INTERVIEW: Minhy Talks Music Videos, Sleep and Quantum Entanglement
Before we start, Minh explains that she has just recovered from COVID. “Sorry if I cough,” she sighs, gripping a glass of water. Yet, COVID was kinder to Minh than most. Whilst other artists lost momentum, Minh was at her most productive. Endless lockdowns allowed Minh to focus on music – a passion she had hidden for twenty-seven years.
Previously, Minh considered music an impossible career. “It always seems the arts are an alternate route,” she muses, “I watched the Spice Girls on TV and they looked so heroic… so unreachable.” Minh’s parents fled from Vietnam to Australia during the Vietnam War. Their attitudes may have influenced Minh. “Asian cultures encourage their kids to enter stable jobs like medicine or engineering,” she explains. Yet, Minh doesn’t resent her parents: “Refugee parents want that kind of stability for their kids.”
Nevertheless, Minh pushed for a career in design. For years, her career thrived. However, at twenty-seven, she started questioning her decision. “I got to a point where I wasn’t learning anymore,” she explains. There was another reason too. “I was reading articles about people on their deathbed and the regrets they had”, she adds sombrely, “Most people regretted what they hadn’t done.” Thus, she took a leap. “It was a big decision but it felt right,” she declares, “I didn’t want to get to my deathbed and regret not having tried.”
Whilst I admired Minh’s courage, her family’s reaction intrigued me. “I had to prime my parents a few weeks before the decision,” she admits. She remembers becoming philosophical. “You’ve only got one life and you have to make the most of it,” she told her parents. In the end, they were “surprised but supportive.” After all, Minh had always sought creativity. Perhaps this was just the next evolution in her creative journey. As for Minh’s partner, he gave Minh the courage to pursue her dreams. “My partner was going through a self-development phase as well,” she confesses.
I ask Minh whether music was always in the back of her mind. “Probably way in the back of my mind,” she laughs. Yet, clues were dotted everywhere. “I would always have music playing”, she admits, “I listened to music as inspiration for my designs.” Even at school, there were signs. “My design projects at high school were music related,” she reminisces, “I designed CD covers and merch.”
"You've only got one life and you have to make the most of it."
Minh found that music’s relationship with design functions in reverse. “I studied industrial design,” she explains, “a big principle we learnt was form follows function.” What does this mean? Basically, “you don’t just design something to be pretty.” This directs Minh’s songwriting: “I always start with the core message of the song.”
Minh’s methodical approach is the secret to her success. Talking to Couch Mag, she outlined her process: “I often start with journaling. I do one page of ‘stream of consciousness writing’. Then, I jump straight onto the piano and let my fingers find chords that feel good. Next, I set ten minutes on the timer and improvise melodies on top of the chords.”[i] Now, she explains how she discovered this method. “I learnt this technique from a songwriting teacher,” she clarifies. Structure and discipline mean Minh need not rely on intuition nor mood. “Sometimes it doesn’t work if my mind is preoccupied but, most of the time, I get something out of it.”
Before songwriting, Minh dabbled in production, composition and sound design. “Music was a big mystery,” she explains. However, writing songs was what grabbed her. “When I saw how songs were written, that was a real ‘aha’ moment for me,” she confesses, “It opened a door for me to express myself.” Before that, Minh struggled to communicate her feelings. “Songwriting became a healing practice,” she admits.
Nevertheless, Minh hardly abandoned design. Indeed, the ‘Dead of the Night’ music video won countless prizes including Best Music Video at the Los Angeles and New York Film Awards. I ask her why music videos are important to her. “When I was little, I watched music videos all the time,” she remembers. Then, she stops. “You’re young, right, you’ve never had a VCR player?”. I think back to that tragic day when our barely functioning VCR player finally died right before the end of Snow White. “I did once,” I say gingerly. She continues, “My dad taught me how to record on our VCR player. I used to record music videos so I could watch them at any time. I was obsessed.” For Minh, music is inherently visual. “When I’m working with my producer, visuals will come to me,” she reveals, “I’ll say, ‘this sounds dark’ or ‘this sounds like an abandoned warehouse.’”.
Minh’s producer is SB90. “That’s his cool name,” jokes Minh, “He’s called Stu.” Working with a producer was supposed to help Minh learn the ropes. “But, man, he was super-fast,” she laughs, “I didn’t want to stop the flow.” Minh’s design experience permeates everything she does: “Because I’m a designer, I prepared a brief for him…. Like a PowerPoint.” She stops herself. “It sounds so control freak!”, she exclaims. Nevertheless, she justifies herself: “I like to prime Stu so he can be creative.” Yet, Minh also gives him space. “He’s an expert. I want him to bring his expertise to this”, she nods respectfully.
‘Dead of the Night’ was Minh’s first single. A throwback to Minh’s university days, the lyrics describe staying up to finish a creative project. I delve a little deeper. “At the beginning, it’s about feeling lonely. You’re staring at a blank canvas about to start an art project.”, she responds, “The muse comes. It hits you and then you’re in the flow state.”
Is Minh still a night owl? “It’s a curse”, she admits, “my body clock is way out of whack.” Nevertheless, Minh’s nocturnal lifestyle has produced two bangers thus far. Perhaps, it’s not such a curse after all. “Something just happens at midnight. They call it the witching hour,” she notes, “There are no distractions. You have that time to yourself.”
Minh discovered I Heart Songwriting Club through Facebook. “I joined just as COVID hit,” she reveals, “It kept me busy.” How couldn’t it? Every week, Minh would receive a prompt. Members would then share feedback using the community website. “I wrote forty songs in forty consecutive weeks,” she declares, stunned.
How vital does she think the club has been? “It helped me hone my skills and kept me sane,” she divulges, “It forced me to be creative.” Now, with lockdowns lifted, she wants to take her music to the next level. “I joined the club’s mentorship programme”, she explains. By enrolling, she hopes to navigate the “crazy world” of the music industry.
One prompt was quantum entanglement: “a strange scientific phenomenon where two particles are so intimately linked, what happens to one affects the other, even if separated by billions of light-years of space[ii].”This seems an unusual prompt. “It’s so random!”, Minh laughs. Nevertheless, this stimulus gave birth to Minh’s second single, ‘Entangled’.
Combining arts and sciences is fascinating. I ask Minh whether she thinks it works. “Science is so measured… the arts are so intuitive”, she argues. Yet, Minh finds inspiration within its logic and reason. “I saw [quantum entanglement] as a metaphor for love – being so deeply connected with someone that individual identity is lost and replaced with something more than the sum of its parts.”[iii]
Despite Minh’s insistence that art and science are opposites, to me, design is a crossroads between the two. Does Minh agree? “Maybe you're right,” she concedes, “Fine art is intuitive and expressive, whilst design is calculative.” Perhaps, Minh is more scientific than she thought. “Designs often serve a purpose,” she admits, “Because designs involve humans, you must consider human psychology and anatomy”. Nevertheless, she stresses design’s creativity. “It’s not as scientific as engineering”, she declares determinedly.
“Even if it’s not engineering, medicine or accounting, this pathway is fulfilling; it has allowed me to grow and pushes my potential”.
When Minh’s parents fled Vietnam, her sister was two-years old. Under the Communist regime, homes and wealth were confiscated. Minh’s parents doubted their daughter would receive an education. With no clear future in Vietnam, they travelled to Australia. Minh claims this journey inspires her music. I ask her how. “It drives me to live a full life,” she clarifies, “my way to honour my parents is to live a life that makes me happy.” Minh wishes to exploit the opportunities her parents have given her: “Even if it’s not engineering, medicine or accounting, this pathway is fulfilling; it has allowed me to grow and pushes my potential." "The arts play a huge role in shaping society," Minh insists.
All that’s left to discover is what’s next for Minhy. “I’m heading back to the studio with Stewart to produce an EP,” Minh reveals. What about live shows, I ask? “No live shows as yet,” she admits, “I’ll try some open-mics first.” Nevertheless, Minh played her first gig two weeks ago. APRA AMCOS (the music regulation body in Australia) invited Minh to perform at their songwriting conference. There is no doubt that exciting things are in store for Minhy…
‘Dead of the Night’ and ‘Entangled’ are on all streaming services.