Matthew Lien searches for home

It’s tough trying to chat with Matthew Lien in a Whitehorse coffee shop. He knows just about everyone that comes in the door and half of those…

It’s tough trying to chat with Matthew Lien in a Whitehorse coffee shop.

He knows just about everyone that comes in the door and half of those seem to be close friends.

Periodically, he had to get up from the table to give out hugs and ask them how they’ve been.

After all, his trips home are becoming more rare. And shorter.

Lien spends most of his time in Asia, where he is one of Taiwan’s biggest musical stars.

It begs the question: where is home?

“I’ve always wanted a place to call home, but I’ve never really had one,” he said.

“My parents were continually moving when I was a kid, I never had a home base and kind of followed a migratory pattern.”

Lien remembers taking the ferry between Alaska and Seattle once, leaving the Yukon to return to San Diego.

One night he snuck on top of the bridge of the ship.

 Looking out over the water and all those islands he began writing the lyrics for a song called In Search of Home.

That song appeared on Matthew’s debut album, Music to See By.

“The album was a kind of thesis for me, it allowed me to try out different things and I really learned a lot,” he said.

“For example, I learned that you should never try to put a highland bagpipe with a piano.”

This album paved the way for Lien’s own unique blend of music borrowing from Celtic, European folk, jazz, classical, and traditional and aboriginal influences.

All of this is fused together by a profound love for the environment and diverse cultures.

These days celebrities with a cause are a dime a dozen.

American pop stars adopt African children, movie stars speak out against war, and others are able to raise huge amounts of money for charities.

But for Lien, activism and music have always gone hand in hand.

While protesting the Yukon wolf kill, Lien was inspired to write his second album Bleeding Wolves.

This was picked up by Taiwan’s Wind Records and, within a year of its international release, the album reached multi-platinum status and Lien had become a Asian phenom.

The next year, in 1996 he traveled to Asia for the first time and hasn’t looked back.

His next two releases Voyage to Paradise and Touching the Earth occupied the charts ahead of Eric Clapton, Celine Dion and The Backstreet Boys.

In September 1999, Lien held his Rebuilding Formosa tour, which drew a crowd of 30,000 and raised more than $600,000 for earthquake relief.

Lien will soon be putting on a similar large-scale charity concert with Jet Li in Shenzhen, China.

The concert will raise money for Jet Li’s One Foundation.

At the concert, Lien will play with the Shenzhen symphony orchestra, which means that he’ll have to convert his music into orchestral scores.

This is difficult for someone with no formal music training.

“I never completed high school. I knew that music was my path and I had the inability to endure anything that didn’t inspire.”

“Music was the same way. I couldn’t survive turning music into math. It’s backwards to me.”

He’s never let that stop him though.

Lien taught himself, through the help of friends, to write music.

And 10 years ago, he was made a honourary alumni of Vanier High School, when he was asked to present the school with a $20,000 grant for its band program.

“That was a big honour for me, I still have it framed on my wall.”

Lien’s most recent release, Moving Through Twilight, is a four disc set of improvisational piano.

He locked himself in a room for a week with two grand pianos and a notebook computer to record.

The resulting 34 songs were organized into moods: Dusk, Midnight, Twilight and Dawn.

Lien also just finished producing a 13 episode television series in Taiwan to raise awareness for traditional musicians.

“Our pop culture, here and in Asia, is constantly engineering idols,” he said.

“It’s bullshit. They’re selling a trumped up personality, solely for the purpose of profit.”

In the series, Matthew visited indigenous villages throughout Taiwan, searching out traditional musicians.

He recorded their music on location, returned to a studio and played a professionally produced version of the song at the end of each episode, like a music video.

“These musicians are living echoes of generational history,” he said.

“In my eyes, they are the superstars.”

He is also working on the soundtrack for a documentary on the Yami, an ocean faring tribe that live on a small island off the coast of Taiwan.

This love for indigenous cultures led the Taiwan government to appoint Lien Ambassador to Aboriginal Culture.

The Yukon government has also appointed him Special Envoy to Taiwan.

During his brief return to the Yukon, Lien spent some time on his parent’s land in Dezadeash.

He plans to build a home there someday.

“The Yukon is home, it’s the one place I can’t live without,” he said, waving to the latest person to enter the café.

“Asia is so human-centric, I start to lose my collaboration as to my place in the Universe and fundamental questions start gurgling up.

“But when I’m here, surrounded by nature, the answers always come rolling back.”

Lien planned to leave the next day but hoped to return sometime in April, he told all those that came to visit the table.

“The Yukon is a special place,” he said.

“It was the love, enthusiasm and support of the people here that allowed me to… excuse me.”

Lien seemed to have more to say, but another close friend had just walked in the door.