Sound Check: T.Wong

Singer/songwriter T.Wong hails from Columbus, Ohio. His biggest musical influences —Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Jill Scott and John Legend, and his musical and gospel upbringing have translated through T.Wong’s music to create uplifting spiritual mantras.

T.Wong is gearing up to release his first single of 2015, and will release his full album, Journey, in May. SoulTrain.com spoke to the rising artist about his upcoming project.

SoulTrain.com: Tell us a few things we don’t know about T.Wong and the man behind the music.

T.Wong: I love books and shoes. As a kid, I raved to my mom’s friends about books. Now, I buy and read multiple books simultaneously. My current top book is [Paulo Coelho’s] The Alchemist. My shoes…I used to tell people to check out “my shiny shoes” and would sleep in them. Sometimes I mention my “shoe-game” during live performances. It’s the simple things. I dig culture, travel, creative expression, and food. I’ve always been fascinated with different faiths and cultures beyond mine, so in undergrad I studied cultures. I know a little about multiple faiths ranging from Hinduism to Confucianism. I also traveled to Israel to study the Abrahamic faiths.

I love tats; I have over 15 and don’t think I’m done. I think they’re amazing self-expression that informs of a person’s ideals and personality. I have an affinity for helping public school students as a public school graduate. We don’t receive the same exposure and opportunities as students in other school districts. So, I try to positively impact my former school district. I don’t think we’re much of anything without the success of our descendants and the knowledge of our predecessors.

SoulTrain.com: What do you think it is that makes your background “unorthodox?”

T.Wong:  Probably my approach to music. I use my life as my guide; I’m into creating my own way and not directly following prescribed rules. I rely heavily on my practical experiences when creating music. I try not to trap myself into what is perceived to be the right or wrong way to create. I capitalize on artists I grew up listening to and their styles and execution. I try to channel what moves me about their music. My freedom as a youth to explore arts, activities, and beliefs, is the freedom I harness now. I wasn’t raised to believe in a specific path to success. Or that a specific way of doing things is the end. I was raised to be your best at whatever path you choose and therein lays your success. I use that when exploring artistically.

My academic and legal trek contributes to my unorthodoxy. As a former student and as an attorney I have research skills. So, I study market terms, risks, best practices, etc., to determine how best to be my best artist and business/brand. Alternatively, I’ve been referred to as an enigma. I grew up in the hoods of Columbus, completed college, law school, passed the bar exam, and made it to a firm; done without a criminal record, major resources, while simultaneously being the object of stereotypes—young, tatted, with locks/dreads, and black. So, I guess, what seems like life to me can seem unorthodox to others.   

SoulTrain.com: Why do you feel your sound will be relatable to others?

T.Wong: I’ve been told my sound is transcendent. My lyrics stem from actual circumstances or aspirations, either from my life or others. So, I think having that transcendent sound, coupled with tangible lyricism helps people relate. And, the instrumentation combining musical styles I love with my experiments, hits different musical palates.

SoulTrain.com: Who are some modern day artists who you feel still successfully inject genuine soul into their music?

T.Wong: This is a tough question because I think most artists inject their soul into their music. Whether written or composed for or by them, I think to produce music artists insert something of themselves, right? With that, specific to the soul genre, I say Fantasia, Jill Scott, Alice Smith, George Tandy Jr., John Legend, and Maxwell, among others. Their lyrics, vocality, and execution intrinsically connect to listeners. Then there are artists who aren’t categorized as soul but I feel crazy soul in their music, like Adele and Mali Music. It’s a difficult question with different angles.

SoulTrain.com: Do you feel the “blue-eyed soul” phenomenon is slowly chipping away at the genre, or do you feel that any mainstream attention to soul/R&B music benefits the culture?

T.Wong: I think music belongs to all in every culture. If someone has a gift that qualifies him/her as a soul artist, so be it. A natural ability is out of his/her control, you know? That’s different from sounds that are engineered to sound like something they aren’t…Music is that universal language that allows all walks to connect regardless of complexion or belief. Artists like Otis Redding, Tina Turner, Michael Jackson, Sting, and Prince have broken barriers by simply sharing their art, regardless of their race. To me, you should pay respect to musical styles’ roots. Soul music, in my opinion, stems from gritty life that black people felt/feel in a time of oppression, whether external or internal. You can’t get music like “A Change is Gonna Come” without living a life of struggle and deprivation. I think it’s important to recognize roots, as that root gives color to the world’s condition at that time. So “blue-eyed soul” is all-good if it’s genuine, true to the artist, and respects the genre’s root.

SoulTrain.com: You are licensed to practice law. Does being a performing artist and a practicing lawyer ever seem conflicting? Is it much like night and day?

T.Wong: No, they don’t seem conflicting in practice. They’re not necessarily competing forces. They seek different resolve by different means. Sometimes, the two areas can run parallel. For example, when there’s social injustice, both a civil rights attorney and artist may aspire to achieve justice and enlightenment (e.g. Selma).

They can, however, feel intrinsically conflicting as they are night and day. The legal practice is static in execution, a creature of habit and patterns. Though some lawyers are considered creative, it’s still within a confine. Unlike artistry, where everything is creative including the message, it’s about being different. It’s about creatively conveying messages to be experienced in a fresh way. It’s like a “Bruce Wayne” syndrome, having to suppress an identity to handle inherited responsibilities, then living out that alternate identity after handling that responsibility. You learn to operate to be considered PC and professional, then once beyond the walls of that industry you change fits to effectuate your purpose your own way. So, if anything, it can be draining staring purpose in the face and asking it to wait for a moment while you handle business.   

SoulTrain.com: Tell us about your new single, “Journey.

T.Wong: “Journey” birthed from striving to take my own course through opposing innuendoes. It represents the cyclical process of life, graduating from one journey to move to the next, and learning to enjoy each step. Last summer I felt I was entering a time of making my own decisions to fulfill some purpose. Then realized people around me were doing the same.  So when writing, I considered things I’ve experienced and observed in the male and female context. Thus, in the song there are male, female, and first person verses. Representing that, respecting and knowing that whatever circumstance, we are all experiencing a journey and we all always will.

SoulTrain.com: What’s next? Any videos?

T.Wong: I’m trying to expand the music’s reach through dropping the album and dropping my first music video on April 30th. This video highlights my hometown of Columbus. And, it’s like my brainchild. I discussed the song with Cedric Easton, who proposed a great visual concept. From that discussion, I created a storyboard, key players, places, etc., and worked alongside David Bailey, Basement Deep Media Group owner who went beyond, to bring the video to life. I’m writing a book about becoming independent. The book explores developing your passion with your available resources. I go through real life components that help in developing independence. And there’s songwriting. I would like to write for other artists as I continue with my music. I think it’s fresh to study someone’s style and ambition and create custom pieces for them.

SoulTrain.com: You have an album dropping in May. What can you tell us about it?

T.Wong: The new album is called Journey. It’s a 16-track album releasing May 14th. It’s more dynamic than my EP, Dreamin’ In Motion. The EP is airy and acoustic, musically, and lighter, lyrically. Journey is a bit heavier and darker. I take advantage of electric elements and live show feel thanks to my incredible team of musicians and producers. It’s live instruments with keys, woodwinds, stringed instruments, and percussion. But, still acoustic elements, for those hip to Dreamin’ In Motion. Lyrically, I visit my friend’s and family’s experiences to create a living journal. I deal with exploring self, relations with others, society, and the unknown. I wanted to revisit older albums that were conveyed in a story format. The features on this album are the musicians themselves, some of whom are also producers. These men are giants. I worked with Jonathan Baker, Jeffrey Bass, Brandon Chapman, Cedric Easton, Geoffrey Jones, and DeJai Washington.  Each is dope, working on individual projects to working with phenomenal artists. For instance, Chapman worked with Eric Roberson, Easton with Roy Ayers, Washington with Adam Levine, and Baker’s EP, Live, hit top 100 iTunes Christian/Gospel Music charts.

The album release show is May 14 at the MAC Theatre in Columbus.

SoulTrain.com: Why will our readers fall in love with your art?

T.Wong: I can only hope they feel that strongly about it. My music is created for the listener to insert his/her own life. I really want my music to be a mirror through which any person listening can reflect. And, I hope listeners are able to press play and transcend into their universe. The fact that so many people rocked with me to Dreamin’ In Motion still floors me. So, if I receive love anywhere near that level for Journey…I’ll be grateful. My art is a muscle that I want to keep growing and working in order to be impactful in whatever way I can, so I hope people dig it so I can keep working it, ya dig?

Follow T.Wong on Twitter @twongcreates.

"Journey" album shoot

— Ayara Pommells

Ayara Pommells is Owner of UK website Rawroots.com, a member of the SomeOthaShip Connect PR team as well as a music writer for Soultrain.com, SOHH.com & AFROPUNK.com. Follow @YahYahNah.

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