A Conversation about ‘Memories, Linger’ the Music Video with Monica Wat and Alessandro Gontay
Artist Monica Wat and Filmmaker Alessandro Gontay sit down to discuss Monica’s latest music video ‘Memories, Linger’
On a mild summer morning, fellow filmmaker Alessandro comes to visit the new house I live in. We sit at the kitchen table next to a shelf full of Asian seasoning – soy sauce, teriyaki marinate and gochujang. It forms a fortress, a safe space as we talk about the music video for my song ‘Memories, Linger’, which I directed, produced and edited, while he assistant directed and produced.
M: Hi Alessandro! Thank you for coming here in the morning to talk about ‘Memories, Linger’.
A: I’m excited!
M: Me too. As you know, ‘Memories, Linger’ is my debut single that I wrote and produced. It’s about drifting between places like Hong Kong, Australia and now, the UK. I put it out last December, but it is only half a year later that the music video is out. That’s because I was confused as to how I could make the music video, and what it could be about: I wrote the verses of the song while cycling in Australia, then the chorus on a tram in Hong Kong. But it’s not like I could go back to Australia and Hong Kong easily to film the music video after moving to the UK. I felt lost as to how to bring the music video to life. Fortunately, that’s where you came in. Do you remember how the collaboration start?
A: I think it started when I noticed your Instagram story. I had been in Bristol since 2020, and you came here in 2021. I was like, I knew this person! It’s Monica.
M: Yes, and you told me you listened to the song and found it touching! I really appreciated it because you were one of the first people who told me how you felt about the song after it was out. I mentioned that I wanted to film a music video but had no crew (laughs), and you said you were down to help.
A: It was touching because – well – I think the lyrics themselves are quite personal to you, of course, but it can also be personal to other people. It is personal to me because when you talk about memories that linger, I may not have the exact memories that you have, but I can relate to them: I’m from Indonesia, I went to Hong Kong and I’m now in the UK. Every country that I’ve been in has given me memories, and they shape me.
M: Exactly. I feel the same – obviously (laughs). Do you remember the first ideas we had for the music video?
A: I remember we did the pre-production for quite some time – two months, three months? At first, we had quite literal ideas about the music video – kangaroos, polaroid…
M: Yes, they were very literal ideas! But then it occurred to me that after living in the UK for half a year, I had forgotten my roots to Hong Kong culture. It’s a natural process that we go through, I realised, after talking to friends, like you, who have multi-cultural backgrounds. When we move to a new place, we try to assimilate, which is not always healthy. At one point, I distanced myself from food from Hong Kong and Asian supermarkets. When Lunar New Year came though, I felt really connected back to my cultures. Well, I had COVID until the first day of the Lunar New Year but still, the celebrations really made my cultures seem more visible and tangible. I then had the idea of going to Hong Kong-related, Asian-related places in Bristol, and brought it up to you. We went to quite a lot of places to see where we could film the music video, right?
A: Yes, we went to a Hong Kong bakery and an Asian supermarket.
M: I later found out about the street art by Malaysian artist Caryn Koh in Easton too. When I walked past it, it was the first time I ever saw a piece of street art with a person that looked like me! I was like, this has to be in the video! So, the music video is a neo-documentary in a way. It became snapshot of my journey of moving to the UK. But there’s also the constant paradox of being so underrepresented in the music industry: whenever I create something based on my personal life, it’s like representation on a bigger scale: It’s not very often at all that we see Asian musicians, Hongkongers in the UK, Asian supermarkets or Hong Kong bakeries in a music video – so complicated.
A: But we also went to places like the Clifton Arcade, Goldney Gardens.
M: I like the contrast of Western, British and Asian, East Asian, Hong Kong…cultures – always hard to get the terminology right. It does speak to me personally, having grown up in Hong Kong and being taught that Hong Kong is where ‘East meets West’, international and multicultural to the point where I wonder what our culture is. I have come to accept that it’s all very mixed. For example, I personally grew up with Cantopop, Barbie movies, Taylor Swift’s songs and that’s why I started writing songs. For you, growing up in Indonesia, was it a multicultural experience too?
A: My family is ethnically Chinese and Thai. My mother is quarter-Thai although we don’t practice the Thai culture. Even at school, my schoolmates were from different backgrounds, like some of them were mixed with different Asian heritages, and one friend was German-Indonesian. I lived in Hong Kong as well, so it’s all added up to me being more open-minded and multi-cultural. It’s something I cherish.
M: And then, here, in the UK, people just see Asians as a homogeneous community (laughs). Two weeks ago, I even learnt that the label ‘Asians’ refers to South Asians only, not including East and South East Asians (ESEA). It’s such an erasure of identity. When we are here, we face the question of whether to connect to our roots or to assimilate. We ideally find a balance, but it’s always a process. We have to deal with the multi-complexity of our upbringings. That’s why I channelled all these confusions, doubt and little joys like sharing home food with my friends into the music video. That’s why there is a party in the end, where I hope the beauty of diversity and the celebration of different cultures can really shine through. Speaking of the party, what challenges do you remember from making the music video?
A: Shooting outdoors! The weather meant we had to postpone the party shoot again and again. And it was hard to keep adjusting the camera settings while organising such a big scene with just a crew of three people.
M: I now understand why people here talk about the weather a lot (laughs). Finding the right collaborators was another challenge: I’m thankful that you, Abiola, Jamie and our other friends are part of this. You make me feel more supported in this journey, especially because Asian filmmakers are so underrepresented in the industry. Ensuring diversity both off-screen and on-screen was really important to me – I learn the most when there are myriad perspectives brought by friends from different walks of life. And it does get challenging navigating white male-dominated creative industries. Even saying this feels difficult because I’m critiquing the industries and can’t help but doubt how it would affect my career, my future. And we internalise the part of Asian cultures which teaches us not to speak up, to accept the norm especially because we are in a Western country. But I have to speak up because it’s my experience every day, and I felt the need to diversify the team in order to truly honour the meaning of the music video. That said, after more than four months of working with the team, I’m happy that the music video will finally be out on August 5, Friday! I hope that people will watch it on YouTube and……what’s the term? (laughs)
A: stream, share, subscribe!
M: Yes, that, please support us! (laughs)