Interview with Jo and Marianne of the Pho Queue Crew

Pho Queue Crew is a UK-based “Angry Asian Activist” hip hop crew “formed in response to the hate crimes against our ESEA [East and South East Asian] community since COVID-19.” The 4-piece group take influences from “hip hop, UK grime, punk, poetry, and traditional Asian classical” and describe their music as “the sound of a new generation of ESEA’s who refuse to abide by the ‘model minority’ myth.”  Their single, “Enter the Dragon,” released in the wake of anti-Asian hate crimes rising in the last month, and more singles are upcoming. Overachiever was able to interview two of their members, Marianne and Jo! 

Marianne (M): My name’s Marianne.  I play violin, bass guitar, and a little bit of keys, and I sing in Pho Queue Crew.

I’m a huge music-head. I’ve liked music all my life and I’m lucky enough to earn money through music, and to get to keep on evolving and changing with it, doing loads of different things around it. 

Jo (J): Hi! So, my name is Jo Shim, but a lot of people here just call me Jojo or Jo. I’m the youngest member in the band and I play violin, guitar, viola, and piano – and I also do some singing as well, like Marianne. I enjoy doing a lot of art-y things and… that’s basically me! 

Kate (K): How did you meet and how did the Pho Queue Crew come to be?

M: We kind of knew of each other through different musical circles, because both Jo and I, although we weren’t at the same music conservatories, knew each other through someone doing a course – and through the classical musical world in general. 

And so, the other two members of PQC (Pho Queue Crew), Tom and Itch, are very rooted in like the rock/pop music world. We kind of all knew of each other loosely through music communities, and with what has been happening this year, the idea of making an Asian-centered band just kinda came forward.  We were quite politically driven. and some friends of ours were like, “oh, you should talk to this person,” and thats how we ended up just sat in a room together thinking, “we should give this a try.”

K: This all came to be in the pandemic, am I right? 

M: Yeah! It was literally in response to all the stuff that was going on physically. 

K: Did the pandemic affect how you were able to meet up or make music? 

M: We did a lot of to-and-fro with files, so parts of it were kind of done remotely.  And then we were able to meet up socially distanced in the studio and actually bash out a load of work. Because it took a lot of effort for us to meet physically, there was no faffing really, no time left to waste! 

J: It is super fun though!

M: Yeah, it is very high key, like a bit crazy, but also super, super fun! 

K: Your single “Enter the Dragon”, was released at the end of February.  Could you introduce the song and give us a sense of how it came to be? 

M: Because we all had different parts to play in it, I’m just gonna start from my perspective. For me, it’s a song to introduce us as a collective, or as a group with a message. It’s really to show people how proud we are of our heritage and show how many wonderful facets there are to our cultures by taking the stereotypes that people know from pop culture and films and things like that, and actually show people a little bit beyond that. Beyond the skin deep of what it is, but to what it really is like to know that eastern culture. To show how it’s so rich and wonderful, if you give it a chance. For us as people, and in relation to the pandemic as well, it was like, “if you feel like your being misaligned, if you feel like your not being included in society, if you’re all about love and all about openness, if you want the world to be a better place and you’re against fascism and this hatred, then we are here for you.” It’s an open letter to all those people, saying “come to us.”

J: Quite a large part of it was also that music was a common conversational thing for us because we were all really deep in the whole music world. And we all come from slightly different backgrounds, but are able to communicate thru the music. 

I really like the fact that we’re not all the same as well – and that we have someone who is not Asian in PQC as well.  I feel like it’s a great way to have conversations about thesethings, because I feel like we don’t talk about it usually.  It’s a good way to initiate a conversation about all of it between everyone. 

K: As artists of Asian descent, how has your cultural identity affected your creative upbringing/your music/your career? 

M: This one is a really tricky question.  Did you find this one hard, Jojo? 

J: Yeah, because there are so many facets to it

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I grew up in the classical world and there are actually so many Asians in that world, for a variety of reasons.  And I grew up here [England] and studied music here, and I think a lot of people wanted to know more about out side of things. They wanted to expand towards Eastern music because we study a lot of western music, so there is a lot of “mystery” behind all of this “Asian stuff.” So, I’ve had a lot of people being like, “wouldn’t that be such a fun project since we dont know about that!” So, I’ve done stuff like that before in music.  But it’s really weird because I sometimes almost forget I’m Asian, because I’m just surrounded by all of this Western music all of the time. It’s really strange.

M: I found this question tricky because, for ages, the idea that being Asian could mean I was different from other people didn’t really come into my consciousness. But there was one point where a teacher made a comment, like, “Marianne’s mom is from Malaaayyysssiiiia.”  And I was like, “why is she saying it weird?” and “is that a thing?”.  In my head I was just like, “what?” I was a bit confused by that, as I didn’t realize I was different at all until that point. 

 

In terms of the influence of that growing up, it’s difficult to say whether it actually played a part in it or not. My mom didn’t play me Asian music or fully immerse me in our cultures. But, if I think back on it, I think I’m more open to crossover music, or music that is more unusual or eclectic.  I’ve had lots of songwriters and people I work with say, “oh you have a really strange or varied style” or “everything that you create is a mixture of different things, full of variety.”  So maybe having experienced cultures other than British growing up and having some family members here and some oversea, is the cause of this.  But I don’t know if that’s really a direct correlation because nothing that obvious has been, like, the turning point. 

K: Can you speak to the BESEA/ESEA experience in London?  Are there Asian communities you’ve been able to connect to?  

J: I lived in K-Town in London for a bit. There’s obviously a massive Korean community there – and loads of restaurants and shops and all of that.  And quite a lot of people form communities in churches as well, even if they’re not religious. Just for the community, to have people who understand them and their culture. I think people sometimes want a break from having to try to assimilate themselves in this new culture. They may want to just go somewhere where they know what’s happening.  I’ve seen that happen quite a lot. 

I think that younger people, if they’re coming here for the first time from abroad, tend to try and find a community like that as well.  

M: It’s a way of making friends isn’t it?  It’s like, “You like games? I like games!” but “You go to church? I go to church.  Wanna hang out?”

I think my experience is a bit different because I was born here in England and I have family here, Asian family as well as British family.  And moved to London to study (and this is now my 10th year living in London!). I think of myself as British (as well as being Asian).  But I really take that on.  Like I’m proud to be British.  And I’ve not felt isolated or estranged from the culture and society I live in, so, hearing other peoples experiences, I actually feel really lucky to have had that experience. 

 

Since we’ve formed PQC, we have gotten in touch with a number of different Asian-centered groups. For Chinese Lunar New Year, I went onto this Zoom video call, just thinking,“let’s see what this is about.” And, basically there was a load of Malaysians there, like 5 of us, and we were so excited. I don’t often meet many outside of my family, so that was really nice. 

We ended up just chatting about all the things that I didn’t even realize bring me great joy and comfort – like talking about traditional food and cooking these foods at home and all the different kinds of celebrations we’d had in the past for the new year.  And it was actually quite a surprise how warming it was, because I wouldn’t have usually gotten in touch with them or felt like i needed to reach out and have this kind of support group. 

K:  I had a similar experience, but with growing up in the U.S and identifying as American. I didn’t have a ton of consciousness about my own Korean culture growing up.  But as I’ve connected with friends who are Korean-American, I realize how much of that heritage has been present in my life. And how much of it brings me joy and comfort—especially all the food I grew up with! 

M: We were talking about this over the New Year’s Zoom chat – It’s funny how much of the conversation centers around good food!

J: Yes!  In Korea, they have a saying that means something like: “if you eat well, good luck will follow.”

M:  That’s a good way to live – like eat well and you’ll have good luck, or, at the very least, be fit and healthy!

K:  Where do you find inspiration, and do you have any role models? 

J: I get most inspiration from my friends and the people around me.  I draw a lot of energy from communicating and interacting with them.  I think my friends are probably my main role models as well, because growing up in my family, I’ve sort of learnt Korean etiquette. And I think I’ve learnt the most from living with my friends and being exposed to everything else that was out there.

I went to boarding school, so I basically lived at school and with friends most of my life. And I think those living situations are where I learnt the most.

M: As for finding inspiration when we’re creating music, mine definitely comes from the classical world.  I’ll think very systematically about composing and I’m always trying to do too much in a microsensense by making a line too busy or pushing too much into a song (how relevant for Overachiever magazine!). But I’m always thinking about so much great classical music that is jam packed with changes and amazing complex harmonies and I know the possibilities, so I like to try to steal some elements of that. 

However, working more in songwriting and pop/rock bands and studying music in a different way, I do realize there are other ways to distill that and make something that isn’t quite so busy. 

And, actually, my role models have not really been in classical music.  Except for Ruth Palmer, a really great violin teacher I had as an adult.  Our violin lessons literally ended up being like life coaching sessions.  By the end we wouldn’t even be playing the violin, we’d just talk. And she was like, “I don’t think you need violin lessons anymore. I think you need to just go out and do your thing.” She really pushed me to go and find my thing.  That was a couple of years before this, but, PQC is basically a culmination of that. All my other musical role models and role models in life have been in the pop/rock world because they have all been happy-go-lucky but super driven as well. 

K: What does self care mean to you?  How do you take care of yourself, especially through this time? 

J: I’m so basic.  I was telling Marianne about this yesterday. My idea of a good time is sitting in a bubble bath, drinking wine, listening to really trashy music and reading a book . 

K: That sounds like a fantastic evening!

J: I love it. I light all the candles, the whole shebang.  It’s not actually much, but it does make me feel better!

M: I’m a little bit different.  I’m more of a shower person. I don’t really like taking baths, because they make me feel like I’m wasting time (though it’s not a waste of time, of course).  

Again, I’m a bit of an overachiever, so I like to achieve things. I get satisfaction from completing tasks, so my relaxation is a bit task-oriented.  For example, I like to garden and figure out how to make things grow.  I love reading (a lot of nonfiction, but some fiction as well) and learning new things.  I like watching movies.  And now, because of lockdown, I’ve been enjoying spending time at home.  I didn’t used to like that but actually I was lucky since the house we were in was actually really well set up to live and work in through this time.  So I was like, “Okay, I’ve been traveling around loads and now it’s time to chill.”

Oh, and I started learning Spanish guitar which was relaxing for me because it was new, and I’d always wanted to do it. 

K: Since you both mentioned reading, any book recommendations?  

J: Yes!  I love reading Murakami.  I love all his books, I swear I have a collection.  Him and Neil Gaiman are my two favorite favorite authors. 

Also, another book I’d recommend is A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

M: I’m gonna check all those out! I have a bunch of book recommendations! 

There is this book by Kae Tempest called On Connection. It’s all about connecting with people and things through her art.  My drummer from another band, Amy, knew Kae back when they were teenagers.  And I ended up buying Amy On Connection for her birthday—it was a cool moment of connection, giving a book that is all about connection! Its a gorgeous book—a really easy read but quite philosophical and thought-provoking in a light way.  

A few years ago, I read this other book Get Your Sh*t Together by Sarah Knight (and her other books, The Life Giving Magic of Not Giving a F*ck). It’s really good and gave me a new outlook. It got me out of my head a little bit.  It’s all the things your friends say to you that you don’t fully take in. But it’s really even-keel and super down to earth. She’s not telling you off, but giving more “come on, sort it out” advice.

The other books I always recommend are by Austin Kleon: Steal Like an Artist, “Show Your Work, and his new one, Keep Going. He’s not a musician, but I think it’s helpful to any artist. It’s just a little handbook or support system on how to keep going with your creative work.  

K: Now the rapid fire questions: Any special/secret skills  (outside of creating music, which is obviously already a very special skill)?

M:  I can curl my tongue, and apparently not everyone can. What about you Jojo? What is your special skill? 

J: Hm, I don’t know. 

 

M: Jojo, I think yours is that you make everyone around you happy as soon as you speak to them. 

J: Aw thanks. Marianne. That is really sweet.  But hm, where were we? Special or secret skills. None of my skills are very secret, I’m pretty open!

K: I think that’s a skill in itself, to be open!

J: I’ll take it!  

K: What music are you listening to right now? Any artists you want to shout out? 

M: I tend to listen to a lot of the same music over and over again, so I don’t go and find a lot of new music or new playlists.  

But one artist that I really love Dawn Golden, who is also part of a group called Houses. His song, “Fast Talk” was my most listened to in 2020.  I like really chilled out electronic music. 

Also there is this artist that came up on my Bandcamp or Soundcloud email alerts: Greentea Peng. Peng is a Manchester (but now also adopted London) word meaning like “hot” or “fit” or “good” in general.  And, actually, one time when PQC met up, we were trying to be really laid back on the beat and sing the track we were working on in this certain way, and I was able to say ‘kinda like this video I just watched and like referenced Greentea Peng’s song.  It all came full circle. 

J:  I listen to a lot of really chill stuff. I don’t really listen to very upbeat things.  I also listen to a lot of Japanese music and Korean music. But less popular K-pop—apart from AKMU (I listen to them a lot and I’m not ashamed)! I also listen to a lot of Bruno Major (not to be confused with Bruno Mars).  His latest album has this song, “To Let A Good Thing Die,” which is about appreciating things but letting them go when they go, which I like. I really like healing songs and really calm songs most of the time.  

K: Okay, the best question: Ultimate comfort food? 

M: The best question! It used to be Pot Noodle, but when I grew up and realized you can’t eat Pot Noodle forever and became vegan (and am basically like allergic to everything), I made my own version of basically pot of noodle.  It’s like a sort of ramen.  So basically anything with soup-y rice noodles, I’m just all over that.

I also love Vietnamese food. I got to visit Vietnam and I was just eating everything! 

J: Wow Marianne, you are literally a girl after my own heart! My favorite dish ever is Korean Janchi-guksu,!2$8,) is literally like rice noodles with soup!  Ultimately, always noodles. Like proper ramen, I love ramen so much! 

M: I might even prefer pho over ramen because I like all the little things that go in it!

K: Final rapid fire question: what has been the highlight of your day so far? 

J:  Haha, I feel like that’s a trick question! 

K: If it’s not me, I’ll be sad (just kidding)!

J: But honestly, it’s been really fun. And I haven’t really done anything else yet today. Just been hanging out with my cats here at home. So just cats and talking to people, that’s it. It’s the best! 

M: I sorted out some boxes in the kitchen, so that was quite satisfying!

K: What are you both up to? What is in the future for you and PQC (as of now)? 

M: I play in a few other bands as well—you can look up Ode to Lucius. And my wedding band, The Moonrise Collective. 

J: My projects are usually classical and more pop up, so we tend to do just a one-off concert or performance, but that’s been less during lockdown. 

M: We (PQC) also has a new song, “Burn Hollywood Down,” coming out soon in late April. 

J: And yesterday we recorded the acoustic version of the song [“Burn Hollywood Down”]. 

M:  And before that, we have a bit of a surprise release that wasn’t originally in the schedule. You know when you come together to do something, and it doesn’t work at first, but then you change tact, and then suddenly you have the booster packs on and its like go go go?  And it all just comes together in like 10 minutes? That’s how this happened.

We also have our Demonstration of Unity on May 23 as our next thing! In solidarity with our friends over in the States, to show support, and to be in the front of the conversation about anti-Asian racism in the UK, we have put together a demonstration in London’s Chinatown on May 23 at 1 PM.  We’ve got speakers, like the UK’s first ESEA member of Parliament, Sarah Owen MP, Haneu Chan who is the Vice Chairman of the Chinese Community Centre, Amy Phung who is the co-founder of Besea.n, and actor, writer, and filmmaker, Daniel York Loh.  We have invited a ton of different people to be part of it, I think it’s going to be really great!

J: And PQC will be performing!  So a lot to look forward to! 

Pho Queue Crew’s surprise drop, “#StopAsianHate Freestyle” (a one-take freestyle track in support of the protests around the world for our ESEA community)  was released on April 9th, and you can listen to it now.  Their newest single, “Burn Hollywood Down” is dropping Friday, April 30, 2021.  


Jo Eun Shim was surrounded by music as soon as she was born.  She started playing piano at age 4, however due to language barriers on her arrival from Korea to the UK when she was 6, she didn’t play again until she was 8.  She has taken part in several outreach projects to introduce children and toddlers to music. When she’s not playing music, she does life drawing, digital art, and baking.

Marianne Canning is a violinist, violist, bass guitarist, Spanish guitarist, and keyboardist, as well as a singer.  She has played instruments since the age of 7, daughter to a Malaysian-Chinese mother and Scottish-English father.  Outside of her musical career, her interests are shopping for vintage fashion, vegan cooking, gardening, reading, and cuddling cats. 

Pho Queue Crew can be found on Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, and more streaming platforms.  More information on our Demonstration of Unity on May 23 in London can be found here on our Instagram as well!


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Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

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