Vienna Teng Song Notes

This is my attempt to gather the stories Vienna tells at her performances (or via her web site about what she thinks each of her songs is about or why she wrote them. There are other stories she tells about her songs in addition to what they mean to her, but you'll just have to go catch her live to hear those. Please contact me here if you have any additions or corrections to contribute. Thanks!

Waking Hour  Warm Strangers
Dreaming Through the Noise Inland Territory
Non-recorded Tracks  Covers

Waking Hour

the tower

College roommate's (Junior year) song: the typical "dorm mom" - gave to everyone, but never enough for herself. Was going through some tough times and Vienna couldn't do much for her, so wrote her a song. Roommate (now in DC) is said to still be able to relate to the song- for better or worse.


A song of seduction, Vienna says. Reminds her of her Sports Illustrated Online review - great music to get down a woman's pants.


College roommate's (Junior year) boyfriend's song: couple that fought all the time swore they were meant to be together. She tried to write this song from his perspective (Tower is about roommate herself) and she figured they must think that each time would be different. That's what this song is about. The subject and Vienna sounds like are still close friends. She also calls this her "pop" song. She also says she wrote this, in part, to keep from killing the subject!

One report had Vienna saying that the lines: "This is the same place- no not the same place" although contradictory are exactly what she was feeling at the time. Was SHE feeling, or was she imagining HE was feeling? She has also said that this contradiction actually started out as a typo while transcribing the lyrics. She went to correct it, but then read it and decided she liked it- that it somehow summed up the situation better than the original non-contradictory version. [I like it, too - goes well with the theme of believing each time will really be different even though the beginnings look the same each time.]

She also has a story that she played the song for the subject and he said something like "Nice song, but no, that's not how it is." Several months later, she played it again for him and he said, "Well, maybe that's how it was then, but it's not like that now." Here the story diverges, in one he called Vienna a couple years later and said "Why does that song have to be so true?" In the other ending, after she played the song on Letterman, he started to go around and tell everybody it was "his" song!


Vienna's father wasn't always happy with her career changes (probably preferring she'd had stayed in medicine) and was of course weary of a music career for her. This song was written for him (although she says he prefers Say Uncle). Vienna says she tried to write it from his point of view, but in the end, believes it's more from her own, but isn't that how these things go?


In Charlotte, when talking about "Between" Vienna said something about writing the song when she was taking ballroom dancing lessons and that from the idea of a waltz she started thinking about sets of 3 and how they fit together. She said that a woman (i think she was in Vienna's dance class?) wanted to use the song for her wedding until she listened closer to the lyrics.

Another Warm Stranger asked Vienna about the song at a show once: I have a little something to add - "Between" is one of my favorites and I've never heard her play it live, hence I never got to hear the story on it. So I asked her about it after a show a few months back, and told her that I had two interpretations, both of which seemed to work.

One interpretation was that it was about a couple drifting apart because one person suspected that the other was cheating. The other interpretation was that it was about a couple having a baby, and they were focusing all of their attention on the baby, the "third one" who basically sucked away all of their energy and left them with little time or affection for each other.

Anyway, she told me that neither of those interpretations was what inspired the song, but that they were both correct. :>

To explain a little better, she originally conceived the song as a way of sorting out her feelings about a long-distance relationship, but since that didn't seem to make for a very interesting song, she threw in one of her patented fictional elements, an unnamed "third one" who was coming between them. She was aware that it could be construed as a love triangle, or it could be construed as a baby, and she left it ambiguous on purpose.

Vienna also says she wrote this during a "clever phase" of hers. Being about a third "thing" between two, it, of course, had to be in 3/4 time, with 3 verses, with 3 voices in the chorus, the main one "between" the other two...

At another show, Vienna said she took ballroom dancing in college and she wrote this sort of waltz for her instructor, who absolutely loved it.

say uncle

Written about an Uncle who died when she was a teenager (16). It was the first close family death that she was really aware for. This is his song. She says it's her father's favorite song and it includes a few tidbits (Where's Waldo, she says) of songs her Uncle liked and that were played at his funeral: Love me Tender, Bridge over Troubled Water, and Wind Beneath my Wings.


A song about winter changing into Spring, or a song about nothing at all, or a song about everything and anything or a song about not being able to write a song. Written after an extended period of writer's block, Vienna was using zwrite (in the days before Internet chat) to complain to a friend of hers about not being able to write a song and how it's like wanting Winter to end not because you like Spring, but just because you want Winter to end and on and on. Eventually, her friend asked, "so, is this a song?". It wasn't, but shortly afterwards, she sorted it out and came up with Drought. She wrote it in Baker Hall at MIT, while visiting the Berklee School of Music in Boston. She's also said she likened the feeling of trying to write when nothing will come to a farmer waiting for the rain that comes only when it feels like it- hence the title, Drought.

enough to go by

A conscious attempt to write a happy song. Was originally intended to be a sing-along, but as her bother predicted, the first attempt to do so tanked -too many words! A song about an imaginary wonder boy who left home (a little home in New England where he suffered traumatic strange childhood) at 16 to the big world, was very successful and off doing wonderful things, and glad to have left his home behind. But then, one night, in yet another small, but expensive, Tokyo hotel room, a photo drops out of his wallet of someone from home and he realizes he missed something at home. The song is his trip back. Vienna later realized it was about her turning her back on music for 22 years and deciding to pursue her music dream after all.

She said she wrote this when she was a software engineer and that it is on the surface about a guy who ran away from home but that it was really about her wanting to quit her day job. She did mention that there is a hidden reference to her previous (technical) life in here and that other geeky types might notice it.

unwritten letter #1

Vienna describes this as the typical:
girl meets boy
boy meets girl
girl falls madly in love with boy
boy does NOT fall for girl because
boy is of a different sexual orientation

She wrote several bad sappy songs to get over it, and out of those ashes wrote this song- now a tango to sort of make fun of herself and the whole experience. The guy in question recently got married in one of the recent Spring 2004 SF gay marriages. "He was so perfect for me," she says. She also says he and his partner sort of independently discovered her music and actually chose one of her songs as "their song" - not this one, though! When he first heard this song, he thought "who's the jerk who turned down Vienna?".

eric's song

A love song of hope and building a new life together (without using the word "love" - as a 10 year old she promised herself she wouldn't write sappy love songs; she has, but not using the word "love" was her compromise to her 10-year-old promise). Sounds like there was an important Eric in her life several years ago (not Eric Cheng, she says) and this song is about that relationship. She was in love and wanted to tell everyone about it, she says. Several years later, another Eric came up to her at a show and said introduced himself as Eric - you know of Eric's Song, claiming this was his song and they were soulmates. It wasn't the original Eric, but it makes a funny story.

She wrote it on the train on the way to a job interview. She got the job.

In 2013, Vienna said that her family wasn't one of those that said "I love you" a lot - the way some families do in casual conversation ("I'll be home at 8:00. I love you. Bye.") This song partially reflects that reality.

soon love soon

A song she wrote after one too many modern history classes in school. A song that dares to hope that some day, we'll learn from our mistakes, be beyond all this mess and live peaceful, happy lives. An audience sing-along now, with much fewer words needed to learn by the audience than "enough to go by" would have been. Cell phone/digital camera/other electronics waving is encouraged now that most places don't allow lighters during the happy, warm and fuzzy final chorus.

lullabye for a stormy night

Feeling scared of a thunderstorm and alone one night, she decided to write a song to comfort herself, but she couldn't really do that, so she invented a little girl and wrote a song to comfort her. She sometimes dedicates this to her mother. This is sort of the prequel to Anna Rose as this is the song that little Anna Rose loved so much, drew a picture about, and sent it to Vienna. Vienna appreciated it so much, and although never met Anna, wrote Anna Rose about her, sort of "returning the favor".

Vienna said she wrote this one night in high school at age 17, while staying up late (~3AM), procrastinating on an English paper due to the next day. (Turns out it rained so hard that the school flooded and school was canceled the next day, so she got an extra day to finish that paper after all!)

decade and one

The short version is that she wanted to write from the viewpoint of eleven years down the road, looking back. She wrote it at age 20, from a vantage point of age 31, looking back at what she was 11 years ago. She wrote this at a time when she was trying to figure out what to do with her life (presumably whether or not to do music professionally) and wrote this song to help with that decision, pondering at least one possibility 11 years from then.

Vienna has also said that perhaps of all songs, this is the one she most wrote as a gift to herself.

Warm Strangers

Feather Moon

A friend of Vienna's suggested she paint a picture, but with words. so Feather Moon is a painting really; the lyrics don't have any real or explicit meaning, but rather create an image in your mind. One person reported Vienna said it was inspired by Bolero...the repetition, simplicity, build-up.

After listening to her new album for the first time, Vienna asked her sister what she thought. She said it's all very good, except for that one song that just droned on and on endlessly about breathing in and out and all that. "But that's the beauty of it. It's supposed to do that. That's the WHOLE POINT." said Vienna (or something to that effect.)


A complicated (musically) song in odd time signatures - 7/4, 5/4, etc. It's obviously about those who have loved ones far away. She wrote it only a couple weeks before the Warm Strangers session and was sort of surprised it made it on the album.

Hope on Fire

The usual story of this song is that it's 2/3 male - co-written with her WS producer, Dave Henry, and drummer Jim Batcho. In MN, she explained that it is about a nascent activist. Someone who got so angry with the way things are that they felt compelled to do something about it. She said as an aside that she's never really felt that way herself.


Vienna says she wrote this one in the dreary Nov/Dec season in the Bay Area and it's her patented "things are pretty bad, but you can always look at the bright side" kind of song. She wrote it when she was experiencing a bit of writer's block. It was a way to sort of force yourself out of the block. She calls it her nonpolitical political song.

Mission Street

From old www site:
Musings of an insomniac. As with Homecoming, this one started on guitar, but moved to piano as I became frustrated with my clumsiness on six-string instruments.

Other notes:
After she decided she would quite Cisco (where she worked on the 2950 XL and 3550 XL switches) and become a musician, she figured she needed some character (in her living arrangements, that is) and a cheap place to live, so she got a cheap apartment on Mission St. in San Francisco- complete with windows that wouldn't close, constant traffic consisting of emergency vehicles and gangsters showing off their sub-woofers, bar brawls, etc. Feeling rather lonely and lost, early on, she grabbed the only instrument she had at the time - a guitar her boyfriend had taught her several single-finger chords on - and wrote this song. Not being a realist, she, of course, romanticized her situation and came up with this song. She moved out in June, 2004 (3275 Mission St. if you want to go and take a look).

My Medea

From old www site:
There's a mysterious illness that I carry with me, whose symptoms flare up from time to time, though they're mercifully rare these days. It's not a medical condition, I don't think, but it feels like a disease to me: sudden bouts of grief and anger, completely out of proportion to the events that trigger them, and a frightening desire to dismantle anything good I've built. The shrink probed my childhood for closet skeletons and found essentially nothing; the best name she could come up with for my condition was "mild depression." Ah well.

Based partially on the Greek mythical figure, Medea. And called My Medea to represent the deep Medea-like personality in her own mind. She once described this "Medea" has someone: "... very beautiful, very powerful, but not always with your best interest in mind." Very beautiful, very powerful, but not always with your best interest in mind." (youtube)

Shasta (Carrie's Song)

"A freaking out song disguised as a perky song". After hearing about the topic in the news, Vienna tried to find a different perspective. A girl is driving home (past Mt. Shasta) after having visited an abortion clinic and making a decision to keep her baby. See Homecoming and Anna Rose. They weren't written to be related to each other, but sort of seemed to connect themselves afterwards. The pamphlet-handing-out evangelist in the middle of the song, Vienna assures us, is just a fictional character; no reason to be alarmed.

Homecoming (Walter's Song)

From old www site:
A few days after the Berklee Songwriting Workshop in August, I sat in a friend's Jersey City apartment attempting to play her boyfriend's guitar. As I fumbled through some simple bar chords, I found myself singing "got a whole congregation living in my head these days..." and decided to write it down. On the train back to Boston that one lyric grew into a story about a drifter from Raleigh, stopping in a tiny middle-of-nowhere Arizona town in the dead of winter. Funny how that works.

As with Undone, I started playing it at shows before it was finished (on the piano, not the guitar. Trust me, this is a good thing). I jokingly called it That Song With Twaaaang for a while, until someone in the Red Rock audience one night -- a woman named Stacey Gladman, for the record -- suggested the title "Homecoming."

Interesting that here, Walter hasn't become a truck driver yet - just a drifter.

Other notes:
A balding lonely trucker drives into an Arizona desert cafe late on night. Only after she wrote it and began putting the album together did she make the connection that Walter was Carrie's old boyfriend.... Started while dreaming/thinking of being on the road (touring) all the time and wondering how truck drivers do it. She figured they must survive by learning to make home be wherever they are.

Anna Rose

See lullabye for a stormy night - Anna Rose, a young girl heard this song, liked it, drew a picture about it, and sent it to Vienna. (The girl heard it because Vienna had made a demo of Lullabye for a friend who brought it with her one night while baby-sitting and found the little girl would listen quietly and attentively when she played the tape, so she kept playing it! Anna continued listening and drew a picture about it then.) Vienna wrote this song to return the favor. Some have postulated Anna is Carrie and Walter's daughter, giving tons of joy to Carrie who now applauds her decision.


On the road and seeing too many crosses by the side of the road, Vienna began to wonder how one death affects others' lives. This song is the result.

The Atheist Christmas Carol

Christmas is not religious anymore - to many people, at least - and is more a season, so she decided to write a Christmas Carol without any references to Christmas. It's more about the season and the feeling in the air. Her mom is not sure about the title... She has also said it's more about what the Christmas season means to her and those she is close to (ie. family).

In the May04 Forum Q&A, Vienna said:
on the background of the title for "The Atheist Christmas Carol": It was the working title that stuck. I sat down at the piano sometime in December or January a few years ago and started singing images that came to mind when I thought of Christmas. Most of the impromptu lyrics didn't make it into the song ("It's the season of gift wrap and tinsel and pine needles in the carpet..."), but the chorus came immediately: "Don't forget I love you." I knew it was a Christmas carol. But it wasn't a Christmas carol in any traditional sense, not even in the "Silver Bells" or "Let It Snow" sense. So I tagged it with the name "Atheist" because I couldn't think of anything more accurate. This is what an atheist might contemplate around the holiday season, I thought. Kinship and community, human beings' own potential to rescue each other, a little warmth in the long winter.

When we got into the studio I hadn't thought of a proper title, and other people seemed amused by what I was calling it, so it stayed. It also seemed like a way of counterbalancing Shasta and Homecoming, both of which have distinct Christian overtones, and maybe part of me wanted to startle people back into uncertainty about what my own beliefs are.

She also thought about calling it, Season, but the working title stuck.

Green Island Serenade

The Warm Strangers "hidden track". A song her parents used to sing to here - about missing home, etc. Originally written about a prisoner exiled on Green Island and it's his lament for missing his homeland which he could catch a glimpse of from his cell window. It also has a political significance for Taiwan and those from Taiwan now in the US. For Vienna, it's a tribute to her parents, although she did finally have to learn the words when she began to perform it and was surprised there were no "horseflies" in it, like she thought when she was a child (simple intonation differences in some of the words). Before recording it, she called her mother and spoke in Mandarin for 30m or so, to get in the mindset and had previously taught her produced (Dave Henry of the Brothers Henry) some basic Chinese so they could converse in Mandarin while recording (hen hau). A song of longing for things left behind.

From her online scrapbook:
Track #12 on Warm Strangers is an old Taiwanese song called Lüdao Xiaoyequ, or Green Island Serenade. My parents sang it to us as a lullabye; pretty much all Taiwanese people of their generation know it. I started singing the song because I was playing a show where the organizer had requested that I do something in Mandarin. Then it became a habit of sorts, something thrown in for variety on the setlist. Eventually I found myself adding it to the show as a kind of thank-you to my parents, and to the Chinese-American community at large, for supporting me in the unusual and risky endeavor of making music my career. For an immigrant group thats built its foundation on math-and-science academics, this is no small gesture.

There have been many meanings attributed to the song, including political ones, and I have my own interpretations. But here are the actual lyrics in Pinyin (as I sing them), and an English translation, adapted with kind permission from Much is lost in the conversion, of course. There always is.

Vienna says she started singing it after being aksed to play at a Chinese American Event at the San Francisco Pulic Library. The organizer hopefully asked Vienna if she had written any songs in Chinese. No. Do you sing any covers in Chinese? No, but there is one song my parents used to sing for me.... So, she went home and had her parents teach her what the words relly were and meant.

Lüdao Xiaoyequ
words by Chen Chang-shou/music by Yao Di

zhe lü dao xiang yi zhi chuan,
zai yue ye li yao ya yao.
gu niang ya, ni ye zai wo
de xin hai li piao ya piao.
rang wo de ge sheng sui na wei feng,
chui kai le ni de chuang lian.
rang wo de zhong qing sui na liu shui,
bu duan de xiang ni qing su.
ye zi shu de chang ying
yan bu zhu wo de qing yi;
ming mei de yue guang
geng zhao liang le wo de xin.
zhe lü dao de ye yi jing zhe yang de chen jing 
gu niang ya, ni wei shen ma hai shi muo muo wu yü?

Green Island Serenade
translation by Ed Peaslee

This green island is like a boat,
floating in the moonlight.
My darling, you too
are floating in the sea of my heart.
Let the sound of my song follow the breeze,
blowing open the curtain of your window.
Let my love follow the flowing water,
endlessly pouring out its feelings for you.
The long shadows of the palm trees
cannot conceal my love;
the bright beauty of the moonlight
casts its brilliance into my heart.
This green island night is so calm and serene 
my darling, why are you silent, saying nothing? 

Dreaming Through the Noise

Blue Caravan

Vienna is proud of this one because it's one of the first ones she was able to write while on tour. It actually started while waiting to pick up her rental vehicle (anyone guess what it was?: >) (from an expensive NY garage, on her way to the Kent State Folk Festival and the rest was sort of written on the way on I90). It isn't about that, but that's how it started. She says the words were perhaps inspired by a play she had seen sometime back: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? In particular, she says the song it's about someone who is beginning to realize that all the relationships he/she believed in are actually illusions. Relates personally to Vienna through her life touring on the road, away from many of her own relations.

Whatever you Want

Written 22Apr05, first performed 23Apr05 at the Bazaar Cafe, home of Vienna's first gig where no one could really sing along to Enough to go By. This song, too, is an attempt to write a perky song. Vienna has called it a sort of "revenge of the cubicle" type song. She says it's about someone fed up with the corporate shenanigans/scandals of a boss and turns him in. (Is it a boss, a husband, both?)

Love Turns 40

This song that debuted in Dec 2004. Written summer, 2004. Ponderings on what happens to love when you're over 40 with kids, family obligations, etc., a different kind of love song. Vienna described it (at least) once as sort of a pre-emptive attack on her imaginary coming mid-life crisis.

I Don't Feel so Well

Debuting in early 2005 this song was insipired by a high school freshman English teacher who hated the phrase "I don't feel so well" vs. "I don't feel so good." Vienna wrote this to investigate what it might mean to really not "feel well" (in the sense of not being able to emotionally feel, vs. not being able to physically feel - the former being a bit easier and perhaps more interesting for a songwriter.). Vienna also says she was directly inspired to write the song after seeing a performance of one of Marika's other project bands: Two Foot Yard.

City Hall

Debuting late 2005, this song is about getting married as a gay couple in City Hall- something that took place for a brieft while in San Francisco and other places aorund the country in early 2005. Vienna wanted to write a song about this subject for a while, but couldn't quite figure out how to do it. She eventually settled on the song as we know it.

Vienna also says this was an attempt to write a love song without reference to gender, partially inspired by Jeanette Winterson's novel, Written on the Body.

Nothing without You

Written in Feb, 2005, Vienna sometimes calls this her "anti-Valentine's day song". At one show, Vienna said She said she actually had a fantastic Valentine's Day. However, many of her friends didn't - so she wrote this song for them. At least sometimes, Vienna plays guitar on this one.

In a December 2006 Q&A, Vienna said:
A fundamental fear of being alone, really. I spend a lot of time on my own, and usually it's fine. But it's strange how terrifying loneliness can be when it strikes, sometimes in the midst of a perfectly decent evening or a lively party, and I started to wonder how other people deal with it. I had a discarded song from years ago that had the line "a thousand papercuts/and the sheet in my hand." That's more or less where it started.

I still like other people's interpretations better, to be honest. Especially those who read it as a song about spiritual hunger.

Transcontinental 1:30AM

Debuting 3May2005, Vienna says it's about trying to deal with a long distance relationship over the phone. Other reviews have called it an autobiographical sketch - quite a reasonable assumption given the life of a performing musician and those they leave behind.


Debuted 5Nov2005. Vienna describes it as looking way too long for affordable apartments in SF. She credits for inspiration for one particular line in the song....

Now Three

Debuted in early 2005.


Inspired by the news during/after Hurrican Katrina and the aftermath in Ner Orleans.


Debuting in 2005- first known performace 11Mar05. Vienna calls it a "reverse strip-tease song" - putting the clothes back on, if you will, starting from the end of the relationship going back to the beginning, before the relationship happened. The "reverse strip-tease" idea was how Sam Phillips described one of her own songs at a concert Vienna attended.

During a Dec '06 Q&A session, Vienna said:
There are about six different stories about how this song came about, and I think I've told them all at different shows... I started writing it after seeing Sam Phillips, who introduced one of her songs that night as a "reverse striptease." Around that time I was also infatuated with the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and the way Michel Gondry played around with timelines and the selectiveness of memory. I also wanted to try writing a poem to set to music later --- something whose words might stand on their own if read on paper. And as always there's something of my own life in there, albeit distorted beyond recognition.

Inland Territory

The Last Snowfall

First played on 19Dec07. It was also a bonus .mp3 made available to purchasers of the Dec '07 holiday gift pack from Vienna's site. For live performances, Vienna uses an electronic looper to reproduce the multiple voices of the album version.

White Light

Debuting in early 2008 (March at the Rockwood Music Hall Residency?), Vienna says it's about doing something wrong even though you know you shouldn' leaving right before your gig starts.


Debuted during the March 2008 Rockwood Hall Residency gigs.

In a scrapbook entry, Vienna describes the song like this:
In keeping with the pattern of the last few posts, lyrics: this song is that great rarity for me, the successful collaboration. Alex and I have tried to write together before, without much luck (both times in family homes over the holidays --- we blamed the parental paparazzi). Ironic, maybe, that the one we finally finished is a song about limitations, living with a mere shadow of what used to or might have been.

It was not an easy song to write, nor to record. Alex must have spent four solid days composing the string arrangement; we stayed up all night beforehand double-checking it. "It's like Sudoku or something," he would say, eyes bleary from LCD light. "There's pretty much one correct solution, and each choice affects all choice going forward..." But I think we got it in the end. Nice puzzle-solving, Wong.

Vienna wrote the music first, then wrote the words with Alex. She was purposefully trying to write something that would be a little difficult to play on the piano.


First played 22Dec07. Vienna says it's one of her first sort of autobiographical songs in a long time, written the summer of '07.

In Another Life

Vienna says this song resulted from an experiment she tried based on an improvisational comedy class she was taking. The idea is to go with the first idea that comes to your head, whether or not you think it's a good one. So, on the train home one day, she closed her eyes and decided to start writing a song based on the first thing she saw/thought when she opened her eyes. Whe she opened her eyes, she saw a funny-looking house go by that she thought looked sort of like a watermelon. She couldn't think of what to do with a watermelon house so started thinking about historical uses of watermelons and somehow ended up going back in time at pivotal moments in history and this song was a result.

Not exactly, an origination story, but here's a funny story that goes with the song:
Apparently Vienna and Alex agreed that recording some songs in certain places would make them sound more authentic, or something. So they decided that this song should be recorded in a haunted house. She sent out a message to her mailing list (I think, i dont recall well), asking for a "Friendly haunted house with an upright piano". She, surprisingly, got some replies. "Oh, i have a piano.. but no ghost.." and "Oh... my house is really haunted, I'm not sure if you want to come here, plus we dont have a piano" She got an email saying "Well, our house is haunted by our old pets, and we have a piano" So they decided to record there. Aparently, they did feel some pet ghosts walking around, plus just normal, living pets.

Grandmother Song

First played 22Dec07, although Vienna admits it might not quite be finished as of that performance. Sort of a spin on a "lecture" Vienna heard from her Grandmother at a kitchen table somewhere in Chicago.

Vienna says she felt it was time to tackle in a song some of the family / cultural conflicts she has dealt with in choosing a professional music career.

Stray Italian Greyhound

Started to be peformed in late '07. Vienna says she started writing it shortly after attending a Barack Obama rally, a reflection of being almost un-willingly inspired by hope and optimism sort of in spite of one's (her?) comfortable cynical, jaded attitude.
Vienna posted the lyrics on on her online scrapbook.

In an interview on laist, Vienna said:
Before. I wrote it right around the time President Obama announced his presidential run. At that moment I had this thought of, "Wow, this guy has really good ideas and seems to have a really good heart that will hopefully not be corrupted by politics."

You don't see people like that very often, so I found myself thinking, "I really want to help make this happen." It was such a scary feeling, because being cynical is so much easier. To find myself crawling out of that negative space and suddenly wanting to be part of change that might have a chance of success¿it felt a lot like falling in love with someone but not being sure if they liked you back!


No Gringo

For those that don't know, "gringo" is Spanish for "white man" more or less. Vienna originally wrote a verse entirely in Spanish, aided by online dictionaries and translators (it even rhymed) only eo run it by Alex Wong who told her it wasn't really Spanish after all. ("Wow, that made the hair on my arms stnad up" he said, "and not in a good way."
In an interview on laist, Vienna said:
That was something that grew out of a musical fragment. I had just bought this looper and I was playing around with layering sound. I started out with a rhythmic pattern and then put a piano part over it and sang a few wordless vocal things. The whole thing somehow sounded Southwestern to me¿not exactly spaghetti western¿but something about it suggested deserts and sagebrush. So I started to come up with a story set in that kind of place.

The idea of illegal immigrants trying to sneak across the border came to mind. I didn't want to write about being a Mexican woman trying to cross the border or something, because somehow that felt inauthentic. But then¿not that this is any more authentic¿I thought, "What if this were reversed and Americans were trying to sneak into Mexico in the future?" That's kind of how it came about.


Vienna says this book was partially inspired by the works of author Jared Diamond, Guns: Germs and Steel and Collapse. In these books, Diamond talks about societys that have both risen and collapsed and those that haven't. She thought about that a lot and wrote this song.


St. Stephen's Cross

Vienna says this song is not about the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the St. Stephen's cathedral in particular, but it kind of combines the two in a story about a night when an entire era/government ends and people wander out into the street, wondering what to do next. This song is about two people that night.

She also says it was partially inspired by the Talk Talk records Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock - a change from Talk Talk's popy music to more eerie, almost ambient music.

In an scrapbook post on the forum, Vienna reveals the notes from her "lyrics journal" for this song:

8 Oct 2007: I was recalling something J said about moving to Korea, how part of the appeal was the prospect of being there at an historical moment¿reunification of North and South, or at least an opening of borders, the kind of thing that would send people spilling into the streets en masse in both celebration and anxiety. Somehow I ended up writing about a couple separated in the confusion, and the undertones of disturbing possibilities that lurk in any dramatic moment of change, particularly a revolution or liberation. I remember searching hard for interesting phrases, trying to evoke vivid images and feelings in striking word combinations, not really knowing what the hell I was actually writing about.

Though I have a weirdly fierce attachment to this song already, it's problematic for a number of reasons. Musically it sounds a lot like some other song I can't pinpoint, and that's been P's and A's reaction to it as well (the two people who've caught snippets of it so far). Lyrically it suggests the fall of the Berlin Wall, since that's the most iconic event of that sort in recent memory and so the first thing people will assume, but there's no such thing as St. Stephen's cross in Berlin, and none of the details are meant to be historically accurate to that night. What's more, the phrase "St. Stephen's cross," which somehow feels right enough that I don't want to change it, isn't easily mapped to some other political situation; there's no bifurcated border town in Northern Ireland, and it's doubtful any wall-split city in Asia or the Middle East would have a Catholic church. I'm not sure how I would explain or defend this song if it went out in public, basically.

Still something about this song captures the effect I've been chasing all summer, the "Old Friends" standard: spare words, simple chords, a framing of a deeply personal moment in a bigger swirling world.



In February 2008, Vienna recorded her first official video of Gravity. You can read about it on Scrapbook entries here and here. Fat Monster Films did the shooting and post about it on in their blog, here and here. A Seattle fan, Patrick Shaw, volunteered to help out and posted about it on hig blog, here. More details of the shoot are also available in the dvxuser forum.

Non-recorded tracks


This is a cover/re-interpretation of an Andreas Sahar song. He wrote it for her, she rewrote the lyrics and changed the tune a bit and came up with this.

Here are the lyrics as discussed on Vienna's forum:

you've asked if I love you
and I never could say
and you want me to answer
in any old way

what I'm trying to tell you
simple words could not show
and will never be spoken
still I want you to know

so I ask you to meet me tonight
by the gardens we walk, in the twilight
[and] the roses abound by your side
I will hold you and let you decide

I will hold you and let you decide

[but] there are times when I've wondered
if you're reading my mind
can you know what I'm feeling
when I look through your eyes

now you ask if I love you
it almost seems so unfair
[and] that you even must ask me
when the answer['s] right there

and so I want you to meet me tonight
by the gardens we walk, in the twilight
and the roses abound by your side
i will kiss you and let you decide

i will kiss you and let you decide

so i want you to meet me tonight
by the gardens we walk, in the twilight
roses abound by your side
and I will hold you and let you decide
[ ]I will hold you and let you decide
and the roses abound by your side
I will hold you and let you decide

Boy at the Piano

The back-story is that she had a crush on a boy in high school that was a musician. He was a very popular kid and she was the geeky kid whom he never paid much attention to. He used to go in to the choir room and play jazz piano and this made her love him even more. So she'd sneak in and listen to him play.

Here are the lyrics as deciphered on the Forum:

Ten fingers. Ten dancers.
An uncanny intuition of when and how to pirouette
Eyes darting over the invisible page
Which is riddled with a road map 
Of chords that guide without regret.
Into the precarious land of improvisation,
A one player band amid conversation.

Two hands, a measurin' leisure time
Two hands skimmin' over keys, "that's fine"
Says the girl in the corner, the kid on the ledge.
And the Boy at the Piano plays on...

Well often, I've come to watch him play.
And it seems to me so funny, he doesn't even know I'm there.
Well the music, it takes him to another world.
Sudden playful pauses, dramatic clauses,
Melodies from empty air. 
Noontime master of improvisation,
A one player band amid conversation...


The first song Vienna wrote, with words, around age 11. It is about how "people's lust to learn have driven all of civilization." She wanted to write a very serious song, having already resolved not to write any love songs. The chorus goes as follows:
Tell me tell me now
What kind world would it be
For all of humanity?
And tell me tell me
How would we be living today
Without curiosity?
Click here for a brief interview about the song.


Debuted at the 13Dec08 Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco show.

In My Arrival

Here's what Vienna wrote about the song in her 5/15/04 posting on the QandA:

One of the songs that almost made it onto Warm Strangers was called "In My Arrival," sort of my preemptive strike against being "claimed" by the Asian-American community. The second verse begins: "I am not your spotlight haven/I am not your passionate voice..." I'm wary of being a representative of Chinese America, or being a role model for others of my ethnicity.

I am not your angry servant
I am not your wasted time
give me all that you've been given
and I'll stand to speak your mind
but I have turned away from you
turned far away from it all
and in my arrival
triumphant in this crowded hall

I am not your spotlight haven
I am not your passionate voice
lived the moments all may covet
and I stand to make that choice
now impatient so you watch me
so now you want to shake my hand
I am left silent here
trying so hard to understand

who you are
and who you are in me
are you my welcome home
my rusted key
this much I'll know
who you are
and who you are in me

I am not your wrong direction
I am not your free at last
will you hail this generation
we're all moving much too fast
the colors bleed and I falter
reading my history out loud
I can't make out the pictures
I cannot be too proud
to hold on, to hold on...
At one show, Vienna said:
This is one of my - I don't know; I'm not really sure - if its uncharacteristic or not, but I sort of think of it as my Alanis Morissette song. (laugh) It's about as angry as I get or as edgy as I get.

There is a brief recording of the hold on part on Jim Batcho's site:


From Vienna's old web site v1:

I'm as guilty as the next girly-girl when it comes to picking names for my future children. Sitting bored in an airport terminal one evening, I decided to kill time by working on this particular fantasy. I don't have music for this yet, and I'm not sure I like the lyrics enough to work on it much further; still, it was an interesting exercise, to imagine what a child after my own heart might do when she's about my age.

Mira walks with her head down
against the wall of wind on her way up the hill
she seems to know she's been let down
although the evening feels the same
dry leaves and the song of the whipporwill

come stand beside me
watch how the red fades to blue
someday you'll live the world you've made
come stand beside me
open your arms to what's to come
you'll always have this place to be afraid

Mira walks and her hands are cold
New England winters don't forgive the smallest sin
she thinks history's demands are bold
there is no higher ground to claim
only great circles back to where we begin

come stand beside me
watch how the red fades to blue
someday you'll live the world you've made
come stand beside me
open your arms to what's to come
you'll always have this place to be afraid

each sleeping tree
makes a river delta in the darkening sky
and casts shadows on her face
she's a camera out in space
she's a camera out in space

Mira walks with her head high
down in the fire a sheaf of paper starts to curl
you know she's just trying to shed light
on a mystery she can't name
she's nothing if not her father's girl

come stand beside me
watch how the red fades to blue
someday you'll live the world you've made
come stand beside me
open your arms to what's to come
you'll always have this place to be afraid

Pencil Sketch

Written in the Fall of 2008 (?), Vienna says this song was not meant for any particularu album, but as a birthday present for someone. She played it several times in 2010.

Rain in England

From Vienna's old web site v1:

A conversation with a friend about hallucinogens, ex-girlfriends and world travel wormed its way into the lyric-writing borough of my brain, and here's what happened...

he says no one's gotta be high to know it
but it helps
see for yourself
you don't need to barely get by to know it
but total darkness is hard to find
stars drinking dry your mind
so it helps
see for yourself

someday my rain in england
someday morocco pulsates
someday mystery
evolves to familiarity
twist yourself until you break
and wake

two hands
a lighter
drops of water on my glasses
yellowed water in my glass
I can't hold on
gets brighter
I can't come back to where it passes
let this pass

someday my rain in england
someday where she became her

and I grieve and I grieve and I grieve
this isn't me
touch the wood taste the cedar
smell the asphalt in the street
gets brighter
this isn't me

he says the summer slipped on by without a dream
to hold on to
and that it's wrong to
and you can live your lie without a dream
but total lightness is rare indeed
winter solstice where you bleed
so hold on to
what is wrong to

twist yourself until you break
and wake 

Rainwalk Song

From Vienna's old web site v1:

I went for a long stroll in the drizzle one night and found myself singing something under my breath near the end. I came back inside and wrote down roughly what I'd been singing, and added a couple more verses.

As sometimes happens when a song is first completed, I only have a mild inkling of what I mean.

when I turn I hear the passing of an empty train
does it know
does it know there's no one waiting   [This is the way the song was posted on
                                       Vienna's site, but on at least all the
                                       performances of this song I've heard,
                                       it's been sung "... nothing waiting...".
                                       Given the rest of the lyrics, this 
                                       probably represents a typo at the initial
when I turn I hear the passing of an empty train
does it know
does it know there's no one waiting

there's a man nearly over in the bed he built
does he know
does he know there's nothing waiting
there's a woman pacing back and forth with a telephone
does she know
does she know there's no one waiting

and up north they're breaking open all the virgin ground
do they know
do they know there's nothing waiting
across the world they're digging through the rubble calling out
do they know
do they know there's no one waiting

I don't fear -- oh I gave all that up long ago
for I know
for I know there's nothing waiting
a broken heart when it understands will heal anew
when it knows
when it knows there's no one waiting 

Ru Goa

Another Mandarin Chinese song.

Signal Fire

From Vienna's old web site v1:

If I have a prog-rock song, this is it. Odd meters and constant key changes. I can't sing it well enough to do it justice either. I'd relegate it to the Botched Experiment bin if it weren't so much fun to play, and if people hadn't sometimes come to lie down under the piano when I played it, just to get the full effect of the post-bridge solo.

warm breezes on the island shore
another night is setting in
I feed on the landscape and drink in the air
forgetting the deeper starvation

then a melody cry
some voice of distance
pull tight around me the voice of a man
fold right around me the arms of a man
if not for this dividing sea

he and I light our signal fires
the smoke memories of things to be
in realness our lives of streets and keys
and spiderweb wires
weave an ocean
dive unafraid and surface at the other's flame
oh wise desire
see his signal fire

then a melody cry
some voice of distance
torn innocence, the voice of a child
once born innocent, the heart of a child
maybe cries out for me

she and I light our signal fires
the sparks anger and hope combined
in realness the crushing ties that bind
to a passive despair
overcome this
dive unafraid and surface at the other's flame
lift it higher
see her signal fire

and the island is shelter
and the island is cold as the dark isolates me
if I stay here forever...

you and I light our signal fires
the flames all our love to be given away
in realness we're strangers and dare not to say
what the future may bear
I am searching
dive unafraid and call the other by name
your hidden pyre
I see your signal fire 

Under the Lights

This song was written by Vienna during the Modern Troubadors tour (July/August, 2004) with Ben Arthur. That's all that I know right now.


"A song about pointless or seemingly fruitless desire." Vienna wrote this while in a relationship, but having fallen for another. She had all these feelings, but couldn't express them and in the middle of it wrote this song. (They eventually did get together.)

From Vienna's old web site v1:

I don't know why human beings are drawn to dangerous places, but it's a beautiful topic to write on.

This was as far as I got in the first lyric-writing session, and nothing else has come along since. There's music for it now, though, something akin to Tori Amos' "Liquid Diamonds," and I've actually performed it despite its incompleteness. Some have suggested that given the title, it might be apropos if it just stays this way.

there's a moment made of frozen hopes
put under lights in an empty space
in my little museum
and at closing time with crowds dissolved
I slip right past the velvet ropes
press my fingers to the case
and I hold you in my arms

this isn't where I should be
I stand and stare when I should run
why am I only waiting
for what can only come undone

you were hidden in a highway curve
solid lines a silent shield
against metal twisted cold
like sudden daylight there you were
took all I had just not to swerve
and slow instead to yield
but then your light was gone 

Waking Hour

From Vienna's old web site v1:

I hesitate to call this "Waking Hour" because that's not really its title; sometimes I name something just to have a way of referring to it, and it sticks. I'd come up with the album name and needed a title track, and this instrumental, with its clock-tower-chime motif, seemed like a good candidate. Since then I've recognized that it was an experiment rather than a bona fide song, but I've put it here in case anyone's interested in my forays into Windham-Hillism.

The main piano meoldy you might recognize from the later "Harbor".

Known Covers

1000 Oceans - Tori Amos
9 to 5 - Dolly Parton
Abound - Andreas Sahar (see also entry in Non-Recorded tracks)
Ain't no Sunshine - Bill Withers
Annie's Song - John Denver
Arizona - Ellery
Both Sides Now - Joni Mitchell
Bridge over Troubled Water - Simon and Garfunkel
Brothers on a Hotel Bed - Death Cab for Cutie
Cannonball - Damien Rice
Cecilia - Simon and Garfunkel (often played as part of 1BR/1BA)
Fake Plastic Trees- Radiohead
Fields of Gold - Sting, also Eva Cassiy
Fire and Rain - James Taylor
Fucker - Ramon and Jessica (Dina's band)
Golddigger - Kanye West
Have I Told You Lately - Van Morrison
Higher Ground - Kyler
I Can't Make you Love Me - Bonnie Raitt
Idioteque - Radiohead
In the Creases - Alex Wongsong
I Think It's Going To Rain Today - Randy Newman
I Will Follow You Into the Dark - Death Cab for Cutie
Keep the Customer Satisfied - Simon and Garfunkel
Leaving Atlanta - Brian Webb
Leaving on a Jet Plane - John Denver
Let it be - Beatlers
Let me be your Witness - Marc Cohn (warmups only, so far)
Lose Yourself - Eminem
Maya - Glen Phillips
Mercy Street - Peter Gabriel
Meter Maid - Ramon and Jessica (Dina sings lead)
Midsummer Night's Dream - Noe Venable
My Heart Will Go On - Celine Dion (performedon Cayamo cruise, 2010)
On the Turning Away - Pink Floyd
Sounds of Silence - Simon and Garfunkel
Sweet Baby James - James Taylor
That's Where I'll Be - Brian Webb
The Drugs Don't Work - The Verve (07apr09 debut)
The Only Living Boy in New York - Simon & Garfunkle (20Jul07 debut)
Vincent - Don McLean