Watching Leona

Since the launching of Hmoodle.com we have met plenty of interesting and fun people along the way. One of the most interesting and fun groups we met was the band Watching Leona. After being involved in several of the same events as they were, it became obvious to me that they should be our September All Access Artist of the Month.

Watching Leona has been a mainstay in the Hmong music scene for over five years now and continues to gain popularity in the Hmong community, as well as outside the Hmong circle as they perform in front of crowds at venues like Varsity Theater. As you listen to their songs there seems to always be a connection of your own experiences to their lyrics—making you feel as if the song was written for you. I believe that’s another reason they are so popular, especially with the younger generation.

This past summer we were able to partake in two of Watching Leona’s performances. It was at this second performance at PSA’s Rock Band Charity Event that I realized that they were the real deal. As they began their performance, their fans rushed the stage and sang along with each song that was sung. Just when they thought their evening was over, they came out to and a performed an encore to the delight of their fans.

After the show, I was able to get the guys to sit down for a quickie interview. This is the result of that interview.

Hmoodle: I’m here with good friends of Hmoodle, the band “Watching Leona”. Thanks for being our Hmoodle All Access Artist of the Month.

Watching Leona: Thanks! We are very grateful.

Hmoodle: First off, how long have you guys been together? Is this the original group?

Watching Leona: The band that is playing together today has only been together since 2007. The original band formed in 2002. Xeevxwm and I started the band while we were in college. Watching Leona actually began as an acoustic band consisting of three members. The third original member left shortly after the creation of the band which prompted Xeevxwm and I to take the band in a different direction and to add three more pieces to the band. After the recording and release of our EP album, our bass player, Monie Thao, left the band on the friendliest of terms. We found Jim Yang to fill the spot, and this is where we are currently.

Hmoodle: For our readers that aren’t familiar with the band, let’s give them your names and your roles.

Watching Leona: Meng Yang (Vocalist), Xeev Xwm Vang (Rhythm Guitar), Meng Vang (Lead Guitar), Jim Yang (Bassist), and Chue Vang (Drums)

Hmoodle: Have you guys recorded any albums yet? (If so, give all relevant info here)

Watching Leona: We recorded one self-titled EP album of 8 songs in 2003-04. Other than that, we’ve been on some compilation CD’s such as the “This is How You Love” soundtrack sponsored by a local Hmong youth group, headed by Lao Family in 2003; the “H Project” compilation to create awareness of the Hmong people trapped in Southeast Asia in 2006; and the “Tou & Mai” soundtrack in 2007.”

Hmoodle: You have lots of originals songs. I ask this question to all our artists, but how do you create your songs?

Watching Leona: I don’t think there is one definitive way. Different songs have different inspirations and different methods of coming around. Sometimes, Xeevxwm and Chue can be jamming and come up with something they like. Sometimes words come to me, and I have to get Xeevxwm to come up with something on the guitar. Sometimes, we write songs for weddings or events, and those songs modify into rock ballads. Sometimes, the whole band is jamming around, and everything just comes together. A song rarely stays in the same shape and form that it was created in. In our band, a song is worked on for a long time before we feel that it’s truly ready. And even after we release it or play it at a concert, we still go back and modify it by adding or taking away things. We’re constantly trying to find something new in each of our old songs. We also have plenty of dead songs that no one ever hears.

Hmoodle: One of your songs is about all the flack you took about having so many “love” songs, what brought that on?

Watching Leona: I guess I was just tired of people saying that all our songs are about the same thing. Yes, most of our songs back then were about the same thing because that was me, and that was how I dealt with it. For all the criticisms that our band took, there were an equal number of people who came up to me and said that what I sang about was what they were feeling too when they went through similar situations. So for me, it was worth it, but I had to say something back to the critics, something to tell them that I’m not naive to their comments. That’s why I came up with those lyrics–simple and blunt so that they didn’t miss the message.

Hmoodle: At the PSA Event, I thought it was pretty cool when you took the stage and the crowd sang the lyrics to your songs. That must be an awesome feeling.

Watching Leona: I tell the guys all the time that it is amazing how something that I wrote in my room can be remembered and sung by people that I don’t even know. It’s a really cool thing to be able to connect like that.

Hmoodle: Speaking of the PSA Event, you guys seem to be performing everywhere this summer, must be nice to be wanted.

Watching Leona: I think you have to always be ‘out there,’ because people easily forget. In this industry, if you’re out of people’s peripherals, you stand a chance of not existing. It seems like we’re ‘wanted,’ but the truth is, we have to fight and negotiate for places to play.

Hmoodle: I know you guys have performed a few times at Varsity Theater, which I am sure is a much different crowd then the ones I’ve seen you perform at, how have those shows gone and do you plan to continue to try and make your music reach outside the Hmong Community?

Watching Leona: I have to admit that the crowds are very different, although there are some same elements. I don’t know if Hmong people just aren’t feeling our music or think that we suck or what, but our music seems to catch on better with crowds at places such as Varsity Theater. I know that more and more Hmong people are beginning to accept us, but for the time being, I think you’ll find that most Hmong people would rather go to a club and dance then come to a local live show. We realize that trend, and we’ve accepted it. We hope that we can help people realize that there are a lot of talented local Hmong musicians out there that need support from their community. As for making our way into the local underground rock and indie scene, we’re moving at our own pace. We know that there are stereotypes already placed on us, and that the industry is rough and relentless, but we have confidence in ourselves that people will like our music regardless of our ethnicity. You have to believe, right?

Hmoodle: On your Myspace page, it states that your album is on hold. When can your fans expect it to be released?

Watching Leona: Sometime soon as all I can say.

Hmoodle: Besides releasing that album, what else can we expect to see from Watching Leona in the near future?

Watching Leona: We’ll continue to work on our music to perfect it. We will continue to support our local bands. We would like to play on a much more visible stage some day, but we realize that we have to work towards that. I think there will be some collaborating with local artists, and I think that we’ll be doing some behind-the-scenes work with music, but we won’t disappear quite yet. I think we’ve put too much into this to let it fade away, so we want to make our mark. I understand that the public has a say in whether or not we stay or go, but hopefully, they’ll start to see what we see in music.

Hmoodle: Once again, thanks again for your involvement with Hmoodle. Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers—your fans?

Watching Leona: We have some of the most dedicated fans out there, and we hope you enjoy the messages, the poetry, and the music that we create. We have seen many bands come and go, but we’re still here, and we know that this wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the fans, the friends, and the family that come out to support us. Please keep in touch.

As Watching Leona continues to expand their growing fan base they have stayed true to what they are, regardless of the criticism they may have received and make no apologies. You have to admire that in an artist.

There’s a lot of truth in what Watching Leona stated in their interview. There are so many talented Hmong musicians that are falling under the radar due to the lack of interest in the live music scene. Unfortunately it’s still the era of club hopping and these musicians take a back seat to that. Luckily there are venues like Varsity Theater and events like CHAT’s Open Mic where these musicians can be visible and relevant.

I look forward to hearing Watching Leona’s new album when they do release. I appreciate they are taking the time to do a quality album versus just releasing an album just for the sake of it. If you haven’t had the opportunity to check out Watching Leona or any of the fine Hmong musicians out there, check back to Hmoodle.com with updates.

I want to thank Watching Leona for being a part of Hmoodle.com. I wish you guys the best of luck with your future music endeavors.

To get better acquainted with Watching Leona, check them out at: www.myspace.com/watchingleona

If you are artist that would like to featured as our All Access Artist of the Month, or if you have any questions or comments about this article then feel free to contact me at ryanm@hmoodle.com

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