IN HIS OWN WORDS
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Not every pop star would refer to his career as "a little detour onto the road of music." But then, David Tao is not your typical pop sensation.
Tao burst onto the Asian music scene in 1997, winning two Golden Melody Awards in 1998 for Best Newcomer and Best Album Producer with his self-titled debut album. Since then, he has earned numerous awards throughout Asia as both a singer and producer. Though Tao has become known as "the king of Asian rhythm and blues," his most recent album, Soul Power, shows that his musical talent extends into pop, hip-hop and other genres as well. Tao's proteges, the Asian-American boy band Tension, have brought him further acclaim, as has his songwriting for other artists.
Born in Hong Kong and raised in both Taiwan and the U.S., Tao's views and music show the influence of both cultures. Here, David Tao shares his thoughts about his music, background, dreams and more with Advanced Studio Classroom writer Amy Klein.
Amy Klein: How do your childhood dreams compare with what you're doing now?
David Tao: When I was young, I never dreamed of being a musician. I was always very interested in many things and went through many phases. I've had jobs ranging from shoe salesman to one hour photofinisher to police officer. I majored in psychology and film, and after college I was planning to get into the film business. I still want to write and direct, although I've taken a little detour onto the road of music.
Your dreams change as you grow, but it's important to always have dreams and passions in life. I see a lot of people attend Ivy League schools and achieve academic excellence and then land great-paying, prestigious jobs but they are unhappy. Why? Usually because they are not doing what they enjoy. In essence, they are not fulfilling their dreams. That balance of being realistic and idealistic is very important in life.
Amy Klein: What makes it easy or difficult to have integrity in the pop industry?
David Tao: It is very difficult to maintain integrity in doing music. There is pressure from all sides to put out a product that is commercially viable yet musically innovative. However, these two things can often be at odds since the market is often slow in accepting new things. It's very easy to "sell out" and just make songs that pander to the general public, but soon you'll find your laziness catching up with you when you repeat yourself and are criticized for being out of date. If you can understand the market while still doing what you feel and love, then you should be able to find that happy medium. However, that's very difficult as you can see by how few musicians in Asia can survive for an extended amount of time.
Amy Klein: You've said you see music as a gift from God, and that your mission is to spread peace and love through your music. Could you tell us more about that?
David Tao: Music has the power to heal and destroy. Sometimes my music is angry and volatile but in the end I always want to provide solace and love through my music. It's not something I necessarily try to do but it just happens when I writelike when I wrote "Dear God." I just sat there with a guitar one day while feeling extremely depressed and then this melody came out of nowhere. At first, it was just a series of fragmented notes but later it led me to a song. It was quite amazing but I knew it was something sent from above.
Amy Klein: How have you found people perceive you as an "overseas Chinese" in the Asian pop industry?
David Tao: I have been educated in both Taiwan and the U.S. I feel like I had a great mix of both and am really a product of both cultures. I don't really know how people perceive me and, honestly, that's something I really don't think about. I just try to do what I do well and work hard at it. That's the most important thing. I try to constantly learn and educate myself about my surroundings and background because I feel it's important to know one's roots and stay true to them.
Amy Klein: How do you measure success?
David Tao: Success to me is when you can change the world for the better and become a better human being in the process. The world is full of problems and chaos, and if I can make it just a little bit happier and more hopeful, then I feel I have used my gifts from God to serve a greater purpose rather than just to glorify myself or what I'm creating. Success is when somebody comes up to me and says, "David, your music cheered me up and gave me hope in my darkest hour."
Amy Klein: If you were to do your career all over again, what would you do differently?
David Tao: I feel that everything I've done has been part of a plan. God's plan. Not everything I've done is perfect or even close to that, but I feel that I've tried to learn from my mistakes and shortcomings. I don't harbor regret. I try to move on and make changes in my life and behavior. Sometimes you just have to work your hardest and let God lead the way. I truly believe that.
David Tao: In His Own Words
Extra Interview Questions
What do you do to relax?
I enjoy driving and visiting museums very much. That's something I do quite a lot of while I'm back in L.A. I enjoy the space, the freeways and the sunshine. I enjoy racing and appreciate sports cars. I sometimes feel that I have too many hobbies because I'm so interested in so many things. I like to spend time alone since I grew up as a single child but I also enjoy hanging out with my friends since I don't get to see them often.
What three things are you most thankful for?
I'm thankful for having God in my life and that he constantly keeps me in check and leads me. I'm also thankful for all the friends, colleagues and family that are around me because I feel so loved and cared for. I also thank God for allowing me to see all of this and to be able to appreciate everything. I must admit that I have been very privileged and blessed but it's even more of a blessing to be able to see and cherish it. Some people have so much but they don't get to see it for some reason.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?
Two pieces of advice. One is that you can make anything happen if you work hard and believe. When in doubt, keep believing and work doubly hard. Don't let anyone tell you no or never. Second piece of advice is to have faith in God. Faith is hard to come by. More difficult than money, gold or power. The Bible often says, "...you of little faith..." And, yes, we are all often times of little faith. Yet when we have faith in God and let Him lead the way, we are always rewarded with more than we can imagine or ask for.
Of all the songs you've written, which is your favorite and why?
It's difficult to pick one particular song as my favorite since they each have different meanings to me. However, I am happy with "Black Tangerine" and "Dear God" as they are songs that reflect society and really express my feelings toward the world in which we live. The greatest feeling is being able to express yourself, and for me that would be through music. Technical achievements are not really a measure of success for me but rather the message I'm trying to get across. If music is trendy, popular and sonically amazing but it has no meaning then it's just a means to an end and that doesn't interest me.