about your mental health and how it was challenging. When you began sharing it with people, they found a lot of wisdom and connection from what you have mentioned before. Knowing that the industry is a tough game, how does understanding your mental health and catering to it allow you to become the person that you are today?
Quyne: So here's another reason why I'm inspired by Dalton Rapattoni, not just his songwriting style, but he's also bipolar like me. I met him a couple years ago. It was him coming out that inspired me to come out as well. The more people he inspired, it's kind of like a ripple effect. He inspired me and hopefully, we can just keep the chain going. Now other bipolar kids have said that about him too as well, like, "Oh my gosh, you inspired me to come forward," and then like, the more of us that come forward, the more of us out there will feel connected about being bipolar or having mental illness. We're all not alone here.
Because of his influence on me, I saw that he had a grounded family and I think like one way to just deal with it is to stay grounded, have a good support system, yeah. It's helpful to have good doctors, too. Another person who inspired me is my brother. He has autism. He used to see it as a weakness. One moment he was like, "You know what, it's actually my greatest asset, because I have struggled in a different way than other people and I've learned different kinds of lessons that I take so much value from."
Of course, what keeps me going is my art, too. That's the thing. It sounds tortured, you can use your pain to really feel your art, but I will give another piece of advice. Before you release anything, use your pain, use your sadness, use your anger - the negative, the positive. Even the positive emotions, because you can feel super high and elated and it may be unrealistically high. Use all of your extreme emotions, pour it into your music, but don't drop it just yet. You might tell yourself, "This is the greatest work I've ever done" because you're on such a high. You have to let it marinate because sometimes, let's say you're angry and you write a song that you regret about a person. I did, I wrote a song about Charlie because I was angry at him about the stuff that happened between us. I called the song, "I Regret Writing This." That's the thing. The real reason why this album is a thing at all because I wrote that song and then we made up. I thought I needed to write an apology. I ended up writing not just one apology song, but the entire album is essentially an apology. You can write songs when you're angry, but don't release them. Ha ha, yeah, just don't.
Q: With that in mind, what is the best advice that you have been given?
Quyne: I've been given so much good advice. It wasn't advice directly from the person who told me, but it is a good quote. It is, "Hard work beats talent, but talent doesn't work hard." I 100 percent believe this and I continue to work hard.
As much as I am standing by my identity when I am talking to you right now, I'm still hard on myself. I'm still insecure about a lot of things about my music and my talent and my artistry. I know who I am and I stand before you with all my flaws, but I stand by myself very strongly. That's because of the hard work that I put into it. As a vocal coach, I already teach with this philosophy in mind. I wasn't born with the voice that I have now. For certain, my students weren't born with the voice that they could have. I think that anyone can sing. Anyone can become a recording artist. You just have to really work to do it.
There are just moments where you have to be realistic. Let's say you're actually not good at it. You have to know that. You have to keep yourself at check. There are people who want this really, really desperately, but they have to ground themselves. You know those people in American Idol where they're on there and Simon Cowell says, "You suck. Get out."? And they're just like, "You don't know what you're missing out on. I am the greatest person ever." But in reality they suck. You have to know when you suck, which is why I'm always keeping myself in check.
If you're shut down, don't take it as something that's working against you. That's just a sign for you to keep working. There's a reason why you're not meeting the standards. You have to be humble and accept that. That means you should work harder. If you have the talent, talent is not gonna take you far as hard work is, and hard work is what propels you to move forward.
Q: If there are any last words you would like to share to the audience, what would it be?
Quyne: This is regarding all of my works moving forward. I'm basically copying what I wrote in my album for the secret project. The greatest journey that anyone can go through this life is to be humble. That's the best advice! Now that I think about it, that's the best advice I've ever gotten! That was a moment of epiphany for me to hear that from an old friend: the greatest journey that anyone can go through life is to be humbled, and we're born with this innocence and happiness in life. We continue to be innocent as children, but you know, I guess learning the reality of the world and learning the reality within yourself is so important.
Everyone's a little messed up. I stand before you and I'm telling you, I'm messed up. I have reasons to tell you why I am a messed up human being, but I also have reasons to tell you that I'm a fantastic human being as well. Admitting that, it makes me feel even more confident than trying to not tell you that I'm messed up. For me, this journey started from my time living in San Francisco. No matter the romances I encountered on the way while looking for love, I ended up being content with just becoming nobody's girl but my own. That's why we're going back to this concept of "Nobody's Girl." I continue to embark on this journey because I never want to stop evolving and I want to stay true to myself. It's not easy to face the darkest parts of yourself, but I became the brightest part of myself as a result. My works moving forward are going to be: "Here are my ugly truths for all of you to see and it is within these ugly truths that make me a beautiful human being." I see myself as that and I hope that people see themselves in that way too. That's my way of empowerment.
FOAEM readers, thank you all for your continued support in our production. We want to thank Quyne who had taken her time to share her story with us today. Quyne will soon release her new album “Charlie and the Storyteller'' on January 31st, 2021. Be sure to follow Quyne through her links at https://linktr.ee/quynemariah. She also teaches singing lessons online where you can sign up here at https://www.quynfinity.com/singinglessons.
Until then, we look forward to sharing more stories of the creative team members in the future. Thanks everyone!
Moderator: Anh Le
Transcription: Anh Le
Photo courtesy of Quyne