From sea to shining Sui
Sui Zhen Photo: Supplied
You pronounce her name Sue-ee Chen, though it is spelt Sui Zhen. And that isn't even her real name. When Sui Zhen calls up a few minutes early for her interview, she introduces herself as Becky (Freeman). It isn't confusing, just layered - like her music.
Sui Zhen has played supports for Coco Rosie, Malcolm Middleton and twee pop outfit the Brunettes. She also performed at the Sonar Music Festival in Barcelona in 2011.
Having just released her debut album Two Seas, with a subversive and inquisitive musical mind, Sui Zhen is not afraid to delve into the past for her inspiration. Naming bands such as Telegraph Avenue, Karen Dalton and psych-folk outfit Cooley-Munson, Sui Zhen says she is interested in rediscovering ''people that write amazing music'' who never quite made it.
''You'll find that they sound familiar, they have all the tropes of the traditional folky song from that period, but for some reason they were a bit too weird or something.''
Her MySpace page has a plethora of interesting names in the influences section. Amid obscure ones such as Isabelle Antena, Laurie Anderson and Rainbow Chan, there are the more familiar PJ Harvey, Lou Reed, Gillian Welch and the Plastic Ono Band. Though it is Bjork, also listed, who springs to mind when you hear her single Little Frog.
''I listened to a lot of grunge music growing up, which was kind of awesome. But it was, like, the '90s grunge-rock scene - so Bjork was the interesting thing, and I was like, 'Wow that is a bit different.' ''
Composed while living in Redfern, Little Frog is about finding smaller worlds inside a large metropolis.
''Even though you live in a big city, suddenly you're whole world revolves around this small little pinhole of an existence,'' she says. ''If you are looking from a very high aerial view and mapping your movements, you are just kind of going back and forth, in different pathways, in a very small spot.''
Made in collaboration with producer Tony Dupe, to write the album Sui Zhen removed herself from distraction and focused on her music making.
''In Redfern I was in the early stages of writing for this album. I kind of became a bit reclusive. And that's why I was able to keep that objective outsider kind of perspective of things that were happening.''
Though larger distances also came into play. Naming the album Two Seas after visiting family in Bahrain (which translates to Two Seas), in 2010 Sui Zhen spent time in London at the Red Bull Music Academy. With no work, no money issues and ''no worries'', Sui Zhen was able to focus on workshops with people such as Mark Ronson and loop magician Steve Reich. ''It has lectures in the morning and it has studio time where it has all kinds of equipment is available. And then they put on a show for you in the evening, so you'll perform as well,'' she says. ''If you can imagine, it's a bit like Big Brother in closed space, so you are being documented. But you're OK with it.''
It was also there that she met collaborator, Andras Fox - with whom she performers with under the moniker Fox + Sui.
''I had an amazing time and it definitely made me a more comfortable artist and musician just by seeing other people finding different ways to live musically without necessarily having had super commercial success.''
WITH: Daniel Champagne
WHERE: The Front
TICKETS: $10 at the door
■ Arne Sjostedt is a music writer, former drummer and avid tunes fan