It has been less than four months since I last spoke to Vancouver-based singer-songwriter Wanting Qu, and not much has changed. She's still tired after a long day of interviews, and still trying to think hard and give the best answers she can.
Qu may appear a bit distant at first, but once she starts talking about her fans, her cool exterior usually melts a bit. When I point to her iPhone case — which sports a collage of the cover art from her two albums — she smiles, and reveals how a fan from Los Angeles made it, and gave it to her as a gift during a recent tour.
She is referring to a 17-stop North American tour from February 20 to March 25. While travelling, she also took the chance to do some "touristy" things, such as visiting the White House in Washington, sampling a cheesesteak sandwich in Philadelphia and walking on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
It was the first time Qu had performed so many concerts in such a short period — and the first time she had travelled on a tour bus. "I loved it and didn't want it to end," she says. "We had bunk beds on the bus. They were tiny, but also like a cradle, so we slept like babies on the road."
Born and raised in the northeast mainland province of Harbin, Qu moved to Canada at the age of 16 in 2000 to study. She is now based in Vancouver, where she launched her music career in 2005, playing in bars and cafes around town.
Qu's popularity in Hong Kong and on the mainland rocketed in 2012 when two of her songs, You Exist in My Song and Drenched, were used in director Pang Ho-cheung's 2012 rom-com Love in the Buff. There has been strong demand for tickets for her upcoming shows at Star Hall in Kowloon Bay.
While her debut album, Everything In The World, is filled with piano ballads, her recent sophomore release, Say the Words, reveals a tougher side. The album was produced by Grammy nominee Ron Aniello and recorded in Los Angeles, and pop-rock numbers such as the album opener, Time, My Friend, may remind listeners of Alanis Morissette.
But despite this similarity to Western female rock stars, Qu notes that most of the audiences during her North American tour were Asian — mainly American-born or Canadian-born Chinese. "Whenever I saw a black person or a white person, they really stood out," she says.
She then tells the story of how she met a Polish couple at the San Francisco gig, one of the most memorable moments of her recent tour. Qu was conducting an after-show signing session, greeting Asian fan after Asian fan, and suddenly a Polish couple came up.
Qu says they said "hello" in heavy European accents, and demonstrates the gestures she had to use, as the couple could only speak broken English. It turned out the couple were on their honeymoon and had searched for a concert to see that night. "They came, they loved my music and even bought the vinyl version of my album. It feels really good when you see things like that," she says.
Some artists become creatively inspired by road trips and touring, but not 30-year-old Qu. She found it difficult to write new material on the road. "Our tour was very busy. If I have time off, I will write some songs," she says, "but not when I am on tour."
So it seems she will not have time to sit down and write some new tunes until this summer. For the past two months, she has been flying back and forth between Beijing, Chicago, New York and Vancouver to promote the Say the Words tour. She's made television appearances and attended various awards ceremonies. Last month, for example, she was named singer-songwriter of the year at the 2013 Music Radio China Top Chart Awards in Beijing.
But there have also been some fun times, such as when she visited Michael Jackson's childhood home and chatted with the pop star's mother, Katherine. She was so excited that she used seven exclamation marks when posting the picture on Facebook.
Qu's star is certainly on the rise, and her concert venues are growing larger and larger. But she still prefers playing in smaller, more imitate venues: "I like to be close to the fans, joke around with them, make faces, and make sure that they all see me."
She says she finds larger stages more "formal", and often worries that audience members cannot see her properly. And if you ever find yourself in the audience at one of her shows, don't talk while Qu is performing — especially if you are in the front row.
She hates it so much that the f-word slips out when talking about it. She demonstrated how audience members mumble and turn their backs to the stage, trying to snap selfies with Qu in the background.
"What can you say about that. So when people start to talk real loud, I will remind them the next song is going to be just me and my piano, and that everyone needs to be quiet."
For her upcoming concerts in Hong Kong, Qu will be using her band from Vancouver, plus a guest percussionist/vocalist from Taiwan. She says fans can expect to hear all of their favourite tracks from her records — only better.
"Concerts are more real, and you will hear the story of why and how I wrote the songs," she says.
Does she ever get bored of playing her signature songs You Exist in My Song and Drenched on tour? The answer is no; she says she remains proud of these "great songs I wrote". "When fans are singing together, I don't feel like I have to sing any more," she says. "They have made these songs their own."
Wanting Qu, May 23 and 24, 8pm, Star Hall, Kitec, 1 Trademark Drive, Kowloon Bay, HK$380-HK$980, HK Ticketing. Inquiries: 8100 0138