Q: Who are your influences?
A: My parents' record collection: Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, Mozart and Beethoven, 60s Mandarin pop. That's what I started with and it'll never leave me. Later on, pianist-songwriters: Elton John, Billy Joel, Tori Amos. These days I'm influenced by whoever intimidates me. I hear them, I'm astounded by them, I think daily about quitting music because I'll never be able to do it as well as they do. Then I try to steal from them without imitating. A tricky thing.
Q: How would you characterize your music?
A: Oh man, I don't know. I've taken to saying "chamber folk" or "singer-songwriter" to some people. "Somewhere between folk and pop, with a bit of classical and jazz," if they look confused after that. It's frustrating that I have no succinct phrase to offer; at the same time, I think it also means I'm doing something right.
Q: How long have you been playing piano?
A: Since I was five.
Q: Did you study at a conservatory?
A: No, just one-on-one piano lessons until I was 17. Changed my life, though.
Q: How did you learn to sing?
A: In the shower, and in school choirs. I took some voice lessons here and there, which amounted to paying $40-150 a week to be told that I was doing it all wrong. I don't think we fixed anything. So maybe I haven't learned to sing, actually.
Q: When did you start writing songs?
A: I think I was six when I decided I could cobble my own piano piece together. As for songs that I still play in public, the earliest ones are from high school.
Q: How long does it take for you to write songs?
A: A long time. Sometimes months. Occasionally over a year. I don't revise all that much; it just takes that long for all the pieces to form and assemble.
Q: Who arranges the songs for live performance?
A: It's a collaborative process. My bandmates generally compose their own parts as we work through a song in rehearsal—sometimes they're based on the studio recordings, oftentimes not. Sometimes they have cool ideas for my parts, too.
Q: How old are you?
Q: Is Vienna the name your parents gave you?
Q: How do you write your name in Chinese?
A: Wikipedia knows all. And is reasonably accurate, though I don't know why it has photos of me wearing a knit hat and playing guitar onstage, two things I almost never do.
Q: Is it true that you used to be a software engineer?
A: Yes. I got my bachelor's in Computer Science at Stanford University, and went to work for Cisco Systems for two years. These days I remember exactly enough to crash whatever computer I'm working on.
Q: Is it true that you went to/dropped out of medical school?
A: No. Can't imagine paying off med school loans and funding an album...
Q: What was it like being on Letterman?
A: Surreal. Pretty much like how it'd be for you if you got called to play on the Late Show. I still think I dreamt the whole thing. Except the studio was very, very cold, and my dreams aren't often cold.
Q: Which of your albums is the best one, in your opinion?
A: Like anyone, I'd hope that the most recent is always the strongest. I think I'm getting better as I go...
Q: Does constantly talking about yourself ever make you feel like an egomaniac?
A: Yes, yes it does. Makes me wish I were in a band sometimes.
Q: Do you ever reply to emails?
A: No, and I apologize. It's not a policy or anything; I'm just not good at staying on top of it. I promise that I do read everything, and that I'm grateful.