Original image courtesy of Wikimedia user S Sepp
Interview by Daven McQueen
Based on their music styles, Luk Yean and Valerie Zhu are an unlikely pair. While Val identifies as more of an acoustic, singer-songwriter artist, Luk is more interested in pop and mixing music. Nonetheless, they’ve come together as “Luk and Val Make Music” and debuted their sounds as a duo on Saturday, October 15 at Gigs on the Grass.
Daven: When did each of you start making music?
Val: Well, I started playing piano at like eight, and I played until the end of middle school. And then starting from like fifth grade I was playing saxophone...yeah, I don’t know! I guess since I was eight.
Luk: I started playing piano when I was five or six, but I stopped after one year. And then I never picked up another instrument until I was fifteen. I started learning guitar, and I started learning a bit of piano on my own as well.
Daven: When did you start making music together?
Luk: It was last year. It was...originally, there were three of us, including our friend Chris, who is unfortunately very busy with CS classes. But it was originally a trio.
Val: We did a B-SIDE Coffee Haus, and yeah, it was good! We were just kinda like, jamming, before that.
Daven: How would you define your genre or style...whatever you want to call it?
Val: Mm...I don’t know! I guess for me, maybe just like...singer-songwriter? You’re more like indie-punk, or something.
Luk: I guess, like...twee-pop?
Luk: Twee-pop. It’s a thing.
Daven: How would you describe your dynamic working together?
Luk: I’d say it’s unconventional, ‘cause we have very different music styles. But that’s also what makes the music sound a little bit different, because we both approach the same song with different backgrounds and tastes.
Val: Yeah! And, I don’t know, I feel like personality-wise we’re pretty different. I’m very like woo, out there! And Luk is much more grounded. But...I don’t know, we just, like, have a good time.
Daven: That’s cool. When you work together, do you write your own music together, or...what’s your process?
Val: We write individually, and then we’ll play songs for each other and it’ll be like, oh, we like this, we like that.
Luk: Yeah, the songs we’re probably gonna play at [Gigs on the Grass] are almost four or five years old on my end. And hers are like, what, last summer?
Val: Yeah, mine are all new.
Luk: And then there’s one, like, eighties song.
Val: And then we’re doing a cover, yeah.
Daven: Nice! So who or what are the biggest influences on your music?
Luk: The Carpenters. For both of us, that’s probably one of the few bands that we both enjoy. And then for each of us, it’s very diverse.
Val: Honestly, like, when I was growing up I listened to a lot of Taylor Swift. You’re cringing right now.
Luk: No, no, Taylor Swift is great!
Val: Um, and...I think I listen to a lot of YouTube people now. I don’t know, just a lot of YouTube and indie writers. But just like, whoever.
Luk: I don’t know, I think I’m more of like...everything except YouTube people.
Luk: But you know this! So, usually just like DIY indie people.
Val: But also, I don’t know, I’ll appreciate a small thing in one person’s song, and I’ll be like, “Oh, that’s kind of cool that they did that there!” and like put it into a song. But I don’t think there’s one style or one artist.
Luk: And I’m like, listening to multiple artists at once, picking through their Spotifies.
Daven: And then the Carpenters.
Luk: And the Carpenters. They’re just universally, like, can’t really go wrong there. They’re just a good band.
Daven: Can you tell me a little bit more about the music you’ve made so far? Alone or together—or both!
Luk: Like I mentioned previously, the songs we’re playing on Saturday are songs I wrote when I was still in high school, which was a long time ago. And since then, since arriving at Brown, I’ve worked on more sample-oriented indie pop music. But it’s kind of hard to play live, which is why we’re going to play the old stuff. But that’s probably the direction I’m going to take. More standard pop instrumentation.
Val: I guess the stuff I do is a little more acoustic, not because I’m trying to be acoustic but because I don’t know how to do any of the mixing stuff that he does. So, like, all I’ve got is okay, play some piano, play some ukulele or whatever. But yeah, kind of the stuff that I can do, like, just me and an instrument.
Luk: You do three-part harmonies.
Val: Oh, okay, when I record stuff I like to do a lot of harmonies! It’s fun.
Luk: I try to as well, but then I end up not knowing how to sing them and I’m just like “Val, teach me how to sing my parts.” Harmonies are great though, just off the cuff. I don’t really pay attention to harmonies, it’s just like, if I feel like I need to have a harmony I’ll just add it in there without considering how it’s done.
Daven: So Luk, you’re studying music, right? And econ. Val, are you also?
Val: Oh, I’m studying actually biology. I know, I’m not a music concentrator.
Luk: But she’s technically much more skilled than me.
Val: That’s not true! But I think I would really like to take music classes, I think it would be great. All my friends are music concentrators so I guess I still kind of get a part of that scene.
Daven: Will Gigs on the Grass be your first big performance at Brown?
Val: Yeah! It’s the only one we have besides Coffee Haus. It’s exciting.
Daven: What other involvement have you had in the music scene at Brown?
Val: I mean, I’ve gone to a lot of performances! I went to the Folk Festival. I have played in Jazz Jams, like, once. But I always go, I go like every other week.
Luk: I’ve watched from the corner.
Val: Yeah, so a lot of audience and, I don’t know, it’s good.
Daven: Besides Chris—and each other—have either of you performed with other musicians on campus?
Val: Oh, yeah! Well I’m in the Wind Symphony, the Brown Band, I play in a saxophone quartet but it’s kind of low-key.
Daven: That explains why Luk said you’re really busy.
Luk: She’s not done yet! There’s more.
Val: What? Oh yeah, I’m also in an a capella group, [the Alef Beats]. And yeah, sometimes I’ll just jam with some friends or something. But yeah, that’s all I can think of right now.
Daven: What are your goals for your music?
Luk: Make music, make friends, and if I have time, world domination. Fair?
Luk: Only if we have time. We’re both very short on time.
Val: And I guess like, keep improving. I don’t want all my music to kinda sound the same…which, I don’t know, sometimes it happens. But I want to like the stuff that I do more and more. But also just to make a lot of music. Because sometimes you write a crappy song, and you’re like, eh, it’s there. You’ve gotta write the crappy ones before you can write the good ones, as Luk has taught me.
Daven: That’s actually all I’ve got for you! Any last things you want people to know?
Luk: This is where we need a witty quip.
Val: A witty quip...I don’t know.
Luk: Yeah, me neither. I know we should have one, I’ve got to think of one.
Val: Stay… I was gonna say “stay fresh,” but...I don’t think that should go in.
Daven: It might.