A jazz musician based out of San Francisco, Bill Kwan is an avid traveler that targets new destinations he’s never been to. Kwan’s “Poison & Wine” album, which was just released in August, pulls inspiration and covers artists from Bon Iver to Coldplay and Björk, amongst several others.
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Mike O’Keefe: I know you’re based in San Francisco, describe the city’s atmosphere. What would you suggest someone should see when visiting for the first time?
Bill Kwan: I’ve lived in San Francisco for seventeen years and it’s really changed quite a bit. There’s so much innovation happening in the city, so many of the technology companies are really setting the trend for how we live daily, especially with devices. So, there’s a real vibrant quality going on in the city right now. There’s a lot of new restaurants and a lot of new bars popping up, bringing a lot of international people into the area. It’s more than I’m used to seeing, both for work and I think for tourism.
MO: I was able to get out to San Francisco early in November, my first time out on the West Coast. I thought it was awesome. You see the pictures but when you get out there you really feel the city.
BK: Yeah, and there’s so much natural beauty there and that’s the thing that makes San Francisco really special: the way that it has the hills right there and the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge. The view is amazing no matter where you are in the city — the natural beauty of the area. You drive an hour anywhere out of the city and you’re someplace great, still completely different, but really great as well.
MO: I’d love to get back out there soon. Were you recently in Sweden?
BK: Yeah, I just left Sweden on a train and just got into Copenhagen.
BK: No, I had not been to either and every year I’m trying to travel some place I’ve never been before. So this year it’s been Scandinavia. Last year I went to Antarctica and next year I’m not quite sure where I’m going to go.
MO: Is this all for personal travel and vacationing and checking out the cities, or are you playing shows?
BK: It’s personal. This is all for personal right now.
MO: Traveling is the best thing the earth has to offer. You have to see as much as you possibly can while we’re here.
BK: Yeah, absolutely. I visited every continent already. That was a goal of mine.
MO: Was being involved in music something you always wanted to do or was it an evolutionary process?
BK: I’ve always wanted to do music. I’ve been singing since I was a kid in elementary school. It took a back seat for quite a few years when I was in school then I started to revisit it more seriously about eight or nine years ago. It lead to my first CD and I started to perform a lot more. Then I hooked up with Matt Pearson who’s headquartered in New York and so he’s been my producer in the last couple of albums. He’s such a great jazz producer.
MO: I love jazz music. The feel and the vibe and, I guess you can say, the ambiance that it creates is perfect. It goes really well with traveling.
BK: Oh yeah, with jazz music, there’s just something about it. It represents so many different places. I think of San Francisco often when I think of jazz music and also New Orleans, Saint Louis. It’s something I listen to whenever I’m traveling.
MO: Every country has a festival or celebration that stands out. What is the one that you would like to go to or experience?
BK: Yeah, it is. I’d like to go one of these days, sometime maybe in the next year or two. Coachella, just because it’s a festival that’s happening now and it features so many different types of artists both established and up and coming.
MO: There are so many different people. One thing I noticed about the lines ups is that they just throw everyone in the mix. It’s a different show the whole time.
BK: It’s interesting to see established, older artists. It’s exciting. Madonna even played there a couple of years ago with brand new acts that were just out that year. I think it’s a nice mix. It’s very cutting edge.
MO: When visiting a new city what is the first thing you try and do?
BK: When visiting a new city the first thing I try to do is eat really good food. That’s how I usually gauge the environment of the city, going to a local place and eating something that is very typical of that country. Nothing too touristy, nothing too fancy, just something very genuine.
BK: One of my goals when I travel is to always see something new and different. That’s what I think music does. It’s so representative of an individual, but also the culture they’re from and what they bring to it. I think that they merge very well together. They’re both trying to experience a different culture, a different place, a different point of view.
MO: I agree with you. One thing I always pick up on is that you don’t have to know the language. If something sounds good, everyone is going to get involved and it’s going to bring people together.
BK: Yeah, especially emotions: happiness, sadness. They’re all conveyed through music. You don’t even have to understand the language if somebody is singing, or your listening to a classical piece or strictly an instrumental piece. You can hear those emotions coming through and that’s universal.
BK: I live in the southern part of the city, so I like to take a lot of urban hikes, especially through the Mission District. That’s the really hip area of town right now. There are so many restaurants and bars and clubs to go to. If someone is visiting the city they will go the more touristy areas like Union square, Fisherman’s Wharf or to the Golden Gate Bridge. When people come to visit that have never been I usually take them out to dinner and just walk around on a Sunday, have brunch and go look in the shops. It’s very representative of the people living in the city. It’s a really changing area, really trendy and hip