This is the third feature of the Hmong Women in Music celebration, and it's also the third time I've featured this remarkable artist on PagniaXiong.com. You can read the first time here and the second time here.
Julie Fang is one of six members from the early 2000s Hmong band, Whyteshadows based in Fresno, CA. Since the late 90s, the band has released four full-length albums: Txhua Lub Sijhawm (1999), You Are the One (2000), Kheev Koj Paub (2001), Finding Yourself (2003), and in 2003, they released the Whyteshadows Music Video. Shortly after their last album, Whyteshadows disbanded, but more than a decade later, their music continues to be played, covered, and enjoyed by the Hmong community.
If you follow me enough, it's quite clear what kind of musical influence Julie Fang has had on me. There are simply not enough words to describe what she means to me. But for now, please allow me the honor to introduce you to the Julie Fang.
For the Love of Music
When I was young I spent all my money on cassettes, CDs, and a good stereo system. I couldn’t live without music no matter where I went; I took all my favorite cassettes with me.
- Julie Fang
Hi Julie! Let’s start off with getting to know you a bit. How would you describe yourself to someone who’s never met you before?
Julie: I am shy at first but once I get to know someone and feel comfortable around them, I love to joke around, goof off and talk a lot. I am super forgetful and it’s gotten even worse after having my little girl. I love traveling and sharing things with my family and friends. Music and driving is definitely my therapy.
As you know, you held a very special place in my heart growing up, but it grew larger once I got to know you during HMF 2012 and discovered just how pure, humble, and kind you are. Who &/or what inspires you to be who you are today?
Julie: Awww, you are so sweet, Pagnia! I still can’t believe everything you’ve said; I’m in awe! I would say I am who I am today largely due to my family. With my dad passing away when I was about 5, my oldest brother took over the role of taking care of the family and my mom never remarried even with 7 kids. The sacrifice and love my family has shown me has encouraged me to try my best and to love everyone and anyone that comes into my life. My mom has always been the backbone and inspiration to my singing. Going to church since I could remember also inspired me to sing. One of my favorite singers of all time would be Celine Dion! Also, some Hmong singers I loved were Xanakee and Bee Vang!
When and how did your music journey begin?
Julie: I remember my family was always into music since I was a kid. My dad would buy us instruments and we would practice in the basement for hours. I could vaguely remember being in the basement while my siblings practiced for church. Seah would spend hours on his keyboard, always skipping his meals because he was so into his keyboard. My sisters and I all loved to sing so Seah would play the keyboard while we harmonized. We loved singing songs with second voices so a lot of Exposé and Wilson Phillip songs were sung.
Let’s take you back to the first time you stepped into a vocal recording booth. What was it like? Any surprises or challenges? How did you learn to sing?
Julie: It was different having to wear a headphone so that no feedback would go into the recording but after a little getting used to, I would feel the music and found myself captivated by every song I sang. I loved the music loud so that I could get immersed into each song. I never took any vocal lessons but I was blessed with the love of listening to music so I learned to sing by listening to a lot of songs when I was young. I still remember a song I made up when I was really young that had no meaning to it because it wasn’t actual words, just words I made up and a melody I made up. When I was young I spent all my money on cassettes, CDs, and a good stereo system. I couldn’t live without music no matter where I went; I took all my favorite cassettes with me.
Your music attracts thousands of listeners from various backgrounds. A friend recently shared with me that her Korean friends were listening to & singing with You Are The One just as much as she was back in the day. Undoubtedly, You Are the One is one of Whyteshadows’ biggest original hits and still loved today. How did this song come to be? Did you expect its incredible success? And is there one special thing you’d like fans to know about or take away from this song?
Julie: I remember we all were involved in this song and Mitch helped with some of the lyrics. I remember singing this song and they were saying, "Julie, give a lot of feeling to this song." Even when I recorded the talking part, I wasn’t confident and sounded like I was questioning it, “I love you?” instead of “I love you!” Seah couldn’t stop laughing at me when I did that. Once I got the emotion down, everything just came together, even the "oohs" I added. We had no idea this song would get as popular as it did! When we first went to the July 4th tournament to release the album, we were in shock that we actually sold out the album before the tournament was over, which was the total opposite of our previous year when we launched our first album at the July 4th tournament. Also, we started hearing the remixes, and were stunned that other nationalities were listening to it too! But I’ve gotta say, without the DJs that remixed our song, it probably wouldn’t have been exposed as much as it did. So thank you, DJ Babyboi, John on Fiya, Tinman, and all the DJs that remixed our song!
As a member of Whyteshadows, what was the creative process like for writing, recording, & producing music? What was your part in the studio?
Julie: Most of our songs were produced by Seah and then we, the singers, (Kyle, Sally, Angela, Trisha, My, Seah and I…we had a lot of singers throughout the years…hehe) would find the melodies and lyrics. Sometimes Seah would already have a melody and we would just write the lyrics or we’d have the lyrics and Seah would create the music to it. Sometimes we would write the song first or think of the melody and how we wanted the song to be arranged. Then we would let Seah know and once he started a draft of the music, we would start piecing things together. I loved adding "aws" and "oohs" to the songs and my oldest sister Trisha helped me a lot on writing my Hmong lyrics and making sure they sounded right (grammatically). Basically, there was a lot that went into creating each part that we sang in our songs. Our closest friends and family were involved in helping us as well and giving us feedback.
What’s one tough lesson that being in the spotlight as a female artist has taught you? Were there surprises along the way?
Julie: Being a female singer back in the days was quite difficult. I thought girls would be critical but the guys were just as critical. People would always say, “Oh, she’s not going to last. She’s just going to get married and leave the band." I definitely wanted to prove those people wrong. However, there were the fans that made me feel so good about being a girl in a band. I thought to myself, I want to be in this band until the very end no matter what it takes. Also, I thought our language (Hmong Green) was beautiful and back in the days people made fun of how our dialect sounded. I wanted others to see that singing in Hmong Green would be just as beautiful, and it was rare to find contemporary Hmong Green songs so I wanted to sing it as much as possible. I wanted to represent who I was and I’m so glad that people loved the language and thought it was beautiful! I was very happy that our fans loved that we sung in Hmong Green!
We, the fans, remember clearly how we felt after Whyteshadows disbanded. How did you feel about this? What did you go on to pursue afterwards?
Julie: It was definitely a bittersweet moment. I had been spending almost every weekend with the band and then all of a sudden we didn’t meet up anymore. Also, I missed having the concerts, singing, and meeting all our fans! I felt like a part of me was missing, especially during HNYs. But then I knew that I couldn’t survive off of Whyteshadows and had to pursue my own career. So the year we disbanded, I graduated from college and worked to pay off my bills.
What is one of the proudest moments you’ve ever had as a female artist?
Julie: Just being known as a Hmong female singer is already one of the proudest moments. Knowing that I was able to make a small impact in the Hmong music industry is very gratifying as well. Also, a specific moment was when I found out a very talented singer (Pagnia Xiong) had been inspired to be a singer because of me. That is by far the proudest moment! To know that others can be inspired by what I love to do is very inspiring to me.
What are you currently working on? What do you want to accomplish with the next phase of your life/career?
Julie: I am not working on anything musically but once in a while, I love hearing from Seah about all the creative Hmong artists today! I am currently just focusing on my family and enjoying life with my wonderful husband and my little girl. Musically, I don’t have any plans but I do miss singing so I might just get into the recording studio with Seah and record something for fun.
Finally, In your own words, finish these sentences.
If I could invite three music artists to dinner tonight, I would invite…
Pagnia Xiong (each time we meet, it just feels surreal and I would love to chat more and get to know this wonderful person personally!)
G-Dragon (I adored him since their first songs and just think he’s so talented! Not to mention, I always thought he was super cute and would love to know what inspires him to be as talented as he is!)
Celine Dion (Just because I’ve always loved her voice and how her performance was always so moving and touching. She was always such an amazing singer from when I was little and even until now!)
A young Hmong girl or woman who wants to be someone or do something with her life should know…to never be discouraged. There may be times someone may say things to put you down, but it’s only who you make yourself to be that can change who you are. Love yourself for who you are and believe in yourself! Never give up because when you finally reach your goal, the rewards will come in tenfold and you’ll be happy that you never gave up and learned to be stronger, smarter and wiser from all the struggles of getting there.
I am…so happy I got to meet so many wonderful fans during my time in Whyteshadows! Thank you for letting me live my dream of being a singer and being so supportive! The love our fans showed us during that time was amazing and even today I can’t believe people still remember us. It’s one of the biggest accomplishments in my life and I will never forget it! Thank you for an awesome experience! I love you all!
Hugs and kisses to you, Julie. THANK YOU!
There are just no words. Julie Fang is a Hmong woman in music that I know generations from now will still be listening to her music and her sweet voice. What an inspiration.
YOUR TURN! Do you have any special words or a warm memory to share about Julie and/or her music? Join the celebration by leaving a comment below!