Stevie Hoang: Enter the Drag-Hoang
Having become an international internet sensation with his 2007 “home-made” self-produced, self-recorded and self-promoted debut album ‘This Is Me’ (leading to an incredible 15.5 million plays on Myspace!), Essex-based, 24-year-old DIY artist/producer Stevie Hoang is currently now targeting the UK’s urban pop mainstream with his first single release for Mercury Records, the uptempo synth-dance stomper ‘No Coming Back’.
Born in Birmingham, UK to Chinese parents from Vietnam, Hoang has indeed impressively already topped the Myspace chart in the US and released two albums in Japan. Where - after repeated trips to Tokyo - he’s become a major star on the Japanese charts and club scene, selling over 65,000 albums along the way. Meanwhile, his forthcoming first album release for Mercury Records in the UK promises high-profile transatlantic production input - matching hit-making British studio bods like Mark Taylor (Enrique Iglesias) and Parker & James (Chipmunk) with such US high-flyers as RedOne (Lady GaGa) and Dre & Vidal (Usher).
Chilling backstage at West London’s Hammersmith Apollo just hours before going onstage to open-up for chart-topping pop/R&B boy-band JLS, a laid-back Stevie shares the story of his ascendance from bedroom beat-maker to international chart-star to an ever-attentive Pete Lewis.
“To be honest, as a young child I wasn’t so much into the music”, begins the man already being dubbed “the Chinese Ne-Yo” (!): “You know, I was more into the kinda stuff that normal kids are into - like video games, Kung Fu movies, playing football… But then, with my older sister being a big music fan, I’d kinda pick up on the records she was playing around the house. To where, by the time I was 10 or11, I started showing a real interest in music. And, when my auntie bought my little sister a keyboard, I ended up playing on it more than SHE did! So, with my family seeing how much I was into it, they eventually gave me a bigger piano; I started taking lessons… And I guess that’s how it all got started! And, though at the beginning I was listening to acts like Oasis and East 17, with all my friends at school listening to urban and hip hop music, by the time I was 14/15 I was totally into R&B!”
Meanwhile, it was Stevie’s time at sixth-form college that initially persuaded him to pursue a career in music: “Yeah, I think I started taking it seriously when I was studying A-level Music technology”, he recalls “Because that was when I learnt how to use a studio, how to write basic songs… Which in turn led me to write a song for this female singer who was at my college. And, with that creating a bit of a buzz, I started writing more, producing more... Which eventually resulted in me getting spotted by a manager and getting a little studio in my house. So from there I just started making songs and trying to pitch them to any singer who wanted to SING them.”
“But then, after a few years of struggling, there came a point where I kinda hit the wall with my producing and I was like ‘Oh, let me try the SINGING thing!’”, he continues: “You know, I figured that, because there weren’t too many Oriental singers out there, I had a good chance of standing OUT! And it was at that point that my friend told me ‘You should try putting your stuff on Myspace’. So, with that being a new thing back then, I thought nothing really of putting on a couple of songs, a nice picture of myself… And then everything just suddenly went CRAZY! People were like ‘Who’s this guy! He sounds very authentic, sounds like an R&B singer - but he’s CHINESE!’! So that kinda became my particular ANGLE!”
The next major step in Hoang’s musical journey meanwhile occurred in early 2008. When, still an unsigned artist and newly located to Braintree in Essex, he was contacted by a small, independent Japanese label: “Yeah, it was kinda funny”, he relates: “Because, at that time, the Myspace thing was a so big that I used to get messages in my inbox every day from people claiming they worked for companies like Sony. But I used to ignore all of them, because I thought they were all fake. But then I got one from Japan that just said ‘I want to offer you a deal. Here’s what we’re offering you’... And, because it sounded really genuine, I followed it UP... And what happened next was just NUTS! Because within six months, my album was out over there and flying off the shelves! You know, it all happened so quickly that I couldn’t BELIEVE it! Then next they invited me over the to do shows, and I ended up doing these sell-out HMV signings, club events, VIP parties… So, within that short space of time, I literally went from producing beats in my bedroom to becoming a star in Japan!”
“And I think what’s great about Japan is that there’s so much OPPORTUNITY over there”, he adds enthusiastically: “You know, if your music is good, they do tend to pick UP on it. Plus I think my sound also caters for their kind of taste. Because it’s very melodic and obviously - with them not understanding English - they do go for good melodies and strong choruses. And what was also great was that, with me being the first one on Myspace to go over there and release a male R&B album, my success actually led to a lot of OTHER Japanese licensing companies scouting Myspace to find the NEXT Stevie Hoang! And so since then there’s been lot of others from all over the world doing the same thing.”
Another positive aspect about Stevie’s success - as a British-Chinese artist doing quote-unquote “black music” - is that it provides further evidence of how colour lines in music are today being gradually erased: “Oh, definitely - which I think is a really good thing”, he replies immediately: “Because now - especially with the prominence of the internet - if your music is good enough. then you do stand a good chance of making it. Which is great for up-and-coming artists. Because I just feel that everyone should be able to release their music, regardless of what COLOUR they are or what RACE they come from. So I’m actually now hoping that I can open the door for OTHER Oriental artists to come through.”
“I mean, to date Oriental artists have generally tended to stay in their own country and have never broken worldwide”, he observes: “So I’m hoping to be the first to DO that - and so I’m definitely gonna give it my best shot this year! Because luckily, I’ve got a great record-label behind me; I’ve got great management... So it’s up to me now to deliver the MUSIC! And I’m pretty confident I can DO that!”
Stevie’s single ‘No Coming Back’ is out now through Mercury Music Group. The single ‘Fight For You’ follows June 7, with his debut album set for June 14
Words PETE LEWIS