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Production Series: Wuhu – Heart

Part 2 of my series in which I document in detail some of my favorite albums I produced over the years.

I was well ingratiated into the Koi community in 2016 after the release of Citysleep II (read about that story here), and was excited to look for my next big project. It came after watching Victor Wu perform solo at the Palomino. Victor was the second of two hosts at the Cafe Koi open mic night on Tuesdays (the other being Jerrick Dela Rosa from Citysleep).

He shared a similar musical background to me, digging into his classical music roots to create popular music. As an open mic host, Victor often reserved a spot of his own, playing the piano and the guitar while singing his original songs.

While I was very much into lofi hip-hop production at the time (which fit well with Citysleep’s sound), I knew Victor and I could make something great as well. Seeing him perform live by himself made me feel a bit sad. He had these great songs that didn’t get a whole lot of support from a band, only those within the community, and he, like many others, didn’t have the means to make recordings.

I saw my value in this regard. I had the equipment, the know-how, and the time to put into making recordings for this community for free. So I approached Victor after his show and asked him if he wanted to do an album with me. He was so enthusiastic, and we basically got to work right away.

We called it “Heart” and went under the stage name Victor was going by, Woohoo. The name was a play on his last name and the fact that he just wanted to make fun music. We later changed the spelling of the project to Wuhu, which added another interpretation, named after the city in China (where Victor admittedly isn’t actually from, but he is Chinese). Victor had demos of the songs he wanted to do, stretching back many years.

This story is 8 years old by the time I’m writing it, and so a few things are probably pretty fuzzy. It took a full year to put this EP out. An entire year for five songs! Comparing that to working with Citysleep, who had their tracking done in a couple weekends, and you might see why I was, at the time, a bit frustrated and anxious to put this album out. In retrospect, I really loved the time we spent on this album, and feel that we absolutely needed to focus on all the details.

We took a waterfall approach to making the album; tracking, mixing, overdubbing, depending on what we felt we needed at the time. There was no overall plan for the album apart from the loop-based performances and demos Vic had. But with the flexibility of producing the album the way we did, Victor kind of went wild and wanted to do (or at least try) all the things he could hear in his head. Not to speak for him, but it was probably an incredibly liberating experience that he really absorbed himself into.

Until that point, Vic was confined to what he could loop using his looping pedal, guitar, and Casio organ. But now, we could record a real piano, guitar layers, and vocal harmonies. The vast majority of the tracking was classic Victor, using guitar and organ loops and then building off of them. We even called Jerrick in to provide his pitch-perfect harmonies on two of the songs. I stepped in to perform as well, playing the piano for the song Domesticated and the ending for Innocence, a duet with Vic.

Throughout the process of producing Heart, Victor was still performing. Eventually, he asked me to perform with him as well, playing my piano accompaniment based on the new material we were writing for these old songs.

We carried this little sketchbook around with us to every show and passed it around for people to write and doodle in.

After a fairly exhausting year, we finally released Heart in the summer of 2017. The release show was by far my most memorable performance. It was hosted by Cafe Rosso at the National Music Centre where Victor worked. We enlisted help for this performance from Jerrick and Victor’s brother, Philip. The room was full of people we loved – some even came all the way down from Edmonton to watch us. My dad was there, as well as Victor’s parents.

But the most memorable moment was at the very end, playing the end of the song Innocence. Jerrick actually broke down and cried during that moment. After the show, I spoke with Jerrick who told me he had heard these songs for years, and they had developed so far. He of course had a lot of input into the songs himself, from performing them duet-style with Victor at the open mic to featuring on the album to handling our sampler on stage. These songs meant so much to him that he was overwhelmed with emotion at the end of the show.

Heart remains one of my most cherished albums for its depth, raw emotion, lyrical and musical complexity, and for the sheer nostalgia embedded within the songs and that I feel now almost a decade later. My musical journey with Victor continues for many years after, which I will be writing about next. Stay tuned!

The album cover for Heart by Wuhu. It features a beautiful watercolour painting of a human heart entangled by vines and flowers.