KOVEN WEI TALKS MUSICAL JOURNEY, DEBUT EP “BAMBINO” & MORE [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]
BY BRENESSA ROACH | SEPTEMBER 11 2023
Meet Koven Wei, a Chinese-Canadian singer and songwriter from Toronto, Canada. He is also the Founder and Executive Producer of the media company LAB0916. He made his debut on April 29th, 2018 with a cover of “Sweater Weather” which was in collaboration with Fruitypoppin. His official debut was on August 30th, 2019 for the single “Only Answer She Knows” which was a collaboration with biosphere and Summer Song.
Since his debut, Koven has released plenty of singles up until 2021. In 2022, he took a hiatus from releasing music to really experiment and find his sound. Additionally, he opened for South Korean rapper CAMO in August 2022, followed by an opening performance for Korean-Canadian singer JUNNY in September 2022 alongside his friend Ethan Low.
Koven came back on February 10th, 2023 with the single “EVERYTHING IS RED” which unveiled a new sound and era for Koven. Followed by that single, he released “BEFORE” (with HNATA), “LIPSTICK” (with Aleebi) and “LATE NIGHT TALKS” – all pre-release tracks for his debut EP BAMBINO which came out on August 4th.
Behind The Beat had the opportunity to sit down with Koven Wei to discuss his musical journey, the inspiration behind his EP, his company LAB0916 and his plans for the future.
How did your musical journey begin?
Koven Wei: This is a very specific memory, but you know when you’re first in high school, at least for me, right when I got in, I was trying to absorb a lot of the culture and just trying to find identity. I think that’s what a lot of kids in high school are looking for. And I just remember, I went on this field trip to China and obviously when you’re 13, you’re really emotional and hormonal and just growing up as a kid. Right? I remember I had some sort of fling in China or something and I was super sad. Then, this kid put me on the artist Witt Lowry, who raps about a lot of just sad shit, like Eminem’s sad rap style.
I think that’s when I really started all my music because I was really sad and this guy was rapping about sad stuff and I was just like, “damn, I really feel this. I resonate with it.” So, I started doing it and then eventually, I made my first song and it was pretty ass and in school people would make fun of me. From there, I just kept doing it and I really enjoyed freestyling and I eventually just like really liked rap and hip hop a lot.
I just felt I always had something to say, but I didn’t always have the best medium to put it in. So, I think music was the best outlet
Brenessa: That’s a really interesting story, though, especially since your sound isn’t really rap, I guess, anymore.
Koven Wei: Yeah, the thing is low key, I honestly did not give my rap enough of a chance. Though, I think my rap was a lot better than my singing, but I just enjoyed singing a lot more than rap because the melodies also made it more fun. But, I do think there’s rap in the songs [I make], but not actual rap, if that makes sense.
BAMBINO DEPUT EP:
Congrats on the release of your debut EP BAMBINO. Can you describe the overall theme/meaning of the EP?
Koven Wei: BAMBINO basically takes after my favourite manga Bambino!. It’s a cooking manga and it’s a super niche manga basically about a Japanese chef who goes to Tokyo to cook Italian food at an Italian restaurant full of Japanese chefs. I think the whole story of Bambino! is kinda just a whole story about grit, you know? He [the chef] thinks he’s hot shit from the beginning and then he eventually realizes that he’s compared to being that small fish in a big pond. He really isn’t anything and he is just trying to learn and grow. The word “Bambino” in itself is Italian for “child”, so the chef is like a young buck.
I feel it’s the same thing for me. BAMBINO is my debut EP, the first project that I did, but it’s also a new segue into my life and into my musical career. As well, it’s a huge 180 from what I usually make and I think it also has to do with the culture aspects. In Bambino!, he’s a Japanese chef making Italian food, but he absolutely shares the same passion [as me]. I don’t make Chinese music per se, but growing up as a Chinese-Canadian, I grew up listening to Hedley, Marianas Trench, Metro Station, Green Day, and you know, all those kinds of Western artists too, right?
So, I think in a sense, through this EP, I just pay a lot of homage and also respect to the people that have pushed the culture, whether it’s in Hip-Hop or whether it’s in Rock, Pop, Punk, etc. I try to defy the kind of expectations of what is traditionally perceived as Asian music. I try to always push the boundaries and just make sure that it’s not as common.
I think I know the answer to this, but what colour would you describe the EP BAMBINO as and why?
Koven Wei: Red is definitely the the overarching thing, but I think the reason why I made it red is because this is more I guess like a personal sentiment, but I feel a lot of my work is fuelled by anger. l’m an angry person, but not an angry person at the same time. I’m not outwardly angry at people, but I’m always very angry at myself. So, I use a lot of anger to prove a point because that’s the way I’ve always worked. I’ve always worked with I hate to say it…negative feelings.
For me, that’s just my outlet for doing stuff. So, I think that’s why red is so apparent in the whole EP because even in the song “EVERYTHING IS RED”, it’s just everything that can make you feel red or make you feel those kinds of emotions. This song in particular is just loud, boisterous, obnoxious and it’s supposed to be something that is angry, but at the same time, exciting too.
Kind of shifting gears, but I think it’s really cool and inspiring that while being an artist, you also have your own company. Can you talk about LAB0916 and what the mission and the purpose of it is?
Koven Wei: When it comes to LAB, for me, I always grew up very anti-meta in a sense. I would never really go the traditional sense of anything for some reason. Maybe because it’s more fun or it’s just more intriguing to me, I would always try to find different ways to do things, even if there was already a given way to do it. I was really into the creative arts and I’ve never had the traditional experience in anything creative. I like learning to do everything [myself], whether it was merchandise, video production, music, etc. Even if it resulted in me just hitting my head on the computer, I liked figuring out exactly what to do or searching up, tutorials on doing stuff. I’ve pretty much lived my life very application based just finding my own methods of what works.
This is a story I haven’t really told many people, but I’ve always had that D.I.Y. mentality. When I was at Ryerson (now known as Toronto Metropolitan University), I wanted to start a social media type of club where I teach social media. There were a lot of people that wanted to join too. I don’t know what it was, whether it was the application I messed up or if it was just way too complicated and just so nuanced for me to get any acceptance. In my opinion, I understood that the process was hard, but at the same time, I said “This is not just for me. This is for everyone so fuck it, if they’re not gonna create it for me, I’m just gonna do it myself”.
Coming from Markham, there’s a lot of creative kids, but they’re never given role models or a place to actually grow their craft. Then they eventually kind of get washed through the social or cultural stigmas of work, life, school, etc. I always felt like if they maybe doubled down or just focused more on their craft creatively, they could actually achieve something really phenomenal. And yeah, so I basically created LAB as an experiment because I wanted to see the different combinations of multidisciplinary creatives and what can become off of that.
I think a big inspiration for that too was DPR and just the idea that the DOP could become the artist, or the producer is also an artist, but they all kind of do different things at the same time. That to me was so fucking cool and that was purely what it was like on how LAB got started. I knew a lot of people in my life that did a lot of different shit and I just wanted to gather them all to figure stuff out. It wasn’t anything very planned or I didn’t really have a big vision in a sense or knew what exactly what was gonna happen. It’s just you keep working at it and eventually the company or the collective will start to chisel itself.
Yeah, you guys are killing it. You’re still growing as an artist and growing LAB but, what’s your highlight so far of your career?
Koven Wei: I think for the LAB Highlight, Ethan’s gonna hate me for it, but it would probably be creating “BLASTOFF!”.
Brenessa: That’s how I discovered you guys!
Koven Wei: Yeah, it was the first MV that we did that was more full production and we did it all in house and it was just something that we’re really proud of because it was so inspired off Star Wars and that DPR stuff. As well, Ethan directed that one right, so, it was a lot of his inspirations, but it’s just cool because it’s the first time we were doing something that was more ambitious together and just by our own hands. It’s something that we take a lot of pride in, I think, in sentimentality.
Another LAB highlight is obviously, the Coco Jones [Spotify R&B Nights] thing that we did recently because that was the first big project that we did. We didn’t really know it was obviously way bigger scale, but it’s just that we managed to break it down into digestible chunks and just work together and it went really fucking smooth.
Those two moments make you really tell yourself “yo I can actually do this shit”. I think for the highlight as an artist, it’s pretty similar in that sense. I think probably either the CAMO or JUNNY show is one of my biggest highlights. I think the first big show an artist does is extremely defining for their career. When you’re making music, your friends will tell you that it’s good or the real ones will tell you that it’s bad – sometimes more or less they’ll tell you what you want to hear. However, I think you don’t really know how good your music is until random fucking people like it and you can physically see it and hear it. You can hear the crowd and everyone’s happiness and that is something super, super meaningful.
At CAMO, it was cool, I was very hyped, you know, I thought I did well, but also at the same time, I was very focused, or more nervous, you know, focusing on the performance than absorbing the whole idea of it. But, at the JUNNY show is when I realized, “damn, people really like my music. I can actually do this.”
But, I guess to summarize, I think all the most important moments of my life have been the ones to reinforce that I can actually make this shit happen, you know?
And you can make this shit happen and you will continue to grow. Lastly, what do you have planned for the near future?
Koven Wei: I think the next year, there’s a few things that I definitely have. For the artist side, I’m definitely working on my EP and I really want to double down and strengthen the idea or the branding of my artistry.
I really want to create a universe or you know, a cool goal of mine for my artist career is literally to create a manga. I don’t know if you listen to Eve, but Eve for all the music videos, they have commissioned animes, or The Weeknd did it for “Snowchild”, you know, those kind of vibes – I think that would be cool.
But yeah, I really want to make an EP and really double down that whole Bambino brand onto it and make this something complete. With merch, the visuals and stuff, I really want to just nail it down. And of course, make more music and work harder on branding and just enjoy the whole process of everything. As well, do more shows. I think it’d be cool to headline my show next year or something like that. So definitely work towards that.
I think on the LAB side, I really want to focus actually towards artist incubation. So, I really want to develop new artists and just work on artists that I really resonate with. When LAB started we didn’t really know what to do and we were looking for direction and I think Toronto has a lot of fucking talented artists. I just want to pick some artists that I really believe in or resonate with and just give them a chance to make something out of it.
And then I think ultimately, the end goal in general is to just keep making stuff. I think music is just one part that I like making, and I put a lot of time in it, but at the end of the day, I just enjoy making anything. That’s my ultimate goal, just make whatever I want and not worry about the financials of making it happen. So yeah, that’s kind of the scope of next year.
Brenessa: Cool, cool. I love that. I like the art incubation thing. That would really be an amazing idea to bring Toronto artists together.
Koven Wei: It’s definitely something new, because one thing about me and also a lot of the artists in the LAB is I don’t think any of us were born talented in the sense that we’re not born with a fucking golden voice, you know? All of it was just a culmination of hard work and just the hunger to become something bigger. That’s why when I tell my story, I never try to gatekeep or hide anything because I don’t want people to think I’m extraordinary in that sense. I want people to know that I was nothing special, but I just try to make something special because I didn’t want to give up. That’s the whole you can do it too mentality, you know, it’s just I don’t want people to think there’s a secret formula to be talented because there isn’t.
Special thanks to Koven Wei for taking the time to do this interview with us. Please make sure to listen to his debut EP BAMBINO and check out LAB0916. As well, Koven Wei is opening for the Singaporean R&B group brb.. next week on September 18th at the Axis Club alongside kuiper so, make sure to get tickets while you can!