April Liang remembers a time when she was eight — sitting on her bed, letting her creative juices flow, writing everything she felt on a little notepad.
On this particular day, between the first and the last jottings in her book, her words became lyrics, and a musician emerged.
“It didn't even feel like writing a song,” Liang said. “It just felt more like a creative outlet to let out everything I'm feeling …which I think is great because music has definitely saved my life.”
That was the humble beginning of the Burnaby-based songwriter's musical trajectory.
Liang, 20, is an up-and-coming artist who has written, sung, recorded and released five original singles, all produced with her friends-turned-producers.
Looking back, she beams of pride with a sense of accomplishment.
Liang was about five when she first started playing piano, but she would soon realize that the Beethoven-inspired life was not meant for her.
In the next three years, still drawn to music, she started playing guitar, which would change the narrative of her life. She played with numerous bands and perfomed at concerts. In Grade 11, as part of the ACE-IT program at North Burnaby secondary, she took a course in which she learned the basics of producing music.
When COVID-19 cut her off from much of the outside world, Liang devoted herself to learning more about the vast world of music production. She began dusting off some of her old lyrics and revived them with her newly learned skills.
A year later, in 2021, Liang released her debut single, Miles, which she remembers started off as an acoustic ballad that she wrote on a plane when she was just 16.
She dropped her fifth and final song, Never Mine, in December to close out the year 2022, and she hopes for a brighter 2023 — as she works on releasing her EP in the new year.
Much like many aspiring artists, Liang too went to post-secondary school for music training.
However, those classes didn't pan out, she said, because they were more technical than what she was looking for.
Sticking to her dream of pursuing a career in music, she dropped out of university. She started working as a sound technician in two local music stores, where she learned the techniques of music production hands-on — supplemented with lessons from YouTube.
Finding melody in the words and in life
A self-described "dramatic" person, Liang would run to her diary any time she faced a hurdle in life — whether it was a painful breakup or a nearby store running out of her favourite chocolate bar.
Over time, her diary outpourings would morph into melody, though sometimes, the melody can find her first, she said.
"I remember this one time, I was super mad about something. And I had this electric guitar ... I was so upset, I just started shredding on it and I broke a string.
"But I [thought] that it would make such a cool melody or chord progression or intro so I wanted to try to rerecord that. I think feelings don't have to come in lyrics. It could come in the actual sound of the music."
Speaking of how songwriting has helped her channel her emotions, she said, "I love that it gets me through hardships because I feel like there's so many songs out there in the world, and it's easy to find one that represents exactly how you're feeling if you listen to a lot of music. But if I can, I always just write one myself."
"I think it's great because it makes you feel less alone and it's like punching a wall but making art instead."
While she said her guard comes down for her nearest and dearest, Liang described herself as a closed book – her story largely remaining a mystery to those not in her inner circle.
"Music is a cool way for people to get to know me," she said.
Listening to her songs can provide a glimpse of her personal life, as those details would never see the light of the day in daily conversation, she said. "They'll get a perspective — a more detailed version of [my life] without even talking to me," she said.
The song '333' is the most personal written, she said — it opened her heart and put her in a vulnerable spot.
"It's weird because that song took me no time to write," she said. "I was going through a breakup and I locked myself in my studio, and just wrote a bunch of lyrics so that I could at least get something positive out of it."
"I think when you're going through so many emotions at once some songs just write themselves. It's not like you have to think about how you feel and how to put it into words. It just writes itself on paper and then you try to record it."
"I was just in a really bad place at the time when I wrote '333,' and I wrote it like a sweet loving goodbye song," she added. "About the same person I wrote 'Not My Problem' about... and that's completely different, like, 'You're a terrible person for me and I never want to see you again, love died because of you,' kind of a feeling.
"No one would ever guess they're about the same person."
EP tells a story
Teasing the upcoming release of her EP this year, she said the songs will be released in an order which makes it flow like a story in itself.
Each song will tell its own story – of anger, sadness, and grief. When listened to in order, the EP will tie loose ends as it comes full circle, and listeners will be exposed to the broader perspective of the story and the entire gamut of emotions.
"I'm going to put '333' on the EP, and it's going to be the third track and I'm going to try to make it flow like a story. So I really encourage people to listen to it front to back – in order."
Baring one's soul in song can be extremely unnerving, she said.
"It's definitely scary and uncomfortable at first because I'm exposing myself to all these people that either know nothing about me or know me to this extent. Are they going to judge me or whatever?"
"But it's definitely a good feeling. Because when you put it out, other people resonate with it. I don't like being vulnerable in front of other people, but music is different – I've never like really been afraid to express myself through music, and I think that's part of why I love it."
"Once [your music] is out there, it's not really yours anymore. People can do whatever they want with it — they can relate your songs to their own personal experiences, which is cool. And once I put something out there, it's kind of like me letting out a balloon into the sky."