Photo of Cynthia Lin by Jason Colston
Picture yourself sitting in a dark music hall facing a small stage, sipping a fine bourbon on the rocks, perhaps smoking a Montecristo. It is the end of a long and raucous evening, and you’ve loosened your evening wear– bow tie and top button undone, or high heels kicked off and outer layers shed down to your shoulders. Tired, you are content merely to lean back and disappear among the quiet crowd.
But then, a delicately pretty woman emerges and takes the microphone, strums her guitar softly under a single spotlight, and sings with a clear voice like a musical whisper. And then, as she begins her folksy lullaby, she looks directly at you and holds your stare. You feel like she is singing to you and no one else, and your exchange – her expanding sound and your receiving silence -- meet and become an inseparable, intimate experience.
This is what it’s like to listen for the first time to Cynthia Lin’s latest CD Microscope.
I share this with Lin during our conversation, and she enjoys the compliment. She agrees that she strives for a voice that is “so full of nuance in their meaning and storytelling, [as though the singer is pouring] little secrets in your ear,” she says. “Performing live is when I’m truly in the moment, I aspire to fully embody the moment of the song, each note and lyric and emotion,” she says. “To me, a three-minute song can introduce a listener to a brand new world, and the way each listener interprets the song makes the world specific for the listener. It’s magic.”
Live onstage, however, Lin is a totally different creature. Instead of a quiet, soothing presence, she is all energy. She owns the room. She owns the entire audience. Her voice projects forcefully, her delicate frame moves in perfect timing with the music; her face is calm and smiling. Her performance appears effortless, which makes her all the more captivating to listen to and watch.
Photo by Sherry Lu
I first saw Lin live at a show hosted by RAMA, an organization founded to showcase Asian American talent which produces shows once every month at SoleSpace in Oakland, CA. After Lin’s performance, I was so moved that I approached her immediately during intermission and extended my hand, my nervousness turning my voice into a star struck squeak. To my disappointment, Lin tepidly takes my hand and looks at me like a perplexed child. “Why is this ordinary woman talking to me?” Lin seems to think. But after speaking more with her, I realize that she is somewhat shy, slow to warm up. “Strangely enough, I am only a ham on stage,” she says. “I don’t particularly like being the center of attention when it’s not related to performing. [But] I feel good when I sing, and I feel more able to share that side of myself than say small-talk with strangers.”
Lin first picked up a guitar when she was in her junior year of high school. The guitar belonged to her friend. She and her sister were singing “Love Will Come to You” by the Indigo Girls while their friend accompanied. She became hooked and, after an aunt gave Lin a classical guitar for her high school graduation, she ran with the music. Her discovery of her singing talent came at an even younger age. “I realized when I was very young, at 3 or 4 years old, that singing was comforting to me,” Lin says. “When I was scared of the dark or felt alone, I would sing to myself.” Lin had her first performance at a Little Miss Peanut Pageant at age 6, where she performed “Are You Sleeping” in English and Chinese.
Lin’s songs explore common themes like loss and longing, but often they explore human relationships and her inchoate feelings about them. When I first met Lin, the video was being premiered for her song “Microscope,” which features the chorus, “Wish I could see… what do you see in me.” In the video, Lin sings as a couple performing a modern dance routine by the “sea” envisions and enacts the elusive ebb and abstract flow of what the singer has yet to “see.” “I think for me it’s always about self-discovery,” Lin says. “Often something I’ve discovered about myself through a relationship or experience… I try to give a full picture of the highs and lows, the joys and doubts, and a life lived fully.”
These days, Lin, along with her new band The Blue Moon All Stars, is “rehearsing, cleaning up arrangements, [and] getting ready for upcoming studio recording sessions.” The Kickstarter campaign for Lin and The Blue Moon All Stars’ upcoming “Zombie Heart” video launched yesterday. Lin urges fans to contribute to the campaign to show support and also to help promote music by Asian Americans.
To support Lin and The Blue Moon All Star’s Kickstarter campaign, go to http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cynthialin/cynthia-lin-and-the-blue-....