Interview: Luna Li brings heaven to Earth
Multi-instrumentalist Luna Li is no stranger to the music scene.
As the self-proclaimed moon fairy stage name of Toronto’s Hannah Bussiere Kim, Luna Li had been making music for a few years in other capacities — rocking out in local bands like psychedelic rock group Mother Tongues and indie rock group Tange. But when the pandemic hit, Kim’s music under her indie pop solo project, Luna Li, found new life online.
Luna Li started posting music on her social media channels, usually in the form of short instrumental songs that quickly spread like wildfire on Twitter and Instagram. People took notice of her musical skills and her heavenly vocal work — a noticeable departure from her other music. Last summer, 88Rising took note and invited her to perform at their livestream music festival, ASIA RISING FOREVER, where she played a few original songs and even covered Joji’s “Gimme Love,” drawing even more attention to her project. And when that publicity brought her to open for Japanese Breakfast on her tour stateside earlier this year, Luna Li was ready for the challenge.
So even though Luna Li was the only non-hip hop/pop act who played on the 88 Main Stage at the 2021 Head in the Clouds Festival (and one of the newest bands to be doing so), Luna Li couldn’t have been more comfortable on stage. In front of “the biggest crowd that she’d played” (her words!), Luna Li and her bandmates were rockstars. The songs off jams EP were huge hits, reverberating throughout the festival grounds. The enchanting singles that she’s released so far — “Afterglow,” “Cherry Pit,” “Trying,” and “Alone But Not Lonely” shone on stage, bringing a soft, magical energy to the air. When she played the crunchy “Silver Into Rain,” one of my personal favorites, the crowd listened. There’s something powerful about the moment where Luna Li stopped mid-song, arched backwards, and let the notes drift off into silence… before hitting the next verse with a head-bang and a smile.
After her set on Sunday, we talked to Luna Li about her festival experience, her tour with Japanese Breakfast, and what’s next for the rising star.
What was it like performing at your set this morning?
It was crazy. It was so much fun — I think it was probably the biggest crowd that we ever played to. I just had the best time!
How has your experience been at the festival — especially being surrounded by so many Asian performers and artists?
So amazing. I feel very honored to be here, very honored to be alongside so many incredible artists. And [I’m] really, really happy to be able to spend the whole weekend at the festival watching people play. Yesterday I pretty much watched a full day of Asian women making music, which is my favorite thing in the world! So it’s been very amazing.
Have you seen any sets that you were particularly fond of? Any artists you were fangirling over?
Yeah, definitely fangirling all day yesterday! ATARASHII GAKKO was a highlight for me. Their choreography was so cool and fun. I have a dance background so I was loving watching all the different acts that had dancers with them.
Will we be seeing any Luna Li choreo in the future?
I hope so! Maybe next year.
You just got off of a pretty extensive tour with Japanese Breakfast. What was it like working with Michelle and touring all around the States? Did you learn any lessons from being on the road?
It was amazing! It was really the best time ever. It was our first long tour, so very much a new experience for us, and I was a little nervous going into it. I wanted this for so long, but would I be able to handle the touring life? Turns out, yes!
It was great, I had so much fun. I think the main thing was that Japanese Breakfast was so experienced. They’ve done so many tours, so we were watching them. Their performances were amazing, and every little thing they did — all the merch, and how they carried them in the venue and how they spoke to people and how they organized things and all that stuff — they just had so much experience behind them. We were kind of shadowing them the whole time and learning from that.
That’s so cool — that’s really the dream, right?
It really was the dream! I was freaking out when we got the call to go on the tour — I was like screaming. We were in the studio at the time, screaming in the studio!
It was our first big tour, but we have played a lot of shows localized to Toronto in the past, so I’m glad that I had that before taking on this big tour.
Speaking of Toronto, I know that you are in — or were in — a bunch of other bands like Mother Tongues and Tange. Will you still be continuing to play music with them, or are they more of your side-projects now?
I don’t play in Mother Tongues anymore — it got too busy with Luna Li stuff. Tange is everyone’s side project. Sabrina [Sztainbok]’s in [Tange] who played bass today with me. Deanna [Petcoff] has her own projects. It’s kind of like our fun side project that we can do whenever we have time. It’s really nice to have, in contrast to Luna Li, something that’s just really chill and no pressure. We just do it when we can for fun.
I know you recently released a song, “Flower (In Full Bloom),” and you got to work with Serena Isioma. Any other vocalists or other musicians who you would like to collaborate with in the future?
I have some unreleased songs that are coming that I collaborated with other vocalists on. I guess I’ll say one, because I was telling everyone on the tour everytime we played this song. We had Jay Som on one of these songs, which was really exciting. I love Jay Som, I’ve been to their shows and listened to their music for many years. It was really exciting that they were down to do a song.
I have one more person who also did another song. I don’t think I can say who it is, but they’re playing this festival! Try and figure it out!
I know the festival is almost over, but what are you looking forward to for the rest of the fest?
I’m excited to see beabadoobee and NIKI. I’m excited to see the finale — still have to see what they’re going to pull out for that. One of my friends plays guitar in NIKI and also with UMI and so it’s been fun to get to see her. She’ll be up on stage doing her thing!
Yesterday, we saw Rei Ami — such crazy choreo. Today we saw Wallice — they were awesome.
I was wondering where her hat was… in her press photos she’s always wearing a hat.
Yeah! Where is her cowboy hat?
I know that you’re a multi-instrumentalist, and you play a lot of instruments. I’m assuming you own a lot of instruments as well.
Do you have any names/nicknames for them? If so, which one’s your favorite?
I actually only have named my guitars for some reason. I don’t know why I haven’t named my other instruments.
My main — I didn’t have them today because we flew so we just rented stuff while we were here — Jazz Gold guitar is just named Luna. Luna Jr., I don’t know. It was my first guitar that I really really loved, and I got the guitar when I started Luna Li so it’s just been with me from the start.
And I have my butterfly guitar which I named Butterfree after the Pokemon.
I was looking for Butterfree today! I remember you brought her out at the LA show.
I know! I felt bad because someone tweeted — they were like, “Can’t wait to see Luna and her butterfly guitar!” And I was like Nooo, I didn’t bring it!
She’s a mainstay. You’ve got to take her everywhere now!
I know — buy her a ticket on the plane!
One last question — what’s next for Luna Li?
Lots of new music coming, and lots of shows. I think we’re going to be quite busy in 2022, and I’m very excited.
This interview was conducted by Li-Wei Chu, in-person at 88rising’s Head in the Clouds Festival in Los Angeles on November 7th, 2021. Special thanks to Jerrie Au.
jams EP is out now on major streaming platforms. Header photo by Felice Trinidad.
Li-Wei Chu is the chief editor of From the Intercom. When he’s not editing drafts and searching for new artists to cover for the website, he loves watching cult films, cooking, and listening to his ever-growing collection of vinyl records. You can follow him on LetterBoxd and make fun of his taste in movies here!