In the last ten years, you've probably heard the sweet voice of this talented woman I'm interviewing today. And if you haven't, I'm so honored to introduce her to you today.
Pat Her is the lead singer and front woman of SuddenRush, a Hmong Canadian band consisting of her and her four brothers. In her hometown of Maple Ridge, British Columbia, she began her music journey in 2006 and released SuddenRush's first single, Mi Noog a year later, which would put SuddenRush on the Hmong music map. After the release of their debut album, Vol. 1 and a five-year hiatus, SuddenRush returned to the music scene in 2016 with a brand new album titled, Vol. 2.
In the time I've had with Pat, I've learned what it looks like and sounds like when a bold, passionate female artist is working hard to thrive on and off stage. You'll know exactly what I mean after reading today's inspiring exclusive interview with Pat Her.
"We never had good equipment, or professional lessons but we had the visions, the dreams, the creativity and the will to work hard to make that vision a reality."
- Pat Her
Hi Pat! Let’s start off with getting to know you a bit. How would you describe yourself to someone who’s never met you before?
Pat: I am very shy and I’m actually kind of a loner, lol. I keep my circle of friends small. But once people get to know me, they usually think that I’m very easy going and not as serious as they initially assumed I might be. I can be very passionate when it comes to the people and things that I care about.
From the many wonderful times we’ve had together, I know you as a bold, strong-willed, and honest friend and artist. Who &/or what inspires you to be who you are today?
Pat: Like many of the Hmong people living in North America, I think that being the child of first generation immigrant parents has taught me many different values & lessons about life. My parents, my grandparents and all those who were a part of my life while I was growing up and who taught me about values and morals are the biggest reasons why I am who I am today; growing up in a home where the basic guidelines put emphasis on humanity, respect, hard work and making an honest living. My parents never pushed me towards music nor really showed support towards it while I was growing up but they have never stopped me from taking control of my own life and pursuing the things that I enjoyed. Although I don’t see eye to eye with my parents on many things, I always aspire to make them proud no matter what it is that I am up to.
When and how did your music journey begin?
Pat: As a little kid, I used to watch my Uncle’s rock band play at the local Hmong new year festival each year. And as I got older, concert going became something that I also really enjoyed. I took a strong liking for live music, especially bands, and particularly with rock music. I just loved the energy that loud live music gave the crowd. Just that pounding in your chest…that sudden rush…a high that is irreplaceable by any drug. (And just as a disclaimer, I don’t do drugs. However, I know stereotypically drugs are associated with music. I can see how some artists may use substances to maintain that high once they leave the stage. Not my thing and never will be. But I understand why though. It’s something you will only understand if you’ve been through it.)
Growing up, my only exposure to Hmong music was my Uncle’s band and a couple of other local bands at that time. We were still very young kids in the 90’s when my family moved from Ontario to Vancouver, BC. The Hmong community here in British Columbia (BC) is super tiny, estimated at around 150. Since the Hmong population was so small, the only influence we had in terms of Hmong culture were our parents. If I was lucky enough to get to travel to California with my parents for the new year, then I would finally get to see Hmong people. So during our visits to California, I would look for music and other traditional Hmong memorabilia to buy. As I recall, there was a particular year that I was visiting and I walked around the fairgrounds looking for Hmong rock, but I really couldn’t find much selection.
When I got home from my trip, I jokingly said to my brothers that we should start a band, write some songs and bring rock music back to the Hmong community. I really was just kidding at the time. Never would’ve guessed that we would be where we are today.
Let’s take you back to the first song suddenrush ever wrote. What year was it? How did it happen? What did you feel? Where did you learn how to write a song?
Pat: The very first song we wrote as a band was called Tiam No, the slow piano version. I think it was back in 2006. I went over to Joe’s place with my guitar because I had an idea and I wanted to play around with it and maybe record it just for fun. Chee Nou was there too, so we just plugged everything in and pushed record. It’s so funny to look back now and reflect on the past. We didn’t even know how to use recording software efficiently, lol. And the guitar Chee Nou used in the original demo was a cheap Epiphone from Sears with a couple of broken knob. Haha! Growing up with 8 kids in our family, my parents worked very hard to give us the essentials. We had a very humble upbringing. We never had good equipment, or professional lessons but we had the visions, the dreams, the creativity and the will to work hard to make that vision a reality.
I’ve always been a bit of a poet. When I was younger, I was too shy to showcase my ideas, let alone sing. I think I was more interested in writing songs than singing. I guess somehow along the way, I had to face my fears. I learned as I went. I was never taught how to write songs. I just did whatever I wanted or felt like when I wrote. That’s the nice thing about music. It’s an art and you can do whatever you want because you are the one expressing yourself. And your original song with your own original lyrics is something so personal. No one can take that away from you, or tell you how to feel. If you want to write a 3- minute lullaby, you can. Feel like writing a 9-minute song with an extended intro, multiple instrumental solos in between and a grand finale ending…well you can. 'Cause you are the artist, and you can do whatever you want!
You are a rare Hmong female artist as you’re the front woman of Suddenrush. How do you feel about that role and the lack of female fronted bands in the Hmong music community?
Pat: I would love to see more female fronted Hmong bands where the female singer is the exclusive lead, and front woman for the band - when she owns her role and identity as the lead singer. It’s even more humbling when she has a huge role in the songwriting and creativity process. But I think that’s where it starts. Just getting invited to sing a few songs with a group of guys who already have an established band is quite different than writing your own songs and then going out there and putting a band together. It takes a lot of dedication, sweat, tears and rejection to finally get to a place where you can start to feel comfortable. I would love to see more Hmong girls and Hmong women get out there and not be afraid to challenge the norm that we see within the Hmong community. I would love to see more females writing and singing in Hmong, and showing the young Hmong girls that we can do anything the boys can do. We can just look a little prettier doing it, lol. Just kidding!
"The most important thing for me when it comes to my life and how I want to spend it, whether it be through music or every day life, is about impact. Am I doing something positive with this little bit of time that I’ve been given on Earth?"
We can’t do this interview without talking about one of the most popular Hmong songs of all time, your original song Mi Noog. With hundreds of covers from other artists and fans, plus millions of views, how did Mi Noog 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?
Pat: When I first wrote Mi Noog, I never would have thought that it was going to attain the type of success that it did. I never would’ve anticipated that so many people would’ve have been touched by it.
When I hear stories of how my music has impacted people’s lives, it makes me feel like all those endless hours I spent writing, recording, and missing out on all the “fun”, spending all my extra time creating music...all that time was well worth it. And it truly makes me feel proud. I’m not about fame or glory. To this day, SR still doesn’t even have an official music video. We haven’t done much in terms of trying to “get our faces out there” as we always felt like the music should sell itself. Nothing against music videos, lol. We just haven’t gotten around to it yet. But honestly, many SR listeners who are familiar with SR music, have absolutely no idea what we look like. The most important thing for me when it comes to my life and how I want to spend it, whether it be through music or every day life, is about impact. Am I doing something positive with this little bit of time that I’ve been given on Earth? I believe we all have special gifts, and we need to use those gifts to bring happiness, inspiration, and support to others. The same people who have been touched by my music are the very same people who inspire me to keep going when I am exhausted and I want to give up.
Although it had been almost six years that we were away from the music scene, we had much success in late 2016 with the shows that we did and I am so thankful that SR fans have kept our music alive. I am so thankful to all those who continued to show us love and support.
With the kind of success that Mi Noog had, it’s often expected from artists to create something “even better” for fans in the next music project. What do you think about this kind of pressure and how should one deal with it?
Pat: To me the next project is always about growth. I don’t want my present self to feel obligated to compete with my past self. Plus, music shouldn’t be a competition. The feelings that we got from releasing Mi Noog will never be duplicated no matter how many more songs we write. When you are a young band and you are totally unknown, and then bam! - everyone knows your song and even babies are singing it in YouTube videos, you will never duplicate that feeling a second time. I mean sure, more babies will sing your future songs, and more covers will be done, but the feelings you get inside will never be like they were when you saw a cover of your own work for the very first time. Or you hear a crowd sing your song for the very first time. That kind of success is different than the success you attain when you are more established and already have a dedicated following. It’s just how I feel about it.
No matter where I end up in the future, in terms of music, I just want to stay true to myself. Music is very personal to me. I will never allow myself to become a fabricated version of something else, just for marketing purposes. I will always be my true self, and my art will always reflect that. Even if no one else listened to my music but me, I would never conform myself just to be “liked”. It’s important that young new artists understand that being original and being yourself is what will get you noticed. Doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing or what is “in”. Don’t be afraid to be different. And change is good.
IS writing/recording/creating music empowering to you? Do you recall a point in your life when you realized you had real power?
Pat: I honestly just find music enjoyable. I do it when I feel inspired, and never because I feel obligated. Since there are no Hmong people where I live, I have no idea what’s in and what’s out in the Hmong world. Hmmm…I’ve never thought of it in terms of power, lol. But I guess I do realize that I with my music and the SR label always being a part of my identity. I do have the responsibility to speak with purpose and utilize the voice that I’ve been given to bring awareness to things that people may otherwise disregard. It does give me a chance to be heard when I need to be, but it also carries many negatives. There’s always a fine line with balance when it comes to this “power”. I think Spidey said it best: with great power comes great responsibility, lol.
What is one of the proudest moments you’ve ever had as a female artist?
Pat: Being Canadian, SR has faced so many obstacles to get to where we are now. Trying to stay inspired while facing a five-year bar from the US due to customs issues with work visas was one of the toughest things I’ve had to go through. I feel like five years of my life were stolen from me, but nonetheless I am older now. Maybe a little wiser, lol. And I’ve learned from the past. Now, being an official registered member of AFM (American Music Federation) and working legally in the states, when we perform, it's a really liberating feeling.
Growing up in a small town where there are virtually no Hmong people and it’s so easy to lose sight of who we are and our Hmong heritage, I think that the fact that I read, write and speak Hmong fluently is quite a personal feat that I do feel proud of. I am so happy that SR music has lead me to the Hmong people, and brought me to places that I would never have visited otherwise. I’ve been given the opportunity to meet so many other talented Hmong artists and making wonderful friends all over the US. And from visiting all these different Hmong communities, I am touched the most when an older established musician or Hmong elderly compliment my work. I know it may sound weird, but the elders are so hard to please as they are old school. And it feels so good to know that SR music has touched many generations of Hmong hearts, from the young to the old. For all of that, I am truly thankful.
What are you currently working on? What do you want to accomplish with the next phase of your life/music career?
Pat: I am currently working on writing songs for Volume 3. We just released Vol. 2 last summer, and now that we are back in the full swing of things. Get ready for a third album, hopefully by the end of 2017. I am anticipating that 2017 will be an eventful year for SR.
Finally, In your own words, finish these sentences.
If I could invite three music artists to dinner tonight, I would invite…Anne Wilson, Jon Bon Jovi and of course you, Pagnia!
A young Hmong girl or woman who wants to be someone or do something with her life should know…that success for the long run isn’t the result of good luck or good looks. It’s the result of continuous hard work! There is no age limit! You are never too old or too young, too early or too late to start trying. But you must be driven to succeed. In life, we never have time. We make time. If it’s important to you, you will make time. Whether it’s learning a new hobby, getting in control of your health and fitness or becoming a rock star. It’s the result of consistent hard work. And you must be prepared to make sacrifices to reach your goals.
You don’t have to face the challenges in life alone. So ask for help if you need it. It takes more courage to put your vulnerable self out there and ask for help then to bottle it up because you are trying to act strong. Lastly, never believe someone when they tell you that your goals are unachievable. Truth is, they don’t believe in themselves so they don’t think that you can achieve it if they can’t. It takes less effort to pull someone down than it does to lift someone up. Don’t let someone else’s insecurity bring you down. Misery loves company so get rid of baggage that is holding you back. You only have one life. Don’t wait until tomorrow to start living.
I am…feeling truly honoured that the wonderful and talented Miss Pagnia Xiong has reached out to me and has given me this opportunity to share a little about my life and the things that inspire me. To all the beautiful ladies out there, stay humble, work hard, and never give up on your dreams. When the haters start showing up, it’s because you are getting noticed. Just keep smiling and doing your thing because haters don’t deserve your energy. You are strong. You are beautiful. You are unique. Your competition is not other women. Your only competition is yesterday’s you.
Thank you SO MUCH, Pat!
Don't you just love her? I hope you found inspiration and more reason to celebrate Pat Her, one of the featured Hmong Women in Music during Women's History Month.
YOUR TURN: Do you have any special words or a warm memory to share about Pat and/or the music of SuddenRush? Join the celebration by leaving a comment below!