Do you dream? Of course you do. Perhaps you dream of being a rock star. Maybe a doctor or a lawyer. The cynics say dreams don’t come true. But Coco Lee is proof positive that they’re wrong.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to talk to her. And though only by phone, I still got a chance to learn a lot about her and how special she really is.
So how is it being back in LA?
Great. Finally getting a chance to rest.
What have you been up to?
I just finished my Asian tour and came back here for the US launch.
Does it feel weird or does it feel like any other release, being that you’ve released a dozen records overseas?
It feels a bit strange because I’m starting from ground zero again. In Asia I’ve already achieved a certain level, but now coming back home I am starting all over again. A lot of people don’t know who Coco is, but that is alright. I believe we all have to start somewhere.
I read that you’ve recorded twelve albums since ’94.
Uh, yeah. I don’t even remember. I’ve done so many.
That comes out to two a year. How were you able to put out so many?
At the time I first released my first album, it was in June 15th in 1994. And then it was four months later I released another, then three months later I released another. It was within a year and two months that I released four albums.
That was with my old record company, and then when I signed with Sony it really toned down to two per year.
That is still crazy. I mean, artists are lucky here if they release an album every two years.
How does the music industry differ overseas, because you are still signed to the same label, Sony?
The promotion period is much shorter there. We’d start promotion like two weeks before the album and then promote at the most for two months. Then we’d let the album run on its own. Then we’d go on to the next one. Here, it’s one single and you promote that for half a year and then move on to the next one. It’s a very long process here.
Where exactly were the albums being released previously?
Mainly for the Chinese speaking territories. That includes Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan. As long as they were Chinese speaking, they could get the album.
You grew up and went to school in America?
How did you get signed in Hong Kong?
It was after high school. I was on summer vacation and I had nothing to do, so both my sisters were vacationing in Hong Kong and I went to visit them. They had this huge singing contest annually and I decided to enter it. It was just for fun and I sang “Run To You” [by Whitney Houston] which was a huge disadvantage for me because it was in English. They kept telling me that ‘If you sing an English song, you’ll never win.’ All the judges and the audience were listening in Cantonese and I didn’t really care. It was all about showing them what I could do. I loved that song and went out there and did my thing. I won second place. That is how I got started.
So it was a smaller label that signed you initially, and then Sony grabbed you up, right?
Yep. I was signed to this company in Hong Kong that was connected with a Taiwan record company, which was very small and no one ever heard. I was one of the first artists they ever signed. We went through some tough times. My first single is the song that got me my initial success. Three months later I won the Best Newcomer Award. Then Sony caught on and bought out my contract and I’ve been with them ever since.
Did you have to spend most of your time overseas?
Yeah, I did. For most of five and a half years I spent seventy-percent of my time there. The other thirty-percent of the time I spent going back to San Francisco, and then I moved to Ervine, and now I’m in Los Angeles.
That is really funny that you just go there, enter a contest, and then all of the sudden you are living overseas.
Yeah, I know. (laughs) And the weirdest thing is that I really couldn’t speak Chinese, because it’s different than Cantonese as far as dialects. I was born in Hong Kong, so they speak Cantonese there but I have no idea how to speak Mandarin. But staying there I just picked it up. Now I’m pretty fluent. It is still hard to sing in Chinese, more than in English because there are still words that still don’t understand what they mean.
When you signed with Sony in Asia, did the agreement stop you from coming to America?
No. That actually created the bridge for me to come back home. I told them when I first signed with them that my goal was to release an album back home.
When you were growing up, was music something you wanted to do?
Um, it really just happened. Both of my sisters sing really well and always entered the contests and won. I’m just a little copycat. I didn’t know I could be a professional singer. I can’t read music and I’ve never taken vocal lessons, not even to this day. My mom saw it in me. When I was on that stage, my mom said, ‘My little daughter has it.’ She told me to pursue it and just go for it and if it doesn’t work out there is other opportunities out there.
Are your sisters jealous now?
(laughs) No. They’ve been so supportive.
It’s funny because you were copying them and then you get signed.
It is weird.
Who did you grow up listening to?
Whitney Houston. I’m also a big fan of George Michael, Debbie Gibson, or whoever was big in the ’80’s. I remember listening to the Bee-Gees and Barbara Streisand too.
I was checking out some fan sites and it seems that over and over again they compared you to Mariah Carey. What’s the deal with that?
In Asia they like to do that because I incorporated the R&B, ad-libs, and pop style into the traditional Chinese music, and that was strange for people. I was hitting the high notes and stuff and everyone was like, ‘That sounds like Mariah.’ But as artists we all have our own sounds, like Christina Aguilera has her high notes, but I don’t think people are going to say she is copying Mariah, but the only artist they could relate to back then was Mariah. So that is why they labeled me the ‘Mariah Carey of Taiwan.’ It’s something I choose not to mention. I do admire her, but when I go into the studio it’s just me and the music. I never think about ‘How would Whitney or Mariah do this?’ because it would sound really fake.
Where did you record this album?
All over the place. It took nine months, but we recorded it in New York, LA, and Vancouver.
Yeah. One of the biggest differences was that in Asia the producers worked around my schedule, but back here it’s like whatever the producer wants, I have to go with that. If they want me in Vancouver, I fly to Vancouver.
Is the process faster overseas than here?
Yes, it is. I like the way we do music here. Everyone is diligent here. Perfection is important. In Asia, we do everything so fast that the quality of the music isn’t as good. That is why the music there shouldn’t be compared to the music in the States.
How involved do you get in the studio?
Just recording is really fast. For me, being in the studio singing a song usually only takes three to four hours because I do my homework. I study the song, I’ll memorize the melodies, and then whatever I feel, I’ll sing it. It’s the post-process that takes the longest.
You get the demos of the session singer doing the song?
Yeah. And if you listen to both, my version always sounds different when I sing it in the studio.
I’m curious how the press is in Asia.
They really like to find out more about your personal life, like ‘What kind of guys do you like?’ and ‘Are you dating right now?’ They aren’t really as interested in the music, but they already know a lot about me. Like they know that I can sing.
I think I know all about your personal life. (laughs)
I was on some web sites today, and it’s like they have everything about you. One had your blood type. That is scary.
I know, but that stuff isn’t always accurate.
I know because I do a lot of interviews. The web is a great tool, but if I see something out of the ordinary, I’ll ask. But I make sure they know I didn’t make it up. Hell, I’ll tell them where I found it if I need to save my ass.
(laughs) Some of my friends will tell me some information they find, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, it’s totally bogus!’ It’s weird.
They have your favorite this and favorite that.
Well, it’s always changing, so how can they keep up?
I don’t know.
Oh, well. It’s good that they pay attention to me because they like me. It’s better to have someone write about me rather than not. That’s how I see it. But I just got my laptop and I’ve been playing with it. It’s so much fun.
It gets too addicting. I don’t think I even talk to anyone I know on the phone anymore. It’s like, ‘I’ll just email ’em.’
I know, I know! (laughs)
There is no human contact anymore.
I think that is the scary thing, though.
You are right.
I swear I just get stuck on the computer all day. I was on all day yesterday.
But you will have to get some human contact soon. Are you going to do any touring?
Yeah. I’m going to do a lot of radio promotions. It’s going to take a lot to get my name out there. I’ll be doing some showcases around the States. I’ll just be introducing myself.
Is this the same album they will release in Europe?
Releasing at the same time?
You know, I wish someone would tell me this stuff. I feel kind of silly not having any information.
(laughs) No problem. Asia is the only place it’s already been released.
Well, good luck with everything. I’d love to catch a show.
Well you should. It’d be great. And my birthday is coming up. It’s on the 17th [of January].
What are you going to do for that?
Uh, work. (laughs)
What else is new? (laughs)
I know. One of these days I’ll find a really nice guy to spend it with me.
+ charlie craine