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by Silke Hartung

Venice: Civic Ambition

by Silke Hartung

Venice: Civic Ambition

Late 2020 provided us with the rare chance to observe quite a public act of courage and self-belief by 18-year-old newcomer Venice Qin and her team, who booked Auckland’s Civic Theatre which, at capacity, can seat 2300 people. Booking a venue of that size for an established act is a risky business, measured in the tens of thousands of dollars, but despite being her first real live concert it proved a remarkable success for the young Auckland artist. Following her May 2020 ‘Dreamboy’ EP, Venice released a new single right after her November concert at the Civic. Mistakes & All shows off her singing chops and ability to write a catchy toe-tapper of a song. Silke Hartung caught up with the inspirational and apparently fearless Venice.

Of course, the title Mistakes & All brings the question of how much of it is a true story. What’s the background to the song? 

I’ve read somewhere that everyone has gone through a passionate, young love at some point in their lives. The type of love that is reckless, hot and cold, a push and pull kind of affair. These relationships heighten every emotion, and the smallest things can feel like the end of the world. These emotions really inspired me, particularly because I’m someone who really believes that emotions should be expressed, and people should not be ashamed to have feelings! So I wrote Mistakes & All with this relationship in mind. I feel that the song is also a challenge to the other person in the relationship like you’re proudly saying to them, “I’m an emotional wreck, you better be able to handle this.”

I love the bass line in particular! What instrument did you use, and what’s the effect on it we can hear? 

I love the bass line too! We actually used two different bass sounds, one with more punch to it (the one that you probably hear) and one that glides underneath it all. For the more punchy one, I think we used a combination of different things, one of them being the Hammond organ! I’ve actually been taking pipe organ lessons this year, so it was really cool to be able to use it in this song. 

You’re doing some difficult singing on Mistakes & All – how do you prepare your voice before recording or a big gig? 

I drink a loooot of water, and make sure I am well rested and am nicely warmed up. 

For Let Me Down you worked with Simon Gooding at Roundhead. There’s quite a different sound to Mistakes & All – who was on your team for this one? 

For Mistakes & All, I was lucky enough to work with Olly Harmer at The Lab. Similar to my experience at with Simon, the song was basically Olly and I messing around in the studio for two days, playing around with different sounds through MIDI, mellotron and other funky things that I liked, such as the Hammond, and car engine noises from the internet. 

How much did the song change from the initial idea to the final result? 

Not much to be honest! I tend to write with production ideas already in my head, and Olly was super easy to communicate with, so I was very lucky. There were things such as the car engine ‘vroom vroom’ noise in verse two that I definitely did not come up with when I originally wrote it!

We have to talk about the ambitious gig at the Civic. Who had the idea and what was the reaction of people around when sharing the plan? 

Ahhh!! It is all so crazy to think that it all happened the way that it did! The Civic was actually [sound engineer, head sound engineer for i.e. Lady Gaga’s Enigma Concerts at the Park Theatre in Las Vegas] Ratu Gordon’s idea, and he introduced me to all the right people, who have since become family to me. In terms of the reaction of people when sharing the idea, I think Snapper (Michael Knapp) said it best. At first he admitted he was a bit hesitant, but over time he ended up becoming “a believer”. Obviously, something of this magnitude can only happen when a lot of people (as well as the right people) believe in you and believe in the project, so I really believe that I am truly so lucky to have met people who do. 

That could have easily backfired. What was your plan if tickets hadn’t sold well? 

In all honesty, we didn’t really have a back-up plan! So much was riding on this performance, the mindset was that the performance and ticket sales just HAD to go well. I’m a big believer in fate and hard work, I think I knew in my gut that this was something that I was meant to do. I was also confident that Mum and I had worked really hard over the years, and that the universe would eventually let it culminate into something special. 

What was your strategy to fill the theatre? 

I’ve been involved in several communities around Auckland for the past couple of years, so I was able to invite all of them to come. I also reached out to a few communities that I had never been a part of until now, and I really made the effort to connect with and get to know new people. This definitely turned out to be my biggest strength, those individual one-to-one relationships can really make an impact. 

Bob Dylan stood on that stage, some of the all-time greatest musicians ever have played the Civic. What did it felt like just before stepping onto that stage? 

It was truly so surreal, I’m still in awe that I was able to perform in such a massive venue! But again I was really fortunate to have Ratu and Snapper guide me throughout the journey, and they really prepared me for everything that I would be facing. I think that without them I would have been a lot more stressed and nervous! I remember the entire rehearsal day and the concert day as being such a dream, surrounded by so many people that I love.

Two of those people include my stylist Sarah Stuart, and my hair/makeup artist Bella Collett, who hung out with me backstage just before I went on stage! Poor Sarah and Bella had to listen to my classical music playlist with me while I got ready. Bella also said a Dr Seuss quote to me just before I walked on. I truly love them both so much. While I was waiting in the wings, I remember breathing and smiling. 

What did you learn from headlining such a massive show? 

I have learnt SO many things it is hard to comprehend! My team opened my eyes to how many elements and people go into putting on a show of this magnitude. Snapper, in particular, taught me so much, from branding and my image to what would work musically in my set and what wouldn’t. The concert also brought on a fair amount of media attention, which taught me very quickly how to deal with that side of things. I think my favourite thing that I have learnt came from Ratu, who told me to “enjoy the journey”. 

I can see on your Spotify that Auckland is only one place in NZ where people listen to you, but every other big city is overseas – how have you reached those audiences? 

I can say honestly that my overseas audience is purely due to Spotify algorithmic playlists. Of course, it helps to have a compelling piece that people can all relate to, which is why I think my song Found Myself has been received so well. But Spotify has definitely helped me on that side of things, and I am extremely grateful. One of my career highlights so far was when an artist from NYC reached out to me on Instagram and told me how much the song impacted her. We have been friends ever since. 

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