In Conversation: Simu Liu

"There needs to be a tenderness to it..."

Hollywood star Simu Liu talks to Clash about his debut EP, ‘Anxious-Avoidant’, being inspired by Taylor Swift and yearning for representation in the Asian American community. 

Simu Liu is best known for his starring roles in Hollywood blockbusters such as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings or as Ken in Barbie, but now the Chinese-Canadian is taking on his most challenging role to date.

The Marvel star marks the beginning of his journey into music with his debut EP, ‘Anxious-Avoidant.’ His music is deeply personal and honest as he lays his emotions bare and tackles everything from love and sex to heartbreak and depression.  

Clash: Has music always been a passion project for you?

Simu Liu: Definitely! As an actor, you don’t always have the full amount of control over the script and the story that you want to tell. You have a certain amount of control over a character, but that’s typically someone else’s story. The motion picture lifecycle is that you’ll shoot something and then you see it a year later. By then you’re almost in a completely different season of life and you get to look back on this and be like, “those were the decisions and choices I made back then.”

With music, what’s been really gratifying is that you get together with the right songwriter and producer and the song just births right before your eyes in a studio. It’s the most incredible feeling, especially for an artist who’s so conditioned to see that long lifecycle. It’s really gratifying to be able to make music and to make songs about things that you’re feeling in the moment and these emotions, heartbreak and pain and then to see it assemble so quickly.

You said in a conversation with John Cena that “Music has allowed you to find what you love, and share it with the world.“ How does it feel to share your passion with the world?

The entertainment industry, it’s all storytelling. Whether it’s in film, publishing a novel or you’re making music, it’s all different ways to tell a story. What music allows you to do is tell something that’s so deeply personal and deeply intimate and then distill those deep personal thoughts and forge them into something that can be shared with the world and that other people can listen to and connect to. 

My EP is only four songs but I hope that when it comes out, each song speaks to a different relationship or a different story. “Don’t” in particular is about anxiety, self-esteem and imposter syndrome and I hope that these are all things that anyone can listen to and connect to.

You are a successful actor but how does it feel to start this new journey as an artist?

Excited and nervous is how I would best describe it. What’s been really key is to just remind myself not to have an ego when it comes to this. That’s a fairly difficult thing to ask of me. When it comes to music, I have to be very aware of what I don’t know and what I don’t understand and the learning curve that I have ahead of me. It has been a journey of joy and of discovery, those things far outweigh the other parts you could say are the potential negatives.

The songs in the EP represent different emotions and situations in your life… did you want to reflect this through different styles and showcasing versatility to match?

I wanted to be very cognizant of age because music can feel young and when you’re not as young and you’re trying to put out young music, it tends to feel very dissonant. First of all, I wanted a sound that was age appropriate, or appropriate to my soul. I wanted the songs to come from someone who has been through a lot. It’s not about puppy dog love. It’s not about being 18 and experiencing something for the first time. 

If it’s a song about heartbreak, then it’s heartbreak from the lens of somebody who’s seen it before, with a tinge of maturity. “If It’s Time” is a heartbreaking song, it’s devastating, it’s about the death and the end of a relationship. There’s an underlying wisdom to it that comes with age or some sort of maturity. I wanted those elements to be present in all of  my music. 

I wanted all four songs in their own way to feel extremely intimate, whether it was an intimate breakup song or an intimate song about getting over someone or starting a relationship. There needs to be a tenderness to it and that speaks to where I’m at artistically and what I wanted to convey.

Your EP is coming out, will you perform live shows alongside this?

In terms of imposter syndrome and feeling scared, nervous and underprepared…singing live is at the pinnacle of all of that. But I’ve always been the type of person to jump if I see a cliff I jump and I figure out what I’m going to do on the way down.

Earlier on in the year, one of my friends AJ Rafael went on tour and he brought me along to be a guest on some of the shows. I was able to sing my songs live for the very first time in front of an audience which I deeply appreciated and absolutely loved. That whet my appetite to do something bigger. 

I saw you were at the Taylor Swift Eras Tour premiere, how inspiring was that to see a show on such a huge scale?

Yeah, really incredible. I don’t know that I’ll ever get there because I was also born in 1989 and Taylor has done a whole lot more with her 34 years than I have. She will go down in history as one of the most talented songwriters of our time. It is inspiring.

Having a partner that works in music and feels as passionately as she does about music, it’s wonderful to tap into that passion inside of me as well having been exposed to it so much. I’ve been to more concerts this year than I ever had in my entire life. I’ve really just opened myself up to the music side of me and it’s been really wonderful.

‘Anxious-Avoidant’ EP is out now. Catch Simu Lui live in Los Angeles on December 13th at the iconic Hotel Café.

Words: Adam Davidson

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