by Michael Thomas
One never really gets a sense of how quickly people actually talk until one beings to transcribe interviews. Such was definitely the case as I was typing up what was said during my conversation with Wendy Leung, the principal singer-songwriter of Wendy Versus. Leung talks quickly, and it doesn’t come as much surprise- besides playing music, she works as a project manager at a graphic design firm and is in school to learn acupuncture.
If that barely sounds doable to you, Leung would probably agree. “It’s a bit crazy, I do like 500 things,”she says, followed immediately by a laugh.
Leung’s beginnings in music are what you might call typical. “My mom started teaching me piano when I was four. I’ve always had that in me and I started with classical music,” says Leung. Her first bits of songwriting came from adding words to classical pieces. After being inspired by listening to pop on mainstream radio, Leung began to write on her own.
Her first album actually came about in her final year of high school. It was a project that students were to design in both objective and marking scheme. “It was essentially free reign to do whatever it was that we thought we might be interested in doing. So I thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to learn to record’ and all that stuff,” Leung says. “Some of my friends that played guitar might have helped out, but the rest of it was just pianos and vocals. Typical, lament-y teenage girl ballads.” More laughter.
The next Wendy Leung record would come out four years later. Her sound wasn’t electronic yet, and her current bandmates Dean Marino and Owen Norquay weren’t in the picture yet. Backing Leung were Andrew Haust and David Stein, of whom are now part of the Toronto three-piece VISTAVISION.
Haust and Stein would appear on Leung’s next record. However, this time she wanted to record professionally, and she went to Chemical Sound, the now-closed (and sorely missed) recording studio. This was where Leung first met Marino as well as Jay Sadlowski, who produced the album. The record would also include Scott Bouwmeester, who can be heard in Wilderness of Manitoba.
“We played for a year and then there was some changeover for a while,” Leung says. “Those guys got busy with their own projects and I was looking for a new sound.” Her next band configuration included Marino and her brother Chris, who now produces in New York (and releases music under the name Aquarian). “We got rock-ier and a little more heavy, but I was trying to push it towards the electronic direction.”
Leung had a quick answer as to what it was about electronics that drew her in. “I always say that I listen to two types of music: I listen to music that I can cry to or music that I can dance to. And it’s like a signal to me; if songs can do either of those things to me they’re successful.” And since she didn’t want her music to make her friends cry, she explored the other option.
It was then that she met Kayle Donner and Owen Norquay, who allowed her to explore the electronic realm more thoroughly. Of course, at this point, Leung was also contributing heavily to Papermaps.
Leung also decided to come up with a band name. During the apparently long process, various names were tossed up (including Crayon Wars, which would become the name of the first album under the Wendy Versus name). Wendy Versus eventually became the clear winner. “It’s fun. I feel like it’s aggressive without being too aggressive,” Leung says. “And it opens the possibility out. It could be Wendy Versus Crayons, it could be Wendy Versus the Universe or Wendy Versus Your Cat.”
Leung has a pretty democratic process for writing songs with Norquay and Marino. “I’ll bring sort of a song structure, it might not have all the lyrics in it, but it’ll have a verse and a chorus,” begins Leung. “Then Owen and I will sit down and work with the sound, work with the beat. I think it’s important to get the beat down and the melody, and then we bring Dean in and adds the atmospheric guitars. Then I get it and see ‘Where is there space for me to add a bit of synth, or piano?’ Which I like to keep minimal because I like to be singing instead of focusing on playing piano.”
But as I mentioned earlier, Leung is a busy woman. And her hectic schedule led her to recently leave Papermaps. “It kind of got to the point where I looked at all the time I had in my life and essentially every block of time was taken up by something,” Leung says. “It was a tough decision because I’ve been with the band forever and I really love everybody and the energy being onstage, and the difference of playing in Papermaps and Wendy Versus. I looked at it and was like ‘Either I stay in this band or I get my sanity back.'”
In the near future you can see Wendy Versus doing a show and here and there, as well as promoting Crayon Wars. “We haven’t exactly done it enough justice yet,” Leung says.
Whatever Leung ends up doing musically, one thing is certain: she’ll be successfully juggling a bunch of other things while doing it.
Catch Wendy Versus playing Grayowl Point’s first ever blog-curated show (in association with Crosswires) on December 2nd. See the Facebook event page for details.