INTERVIEW: From Hong Kong to Australia – Artist/Musician Stellar Leuna Shares Her Journey

INTERVIEW | Stellar Leuna
Artist/Bassist of Potion

Australian doom metal band Potion announced last month they were going to be storming through Southeast Asia for a few dates with Marijannah from Singapore. When we found out we were excited for sure, but when we learned that the bassist, Stellar, was born in Hong Kong, we were 好撚 STOKED! 原來呢隊有個香港人啊!We immediately set out to hunt her down for an interview. We just had to find out about her journey from Hong Kong to Australia, to becoming an illustrator who has worked with hardcore bands as well as Prada, to becoming a bassist in a distortion drenched doom band! Come on – that’s the way one should live! Make the most of your time on this frickin’ planet!

The timing of this interview also couldn’t have been more perfect – while we were piecing this together, Potion not only dropped their 2 track EP entitled Women of the Wand, but they were also featured in Revolver Mag‘s “6 NEW SONGS YOU NEED TO HEAR THIS WEEK“! That’s some great press for a fairly young band from Australia. Oh what? Stellar just let it slip that this is actually the first band she’s ever played in?! NUTS!

Blast the tunes and start reading! If you’re around any of these cities that Potion and Marijannah will be tearing through – make sure to stop by and say what’s up!

Hey Stellar! Pretty stoked to do this interview because as I’m reading up about you – there seems to be some insane similarities to our journey’s in life. Where you were born in Hong Kong but immediately were taken to Australia and thus grew up there, I was born in Pakistan and 2 months after I was born was brought to Hong Kong so this is home. Can you tell us a little about your upbringing in what you mentioned a “traditional Hong Kong” household? 
I think I had a generally really good childhood. I was painfully shy and quiet and didn’t socialise a lot with other kids outside of school but I was really close with my siblings. Having traditionally Chinese parents with very traditional expectations of their kids, they really didn’t like when I started getting into heavy music early in high school. My mum would be what you’d describe as a “tiger mum” – always very strict about certain things, very protective of her kids to the point of almost being somewhat irrational, but all for my own good of course. I think that being an Asian kid growing up in a western country especially during the early 90’s was especially hard considering english was my second language and my parents can barely speak a word of it. That constant feeling of being an outsider throughout my life continued and eventually evolved from being something I felt very uncomfortable with, into something I now really embrace. Telling my parents that I wanted to pursue art as a career was hard to hear at first but I think they get it now and are super supportive. 

I was painfully shy and quiet and didn’t socialise a lot with other kids outside of school…”

Yup that’s pretty much exactly my experience but add to that they were also quite strong Muslims. They were traditional Pakstani Muslims living in a city that was certainly not any of those things with their children attending international schools with kids from mainly Western countries. It was a very interesting situation at my house too and like yourself, which is what drew me to heavy music to help make sense of the identity crisis I seemed to be having. What was it about heavy music that felt like it gave you some solace?
Wow it sounds like your childhood experience was way more confusing than mine haha. I went through a short phase in the beginning of high school where I desperately wanted to reconnect with my heritage and move back to Hong Kong to go to school just out of curiosity. I sometimes wonder if my family had stayed in Hong Kong and never migrated to Australia, whether my life would be dramatically different and if I would still have done art.

“I sometimes wonder if my family had stayed in Hong Kong and never migrated to Australia, whether my life would be dramatically different and if I would still have done art.”

I’m not sure why I like heavy music so much. I think I’m a very cynical and angry person, I dislike a lot of things and I always have. Maybe I like heavy music because it talks about these feelings really honestly, and doesn’t try to put it through this filter that’s purposely marketed just to make you not think about bad stuff in the world? I dunno. I just like honest things and heavy music is often more honest than pop music. I can appreciate certain types of  pop music though… I think there is a lot of good stuff out there.

Stellar’s work in a Prada commercial

In terms of specific bands that got you into heavy music – can you share a few and what was it about them that spoke to you? Do you remember who showed you this music in the first place?
My first ever exposure to heavy music was via Pop Punk and Nu-metal (Korn, Linkin Park, Blink 182, etc), like the type of stuff they’d play on Rage and Video Hits on Saturday mornings here in Australia. Then as I got older and the internet became a thing, I started purposely looking for other bands like them, or bands that they were influenced by. I think from that I discovered Emo and Hardcore, who were all influenced by the early 70’s punk bands, so from there I got into Sonic Youth, Misfits, Sex Pistols, etc all while also obsessed with Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie and other 90’s metal bands. I first heard ‘June Bug’ by Melvins when I was about 15 and became obsessed with them instantly, and also discovered they were really influenced by Black Flag so that’s how I got into them. Which then led me down the Doom and Stoner metal hole of Sleep and Electric Wizard… It was just me constantly trying to find new shit to listen to and sharing that with my twin sister who was equally obsessed. We’d each go off on our own and find bands and show one another. It was a fun time.

So that’s cool that you had a partner experiencing the same things you were! You were also lucky that besides music you had art as well as an outlet. Do you remember how you got started? We’re you always drawing and sketching when you were younger?
Yeah I’ve been drawing since I was 4. I know most people draw when they’re kids but I just really enjoyed it and it was always my main form of “play”. I went through a lot of experimental phases during high school, trying oils, acrylics, watercolours and stuff like that. Most of it was pretty awful but it wasn’t until I was older that I decided ink was my favourite medium. I got into reading comics later on and really loved the simplicity of comic book illustration and colouring so learnt to do that. My favourite artists would have to be Tara McPherson, Daniel Clowes, Jaime Hernandez and Dan DeCarlo who have all been massive inspirations to me.

While you were at high school and experimenting with art and different styles of art, were there are any teachers specifically or experiences that helped you in your journey?
During my final year of high school for my art major work I made these large scale acrylic canvas paintings and I remember feeling really stuck on what the actual idea would be because at the time I was obsessed with Dadaism and automatic drawing and writing. I was just really put off the pretentiousness of most contemporary art. I just wanted to base it purely on self expression and experimentation and the end product was in hind-sight not the prettiest thing but for some reason the teachers really took a liking to it. I think that was the moment I realised that you don’t always need to have this deep cheesy meaning behind art and if you’re expressing yourself in the most honest way, even if your statement is “this thing has absolutely no meaning and I made it because it made me happy at the time”, that can be equally as relatable. Maybe that’s why I chose to do illustration as opposed to trying to become a fine artist because there isn’t that self-absorbedness to it, rather it’s a combined collaborative effort between me and the person I am working with. All of my personal work is stream of consciousness stuff, things that I just felt like drawing at the time.

“…you don’t always need to have this deep cheesy meaning behind art…”

What has been your parents take on you delving into art? I know that when I started playing music, being the traditional parents that they are, they were highly against it. Even to this (I’m 41, married and have a daughter), they still ask me when I will give it all up.
Yeah I don’t get that thought process at all. Just because you’re playing music or doing creative things regular people seem to think it’s a waste of time. Like what could you be doing instead? If you come home from work in the evening you’re just sitting around watching TV anyway so why not utilise that time to do something productive or creative.

They definitely weren’t keen on the idea of me being an artist at the start but they’ve always been supportive of me and my siblings as long as we worked hard. I would be so proud of my kid if they actually had the self-motivation and interest in creating art cause it’s like “wow I birthed this kid and they take an active interest in learning a skill that most people don’t have the motivation or the courage to attempt”. A lot of people think, “you can’t make money from art” which is just not true. Stranger things have happened in the world than you writing a song or doing a painting that influenced culture in some way and as a result made millions of dollars from it… it’s evident in the fact that people care more about pop stars and celebrities than they do about most other things haha.

In terms of your art, it’s hard not to look at any piece of art and not get inspired somehow. Just looking at yours a whole barrage of ideas come to my head. Like you mentioned, your art style seems more bold and uncomplicated, and by that the art is so much more powerful. But it also then gives us non-artists (in the traditional pen to paper sense) a feeling that I could do this too! hahahaha…I tried – I failed MISERABLY. What are you hoping the audience feels when they see the art you create?
It’s so cool that you say that because the kind of art I love and the kind that I hope I am creating is something that you can have an immediate emotional response to. I’d like to think that when people look at my drawings they feel empowered and like they can do it too. I get that a lot from seeing Ray Pettibon’s art (another favourite artist of mine who I forgot to mention) where it’s not about accuracy or realism but more about creating a strong and memorable image that people will want to look at all the time.

Take us through the process of creating a piece of work. Do you actually sketch something out on paper first or go straight to the computer?
I do a bit of both. I like to conceptualise and brainstorm ideas on paper (usually while watching a movie or eating breakfast), and then once i have a solid idea I’ll go and draw it. I work both traditionally with ink and paper most of the time but for stuff like commercial work i usually work digitally because it makes doing changes easier.

I know you’ve worked with some pretty big companies, what are some bands you’ve collaborated with? Is their one particular experience/project that was especially a good learning experience (as opposed to choosing your favorite piece which could be much harder to answer)?
I’ve worked with a lot of local bands and small unknown bands… a lot of punk bands from Sweden for some reason. I guess working with a Melbourne hardcore band on their most recent 7” cover was interesting or note worthy. The idea they gave me originally was a huge scene with a whole bunch of characters in it, and I just didn’t think it’d work as an album cover, and felt it was better to keep it simple especially considering the scale of the artwork when it’s printed on a 7” sleeve, I really don’t like when there isn’t an obvious hierarchy of information on an image. I also like to think about the customer experience – like if someone is flipping through records at a record store, and they come across this band they’ve never heard of, I’d like them to look at that cover and immediately be able to remember the image because it’s simple enough that it’ll be embedded into their memory almost immediately. I hope it has that level of impact anyway.. haha. Maybe it doesn’t and I failed at putting that across.

Has their been a client you’ve worked with that was not a pleasant experience? What was the issue? What did you think you learned from it going forward?
I think the main issue I try to avoid happening again is dealing with people who are too rigid in their ideas and aren’t open to collaborating with the artist they’re commissioning. I get some people see it as “but I’m paying you to do this so you have to do as I say”. It’s a collaborative effort to reach a result everyone can be proud of, but at the end of the day if you’re asking someone who draws professionally to make something for you it’s always best to trust their instincts over yours especially if you don’t know how to draw. Haha. That’s one thing that bugs me every now and then but most people are chill.

So how did Potion get it’s start? What was the catalyst that got that band going? Congrats on being featured on Revolver Mag earlier!
Thank you! Around the end of 2016 on a long drive home was probably the first time we ever discussed starting Potion. It kinda started off as just casual banter but then I realised I actually really wanted to do it. it had been a dream of mine since I was in high school and Lee grew up playing in hardcore bands but always wanted to be in a metal band where he could explore different styles of writing so it was perfect. We then met Chris (our drummer) through mutual friends in hardcore and became really good friends because we like exactly the same types of music. He joined shortly after we’d started writing our first song.

“I’ve always really looked up to Donita Sparks from L7 and Kim Deal from The Pixies/The Breeders – I’d say they were probably the most influential bands that made me want to start playing music.”

When did you start playing music and what was the band that got you wanting to pick up an instrument?
I tried to play bass in high school by just learning riffs on my sisters guitar because I couldn’t afford to buy my own bass haha. I learnt some easier punk songs every now and then but then I kinda forgot about it because I was always more focused on my art. I’ve always really looked up to Donita Sparks from L7 and Kim Deal from The Pixies/The Breeders – I’d say they were probably the most influential bands that made me want to start playing music, but it wasn’t until we formed Potion that I learned how to play seriously.

Potion featured in Revolver Mag’s 6 songs to check out:

Wait…you’re not telling me Potion’s your first band is it? Your first band got a track played in US media?! And Revolver at that?!

Why’d you gravitate towards the bass?
All of my favourite albums and recordings are bass-heavy or have a lot of low-end. I dunno, I have just always loved good bass tones and the general sound of a bass guitar.

And now your first ever band is about to head up to Asia. What are your thoughts on that?
I’m excited about it. I can’t wait to get out of Sydney for a while and I’m curious to see what the scene is like over there. I’ve never been to any of the places we’re visiting on this tour so hopefully it’ll be fun.

What are some Asian bands you’ve heard of?
I honestly don’t know many but I love Boris and Church of Misery. We’ll be playing Singapore with Wormrot which I predict is going to be insane. If you have any good recommendations please tell me!

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