Poplar Tree aka Nicholas Yiu is a San Francisco based producer and engineer who just released a six-song EP entitled "Paper Places" (check out our review HERE). We connected with Poplar Tree for an exclusive interview to discuss the EP, find out how he managed to juggle his career and music, as well as how he connected with the featured artists who appear on "Paper Places".
After reading our Q&A with Poplar Tree, be sure to stream/download "Paper Places" and follow him on his social media streams to stay up to date on what's next from this talented producer.
Tell us about your stage name Poplar Tree; what does it personify for you?
My EP Paper Places is very emotional and close to my heart. In 2017, I moved to a city called Alameda in the San Francisco area and the EP tells the story of my first year in a new life in a new city, new job, new relationships, new friends, and new opportunities. When I finally finished my EP, I was wondering what to name it when I started reading the “Alameda” Wikipedia page. In Spanish, Alameda means “grove of poplar trees” and I thought it would be fitting to dedicate the EP to the city, my home. As an added bonus, it was really cool that the poplar “populus” species was the first tree whose full DNA code had been determined by DNA sequencing.
Congratulations on the release of your "Paper Places" EP. Tell us about your creative process for the project. How long did it take to write and record?
Thank you for having me on this interview! I’ve been wanting to produce an original EP since 2015 but didn’t know how or where to start. I really started thinking about it in May 2017, looking at who I wanted to work with and what I wanted it to be about. My musical inspirations were Ember Island, Owl City, Emmit Fenn, and Porter Robinson. It took 6 months to finish my EP from lyric writing to mastering, and 2 months for design and release, about 8 months in total.
Were there any songs that you decided not to include on the EP? If so, why?
I had two songs that I decided to leave off the EP, “Mazes” and “Outro”, originally intended as opening and closing songs. Both were instrumental and in the end, I wanted my first EP to be focused on the human voice as the centerpiece, so I decided to exclude those two tracks.
How did you connect with your vocalist collaborators on the EP, Megan McDuffee, Rosendale, and Shannon Tse?
I really think the human voice is the most beautiful instrument, and I am so fortunate to have met the awesome people I collaborated with. Megan McDuffee is a rockstar game developer and film music composer who I met on Craigslist, who has been so awesome to work with. Rosendale (aka Brian Wang) is a good friend I met during my college years at UC Berkeley, where we sang in the same acapella group (Go Bears!). Shannon Tse is a medical student in the UK and a 3rd connection friend who I met through a friend back in Hong Kong where I grew up, and though we’ve never met in person (yet), we clicked immediately. I like working with vocalists from a wide range of life and geographical backgrounds to get different and unique musical flavors in my tracks.
You're not just a musician, you work full-time as an engineer at a smart glass startup. How do you juggle your 9-5 responsibilities with your creative side as an artist and producer?
I try to find time after work a few days per week to play with ideas and collaborations. It’s so much fun to work on music projects, so I always look forward to it when I get home. I also enjoy doing little “sprints” on the weekend where I sit and produce uninterrupted for a few hours straight. The juggling is tiring, but so worth it!