I first met Asian mega recording artist, Sun, at photographer Patrick McMullan's birthday party in Southampton in August. She was the guest of honor and doing press to promote her impending crossover into English music. Her first crossover effort to debut in early 2007 will be a single called "China Wine," a duet with Wyclef Jean and written and produced by Wyclef Jean.
Sun, whose full name is Ho Yeow Sun or Sun Ho as they call her in some countries, began her career as a counselor and social worker of sorts and was discovered in her native Singapore while singing to clients as a form of therapy. She was offered a recording contract on the spot and has since taken the entire region by storm with a multi platinum recording career that has swept across Asia. Sun has become not only a music superstar in her part of the world, but a fashion icon as well whose every look is mimicked by millions of fans. This led to four clothing boutiques in Singapore and the exclusive rights to distribute the Los Angeles based clothing label, Ed Hardy, for which she is also their Asian spokesperson. Adding an unusual twist to her career, Sun keeps up with her counseling responsibilities, counseling people who are in need and referred to her from wherever she happens to be traveling.
When we spoke, she had just arrived in Las Vegas from New York and was on her way to Singapore, then to Beijing and finally Tokyo. All the while I marveled at the schedules that some of these people keep and became exhausted just listening to it. However, I was excited to be speaking with a woman who will likely pioneer a new cultural invasion of music into the United States, an Asian flavor, similar to the Latin music boom of the late nineties.
PR.com (Allison Kugel): I've been listening to your single, "Gone." I got the CD at your party, and I love it!
Sun Ho: Thank you. How do you feel about it compared to "Without Love?" Do you feel like it's better?
PR.com: The first version of "Gone" that I listened to was one of the dance mixes, before I heard the ballad. It has a bit of a different sound. It's very beautiful and even though it's about losing someone, it's actually kind of an uplifting song in a strange way. The tone of your voice is very soothing.
Sun Ho: I wish to do that through my voice and my music. Everybody goes through that (losing someone), so...
PR.com: I noticed that you have a huge fan base in Asia and in other parts of the world and now for the last few years, you've been crossing over into English language music and breaking into the U.S. and you seem to be doing it through the dance charts rather then the pop charts. Was that something that was deliberate, to do dance music?
Sun Ho: I think personally, I enjoy dance music a lot. Actually, people ask me, what is my music style? I think it's um... I really appreciate Madonna for bringing back the dance music recently. I would say that my music is very eclectic; so when Justin, my manager, and Tas and the whole team suggested that maybe I should work on the dance music first, I was very much for it. It's kind of planned but it suits me perfectly, because I love it and I feel like it represents me very well at the same time.
PR.com: You have a very interesting story, because you started off... you went to Bible College and you became a pastor... did you found the church that you currently run?
Sun Ho: (Laughs) Actually, no. I'm not a pastor, pastor. I'm a counselor. I work voluntarily in the church of an organization. I am very passionate in working with kids. So that is what I was doing. And actually how I was found by the record executive was I was in Taiwan counseling these people and usually I use music at the same time when I meet up with them because I really love singing. So he heard my singing and then he came to me and he thought that I could make it as a singer and asked me, was I interested? And everything else was history after that. So, I'm not, like, a preacher.
PR.com: (Laughs) Ok. I'm reading all this stuff about you and there's a church called City Harvest in Singapore...
Sun Ho: Yes, that's the church I'm affiliated [with].
PR.com: And I read that when you are touring the world, you try to email or text message people to give them counseling in between concert gigs? How does that work?
Sun Ho: These are the people that I counsel, because I feel like I can't just stop. I used to be able to counsel eight people a day, but since I started my singing career, it was cut majorly to maybe one person in two or three months. And the organization, they don't refer anyone to me unless they feel like this is a case that I really have to take. When I take a case, it doesn't matter where I am. I will text message them or call them just to make sure that I'm there for them when they need me.
PR.com: It's an interesting combination of careers.
Sun Ho: I know! But I just feel like I really love people and I can't stop. I love the idea that, actually being a singer now, because they know my background. Like, in Asia, I go to radio stations and I do counseling live. And magazines, they give me columns. I write columns, where I give people advice... so I love doing that too, but I still love the one on one. Whenever I can do it, I still do as much as I can.
PR.com: And you didn't grow up Christian, correct?
Sun Ho: No I didn't. I come from a Buddhist family...
PR.com: What made you decide to become Christian?
Sun Ho: Actually, when I was sixteen, I kind of went through a period, maybe like Christina Aguilera, I was really searching myself... for love and stuff... I was kind of messed up emotionally... it was these volunteer workers that actually helped me and counseled me and brought a major change in my life. They gave me great values that I can anchor my life to, so after that, at the University and so on, I took up counseling.
PR.com: And you're married and you have a little boy, right?
Sun Ho: Yes, I have a little boy, Dayen. Dayen is with me. He travels with me. Actually, he's running a fever now. I just brought him to the hospital last night because it was like 104 degrees [temperature].
PR.com: So they were in New York with you and now Vegas and then you're all going back to Singapore?
Sun Ho: Exactly, and then from Singapore we are going to Beijing and then to Tokyo and then to fashion week also... in thirty eight days.
PR.com: How do you stay balanced and how do you manage to be constantly on airplanes and constantly traveling from city to city and country to country? Does it ever take a toll on you or make you feel anxious or disconnected from your home base?
Sun Ho: It does actually affect me, and then when Dayen is sick, I get really distraught. But I think I stay balanced by being focused, like positive self-talk and I surround myself with good friends. Some of them travel with me, like my nanny is someone who I grew up with. They always remind me that I am doing what I love. I really love what I'm doing. I just have to work hard... you know, like everybody else. So the times that I get really down, I hit the gym and I chill out with my friends and they talk to me.
PR.com: I need to get that, because I know the gym is a great de-stressor and I just don't have the discipline for it.
Sun Ho: I know. It's so hard. Even for me. I love exercising, but traveling from one place to another, it's so hard. But it really works. When I drag my butt out of bed, it works for me (Laughs).
PR.com: Are you touring right now, promoting your crossover music?
Sun Ho: We haven't really started to promote yet. I'm really looking forward to starting it. Especially when Wyclef [Jean] is ready with the album. We co-wrote a song together for my album and he feels like he wants to add the magic to it, which I'm really, really excited about!
PR.com: And this is for your debut English language album?
Sun Ho: Yes. We're talking about launching it the first quarter of next year (2007), so I would think that the touring and everything would start maybe in December of this year. Now I'm still finishing with the promotion of my Chinese album. I have to go to Beijing to do the promotion. I just finished Southeast Asia.
PR.com: With your English language album that's coming out in the beginning of 2007, tell me about some of the producers you're working with. Tell me about the song you co-wrote with Wyclef Jean and tell me what we can expect with your crossover album...
Sun Ho: I'm really excited about this album, because I feel like it really represents me even though it's in English. Like, the first time I went into the studio to meet with Wyclef Jean, I was actually a little bit nervous, because these are people that I really admire and that I think are so talented. Finally I'm meeting them and getting a chance to work with them and to write with them. Wyclef was so amazing! He would pick up his guitar and we started just writing the song and we call it "China Wine." I always feel like America has so many fantastic artists, and why do they need another singer? But I feel like... I do good music! I want to bring that Asian touch to it. I just feel like America is a melting pot for different cultures and styles and music. And Americans are always so ready for something that's different. Even though I'm singing in English, I just feel like that touch is going to be different. So Wyclef [Jean] totally understands that and in "China Wine" you will actually hear me singing in English and actually in Chinese too, at the same time. So it's going to be really interesting, and he was learning Mandarin too, with me and really having fun. And I was dancing during "China Wine" in the studio, and he started dancing too. I'm really looking forward to how it will actually affect the audience and of course working with Diane Warren. Her ballads blow me away. She wrote two songs for me called "What Kind of World?" and "One Day You Will."
PR.com: You've done a lot with Asian MTV. Are you planning to do music videos for MTV in the United States?
Sun Ho: I can't wait for that! I keep asking, "When
are we going to shoot for MTV?" Recently I watched Justin Timberlake
and I watched Christina Aguilera, and Beyonce's. I would have to say that
it's different from what we do in Asia. I keep telling Tas (her manager)
"Tas, you've gotta prepare me for that! I have to be more sexy!!"
I want to work with the choreographer to come up with "China Wine" dance steps and stuff. Seriously, I can't wait to grow in America and I can't wait for people to see me and [tell me] how they feel about my music. I feel like this is the only way an artist can grow.
PR.com: Over the last several years there's been a Latin music explosion in the United States. Is that something you are looking to model your career path after, but with Asian culture?
Sun Ho: Yeah. Someone like Shakira... I followed her from day one, when she did the crossover [into English language music] and now with "Hips Don't Lie" and she's doing so well. I really hope that I'll be able to do that. To me, it's just that growing process. Personally, it's normal because English is our medium of education [in Singapore]. So I listen to a lot of American music and female musicians especially like Kelly Clarkson, Madonna, Gwen Stefani, Christina Aguilera... these are people that I really love. For me to be able to be given that opportunity now, to learn, to grow, to follow in their footsteps, it's just amazing to me. I feel like here in America, with the producers and the environment, it's just going to bring me so much further, musically.
PR.com: Are you the very first Asian crossover artist to come into the United States?
Sun Ho: I hope so...
PR.com: Because I was just thinking, I don't think that there ever has been another. I think that you are the first.
Sun Ho: That is what everybody is telling me... that this is like, the first of the Asian Invasion. They use that [phrase] and I really love it....
PR.com: I like that!
Sun Ho: Yeah, I love that! When they told me, I was like, "What? Say it again? Asian Invasion?!" In terms of the music industry, there isn't any Asian presence at this moment. So if I could be the first one, I would love to do that.
PR.com: What does it feel like to be so mega famous in one part of the world and then to come to the United States and be up and coming? Is it surreal to be an icon in one place and then less known in another place as you travel around the world?
Sun Ho: To me, it's all about the music. I just have to stay focused. I look at the long term and I totally am enjoying my working experience. I just feel like, "What the heck?" You just have to make the plunge when given the chance. So I'm making that plunge! I know that in no time they will know me. But sometimes, when I look at it, it's kind of fun to walk the street where people don't know you. It's a kind of freedom...
PR.com: Right, that's what I'm saying, because you may only have that freedom for a small window of time. For now, you can escape that. You can come here and walk down the street. It must be a strange feeling that in one place you can't, and in another place you can. But yet you're the same person. You know what I mean? You're still you, but you're in one environment and people are going nuts and then you're in another environment and... you know what I mean? That must be strange!
Sun Ho: It is strange but it's interesting and refreshing at the same time.
PR.com: I went to your official website and I was listening to your music in Chinese, and I finally understood why people in other countries don't mind going to a concert for an American artist, even if they don't necessarily know the words. Listening to your music, obviously I don't know one word of Chinese, but the music was very enjoyable, regardless. You can feel the emotion.
Sun Ho: You must come to Asia when I have a concert. It's kind of fun... my Chinese concerts.
PR.com: You know what I think would be really cool? Are you planning to put one Chinese ballad on your English album?
Sun Ho: Wow, I have never thought of that! I think it would be amazing! Do you think the people will love it??
PR.com: Yeah, because if you put one track that is in your native language, I think that could be really beautiful. You're just sharing a part of your culture with your English speaking fans. So 99% of the album is in English and then you have this one song that's like "Ok, I want to share this with you." I think that that would be really cool.
Sun Ho: I would love to do that! Tas, are you listening? (To her manager)
PR.com: And the four clothing boutiques that you own in Asia, where are they located?
Sun Ho: They're in Singapore. I have an Ed Hardy flagship store and then three other boutiques that are multi label. I bring down True Religion, Antique Denim... all the L.A. designer brands. When I started coming [to the United States] I got hooked up with these designers and they wanted me to bring their stuff to Asia, so I started doing that. And we talked about starting some boutiques in Indonesia and Malaysia too. But I just have to have the time. So I just kind of started in Singapore first.
PR.com: Some of these designers like Ed Hardy and True Religion, they wanted you to help them get their name out or make their product popular in Asia, and so that's what they did?
Sun Ho: Yeah...
PR.com: So what kind of arrangement do you have with Ed Hardy?
Sun Ho: I have the exclusive rights and I'm also the distributor for Ed Hardy for Singapore and a big part of Asia. In Asia, I'm also very well known for my fashion, so whatever I wear, the fans and the industry are very interested. So when I started telling the reporters in Asia that I found this line and I think it's really cool... it's very L.A. street with a touch of glam... they started writing about it and then we had a huge fashion show. The brand just instantly overnight, became very famous. But of course it's a good brand and it's a famous brand in L.A. too, so it's not difficult to do that. In Asia it's really famous and all the celebrities and everyone just come to the store to buy, and stuff.
PR.com: Well, Ed Hardy was smart. They hooked up with you and they knew you could get the word out.
Sun Ho: I think so. (Laughs) And Christian Audigier (designer of Ed Hardy Clothes) is fantastic. He is really smart. He is very creative with his work and he has done very good for this season, but I think as a businessman he is really smart too.
PR.com: Do you ever wear the shirts that have the tattooed sleeves?
Sun Ho: Yes! Oh I tell you, the first time I wore it in Asia, they kind of freaked out because, in China, they call me the "Ambassador of Love" because I have done so much work among the youth and the children. So when they spotted the tattoos all over my arms, they freaked out! They were like, "What?! You have tatties?!" I said, "No, don't worry. This is just a T-shirt." But from a far, it just looks so real, as if you have tattoos all over your arms. It's kind of skin color, so when you're wearing it, people can't really see that you're wearing it, so it really looks like you have tattoos all over your arms. But in Asia they love it. It's my best seller! It's for people who love tattoos but who wouldn't want to take the risk of having a permanent one.
PR.com: Do you have any tattoos?
Sun Ho: No. I've been thinking about it, but I still haven't really done it yet. But I have friends who love tattoos and they have it all over their body. I love tattoos, but it's kind of a big commitment. It's something that you can't erase.
PR.com: The best way to do it is to get a tattoo that commemorates something special in your life and then you can't really regret it because it reminds you of a memory. You don't want to get, like, Mickey Mouse or something. You know what I mean? (Laughs)
Sun Ho: (Laughs) Yeah.
PR.com: Is Sun your birth name?
Sun Ho: Sun is my first name and Ho is my last name. I'm Sun Ho. (Laughs) We call it surname or family name, not last name.
PR.com: How'd you learn to speak English?
Sun Ho: In school. In Singapore we learned all the different subjects in English. We understand and speak English pretty well.
PR.com: Do you ever plan to move to the United States or will Singapore remain home?
Sun Ho: My family is in Singapore, like my dad and mom. I don't think they would ever move here. But I don't know. Where is my home now? (Laughs) I travel so much. Like, this year alone, I'm just home for less then ten weeks, of the fifty two weeks of the year. We were talking about buying a property in L.A. because I'm here so much now.
PR.com: Which do you prefer, being in the studio recording music or when you're performing live onstage?
Sun Ho: They're so different. I love both. I think in the studio are the times I grow and I try out new things and I learn from the producers and we bounce off each other and be creative. I really love that part of it, but, you know on stage is a different thing. It's the energy and seeing the people loving your music and grooving to it. I love that side of it. Sometimes I just stand on stage and looking at those people singing along. In Asia, when they like you, they actually memorize your songs, your lyrics from the first word to the last word. And I love your idea. Seriously, if you see a Chinese song on my album, you know that idea came from you. It's such a great idea.
PR.com: I'll tell you something, a lot of Latin artists do it. And you'll be the first major crossover artist from Asia to do it, and this will give you a chance... you're basically the ambassador for your culture, in the United States. If you can take this and it becomes a pop culture phenomenon, that's something that... you'll be the first to have created it in the United States and made people familiar with it. It's something that you can share in a really big way.
Sun Ho: I'm standing here and I have goose bumps.