Lose To Win is a series of inspiring success stories that arose from life-changing sacrifices.
Note: This interview was done before the lockdown started in Saigon.
Vietcetera reunited with Vu Dinh Trong Thang — lead singer and guitarist, one of the four members of Vietnamese indie-pop band Ngọt — on a rainy Friday afternoon. He arrived at Saigon to prepare for a night of Ngọt's concert, and by the time he arrived at our office, the show was sold out.
After three albums Ngọt (2016), Ng’bthg (2017), and 3 (tuyển tập nhạc Ngọt mới trẻ sôi động 2019) (2019), Thang’s voice has become familiar to most young Vietnamese indie-music lovers. But as the interest of the fans increased, it was also when Thang became more rational, seeing more from the world outside to reflect on himself.
How do you think music is changing?
Musicians are getting younger, and they don’t have to limit themselves to any genre. They can shift to many different genres within just one song.
Not only musicians, but listeners are also exposed to and enjoy more different genres, thanks to the development of digital platforms. With the emergence of iTunes and Spotify, the music world has never been as accessible as it is now.
The listeners and the medium have a mutual and inseparable relationship, so the musicians now also consider music genres in a different way than before because of the media factor. Back then with CDs, genres were more clearly divided, because the cover of the disc usually had to include something that described or related to the genre.
Now it’s faster, no need to consider anything, you just have to press a button to listen to music.
What does the “new” world of music look like?
Music will further expand its reach. However, for me, music is still divided by genres, but now it is divided by the way of working. Actually, the “indie” genre also comes from a way of working.
Studying Billie Eilish’s way of making music, I realized that we have two professions in music: self-produced artists and artists produced by a record label.
As self-produced artists, all stages from composing, filming the MV, to performing on stage, all follow the artists’ vision. But if you belong to a company, then the consultation related to the artist’s music and image will go through more layers, or be completely transferred to the producers and managers.
Invariably, if you’re an indie artist or working in a small team, then people would surely ask for your opinion first.
How do you work comfortably as an artist?
I have an opinion that is not very popular, that once you compose music, you shouldn’t be too popular.
Composing takes a great deal of discipline. We only have a limited amount of time to do good and useful things for those around us. So sometimes, being good at one thing means we have to accept that we aren’t as good with other things, and that we just have to give them up.
It takes someone a lifetime to do one thing, on a very small scale, to achieve greatness. Like Michael Jackson for example, the fact that he devoted his life to music, invisibly caused other parts of his life later… to crumble.
So I think I won’t spend my entire life doing only one thing.
We’ve known that you’ve decided to quit smoking and drinking. What made you do it?
If I could entirely control my body, I certainly wouldn’t have been exposed to alcohol or nicotine. Last Tet holiday, I drank a lot. The feeling of “hangover” then made my body constantly thirsty for alcohol. As it turned out, quitting alcohol was much harder than quitting smoking.
The media has long made our subconscious believe that smoking is not healthy. Meanwhile, the drinking culture in Vietnam is too strong, so alcoholism has somehow become a common thing. Gradually, I became dependent on it.
I once read the book “Easy Way to Stop Smoking” by Allen Carr. There is a rather strange idea I found in this book, that in fact, smoking is very easy to quit. What matters is your brain. In general, each person’s thoughts always separate the conscious from the subconscious. Unlike the conscious mind, the subconscious mind is a belief programmed from uncontrollable desires.
If we are aware that smoking and alcohol are both not healthy, but subconsciously we still have “feelings” for those things, we won’t be able to quit.
So your emotions are also something you need to control.
Does this mean you’re now being more careful with your emotions?
I’m more careful with what I see. When I realize that they are part of my subconscious and my desires, then they will hardly control my behavior.
Society is now moving in the direction of: “I respect what I am feeling”, or “My feelings are put first”. Especially when more and more services are provided to meet the needs of each individual. If you’re hungry, then there’s food delivered right away. If you are lonely, then there is an app for matchmaking or finding friends.
All of our senses and emotions are being cherished and responded immediately. But I think in the future, this will cause many problems, like more and more people are at risk of being overweight, or the increasing cases of infidelity.
In other words, I am working hard on understanding my subconscious thoughts and emotions so I can control them in some ways.
So how have you been composing music lately?
Having a baby changed my day-to-day life, including, of course, the way I compose music. I used to write music whenever I had free time. Now, every day, I have to set aside some time just to compose.
American author Stephen King once said, writing should be like going to bed, regularly and repeatedly. So in the morning, I usually spend two to three hours composing, or less if I’m not in the mood. After that, I switch to making music for other people or practicing with my band Ngọt.
My method of team-working is also different. Me and my band are happy that we “have worked”, not that we “have achieved” something. We enjoy the journey, rather than the destination.
And I live very confidently with my beliefs. Whenever I realize that I was wrong, then I know I’ve grown.
Adapted by Thao Van