In China, musician hits all the right notes

Updated: 2013-03-11 13:25

By Ji Xiang (China Daily)

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In China, musician hits all the right notes

Steven Summerstone knows he has to stand out to attract an audience. Provided to China Daily

Steven Summerstone believes the young people of Beijing are not so different from their counterparts in his native United States. The musician says this is a refreshing aspect of Beijing's contemporary international appeal, and it helps to explain the local appetite for his music.

"Performing and recording in China," he says, "has allowed me to express myself in all the strange, uncomfortable, and brave ways I was too scared to before.

"Currently I am sitting on 32 new songs and should have around 50 by May," he adds. "With this material I plan on releasing a new album in the fall."

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"Deficit spending, wars, and endless social programs have robbed young people of a lot of opportunity in the US and I have tried to capture the rightful frustration young people have while offering a solution: uplifting music and self-exploration."

Summerstone first came to China in 2011 summer, and settled in Beijing after six months of living in various Chinese cities and getting a feel for the music scene.

"I saw Chinese society as a place teeming with life, smells, sounds, sights and opportunity. What struck me most was the day-to-day economic freedom that the average person has in this region. I was eager to embrace this spirit of commerce and entrepreneurship," he says.

"The music scene in Beijing is burgeoning and there's a lot of drive in young Chinese people to be exposed to new culture and ideas from a Western perspective," he says.

He wants to express peace, understanding, and compassion while emphasizing the idea that life is exciting and vibrant. He finds that his Chinese audience seems to comprehend this better than their US counterparts and he appreciates this reception.

"Chinese listeners are quickly able to pick up on whether a song is heartfelt or not. This is not a skill American listeners have. Americans marvel at pomp and circumstance even if there's no soul underneath it all," Summerstone says.

Still, he knows he has to stand out to attract people.

"My competitive edge is genuinely uplifting and advanced songwriting," he says. "My original songs contain lyrics that haven't yet been experienced in the mainstream and they're packaged in a fun mix of funk, Western, pop and rock. Listeners come out to have fun and I'm here to honor that hope. I expect to put on a great show, every show, and to put my heart out there for the listeners."

His music evolved somewhat after his move to China - and it may evolve again soon. He's pondering a new move later this year: moving to Alaska to work and live at a sled-dog lodge.

Summerstone is 26 and has been writing music since he was 10, and performing live since he was 15 in the US' Pacific Northwest. He says he was fortunate enough to have been mentored by some very special musicians as he was growing up, and they kept his music pragmatic and grounded.

Some legends have been an inspiration for him. "I first felt love for music when I listened to the records of Gordon Lightfoot and Bruce Springsteen when I was a small boy. The truth they spoke about their lives inspired my imagination and fed my inner creativity," he says.

"Sad music is all the rage in the US and I have found that being in the booming economies of Asia has geared my music to a happier and lighter mood," says Summerstone. "Chinese musicians are highly technical in their seemingly simple approaches to instrumentation, so I have had to up my game as a musician and continue to develop my ear."

The greatest hope he holds for his time in China? That he can inform new listeners that not all Westerners are seeking to take advantage of others. "There is so much to be said about win-win interactions that I have had with Chinese nationals, especially those who have been gracious enough to employ me based on my merits, not my skin color," he says.

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