YouTuber Sam Tsui has a lot going on in his life right now – he has recently got married to fellow singer Casey Breves, has a new album coming out, and is getting ready to perform in Hong Kong next month. He found time in his packed diary to update Young Post on married life, and his dream to star in the next Star Wars movie.
How do you decide on your setlist?
There are songs that we do on our channel that work well on video, but they don’t have the same feel when we rehearse them to play live. We tend to pick the ones that work in a stadium context, like the pop medley which is fun, crazy and gets people dancing.
What embarrassing things have you done on stage?
A lot of things, certainly. Doing these long shows under hot lights, I drink a lot of water while I’m singing so I’ll have a bunch of water bottles on stage. I’ll take a swig and put it down without closing the lid, and I’ve been known to kick full water bottles at the audience while I’m running across the stage. People do not expect to come to a Sam Tsui show to be drenched in water. Usually they have a good humour about it! But every time I do it, I’m like, Sam, you’re an idiot. Put the cap on your water bottle.
What if you need a toilet break after all that water?
I time it so I don’t need to. Sometimes there’s an opportunity for me to run off stage if they’re doing set changes. But usually I just gotta hold it.
Tell us about your new album!
One of the exciting things is I’m co-producing a lot of it! Working with Kurt [Schneider] and a bunch of different producers over the years, I think I’ve learned a lot about production. So this album has a lot more ‘me’ infused into it, which I’m excited for fans to hear! When you’re working with a producer, you have to find a way to articulate to the producer the sound you’re hearing in your head. What’s great about producing yourself is you don’t have to describe it, you can just pick the instrument and do the line yourself. It gives you a lot more control over the final product. I think you will find that most YouTubers in general, we like our control.
What sound are you going for in the record?
I’m going for a fun, funky throwback feel. I grew up on Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Cindy Lauper, these kind of 80s powerhouse, funky vibe, so that’s what I’ve been channelling. I think Secret is a good example of that, you’ve got the funky line, the electro percussion stuff.
Which song was a challenge to do?
One song is called Clumsy, which I’ve been playing live for a year now. The writing came very naturally but it’s gone through five different versions to get the right sound.
You said you were releasing a new original song every month, but we didn’t see one come out in May!
I am seriously trying! We’re waiting on the post-production for it, we wanted to make sure it’s perfect. But there might be two new songs this month, because I have a new song inspired by my wedding! We got all the footage from the wedding, and we wanted to put it all together in a video, so we were like, let’s write a song to go with it. It’ll be cheesy and romantic. I won’t reveal the name now, but I promise it’s really good!
How’s married life?
It’s great! We’re writing a bunch together, so we’re working together professionally as well. The wedding was awesome. It was the one opportunity for me to have my friends and family from different continents coming together in LA. It’s pretty special.
What songs did you play at the wedding?
There was a tonne of great music, because we have so many musician friends. My guitarist Jason Pitts played Time After Time, the Cindy Lauper song. It was a very musical evening, even though I didn’t actually sing. It was time for our friends to show off their musical talent!
Are you exploring your artistry in other ways outside of music?
Yeah, acting is a love of mine. I’ve been in a lot of musical theatre in college and I was actually planning on going into that before the YouTube thing happened. I’m loving being a full-time musician, but I’m having a little itch to get back into acting. So I’ve had some spots on American TV, some shows in the new digital content that’s being put out there.
If you could star in any movie, what would it be?
Oh my God. I’m a geek and huge Star Wars fan. They’re planning on making a Star Wars movie every year, so if one of these days I could get cast in a Star Wars movie I’d be in heaven.
What celebrity impressions can you do?
Oh man. Like everyone I can do my best try at Chewbacca, like, WURAHHHHH! (laughs) That was really bad.
Other than singing, what’s one thing you’re good at?
I’m also a big art person. I do all my graphic and cover design and I paint as well. If I weren’t a musician I’d probably be some kind of graphic designer. Whenever my friends in LA have a show or something, they’ll ask me to do the poster. So it’s something that I enjoy doing.
Why did you choose to study Greek at Yale University?
I’ve always loved ancient history in general, especially classics and the mythology. There are not many opportunities in life that you can study this stuff, and because I knew I wanted to go into music and performing, I saw it as my last chance to learn from really smart people. I’m really glad I did even though I don’t use it on a daily basis.
What would you say to students who think grades or your university major determines your life?
I totally get it. Growing up, I was obsessed with good grades and I think it’s easy to get caught up in that, defining yourself by how successful you are at one given thing, whether it’s school or whatever you do. As I’ve gotten older I’m really grateful that I learned to work hard through all that. The negative side effect is that crazy intensity of being so hard on yourself, and I think a lot of students deal with that. My words of advice are, it’s really great to be passionate, but don’t let one given thing become your whole life or let it become what defines you. Know that there’s so much to do in life that everything is just a small piece of that.