Artist Spotlight: mui zyu

    mui zyu is the solo project of Eva Liu, who was born in Northern Ireland to Hong Kong parents and is now based in London. She is also a member of the art-rock trio Dama Scout alongside Danny Grant and Luciano Rossi, the latter of whom serves as a co-producer on mui zyu’s first full-length, Rotten Bun for an Eggless Century, which is out today. When we talked to the band last year around the release of their debut LP, get wo lai (come with me), Liu explained that, although she grew up listening to a lot of Cantonese pop from the ’70s and ’90s, she didn’t fully embrace her heritage until she started making her own music, which made a conscious effort to combine her diverse influences.

    The new album feels like a natural evolution from 2021’s a wonderful thing vomits, drawing from her love of video game soundtracks and fusing traditional Chinese instruments with warped, dreamy electronics while delving deeper into Chinese folklore and her relationship with family and identity. Some songs reach towards swirling transcendence, others scan more like an intentional glitch; they’re split between a world of sorcerers and witches and what she calls a “kitchen sink reality” of collaged memories, including voicemails from both her dad and mum. Its fantastical journey isn’t a means of escape so much as immersion, and as eerie and disorienting as it can feel, Liu imbues the atmosphere with gentle, comforting melodies and words that never fail to envelop. 

    We caught up with mui zyu for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about the concept behind Rotten Bun for an Eggless Century, the development of the project, merging the fantastical and the mundane, and more.

    When you started putting together Rotten Bun for an Eggless Century, did any of the ideas run alongside what you were working on with Dama Scout, or did you intentionally keep the two projects separate?

    With get wo lai (come with me), like I had mentioned to you before, I was exploring a lot about my Chinese heritage, and I felt like I had processed a lot of things and was in a good place with it. But then there was a lot of other things happening in the past few years, particularly hate crimes towards East and Southeast Asian people, and that led me to delve even deeper into a lot of things to do with my Chinese heritage. It also brought a lot of people from these backgrounds together to share their stories and provide support and go about creating positive change, and that unleashed a whole other side to my songwriting. It just naturally continued to pour out. With the EP, that’s kind of what I had touched on, but I see the album as a sort of closure of all of that. The listener is taken on this journey, and at the end of the album there’s a cathartic release.

    I get the sense that the Dama Scout album, despite being a group project, came more from a place of introspection and looking into your past, whereas this record emerged from a need for community and connection.

    Yeah, the Dama Scout album is probably more coming from the perspective of someone who felt quite alone or isolated. As a continuation of that, having been a part of these amazing communities, and also exploring further into my Hong Kong heritage – my parents moved to Hong Kong in 2019, and I was feeling quite far away from them, so I was making even more of an effort to connect with them. It was probably more of a positive approach.

    Can you share more about your involvement in these communities?

    During the pandemic, when there was a lot of hate crime towards East and Southeast Asian people, these communities naturally formed – not with any sort of specific goal in mind, it was just more coming together and being there for each other. The more people joined, the more we all shared as a whole. All of our different experiences, particularly people who had grown up in a Western society and having to juggle different cultures, like myself. Growing up in a Chinese household, at times I’ve had to live above a Chinese restaurant, or I’ve had to deal with a lot of things at school that I didn’t quite understand until a lot later; being part of these communities, having shared these stories and realizing that you’re not the only one, and that times when you often blamed yourself for certain things happening is not your fault, and that certain things like microaggressions that you thought weren’t real are real. Learning new ways to deal with past experiences.

    In particular with ESEA Sisters, we came together in environments where it was a very safe space and we had, like, healing circles and sessions where we were able to talk about experiences of racism or certain traumas. It’s been very empowering hearing other people’s stories and having each other’s support. We even started a Mahjong group. Growing up, I felt very much resentful of my background, and now I’m fully embracing it. I play Mahjong like every week, with a community who are also learning and are also in the same place in their journeys as well.

    At the beginning of the process, did you already have a firm idea of what the album was going to evolve into, in terms of the story or the sound that you wanted to bring forward?

    The themes I think I hadn’t planned, but I guess I kind of knew it was shaping that way, in terms of exploring identity and processing everything that was happening. I didn’t think it would be wholly about that, it just sort of naturally came together that way. But I did have this idea quite early on of the listener being taken through a journey through this central character, this role-playing video game sort of concept. And also touching on elements of fantasy and folklore – that was definitely something I had in mind as well quite early on. I was reading a lot of Chinese folklore at the time, particularly Pu Songling’s short stories. It’s very fantastical and surreal in terms of the imagery he writes about. I wouldn’t say it’s horror, but it’s very eerie. I wanted something like that, that was a bit unnerving. I was also around this time immersing myself in a lot of video games – I particularly love open-world video games – and I was combining all these things that I was absorbing and wanted to build my music around that concept. And it fit quite well because what I was writing about is my journey, my own identity, although the character that is part of the album is not me. I want it to be whatever the listener can relate to it to; it can be anything, but at times it probably is just me.

    Was it challenging to tread that balance when you were writing around the protagonist?

    By having a character to build around, it sort of made it easier to write. I feel like if I was writing completely from my perspective, it would have been a lot more of a draining process. Having a figure to write through and as if it’s their experience, it made it more interesting, like you can manipulate it in different ways. But also, it made me live through this character as opposed to just completely tearing myself apart. [laughs]

    How about the metaphor of the rotten bun? Was it a case where you had the song and it turned into the album title, or did you have the idea and built the album around that?

    The song came first, and I just loved the imagery of the rotten bun being the rotten heart of this warrior. But also, I gravitated a lot toward imagery that related to food because food was a big part of my life and a huge part of my culture. It’s something I’ve been connecting with more with my dad now that he lives so far away. He was a restaurant owner and it’s his passion, like he really gets animated when he talks about food. Using imagery around food is definitely a big part of how I write. Rotten Bun for an Eggless Century came together from seeing all the track names together – for some reason those words stuck out to me, and it sounded like it could be a video game name or the name of a folk story.

    It’s a great title, and also pretty absurd.

    Yeah, that’s something that I love to marry in my music – things that are a bit strange, but also maybe sound beautiful. I definitely strive for absurdity every so often.

    You talked about leaning into fantasy, but in the same way that you manipulate traditional and modern instrumentation, you also blend the fantastical with the everyday. One of my favorite lines is from ‘Demon 01’, where you sing, “I call all my friends/ This afternoon/ Holding all our hands/ With super glue.” As you were exploring otherworldly, eerie sounds and stories, what kept you grounded in these human moments?

    I guess I wanted to bring it back down to Earth, in a sense, and make the listener realize it’s reflective of society to some extent. It also goes back to me liking to merge things that don’t necessarily fit together, and I think that’s something I always naturally gravitate towards. With ‘Rotten Bun’, the lyric “The sorcerers and witches who doubt themselves,” it’s mixing these fantastical characters, but they also have very normal problems – they also are burning out over, I don’t know, casting too many spells or something. [laughs] I liked playing around with that idea. Like I mentioned, I wanted it to reflect real experiences as well; that’s why I included things like field recordings mushed into this expansive world.

    Why did you decide to include those field recordings?

    As I was writing, I was reflecting on a lot of past experiences and different sounds from growing up. One that I often talk about is growing up above my dad’s restaurant when I was a kid, when I did my homework or when I was trying to get to sleep, hearing people dining downstairs or the kitchen noise or the smashing of the woks was really comforting to me. I’m one of those people who can’t sleep without sound, so I’ll sometimes have music or some sort of noise in the room as I good to sleep. I don’t know if that’s because since I was a kid I’ve always had noise around me. When we eventually moved out of the restaurant, I would sometimes fall asleep to my dad coming back from work and he’d be cooking up some noodles, or my family would get together and play Mahjong. And the sound of the tiles – people are like, “How did you fall asleep to that?” But I found it really soothing. The more I was thinking about that and about these sounds, I did think it’d be cool to capture that in some way in the songs, even though most of them you can’t really hear, it’s processed or quite manipulated. Also, I had my dad read a recipe –

    That’s definitely not very hidden.

    Yeah, that one’s pretty obvious. Like I mentioned before, I bonded with my dad a lot over making food, and he would often send me voice notes – actually, both my parents send me voice notes because I think they find typing too slow. [laughs] Sometimes I’ll text my dad and it’ll say “Typing…” for like 10 minutes and it’ll just be a really short sentence. But when it’s a whole recipe or instructions on how to make something, he’ll just dictate it on a phone. I really cherish those audio notes, and I felt like it needed to be on the album. It’s a specific recipe that I asked him to explain – he didn’t actually send that to me before. Because usually he’d just be walking around the house or on the street, but this one, he sat down and put on this formal voice. I don’t know where the recipe come from, but it’s apparently a Hong Kong way of making a fried egg. It’s called Ho Bao Daan, which technically means purse, like a little purse egg. But I also liked that imagery of the little pocket being like an inventory bag in a game.

    When it came to collaborating with your bandmate Lucci for the album’s production, how was the dynamic different from working together in Dama Scout?

    When I start mui zyu, I didn’t really have any kind of intention to build anything from it. I was writing a lot around 2020, 2021, just putting all these loose ideas together. And Lucci helped me materialize a lot of my ideas and putting it into Logic. I think with this project, the ideas are already quite visualized, and I knew exactly what I was going for. With Dama Scout, we were all in the room together, writing together, and experimenting with different sounds. To be honest, my experience of being in Dama Scout has empowered me and also helped me be a better musician and songwriter. My approach to songwriting and making sounds has definitely improved a lot through being in a band with Danny and Lucci. I feel very lucky to be working with Lucci again. He’s such a good producer, and I feel like him and I gel really well together. I feel like he knows exactly what I’m trying to achieve. I think we mentioned last time when we were talking about the ‘emails from suzanne’ video, Danny was working a lot with 3D, so it’s been amazing having him involved with visuals as well.

    You mentioned closure earlier, and the last part of the record includes two different kinds of goodbyes: to lost loved ones on ‘Paw Paw’, and to a more internal darkness on ‘Eggless Century’. Does releasing the album add to the catharsis that came with writing these songs?

    Yeah, I think that definitely adds to the closure and the purging of everything that I went through in that time. It definitely feels like, as cheesy as it sounds, I’m ready to move on to the next chapter. I’m already putting together new music that I feel is already a new – not necessarily sound, but approach to my writing.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    mui zyu’s Rotten Bun for an Eggless Century is out now via Father/Daughter Records.

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