Yukoner turned Taiwanese superstar returns home for the Peel

At least three times over a 15-minute conversation, musician Matthew Lien remarks on how his latest project just seems meant to be.

At least three times over a 15-minute conversation, musician Matthew Lien remarks on how his latest project just seems meant to be.

It’s meant to be because of how easily it came together, because of how much he cares about the subject matter, and because of how much it will mean to his dying father, who was instrumental in creating the person he’s become.

“(It’s) like fate is just putting this whole project together,” he said.

The Yukon musician, who has reached superstar status across Asia, is returning home for two concerts in October to officially launch his latest musical offering.

The CD, Headwaters – Music of the Peel River Watershed, is the result of nearly three years of development and hundreds of miles of river travel in the Peel watershed.

The CD combines music with sounds from the Wind River, which Lien travelled two years ago, and voices from elders who he interviewed as part of the project.

“I feel like that’s a really important component of telling the story. For us non-First Nation people, going up into wilderness like that is a rarity, a special experience,” he said on the phone last week from Taiwan.

“For First Nations, that’s like their Main Street. Those rivers are Second Avenue and Ogilvie. They’re so familiar.”

This isn’t the first time Lien has taken sounds and stories from the rivers and combined them into art. He has done a handful of concerts with the same idea in mind.

Initially, this latest work was just supposed to be for another concert, but over time it evolved into a CD.

“Putting the voices and the sounds into the concert is natural. You want to wrap the audience in those sounds,” he said.

“It all just came together so well and so naturally and the result was so inspiring that for me, even though it was an uphill struggle, I really saw that this had to become an album project.”

When Lien interviewed elders for this project, the stories were different than anything he’s recorded in the past, he said.

All everyone wanted to talk about was the Peel, and the “dire” situation those waters are in.

“They’re really worried and so I found that when they were speaking they were really digging deep in their memory and emotion when they would talk about their feelings connected to that watershed,” he said.

In 2011 a planning commission recommended that 80 per cent of the Peel watershed should be protected from new roads and development and 20 per cent should be open for resource industries.

But earlier this year the Yukon government released its own plan for the Peel. That plan opens up 71 per cent of the area to new mineral staking.

A court case on the issue was heard in Yukon Supreme Court, but no decision has been released yet.

Two CD release concerts are planned on October 2 and 3 at the Yukon Arts Centre. Lien said he’s hopeful the court’s decision will be made by then.

Those dates were originally supposed to be for a multimedia concert, but work on the CD is going so well Lien decided to use those days as his release date.

In Asia, Lien is a well-known face. His first international release, Bleeding Wolves, which was aimed at the Yukon’s wolf-kill policy, became a multi-platinum-selling album in southeast Asia.

Lien was the first foreigner to perform at the Golden Melody Awards – a prominent music award show in Taiwan and mainland China.

He has since won the award once and been nominated six times.

He also earned a Golden Bell Award – Taiwan’s equivalent to an Emmy – for his work on television.

Since he was about seven, Lien would visit his father at Dezadeash Lake. As a teen he moved to the territory.

He credits his parents, including his father, Merle, with being the reason he’s so passionate about protecting wilderness and culture.

Merle was diagnosed with lymphoma three years ago and recently took a turn for the worse. He is now at Whitehorse General Hospital, likely until the end of his life.

“It wouldn’t take much to tip him into super-critical. But right now he’s weak but stable,” Lien said.

He acknowledges the concerts in October will likely be the last his father gets to see.

“I’ve often wondered how I would approach my father’s passing and could not face it before,” he said.

“But I’ve had a lot of time by his side, and this coming together the way it has come together is really a beautiful way for me to prepare for this potential parting.”

Many of the more recent projects Lien has done have been works commissioned by other people or organizations, something that is typical in Asia, he said.

“They’re about cultures and places that are far away, that a lot of people back home in the Yukon can’t really relate to.”

This CD is much more personal because it’s based on his own inspirations.

“Certainly my dad finds it (other projects) interesting, but it’s pretty foreign to his ears. So this is an album project that brings everything right back home again. It is coming very much from my inspiration, from my blood, from my passion.”

But a passion project doesn’t necessarily mean a cheap project.

For the first time, Lien is using a crowd-sourcing website to raise money to cover some of the bills he’s accumulated making the CD.

“If you want to do an album of any kind of quality, and work in studios where you can achieve the quality you really desire, it’s a pretty big investment,” he said.

“In the good old days, record companies or agencies were willing to invest, and that’s just not the case now.”

Lien said he’s already borrowed “up to my teeth.” His Kickstarter campaign is hoping to raise $10,000 online, “just to prevent the remaining amount from sitting on my credit card forever,” he said.

By giving to the project, fans can get themselves things like CDs, digital downloads or custom ring-tones.

The fundraiser can be found at: www.kickstarter.com/projects/1511038658/headwaters-music-of-the-peel-river-watershed-cd

The concerts are on Oct. 2 and 3 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25.

Contact Ashley Joannou at


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