Music is not always glamorous and rewarding – Interview with Leo Wong
Having almost given up music several times but eventually keeping it going and even winning several huge Asian singing competitions Leo Wong is the living proof making music or surviving as a musician is not a walk in the park but his dedication is definitely a proof despite the hardships one eventually gets rewarded for their efforts. From giving up to flute, to studying with Michael Jackson’s very own vocal coach Leo has surely walked a long path and it’s certainly the best is yet to come. Meet him in this interview and make sure you follow his work on Drooble.
Hello! Tell the world about yourself. How did you grow up to become the musician you are today?
Hi all, my name is Leo. I’m currently living in Hong Kong where I’m working as an English and music teacher. My musical journey started in my pre-teen years. I was living in Canada at the time. I came from a family of musicians and my parents decided that I should learn the flute like my brother. I hated every minute of it at the time. I simply couldn’t sight read. They didn’t discover the meaning of dyslexia until much later. I ended up quitting music temporary until I was 21 years old. I was invited to go to a wedding in Italy by my friends from church. The groom asked me in a thick Italian accent, “Leo, sing something for me at my wedding.”
To which I replied, “Is that an offer I can’t refuse?” After the wedding, I had decided to start studying singing. Back home in Vancouver I was introduced to a vocal coach, who sent me down to LA to study. I ended up studying voice from Michael Jackson’s teacher, Seth Riggs, who happens to be my childhood idol.
Even though I’ve studied with one of the most well-known pop teachers in the USA, I gravitated more towards classical and cross-over singing. Over the last few years, I had developed myself as Hong Kong’s Bocelli as Howard McCrary coined me. I also won several singing competitions in Asia. Now my focus is to teach singing and teach children in Hong Kong how to sing with complete freedom and control.
Introduce your current musical projects and tell us what makes each one special for you!
Currently, I’m working on a few shows with my friends and my students. Every year we have several shows around Hong Kong with our students. We sing and play music. We are planning a musical show as well. I’m also working with my new duet partner Rachael. We want to start doing shows in hotels together. Possibly start recording again soon.
How do you find the drive and inspiration to keep going all this time?
I have to be honest. Doing music is not as glamorous as most people think. It’s usually a lot of late nights and a lot of practice. Many times it is more disappointment than rewarding. So many times throughout my career I had thought of quitting but then I remembered my “why”. My “why”, which I find far more important than my “how”. I will explain my why below.
How is your local music scene in your perspective? Do you feel like you belong there?
The local music scene in Hong Kong is filled with a lot of skilled underground and indie musicians. However, they are not recognized because the network here considered them “unmarketable.” That usually means they don’t have a certain look they like. In reality, they are far more skilled than the mainstream musicians in Hong Kong by a mile. I feel that I belong here because we do speak the same language. I may not be the best pianist out there but they can play for me. I can simply use my voice with them. We jam or we make music, we have a great time together. Our audience love us as well.
What is your all-time favorite record and how did it change you as an artist?
I have many favorite records but my all-time favorite one is a single called “Be My Love” performed by Mario Lanza, the former film/opera star. Lanza was one of my inspirations. I remember listening to the high notes and the power of his performance. His grasp and understanding of the Bel Canto technique is surreal. I remember Bocelli, Pavarotti and Domingo credited him as their inspiration. They saw his films and listened to him singing which inspired them to go that very same path. If it was not for Mario Lanza in “A Toast from New Orleans” and “The Great Caruso”, Pavarotti would have become a soccer player. Bocelli might be still practicing law today. I’ve found the impact from Lanza is quite profound.
What are your favorite software and hardware tools for music production?
I usually like to record everything live and with my pianist in a live take it’s possible. Garage Band is easy to use since I can hook up my computer to a few mics and record the music live. Many years ago, Tito and I recorded a single called “Cacinni’s Ave Maria” and is a live take at studio using this technique. No BS, it’s all pure and raw live take. You can hear it on Drooble. For song writing I like using Sibelius. I like its ease of use and I can write any parts I like into it. Sometimes I do need some input from musicians from different disciplines as well.
What is your songwriting process like?
Song-writing has never been my strength, I have to be honest. If I get an idea for a song, I usually sing it into a high tech recording device like my iPhone. When I get to my computer, I first write out the melody line and then start inserting chords and lyrics into it.
Out of all the live shows you played, which one was the most memorable, and why?
The most memorable live show I had done was back in LA. I think I caught the attention of someone in the audience. I remember after the show, he came up to me in his pink suit and multi-colored hair and beard. He just said, “Leo, you stud muffin. You are amazing.” That man was Mark Hudson, actor Kate Hudson’s uncle.
What is your biggest musical goal?
My biggest musical goal at the moment? I want to sing a live show at the Sydney Opera House. This summer, I am learning Spanish. There are a few classical pieces I want to learn and sing such as: Nessun Dorma, Granada and Santa Lucia.
How has being on Drooble helped you as a musician?
I’ve never dreamed of getting my music heard on a channel and gaining such a big audience so quickly. Before I found out about Drooble I only knew about YouTube or iTunes. However, they have limitations. They are not specialized for musicians. They also don’t allow musicians to connect like we do on Drooble. We’re lucky if we get 5 hits on those platforms. On Drooble, the situation is different because of the radio channel.