Interview with Ginger Beef (Sled Island 2024)

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Ginger Beef at I Love You Coffee Shop on Thursday, June 20 2024.

2024 will mark Ginger Beef’s second time performing during Sled Island as a group. The married duo, Jiajia Li and Warren Tse, attribute a lot of their success with their music career to the festival and delve into the process of the origins of Ginger Beef, the process of their first album and their music influences. 

Ginger Beef performed at Legion on June 19 at 10 p.m. and are performing at The Palomino on Friday June 21 at 4 p.m.

Special thank you to Take Aim Media for organizing the Sled Island 2024 Interviews, and I Love You Coffee Shop for hosting us.


Kaamil Kareemi: Okay, so first question, who are Ginger Beef for anybody who may not be aware, and is this your guys’s first Sled Island?

Jiajia Li: Ginger Beef is duo project between me, Jiajia Lee, with Warren Tse and/or AKA MSG for the project. We’re an instrumental pop project, and this is not our first Sled Island. In fact, it was like our third time playing Sled? Yeah, so, but still super stoked. We had a show last night at Legion, and it was absolutely a blast.

Kaamil Kareemi: Was it your guys’ first time performing at Legion? 

Jiajia Li: Yeah. 

Kaamil Kareemi: Cool, so what was it like being in that venue? 

Jiajia Li: Amazing, it was just the energy in the room and the sound, it sounded amazing. Ryan did a really, really great job. Yeah, it was just, yeah . . . amazing.

Kaamil Kareemi: Yeah, anything you wanted to add to about the show last night, or . . . ?

Warren Tse: Oh, Jiajia pretty much covered it there. Like, it was a packed house. And all the acts, they were just like Ryan Bourne & The Plant City band and, oh, I always struggle with . . . 

Jiajia Li: Aladean. 

Warren Tse: Aladean Kheroufi. And the amazing thing about the programming yesterday was that there was . . . all the acts were so different, but there’s still . . . you can kind of sense a common thread running through it. I think it was an amazingly well programmed concert. 

Kaamil Kareemi: What do you think that thread was? Could you put your finger on it?

Warren Tse: I want to say maybe soul? That would be like, you know, not necessarily soul music, but there is this undercurrent of soul that just kind of . . . yeah, just ran through everything. It was really, really amazing just to have that variety and and it was like a lot of local grown talent as well. Just a magical evening for everyone, I’d say.

Kaamil Kareemi: For sure, it was cool because I was there for the show last night and I . . . yeah, I was there. I saw Aladean and then I saw you guys, it was cool. It’s like, the Edmonton, Calgary and then international with W.I.T.C.H., so it was a nice combination and that’s really interesting that you saw that thread there too. You guys have another show coming up as well. It’s tomorrow at the Palomino, I believe. Friday at The Palomino? Have you guys performed at the Palomino before?

Jiajia Li: Yeah, so, in fact, our first show at Sled was at the wrap up party at The Palomino, and then we’re coming back for that stage upstairs again. Gonna have some trouble to fit onto the stage again but it’ll be nice and cozy. Yeah, I remember it was a first time experience two years ago. It was just crazy, also crazy room. That’s just about Sled, right? Every show was just energy. People were just coming to have a good time.

Warren Tse: Yeah, it’s just the crowd. We’d never played for a crowd like that before or since, honestly. That first show, it was. . . it was like dry tinder. You just sparked it and then woof, it just blew the roof off and just looking forward to kind of a homecoming from our beginnings with Sled.

Kaamil Kareemi: Very nice, very nice. So let’s get a little bit more into the music side of things. I’m curious about your guys’s production process and things like that. Flute is a very unique sound to your guys’s music and I think it’s very unique to Calgary music in a lot of ways as well. Was that a kind of focused effort to teach Calgarians or introduce Calgarians to flute music?

Warren Tse: I would say that not specifically about evangelizing flute but I’ll tell you a little bit about our origin story. So actually it all comes down to Sled Island, in fact. So Jiajia has performed as a solo artist, as a solo act, for Sled Island a couple years and the year just before the pandemic, Jiajia was, or actually, the year of the pandemic, Jiajia was scheduled to perform a solo set but of course, things didn’t work out that way. But then the following year, there was the Camp Sled Island event where they gave artists a budget to make some videos. So by that point, everyone was cooped up for about a year, not exactly playing music with a lot of people or anything like that, but . . . 

Jiajia Li: Including us.  

Warren Tse: Including us, exactly. But the nice thing about having two musicians living under the same roof is that . . . yeah, Jiajia, just thought, well, let’s collaborate on something. We’ve been married for years, but we’ve never collaborated musically on anything up to that point. So we put together this track, the first track on our album actually is called Flashback and we made a music video in Regency Palace at this Chinese restaurant in Chinatown of like a Chinese banquet gone plum local. And we screened it at the Camp Sled event and it was really well received but the problem is, everybody asked afterwards, ‘where’s the rest of the music?’ So then our one-off project kind of became a whole thing but that’s sort of how it all kind of came together. Because Jiajia is a flutist, like a classically trained one. She studied in Germany and got her Master’s and do you want to talk a little bit about your . . . ?

Jiajia Li: It’s better if someone else is talking about me. Yeah, anyways, so I think, like, the project was not necessarily planned, you know, like, oh, we have to feature, like, flute for a band, you know? It just came naturally as it is, and it happened that I play the flute and don’t sing much, you know?

But I think, kind of the vision, though is more that we want to focus on instrumentals. So the one thing we are evangelizing is the importance of instrumentals and just . . . there’s just plenty of music with vocals and lyrics but we just wanted to do something a little different and shine the spotlight on the instrumentalists who often end up just taking a back seat to vocals. So yeah, that’s kind of the thesis of our project.

Kaamil Kareemi: It puts a good focus on your guys’s project as well, which I wanted to talk about, which is your guys’s self titled album. It’s an album that I think has been playing on the station probably 100 times through at this point now and I think a big reason for that is kind of how accessible your guys’s music is. I know one thing you guys kind of pride yourself on is being instrumental and having that kind of all ages presence as well. So can you guys speak to that side of things in terms of that project, putting that project together, and moreover, just kind of focusing a little bit on why you guys have that kind of presence in that scene and that accessibility, and why your music might kind of bend genres in some ways too?  

Warren Tse: Well, I think, and this is probably how most people approach music, but I like to create music that I personally would enjoy listening to. So I’m older than I look, so you’ll see a lot of retro influences and a lot of the things that I love, like my favorite band, is The Police, for example. You know, I grew up listening to a lot of Beatles and stuff that my dad was playing all the time and actually, fairly recently I got into Steely Dan and that kind of thing. So I think that I’m very influenced by that sort of thing, so that’s the thing I like to listen to so that’s also the kind of music that we like to create as well. And I think it’s kind of like . . . 

Jiajia Li: Yeah, I also think because it’s like a first project, and it’s a new project, and we don’t necessarily know what kind of music after Flashback we could create so we kind of just tried a couple different things, right? Different approaches and that’s why you also hear like, in the album there’s like . . .  it’s hard to define what genre is this music besides it’s called instrumental, but instrumental is not a genre anymore? So it’s actually really hard. So by the way, I will be on a panel for self releasing music tomorrow morning at Central Library at 11 a.m. and I will be talking to table from K the Chosen and I think there’s a Montréal artist as well on amazing panel curated by Jess. Like I said, you know, it’s just a lot of different genres of music, different approaches, different kind of things that we try. We’ll see what this road gonna take us and then the second album will be more streamlined, or like, not? We’ll see. 

Warren Tse: I think like Jiajia said, the beauty of it being the first album is you’re still kind of trying to find your sound or whatever but I also think just kind it speaks to us personally as musicians that we’re into a lot of stuff, like a lot of genres and I think it is our lack of genre that kind of defines us. But I think it’s working for us so I’m hoping that we don’t ossify into a single genre. If we do that, then it won’t really be a wouldn’t be Ginger Beef.

Jiajia Li: But that would probably mean that we’re more popular?

Kaamil Kareemi: Who knows? Maybe genreless is just the future, you know? All genres will be eliminated. There’s also so many sub genres now that it’s it’s so hard to to keep track of things. 

Warren Tse: It’s so post-modern.

Kaamil Kareemi: I was curious, Warren mentioned some of the influences, Police and bands like that. Jiajia, do you have any kind of influences that or any people that you want to mention that influence your sound and maybe the flute as well?

Jiajia Li: So, like Warren said, I grew up playing classical music went all the way to getting my Master’s in flute performance, even that was before I moved to Calgary. I lived in Germany, and then at that time, was also really into playing a lot of contemporary avant-garde music. So it was just very much on a very different kind of niche music. And then when I moved here, I was trying to be a classical musician, but really difficult in Calgary – freelancing in that world – but which also opened the door for me to start exploring other type of music. So I started playing more improvised music, got into the bugging position, you know, the pre free improv scene, and really, really, really digging it. Finding it was very, very liberating, especially from how I grew up, you know, in China and also doing lots of classical music training. And then also started getting into just gigging with different musicians and different genres and playing a little jazz, learn a little jazz here and there. I think for influences, like, all of these are in the back of my head, and helped making the music of Ginger Beef. And also, I grew up listening to a lot of Japanese pop. I also really enjoyed those. And then, you know, a lot of Chinese pop and also Cantonese pop were really influenced by Japanese pop music. And that was just kind of a huge thing for me.

Warren Tse: Don’t forget the traditional stuff.  

Jiajia Li: Oh yeah. And also, yeah, just talking about, right? A lot of different kind of, you know, background and yeah. So my mom is a traditional Chinese musician. She plays this instrument called pipa. So growing up just hearing lots of that and her teaching and practicing, you know, performance in concerts. And my dad, on the other hand, he plays a trumpet in in orchestras, in actually the Opera House and a lot of Puccini/Verdi also sing in Chinese. It’s kind of like really . . . it’s just a lot of different music in there. So, yeah, it’s kind of, like, my background,

Kaamil Kareemi: Cool. No, those are all awesome influences. And I would love to be like, ‘oh, I hear all of those in your music.’ That would be insane for me to say. But no, like you guys said, your music is very genreless. So I think, as you mentioned, the influences play a part in the music that you guys are creating. So I guess we’re about 15 minutes through this interview already, so just to kind of wrap it up, I wanted your guys’s thoughts on – not in the immediate future, because we know you guys got a performance, you’re going to be on the panel – but what’s next for Ginger Beef? 

Warren Tse: Well, I’d say we’ve been really inspired by the response to the first album up to this point, like beyond our wildest dreams, honestly. Like you mentioned, CJSW is giving us lots of spins and just . . . people seem to be responding to what we’re doing, so that’s always very inspiring so I’m really eager to start writing some more stuff really soon. 

Jiajia Li: We started started writing some new music but in planning of some kind of maybe . . . early next year? Maybe a release? We’ll see. 

Warren Tse: Yeah and we’ve got a couple of music videos that are in the hopper that we’re working on in production. Yeah, that’s the other side of it that we really enjoy, is the visual side. We love watching music videos, so like this is also a nice vehicle for us to play around in that space as well. So keep your eyes open for something coming down the pipe there. And . . . anything else? 

Kaamil Kareemi: I was gonna ask, is there anything else you guys wanted to add, anything that you feel I might have missed touching on before we close up the interview?

 Warren Tse: Just that, wow. I mean, we have such a special relationship with Sled Island, because, honestly, Ginger Beef could not have existed without Sled Island. And, yeah, it’s kind of a special kind of home to us. So it’s been amazing to be part of it again this year, and . . .

Jiajia Li: And also CJSW, I think especially personally to me, because, you know, I didn’t grow up here, I didn’t go to school here, I had like, zero connections when I moved to Calgary. I feel one of the . . . like, community really helped me, was CJSW and also, you know, the amazing programmers here, and also, which including the past (sp?) and you know, who I talked to at her show, and then she played lots of my music. And you know, like people there just genuinely wanting to find out good music, wanting to connect with the community, you know you just feel this sense of community, like, which I . . . I just don’t know what to say. Like, I have never really experienced something like that before I moved to Calgary. So yeah, CJSW, definitely.

Kaamil Kareemi: I appreciate that. We appreciate you guys. We appreciate your music. Thank you guys so much for coming in to do this interview with us today. It’s been an absolute pleasure. And yeah, all the best in the future. 

Warren Tse: Yeah, thanks so much. 

Jiajia Li: Thank you.

Kaamil Kareemi: No worries.