Q: How would you describe Triptyq’s sound?
A: We combine classical and urban sounds to make something new. It’s got a very heavy classical [foundation] — piano, cello, violin — with an urban flare.
Q: Great! To jump back a bit: how was your experience with music at Yale?
A: The main thing I was involved in was the Yale Symphony Orchestra. I mean, the Halloween Show is a staple at Yale. There is a pre-performance, and I was the highlighted performer my sophomore year and my senior year.
Q: Were there any specific incidences at Yale that pushed you toward the career you now have?
A: My senior fall, I had an opportunity to do a contest hosted by Yo-Yo Ma online and I got second place. I used one of the studios at Yale to record [my submission].
Also, my senior fall, I decided to open for a rapper in Connecticut. He said my music was very interesting, and thought I could really do something to classical music. So that was when I decided to consider music as a career.
But I was an East Asian Studies major and completed my pre-med requirements — I thought I might be a doctor eventually. My mentor was the one that told me: You can always go back into medicine, so pursue this now.
Q: Is that something you’re proud of doing and would encourage other students to follow your lead in — chasing after a passion?
A: Yeah. That’s one of the greatest things about Yale, that if you want to go into a traditional path, there are the connections. My master and my dean really encouraged me to go after what I was interested in, though.
The Light Fellowship changed my life. I did go to Andover, so I did have a global education before going to Yale. But I was only interested in music and medicine, so this context of China opened me up to interest in business and entrepreneurship.
I loved my time in China; it really helped me to get to know myself. While I was in China, I had a lot of opportunities to do work for the Embassy — doing performances, and [attending] meetings. [I got] to meet Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 and talk about my time at Yale; I got to host a Chinese television show.
At the end of the day, music is entrepreneurship if you want to pursue it as a career. [Triptyq] had to think of how to make a sound that people would appreciate … We are all classically trained, and we wanted to combine pop and hip-hop with that, and make it pleasing to people’s ears — make them stop and appreciate it when they had never heard anything like it before. At the end of the day, it comes from an entrepreneurial spirit, and it took me seeing that from the Chinese lens to understand that.
Q: Would you say there were any major influences during your time at Yale that pushed you to compose in this genre?
A: Once again, the China thing. I discovered this thing where I could play cello and beatbox at the same time. At the Harvard-Beijing Academy, I talked a lot about cello in class and was beatboxing with my friends on the side. And a teacher asked if I thought about combining them. I thought it was tarnishing classical music, in a way, and then realized that I was interested, so I should try it. I began to work on this art I call “Celloboxing.”
I had this video [of me celloboxing] that went viral my senior year, and that was what ultimately gave me the chance to work with Pentatonix and now Triptyq.
Q: Speaking of Pentatonix: what an experience! Could you talk about what it was like to be part of such a cultural phenomenon?
A: It was great. One of the things I loved about being from Yale is that it makes you ready to do your homework. With a Yale education, we can wear many hats and do many things. Even though I may not have practiced as much as members of Pentatonix, I did my research. I learned so much about arranging and making music to apply to Triptyq, [which] was a side project. Every time [Triptyq] would come together, I had all of this new information that I had learned from working with Pentatonix.
Q: Does Triptyq have plans after the EP release — touring, more writing … ?
A: I think right now we are just going to let this sit and get it out there. We’re a side project — we just make music together for fun when we have time. Right now we are just keeping it open. Finish this album, see how people react to it.
Q: How did that relationship get its start?
A: My suitemate had met Antoniette Costa and showed her my video, and she was intrigued. She sent him a song [of hers] that I loved, and after I graduated I went to NYC to meet her. We wanted to keep doing music. She met Tara, and in 2012 we were able to perform in Napa Valley, where some of the people from the Grammys said they would love for us to come in and do a performance. The CEO of the Grammys said that we should put together an album because it was interesting work they had never heard before.
Q: Do you have a favorite memory from touring?
A: Oh my God, yes! There were a ton when we were in Portugal. When we performed in 2015, our first time going there, and we got into the van to leave, there must have been 50–60 people trying to swarm the van and pushing it because they were so excited. They ran with the van the whole way to the bus.
Q: A little Beatlemania-esque, maybe?
A: Yeah, to be honest!
Q: Favorite venue?
A: I would probably say The Smart Araneta Coliseum in the Philippines. It was just cool that we could fill up an entire stadium in the Philippines by ourselves.
Q: First album you ever bought?
A: Let me double check the name of this, because I know I’ll never forget it.
Van Cliburn plays Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 and Concerto No. 2.
Q: What would you describe as the soundtrack to your time at Yale?
A: Ty Cruz’s “Dynamite.” Listened to it all the time senior year, especially before my biochemistry exam. Boy, I needed that. That one got me through.
Q: Favorite part about playing live?
A: Probably the reaction of the audience. When they hear their favorite song and they start smiling and singing out the lyrics … It’s just so cool to see that.
Q: Favorite songs from the album?
A: Murphy. That song is so fun and so different from what I have done before. It uses some very interesting beatboxing techniques that I had not really used before. Definitely one of my favorites.
Q: Do you have any advice for students interested in pursuing music?
A: I would say figure out what is unique about you, because there are so many people who are musically gifted. It takes awhile to figure it out — I’m still working on it. But that’s what was so cool about Triptyq. It gave all of us the ability to explore what is unique about us, and really hone in on that.
Q: So how were you able to explore that and ultimately reconcile your uniquenesses as a group when you were living so far apart?
A: It was difficult because they live in New York and I live in Los Angeles, so every break I had with Pentatonix, I flew out to them or they flew out to me. We would spend days bouncing ideas off of each other and writing and recording. Writing songs that made sense took a long time, because we wanted to use pop hooks but keep it classically based. In “Camouflage Me,” “The Revolutionary” is in the chorus and “Here Comes the Bride” in minor is in the pre-chorus; we finally honed in on that, but it took a while.
Q: What was your inspiration for writing like when you were all living such different experiences?
A: We actually drew a lot from literature. Antoniette went to Cornell and UPenn, and Tara went to Harvard. So we all have a bit of bookishness to us.
Q: Could you give me an example of an allusion in your lyrics?
A: “Murphy” was written from inspiration from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” But it’s interesting because pop music is usually based on very basic ideas. Now we are trying to take these inspirations from literature and make pop work out of it.
Correction, Jan. 29: A previous version of this article misspelled Antoniette Costa’s name.