By Monica Ng
Canadian talent galore!
Canadian musical talent is NOT hard to find. I recently came across Instagram’s sponsored “The Moon & I” advertising and decided to take a listen. I was instantly hooked on Eric’s song “Shuffle” and my interest was further piqued when I read that he’s a singer and songwriter based in Montreal. I just had to reach out to him and find out what’s happening musically in my hometown.
Eric Nguyen is the talent behind “The Moon & I”. Born and based in Montreal, Eric was trained in classical piano, plays guitar, and produces his own music. According to his web profile info, he experiments with “analog synths, drum loops, and acoustic piano.”
Shuffle – EP (2009) includes “Shuffle, Hopscotch Birdie, Rainy Morning Blues, Birthday Waltz, November and Distant Dreams”
Day In, Day Out – single (2020)
Moon I – single (2020)
Me: Eric, it’s been great chatting with you on Instagram. I feel that we connected instantly – maybe it’s the Montreal blood or simply that you’re very personable. Thanks for being so open to and enthusiastic about this interview.
You mentioned that you’re just starting out your music career. According to your website you “isolated [yourself] in [your] apartment for 3 years while working remotely and producing music.” How interesting…that’s like voluntary pre-COVID isolation!
So, you were sitting in your apartment on a cold fall evening with a guitar on your lap, looking out of a small window. The sky was perfectly clear that night and the full moon was demanding your attention. You sat there pensively, fingers gently touching your guitar strings, staring at the moon while pondering the meaning of life – and that’s how you decided that “The Moon & I “ was the perfect name. Ok, that’s my story! Now your turn. What’s the real story behind your name? And how did you make the decision to commit yourself to isolation for producing your music?
Eric: When people hear the name, they often ask me if I’m into astrology. Or if it’s related to Barbara Streisand’s song with the same name. Long story short, I had posted my song “Moon I” on Bandcamp a few years ago to test the platform. Unintentionally, the song went viral when a popular music blog picked it up and was then shared by other bloggers from Hype Machine. It was the first time I ever received recognition for my music outside of friends and family. So the name is a nod to that song and how it helped give me the confidence to push out more music. Lastly, I just think it has a nice ring to it and is evocative of the mood I’m trying to create in my music.
Isolating yourself to focus on art is sometimes necessary to get things done, in my opinion. It’s so easy nowadays to get distracted. I was living in Vancouver, amidst majestic mountains, forests, and water views. But I had all this music in my head that was bouncing around and wouldn’t leave me alone. So I decided to move back to Montreal to get closer to its music scene, and finally record all of these songs. I think if you’re a painter, you paint. If you’re a musician, you make music. Sometimes, you don’t have a choice in the matter.
Me: I totally agree that you’ve got to go with the flow until you find what you’re meant to do. Growing up, I was forced to learn how to play the piano. When my mom found out that I sucked and wasted all of her money, she made me try the accordion. Of course, that has keys like a piano lol. I only taught myself to play one song on the piano – which is Dust in the Wind, because I love it. Playing piano and the accordion was not my calling, but I’ve always loved the sound of guitar. I decided to buy myself a guitar to self-learn. With no clue what to do with it, I just stared at it for a long time. Sadly, playing music is not something that comes naturally to me. Other than piano and guitar, do you play any other instruments? And when you first learned piano, do you feel that it was forced, or did you have a natural talent?
Eric: Oh nooo! I hope you’ll get back into guitar. It’s an easier instrument to pick-up than the piano. I recommend getting a good intro book and just going through it. You’ll be able to play Wonderwall in no time.
I was forced to play piano when I was a kid too. But when you’re young you don’t really think about the why’s of what you’re doing…you kind of just do it. I think, in that sense, it frees us from a lot of the baggage and expectations.
Luckily, I did have a knack for piano. When I was 8, I placed first nationally in the Canadian Music Competition for my age group. After that, my parents took things more seriously – for better and for worse. I had to practice daily to prepare for competitions. I got really good, but overall, things also got less enjoyable. But no pain, no gain! I’m grateful to have acquired the skills I have now and am able to do my own thing.
Aside from piano and guitar, I’m just getting more into synths, programming beats, and music production. I wouldn’t say I’m a drummer, but I can play decently enough to record a loop that I can then edit and fine-tune in my production. I’m also just learning to explore my own voice as an instrument. What’s cool is that everyone’s voice is unique. We’re all walking around carrying a musical instrument shaped by the unique physical properties of our throat, head, and chest.
Me: About my guitar playing – I haven’t mastered Hot Cross Buns yet, but I have written a song for myself. And I do love Oasis’ Wonderwall! That’s amazing that you got into music competitions at an early age and learned to hone your skills. I was just thinking about voices as an instrument too – without it, there’s just melody.
Your music is described as Indie rock, but it’s not the first thing that comes to my mind. Actually, I’m not sure how to categorize your music, but I absolutely love how you rock the piano! Especially in your song “Shuffle” – you add drums and a guitar riff. Pretty wild! I’m not really a fan of classical music so I really appreciate your modern twist of the piano. Where does your “vision” for your music come from?
Eric: Thank you! It’s something I tried to do deliberately: playing the piano in an unexpected way. In my head, I’m using the piano to mimic other instruments and imageries: whether it be the crashing of drum cymbals like in “Shuffle”, or a swirl of falling raindrops like in “Day In, Day Out”.
Like most artists, I think the majority of my music is a form of self-therapy. There’s usually an emotional core. It might come from my own life experiences, a friend’s life experiences or a story that I heard. That emotional core then gets amplified and expressed as a melody. I’ll then try to find the right words to convey it, and wrap it in sounds and textures that belong to that world.
Me: I love how you put the last part – your sounds and textures really come through in your songs.
I’m sure there are a lot of other budding musicians out there who are trying to learn as much as they can from others in the industry. With social media, digital music and so many music platforms (ex. Spotify, iTunes, etc.), there must be so much to figure out. Can you describe some of the major hurdles that you’ve encountered along the way or that you are currently experiencing?
Eric: I think the first major hurdle is just: how do I find people that will enjoy my music? There are a lot of artists out there that put out amazing work, but they’re not actively promoting it or don’t know how to. With live shows on hold, Facebook & Instagram Ads are one of the main ways I’ve been able to find my audience (much like how you found me!).
The current hurdle I’m working on now is time management with respect to music production and promotion. On one hand, you have to be active on social media so people don’t forget about you in our fast-moving world. I used to not use social media. I had a chrome extension that would block my FB Newsfeed, and I wouldn’t have apps like Instagram and TikTok on my phone. But now I have to use them to respond to comments, messages, and connect with fans. Then on the other hand, I need long bouts of uninterrupted time to get in the flow and produce new music. So it’s a balancing act I’m still getting used to.
Me: I figured that what you described is the reality…the demands from all directions. While we were chatting, you mentioned that you were a Moist and David Usher fan as well. That was music to my ears as I don’t personally know too many Moist and David Usher fans. When you said that you became a fan of theirs because your older brother played his Moist cassette tapes while you were growing up, I got a really nice visual in my mind. It’s really nice because I can picture two brothers just hanging out together listening to music. Your story transports me back to my bedroom that I shared with one of my sisters, back in the days. I used to just sit on my bed and play my cassettes while singing along with the lyrics written on the cover insert. I guess the point of this nostalgia is that I’ve loved music since I was a kid and music has been with me my whole life. Having artists like you creating beautiful music for me to enjoy means a lot to me.
Other than Moist and David Usher, name a few musicians who have influenced your life?
Eric: You just described my childhood as well! What a nostalgia trip. I think some of my influences would include Radiohead (I love everything about them), The White Stripes (for their powerful minimalist sound), James Blake (for his vocals and production), and Billie Eilish/Finneas (for their bedroom production and songwriting).
Me: My younger sister was a huge Radiohead fan, but not me so much. I have only recently discovered Finneas’ music and like it. I’m so happy that your music is out there for the world to enjoy. For myself, growing up in Montreal was hard because I was a visible minority and often made fun of. I always thought that Asians were underrepresented in the music industry in general (Asia aside) and wished that more Asians would become mainstream. I love that you’re representing the Asian community through your music. I feel so much pride. Do you find it hard to “put yourself out there”?
Eric: I do! I used to not show my face and would prefer people just listen to the music. It was a deliberate decision to put myself out there to help with Asian representation. I was thinking of my kid nephew and how there aren’t many male Asian artists in the indie music scene or mainstream media. I wanted for him to see himself represented in if he wanted to pursue arts. If I can help move the needle ever so slightly in the right direction by doing something simple like putting my face on things, then I should do it.
Me: What an inspiring uncle you are! I feel that with your presence, the needle has been shifted already. Other than music, what other things are you into?
Eric: Not much these days, haha. With COVID lockdowns, I pretty much have no life. I’ve been reading more about mindfulness and meditation. And I also just started reading Harry Potter for the first time. I’m looking forward to watching the movies for the first time too.
When I have more free time, I’ll probably get back into drawing and painting more. I used to study Architecture where we’d sketch almost every day. So I’ll probably explore the visual artistic side of my brain more in the near future.
Me: COVID-related lockdowns have been good for some things. I agree with “brain-flexing”, I’ve recently picked up my sketch pencils again in hopes of letting the creativity flow. There’s also something therapeutic about “pencil on paper”. I’m actually thinking of doing some graphic illustrations inspired by my outdoor adventures. Lockdown has me digging through my old photos and I’m totally itching to drive off (with my music blasting) to a faraway place for a hike. I now have new songs to add to my “long drive” playlist 🙂
I would love to see you perform live. Have you considered an online concert? And after COVID is done, do you have any plans to perform live on stage?
Eric: Yes! It’s something I’m still figuring out how to do because I mainly play all the parts on the recordings. So I’ll probably have to adapt them for a solo performance in a way to make it interesting and less like a glorified karaoke session.
Me: Karoake lol. I’m sure you’re great at that! I’ve never picked up a mike for the purpose of singing into it. I read that you’re working toward an album. What are your plans for 2021?
Eric: Yes! I’m hoping to complete the album this year and will be releasing singles leading up to its release. I’m also trying to connect with more like minded-artists and find my “tribe” of sorts.
Me: Thank you so much for your song “Shuffle”. It has hit a soft spot and been on repeat since I first heard it. I enjoyed this interview and getting to know you. Everyone – check out Eric’s beautiful piano playing and amazing music!
Before wrapping up this interview, do you have anything else that you wish to share?
Eric: Thank you so much for everything, Monica! These thoughtful questions really allowed me to pause and reflect on my artistic journey so far. I really appreciate it!
I think I’ll close with a shoutout to my friend Maryse Daniel, the artist that worked on all the artwork for my latest singles, and a quote I have displayed in my music studio: “One day, you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.”