Of ‘Dreams And Forgetfulness’: Doãn Hoài Nam’s Musical Journey | Vietcetera
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Oct 18, 2023

Of ‘Dreams And Forgetfulness’: Doãn Hoài Nam’s Musical Journey

To Doãn Hoài Nam, his music is a tribute to what matters most, including his family, work, friends, and the local community, as it unites them all.
Of ‘Dreams And Forgetfulness’: Doãn Hoài Nam’s Musical Journey

Doãn Hoài Nam at HUB Ô Chợ Dừa | Source: Đỗ Phan Anh

During his early years, Doãn Hoài Nam's music teacher advised his parents, "Let him follow a music career." This story from Nam's childhood almost stopped his music journey because, as he playfully told Vietcetera, his father let him quit music class.

However, the teacher's words tapped into Nam's musical talent and hinted at the uncertainty of a career in music. Despite the initial setback, music naturally became a part of Nam's life. He and his friends took to the streets, earning VND27,000 on their first public performance, leading to the birth of 27K, the street-singing trio. Nam later became a key member of Tank27 and HUB, managing stage lighting and sound while composing heartfelt songs that conveyed his deepest emotions.

For Nam, music is an integral part of his life, something he'll never abandon. He unveiled the inspiration behind his debut album, 'Mộng mơ và Lãng quên' (Dreams and Forgetfulness), reminiscing about his childhood influenced by the enchantment of music and sharing his future aspirations.

What do you do when a tune comes to mind while you're outside?

If a particular tune captivates me, I make an effort to capture it on an instrument. Without one at hand, I just let it slip away.

Doãn Hoài Nam at 282 Live Session.

Typically, I note down the essence and lyrics. When inspiration hits on the go, I instantly jot it in my phone's notes. Now, it's a mishmash of disjointed tales, but they're catalysts for fresh ideas.

Is that the secret behind the depth of your lyrics?

When it comes to writing lyrics, I wouldn't call myself an exceptional writer. I hold artists like DSK in high regard. I find their lyrics captivating to the point where they make me feel inadequate in my own writing. While I may not listen to DSK's tracks frequently, I deeply connect with the subtleties in their words.

Tùng Jet also possesses undeniable lyrical charm, not to mention stalwarts like Hải Bột (Quái Vật Tí Hon) and others. Their words transport me, allowing me to feel the pulse, mood, and human emotions of their times.

To be honest, I'm not an avid reader. Sometimes, a whole year goes by without me finishing a book. But I follow one rule: I only write about what I genuinely understand. For example, when it comes to love, I can't write clichés like "I miss you so bad" or similar phrases. Such lyrics don't resonate with me.

I write about what's close to me and what I have. On the technical side, I aim for my lyrics to be suggestive, avoiding excessive sweetness. I believe in maintaining a certain lyrical aesthetic. That's why in my album 'Mộng mơ và Lãng quên,' the tracks are titled with "keywords" that embody the essence of the music.

How many songs have you composed so far?

By the end of 2019, I was still keeping track of my compositions. Before releasing my album, I had written about 40 songs. Not counting the tracks from Sương's album (Mộng mơ và Lãng quên), I have an additional 25-30 pieces.

I'm not the most prolific writer; I might create 2-3 songs in a good year. I never feel compelled to write, but I capture it quickly when inspiration strikes.

While you don't feel compelled to create, do you face any other pressures in your musical journey?

Devoting myself entirely to music often becomes a pressure. I once dreamed of living solely through my music, immersing myself in its rhythm. However, life has its own set of realities. I've had to navigate unfamiliar terrains, such as elevating my professionalism, embracing a rigorous work ethic, and making certain sacrifices. But a musical life should be relatively relaxed.

Doãn Hoài Nam performing at Bản show.

I also value the freedom to create without the burden of excessive stress. That's why I've taken on other jobs to support my passion. While these pursuits might rank second or third in priority, music always takes the lead.

For example, I've delved into stage sound and lighting work. Like other supporting artists, I thrive in the background, enhancing the main act. When they're on stage, I'm deeply committed to the essence and message they want to convey. Being the first to experience the final product while collaborating with these main artists is its kind of thrill.

With these diverse responsibilities, I aim to find a balance, ensuring that life remains manageable. This approach also provides me with a consistent income. And if there's an opportunity to perform or join a show that truly resonates with me, it's a motivation to keep moving forward. Yet, one thing is certain: music is a lifelong journey for me, and I approach it with a sense of grounded normalcy.

When pursuing something fervently, many tend to set other things aside. Yet you not only maintain these other passions but further cultivate them. Do you create music primarily for personal fulfillment or to resonate with a larger audience?

Right now, my music is a way to honor what's important to me. It's mainly for my family and the things that matter in my life today – my work, coworkers, friends, and the local community. Music is what brought us all together.

While the income and opportunities to perform are benefits, I've seen that music offers much more. Without it, communal spirit is absent, no focal point for shared passion, and I'd never have ventured into a sound and lighting job. I genuinely believe I wouldn’t be at my best without the anchor of music.

Even when you do other things, you always come back to music. How does doing different jobs help you become a better music composer?

Trying out different things helps me see life from different angles. As I get closer to my 30s, I'm dealing with more grown-up responsibilities like family, my partner, and thinking about our future together.

I'll be honest; sometimes, I doubt myself. I'm not a famous musician, and music doesn't pay all my bills. When I create songs, I want them to come from the heart.

In music, you need a bit of luck. Finding those magical moments or coming up with a captivating melody is pure joy. When I discover such rhythms, I'm always excited to share them with my loved ones.

Do you view yourself as a small piece of a larger picture? Is that true?

My humility plays a role in this, and everyone harbors some measure of self-doubt. I cherish the close bonds with my comrades. Collaborative achievements are especially rewarding and always exciting. Sharing both the highs and lows brings greater joy. Sometimes, fixing a light alongside fellow artists and understanding the collective purpose behind the work deepens our satisfaction.

Doãn Hoài Nam performing at a Cá Hồi Hoang'show. | Source: AllAccess

Our community is not just an audience; it's a passion. We come together to bring creative visions to life, and in doing so, we find our unique spots within this tight-knit circle, ever eager to broaden our reach.

If I lean into the community, the community reciprocates. It's a cyclical bond among all of us. I champion this spirit. The establishment of the HUB was rooted in this very ethos.

Have you set particular guidelines for yourself in your musical journey?

To me, music mirrors a code of ethics. There are boundaries I commit to never crossing, such as plagiarism or dishonesty. If I were to stray, I'd question my moral stance to share my creations with an audience. Purity is pivotal in my music.

Đăng Én once told me just to do well, assuring me that the right opportunities and people would gravitate toward me. We’ve consistently focused on growth, never sidelining anyone. This vision and the passion infused into our music urge us to be our best selves. Sharing this journey, our allies uplift one another in spirit without getting overly entangled in financial or other pressures.

That's the general spirit. I rarely ponder why I am this way. I may not always recognize these aspects, but I know they're reflected in my actions. Honesty and clarity define our interactions, and I deeply value that.

Our team's resilience has been our strength. The HUB might not be in the limelight, but our unity is unyielding. We continuously uplift each other. If someone isn't center stage, they’re behind the scenes, handling the lighting or sound work. That's our shared goal. Our emphasis is on individual growth and stability, so when we eventually regroup, the only evident change might be the years that have passed.

Why did you pick these nine songs for your debut album, ‘Mộng mơ và Lãng quên’?

I grouped songs that resonate with a particular emotional theme, states of feelings, and messages I wanted to convey that aligned with the soul and expression of Sương (Mạc Mai Sương). I wrote these nine songs with the intention for Sương to sing; they embody the emotional state a composer wishes to tie to a singer and then share with the audience for mutual connection.

Doãn Hoài Nam performing at L'Espace.

I curated songs that tap into a specific emotional thread, mirroring both the sentiments I wished to portray and the unique voice of Sương (Mạc Mai Sương). I penned these tracks specifically for Sương to voice; they encapsulate the emotional landscape a songwriter seeks to share through a singer, aiming to foster a deep connection with listeners.

Naturally, there are emotions and themes that Sương might interpret differently than I had intended. For instance, if I aim to communicate intense anger, Sương's delivery might not encapsulate it entirely. I require someone who can genuinely mirror the nuances of my soul at that moment. I can't bring forth such emotions by myself and rely on others. Such profound emotions will eventually resonate with those more apt to convey them.

Many appreciate the dreamlike aura of this album, but where does the 'forgetfulness' (Lãng quên) aspect come into play?

The concept of "forgetfulness" may revolve around embracing emptiness or the essence of nothingness. Both dreams and forgetfulness can symbolize this profound emptiness. The ideas we create are intangible, and this resonates with me deeply. I even considered getting a "zero" tattoo to symbolize this belief. To me, true eternity lies in embracing this emptiness.

What were the good and tough parts during the six years it took to make the album?

My pinnacle moments were witnessing the album's evolution, especially during its recording and mix/mastering stages. Those phases, where not everything was unveiled, were my most cherished. The more challenging periods were inactivity when band schedules clashed, rehearsals were missed, and uncertainty loomed about our next performance.

You've mentioned other emotions in addition to ‘dreams and forgetfulness.’ When will you explore those other emotions?

This debut album is a springboard for the next project. Although I'd love to immediately dive into the next, practicalities like finances come into play. As I was finalizing Sương's album (Mộng mơ và Lãng quên), thoughts of a second album, with its narrative and mood, were already brewing.

And as for HUB, is there a promise of a reunion?

Our bond remains unbroken, and our encounters are frequent. We strive to evolve, making sure past missteps aren't repeated. We're making progress, with no one left behind.