Rising Stars [Issue
Pop Sensibilities By
When was the last
time an album hijacked your expectations - in a good way? Vienna Tengs
Warm Strangers may well do that. On her second release, the 25-year -old singer-keyboardist
explores themes of despair, death, loneliness, life challenges, and her Chinese
heritage, while deftly shifting tempos and musical styles.
While her success
seems to be happening quickly, with appearances on TV and public radio and her
first album, Waking Hour, hitting Number 5 on Amazons list, Vienna
(she named herself for the Austrian citys legacy of composers) has been
preparing for a musical career since childhood. She requested piano lessons
at age five, wrote her first songs at age six, and wrote most of the songs on
her first album while attending Stanford as a computer science major. Despite
a growing on-campus reputation as a songwriter, she took a programming job and
kept it until she was sure she could support herself through music.
Being a software engineer helped, says Vienna, because I was
able to launch into a career without being in dire financial straits.
Even after leaving Silicon Valley, she had savings from her job that she could
fall back on.
Like many performers today, Vienna used the Internet to her advantage. Seattle-based
Virt Records sent a scout to one of her shows. But the way they found
out about me originally was from a number of favorable reviews on music-related
web sites that referred to my website. They were able to download MP3s of my
While her first album was described as autobiographical, Warm Strangers
delves more into the adventures of fictional characters, such as the mysterious
Anna Rose, who is based on a real person but it might as well
be fictional because Ive never met her. Shasta is the
story of a traveling pregnant woman and Homecoming deals with a
self-styled preacher. On the other hand, Mission Street is an evocation
of the San Francisco street where Vienna lives. Its a very noisy
place. There are all kinds of sounds and we tried to recreate the experience
- sounds of emptying trash, arguing. Vienna lists one of the tracks
instruments as a bag of bottles.
Passages is the albums dramatic highlight, a description of
life continuing after the death of its young narrator in a car crash. Vienna
was initially afraid the song, which she sings a capella, would cause listeners
to skip over the track. But positive responses from those who heard her perform
it live convinced her to include it. If [people] are in the right frame
of mind to hear it, I think its important that its on there.
Warm Strangers will be dropping in stores on February 24 with a U.S.
tour to follow. Vienna explains the albums seemingly oxymoronic title:
We pass through each others lives so briefly that its easy
to think of the people around us as mere objects, cold and removed. Writing
songs is my way of breathing life into them.