mui zyu on new album nothing or something to die for

mui zyu speaks to us about how honing her craft and connections through the pandemic made her the eclectic artist she is today, and the oft-overlooked upside of growing mould

Feature by Ellie Robertson | 21 May 2024
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Technical difficulties over a Zoom call – like those that appeared in our conversation with Dama Scout vocalist Eva Liu – can be a flashback to the frustrations of connecting over lockdown. But for Liu, aka mui zyu, the biggest problem is her cat walking across the keyboard. That isn’t to say she doesn’t have 2020 on the mind. “We did our first album just after Danny [Grant] moved back to Glasgow, and then the pandemic happened, and it was during that time I was obviously, like everyone else, at home, and working on these songs.”

Grant and his long-time friend from school Luciano Rossi make up the other two thirds of Dama Scout. “I hadn’t been in a band before, and they’re just the best bandmates,” Liu reports. “There’s no judgements, we’re silly in the studio, we just mess about… Their way of making music is just fun.” Experimental, improvisational techniques, like taking horsehair from a bow and feeding it through a piano, is just one example of the freewheeling philosophy that these friends bring out in each other.

Even as a solo artist, Liu marshalls her pals to help in new capacities. “Lucci and I have written music for video games – we were working on the Life Is Strange video game, and that kind of snowballed into working on my new stuff.” 2023 saw the release of mui zyu's debut Rotten Bun for an Eggless Century, a bedroom pop anthology of Liu’s contemplations on cultural identity, with Rossi producing. Now, Liu serves a second course; the ambitious nothing or something to die for.

Cover art for the mui zyu album nothing or something to die for.

“My first album was very much looking more inward at my identity and understanding more about my Chinese heritage,” she says. “This is more like my best attempt to understand [...] how the world works and how people are working to destroy the world using whatever code of ethics they decide to suit the pursuit of power.”

Looking outward rather than inward is something we’ll see more of in art as we move further from the confinement of quarantine. Now is when those disciplines we built in our bubbles are becoming lucrative, and a generation of artists are emerging, wondering why the world is so bent out of shape. On the rules of what an earthling can be, a melancholy mui zyu lashes out at the suffocating standards women are held to, especially in Chinese culture: 'They said you have to be grateful / Be not too loud, not too soft, not too sweet'.

But nothing or something to die for balances the bad with the good. “It’s also about embracing chaos and wandering between absurd nihilism and quite sweet hopefulness.” please be ok, a techno love letter pleading for peace, seems sweeter for the harmonies with guest collaborator Miss Grit.

The LP’s influences range from Ryuichi Sakamoto to Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks soundtrack – and the Lynchian nods don’t end there. The track sparky, featuring lei, e (fka Emmy the Great), references the dog in the opening scene of Blue Velvet, joyfully snapping at the garden hose of his dying owner, as a perfect example of the dissonance that defines the album. Liu, who studied film, takes tons of inspiration from the screen; the imagery of 2001: A Space Odyssey informed orchestral opener satan marriage. “Same with Dama Scout, actually. The three of us, we have very different taste, we’re always giving each other film recommendations.”

Understandably, an artist with such a keen eye strives for a highly unique visual identity. Grant is back in the mix as the producer of nothing or something to die for's surrealist music videos. “I just knew he would take these songs and create a whole world for them [...] He basically learned how to do 3D stuff over lockdown.” Liu keeping her friends close pays off again, as Grant’s tinkering in Houdini when we were all self-isolating has, years down the line, resulted in incredible, psychedelic vignettes of rabbit people, superimposed faces, and dancing hellmouths. 

On lead single the mould, mui zyu wonders whether things turning mouldy is actually such a travesty. “It’s about moving on,” she says, “embracing that mould and decay is meant to represent that these things can be positive, it’s part of the process.” Mould is just another type of life, after all, one that grows when things are left idle, or shut away in the dark. Over time, a few measly spores might become a thriving, mycelial ecosystem.

It’s strange to think of today’s art as having roots in a time as morbid as 2020. nothing or something to die for looks around and sees double standards, injustice and devastation, but also, underneath the topsoil, friends and collaborators are joining up and creating a vivid, living network. Lockdown was tough for a lot of us, but mui zyu shows that the seeds lain all those years ago – practising new skills or even just watching films with friends – can germinate into something very meaningful.

nothing or something to die for is out via Father/Daughter records on 24 May