While my recent trip to Taiwan could only be described as a crash-course in the country’s music sector, I had had the pleasure to see Fan Xiaoxuan, aka Mavis Fan, perform a year earlier at MIDEM with her band 100%. I immediately became a fan of the “Little Witch of Music” for her ability to straddle pop and rock influences and spot-on vocals into a seamless high-energy sounds.
Mavis has come a long way though and climbed many hurdles to arrive where she is today. Thrust into fame in the mid-90s as a “sweet girl” pop star for the children’s market, her records sold over a million copies each, maker her an idol for an entire generation of children. But as happens with so many young pop star, she faced a crisis of following her typecast role or venturing off to follow her own voice. Luckily for us, this Dorothyesque singer chose to chart her own unique (and some times muddy) path down the yellow brick road as you’ll see from this video.
So I considered it a special reunion when I met up with Mavis and guitarist Tony Chen (Allen) in Taipei this May to discuss her musical career, how she’s grown with her fans over the years and life with her band 100%.
I actually have the pleasure of first hearing you live at MIDEM in Cannes 2 years ago? How was it playing at MIDEM? Was that your first time in France?
[Mavis] This was the first time we went to France, and we were very very excited to have such a great opportunity and also such an amazing way to experience a new culture by playing music there. We were super stoked to be able to bring our music to MIDEM and play for an international audience, however it was a bit nerve racking because I had to speak in English while on stage.
I was a bit concerned there would be distance between us and the audience because of that language barrier. But in the end thankfully, it seemed the audience had a connection to the music, which gave us that much more confidence while playing! We did get lots of positive feedback after the show. When we perform, we feel as long as we give 110% on stage, that energy will be felt by the audience.
What other countries have you toured in?
[Mavis] Aside from France, we spend a lot of time in Hong Kong, mainland China and Taiwan.
How do those fans differ in the way they react to your music?
[Mavis] Because China is such a big place, with many different cities and provinces, it seems each place has a different vibe to it. It’s really interesting to see the different reactions from fans from place to place.
Take for example Chengdu - it’s a very enthusiastic place. The fans there are very in your face, rocking out with us, taking pics, singing along, definitely not shy to enjoy the show. But on the other hand, take Beijing where the people are really cool, calm and intense. They appear more reserved at shows, but it just takes a while for them to warm up. By then end of the show, they are singing along and enjoying themselves just like anywhere else.
It would be an understatement to say that your music has changed over time. Tell me more about this transformation?
[Mavis] I started studying music from the time I was a kid. Any profession that ever appealed to me was based around music. When I was little, I would see on the back of CDs “Producer” and I thought to myself…hmmm, that sounds like a good job, even though I didn’t really know what a producer did. But suddenly, somehow, I ended up on the path of a singer. At the time, I really hoped in the future I would be able to make my own music and create my own style.
When I first started, I was marketed as a young cute singer, the songs I sang and my image were ‘cute’ and they seemed to just keep getting cuter and cuter. I understood at the time that this was the path that I needed to take. But after a while, I realized that path and the path I wanted were getting further and further away from each other. That was when I decided to follow my heart and do what I loved musically.
Your fans grew up with you since they were young. How have they grown with the transition? Did you get a lot of pushback from them?
[Mavis] I’m really so lucky, because a lot of my fans and I have grown up together, we’ve also changed together. Of course some of the fans still prefer my old style of music, but others seem to have also gone down the same musical path as I have. It’s really important for me to be able to create a relationship between my fans and I. I feel that music can be the common thread that connects us all. So in the end, it’s more like we are old friends, not just a singer and her fans, and because of this, I definitely have a bigger responsibility to make my music even better.
What are the influences that shape Mavis Fan?
[Mavis] I honestly don’t think I was influenced a lot by outside trends. For me, as soon as I started with the band, suddenly there were all these new possibilities. To have 4 people in a band rather than just my singing totally changes the creative environment. 100%’s style was definitely born from the four of us being together. But also I found that I really needed to change my singing style to fit the band. Obviously, I couldn’t sing in my old style, so soft and angel like. It definitely wouldn’t fit with the 100% band vibe.
Tell me something about the interaction between you and your band members in creating your sound and stage presence.
[Allen] We’ve all been really passionate about music for ages. There are a lot of societal and cultural pressures that we all feel, but we are all really lucky to have this band and be able to use our music as a medium to express and release those pressures.
[Mavis] Something that the band has given me is the courage to be on stage. I used to really get super nervous and stressed before any show. I hated doing it. Then before one show, they told me “You just gotta go out and have fun, if you are having fun, the fans will be too!” So, I said to myself, OK, I JUST GOTTA DO IT!! I went out there and didn’t worry whether I’d forget a lyric or was a bit off. I just sang my butt off and had a blast on stage, and I think that really translated down to the audience as they also were going nuts along with me! That’s when I realized that if I could give the fans that, the ability to go nuts with me and forget any of their stresses or problems for one night, that really is the best thing of all!
How do you use to interact with your fans on the Internet, across greater China? How do your fans keep in touch with you?
[Mavis] There are several sites like facebook, but our own official website is probably the one we use most. It’s a more personal experience for the fans as well as myself. We can be in contact and leave messages for each other, just like old friends would.
So it’s not Indievox or Weibo that you use a lot to interact with fans, but your own official site?
[Mavis] I tried using Weibo, but found it wasn’t really my style. Of course, it’s really easy to use, but I prefer posting message from the heart when I feel like it, not feeling like I have to be posting useless info everyday just for the sake of doing it.
Are you working on a new album?
[Mavis] I’d say right now we are all taking some down time. Over the past few years, we have been really busy playing, touring, recording and writing. We definitely need to take some time to re-charge our batteries and think about what our next step will be.
I also want to mention another thing about my website. There are so many fans that leave personal messages on it for us, stuff that maybe they feel they cant’ tell their family or friends. These messages really have influenced and inspired me to write music about it on my last record, Innocent. And I really hope by writing songs like these, it can give our fans a positive message and helps them through any tough times they are going through.
By Eric de Fontenay