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Artist of the Week – Chinawoman

December 7, 2010 by · 2 comments

Interview of Yana Radilova with Chinawoman

Photo: Pascal Paquette

Do you remember your first performances on stage?

Yes it was almost five years ago. At a small bar in Toronto, a few of my best friends played with me. I was very drunk, it went over very well.

What roused your interest for music?

I was dating a musician, infatuated with another musician, and I found that suddenly more of my friends were musicians. I started playing around with the guitar. One day I was browsing MySpace with my best friend and he suggested I make a page. I said “what for, I don’t have any songs.” He said “make a page and then maybe you will write one.” A week later I had written my first song, it was called “I Kiss The Hand of My Destroyer.”

Photo: Jeff Coussin

Why did you choose the name “Chinawoman”?

People often ask me if I am Asian. Back around when I wrote that first song, I opened Garageband on my Mac laptop for the first time and was playing around. It prompted me for a band name, and as a joke I wrote “Chinawoman”.

How can you describe your music?

Sentimental, melodic, tragicomic, chanson, crying while laughing, dark romantic, theatrical, where contrived meets sincere, cinematic.

Photo: Pascal Paquette

Your style can be defined as “slowcore.” Does your temperament coincide with this kind of music?

Yes, I am somewhat of a slow moving creature, mellow, contained and emotional. But overall I am more animated than my music, less serious and more a clown than people might imagine, low-brow, a bit of a ham, shifty too.

What is the main message you send through your songs?

Well, the aim at least, is a feeling for life, at once sad and celebratory. A recognition of this moment together, you and I, drinking at this table, our feeling for one another, conflicted and imperfect, gorgeous and f—king tragic!

Photo: Jaime Hogge

What are your plans for the future?

Get the show on the road, develop the live aspect more, keep writing songs, write my best songs, write beautiful melodies, do the best I can. Then live in a cabin on the beach and raise chickens.

Where have you been on tour?

I’ve played shows in Toronto and along the West coast of Canada and the US. I’ve just relocated to Berlin and signed with a European booking agency so now there will be more touring.

Photo: Pascal Paquette

Are you a “party girl”?

Sometimes. I mean, I do have to go out into the world, make myself somewhat presentable, use more or less decipherable words and facial expressions to connect with others. You meet and greet using intricate code, eyes, words, hair and accessories, then hopefully you can run off into the woods together, get to know each other for real, eat without cutlery, etc.

You probably wrote your song “Russian ballerina” about your mother… What is her role on your professional development?

She is my #1 fan. And I am hers.

Give some advice to young musicians!

I’m finding more as I watch and learn from successful musicians and artists in general, that it really comes down to a strong work ethic, and an ability to see yourself and use your talents and limitations in the best possible way. To be “rock‘n’roll” you have to be an accountant.

Also, maybe the best songwriting advice I’ve ever gotten (again from my best friend) which I don’t use nearly enough: Write the worst song you can imagine.

Photo: Cindy Blazevic


Chinawoman’s songs “manoeuvre between grandiose retro motifs and a surprising sincerity” (, May 2010)—are tragicomic, melodydriven, sentimental and exist suspended in a shadowy glamour.

Her debut album, Party Girl (2007), by some fateful unknown hand was delivered to the land of her forefathers, and her music can now be heard blaring regularly from the open windows of Russian mental institutions, elitist Lithuanian tea parties, Moscow fashion runways and the ringtones of mothers all over the Ukraine. Raised in the Russian hood of Toronto, the daughter of a Kirov ballerina and an engineer from Leningrad grew up listening to her parents’ collection of Soviet and 70’s European records.

Her new album Show Me The Face, now makes explicit what was at the core of her music all along: classical european balladry. Decadent, dramatic and earnest, this time around the deliveries are rawer and more invested, the palette of the euro spectrum broader and more vivid, and melodrama and humor juxtaposed ensures that there is always lightness in the dark.

They say you can tell most about an artist when they are indulging themselves, and on this record Chinawoman indulges her deep love for big syrupy ballads on tracks like Drawn To You, Show Me The Face, and GBMSRF. Meanwhile classical structures are more like echoes amid more experimental offerings—Acid Broke The Spell is a psychedelic-themed, loosely delivered tango; Let’s Meet sounds like a Laurie Anderson meets corpse bride one-woman stage show; and the witchy Wrong Side of The Fence finds Chinawoman casting a spell over howling winds. Melodies remain simple but precise, vintage keyboards and synth strings offer the solitary rendition of a grand experience, drum machines and organs have been looping since the beginning of time, and a voice delivers motifs familiar and yet impossible to pinpoint.

Chinawoman has drawn comparisons to Nico, Leonard Cohen and Marc Almond, as well as Soviet era singing stars such as Edita Peha and early Alla Pugacheva. Her voice has been described as having shamanic and Morrison-esque intonations, a timbre akin to Tanita Tikaram, with hypnotic and an “almost juvenile” quality. Amid the wave of eastern european-styled artists such as Beirut, Devotchka and Gogol Bordello, Chinawoman singly captures the romantic Russian domain of this resurgence. A genre based partly on elements of melody and style, but moreso—a signature fatalist-celebratory approach to songwriting.

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