photos / Ellyn Jameson
story / Chloe Robinson
Stunningly chilling and magnetizing, Jett Kwong releases the compelling visuals for her single entitled “Away”. The track features haunting vocals, glimmering entrancing synths and layered guzhung, an ancient Chinese string instrument. “Away” details the examination of the mundanity and frustration we experience working towards our aspirations. There’s a monotony that comes with facilitating creativity and Kwong understands that feeling all too well. She sings, “Time is my only coin, I spend to earn my keep. Carving away at my dreams, just to make ends meet”.
The video, set in somber tones of grey and black, is a representation of mindlessly chugging away at trivial tasks in order to pursue a passion that truly drives you. It depicts people on their devices just going through the motions. Kwong has a rope around her neck illustrating a feeling of suffocating, irritated by the everyday grind.
Born in Denver, Colorado artist Kwong was introduced to singing at just five years old. Since then, she has gone on to perform and teach around the globe, charming audiences at venues from Shanghai to Berlin. Kwong found her home in Los Angeles, where she continues to showcase her evocative voice and Chinese guzheng music. I chatted with Jett Kwong about her all female crew, distinctive musical style and more.
I understand your video production utilizes women from all different backgrounds, why is it important to you to have a majority female and Asian American cast in this video?
Visibility in and of itself is important, especially in ways that aren’t pigeon-holing people. It is equally as important to have different kinds of people behind the scenes and in the decision making process. I don’t believe that anyone can’t tell any story, meaning I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with say a white man directing an Asian woman. However, I do believe that there is no such thing as an unbiased opinion or eye, and certainly our experiences as who we are inform our decisions and the way we go about the world.
In telling stories of women, Asian Americans, queer communities, etc., the feeling of the work created is changed by having people of similar backgrounds involved. The effect may be abstract sometimes, or very apparent. I’m very interested to see how content of all kinds change with the participation of historically undermined voices.
I noticed in the “Away” video there is black goo melting off the tablet and computer, what is the significance of that visual?
Yes the black goo…! This was one of the original details that emerged over a year ago when I was conceptualizing the video. For me, it encapsulates the feeling of toxicity that emanates from our devices in form of news, social media, and wasted time. It also symbolizes the literal poison and waste we humans contribute to the environment. Anything in excess can become poisonous.
Within your music there are multi-faceted soundscapes employing a unique sound of the guzheng, have you always been inspired by sounds of your culture?
Yes, though not always in obvious ways. I’ve been surrounded by endlessly interesting stories from my mainly Cantonese family, and over the years I’ve enjoyed wondering about the details and creating romanticized versions in my head. Each step I take is informed by those visuals and stories, in literal but mostly subtle ways. The guzheng is an instrument that I took to – and it just so happens it carries many centuries of Chinese history within it.
What was your experience like preforming at the prestigious Carnegie Hall?
Well, I was extremely ill and had lost my voice… so I am very much looking forward to the next opportunity! Maybe next time I can arrange my songs for an orchestra… give me a few years and I’ll make it happen!
I know you’re empowered by issues surrounding women’s rights such as social and political reform, what would you say is an issue that speaks to you the most?
There are so many topics to care about and work towards, aren’t there? Education reform, equality in the workplace, agency over our own bodies, environmental action, and an overhaul of our legal system are at the forefront of my mind lately. I think we’re seeing the beginning of change – there are far more women in positions of power and visibly, who will in turn make decisions for the greater whole of society. But these things take time, and I do believe deep changes require a generation or two (or more) to set in.
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