Sound & Vision: Chong the Nomad Finds Beats and Sounds Everywhere — Even at Her Day Job

Sound and Vision
Emily Fox

KEXP's Sound & Vision airs every Saturday morning from 7-9 AM PT, featuring interviews, artistry, commentary, insight, and conversation to that tell broader stories through music, and illustrate why music and art matter. You can also hear more stories in the new Sound & Vision Podcast. New episodes are out every Tuesday. Subscribe now.

Today we kick off a new series on Sound & Vision called Day Job. It’s about Seattle-area musicians who work day jobs to get by.

Alda Agustiano is a line-cook during the days, but you can also find her on stage beatboxing and beat-making as Chong the Nomad. For Alda, a job is a way to have financial freedom to pursue music, but it can also be a creative space to make that music.

“I think if you were to like, watch me at my day job, you would laugh,” she says, “because I’m always doing some sort of weird dance. I have one headphone in. Someone else is blasting music, and I’m constantly moving. When I’m at work, the thing that gets me by is listening to music and matching my movements to the music and dancing my way through work.”

Alda finds beats and sounds in her everyday life, in everyday places. She’s a line-cook at Nana’s Green Tea – which serves a lot more than tea. She chops and boils and sears and constructs Japanese delicacies for lunch, dinner, and dessert. For Alda, creativity can strike at any moment. So, she keeps on her toes at work. “While I’m working, I feel like I’m constantly coming up with new ideas,” she says, “so, I would excuse myself — hopefully it wouldn’t be during a rush, but if it’s during a rush I keep it in my head until I can excuse myself, and go inside the freezer or walk-in fridge and sing, hum or beatbox into my phone. And I think I have about 200-250 recordings.”

Alda started recording herself at school. She was constantly forgetting ideas, “so at the time I would excuse myself from class,” she says, “to sing out ideas on my phone and it’s kind of stuck with me. It’s such a little break-through, but it’s such a big break-through. It’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten – just write down every idea you have, any idea that comes to you. Even if, at the time, you think it’s no good. Just put it into existence as fast as possible.”

Alda has been conjuring music into existence since she was a middle schooler. By 16, Alda was fully dedicated to her new love — making music. She took to mixing songs with the audio program Fruity Loops. She took bits and pieces from her favorite anime-style cartoon called Avatar: The Last Airbender and crafted them into her own composition and posted it to SoundCloud. “I woke up to it having around 17,000 plays and 3,000 notes,” Alda says. “That’s never happened to me before and I was just 16 and in disbelief of it all. I kept doing it and it was crack. And I got a bunch of people liking my music and it was super fun, because I think that was when I realized this was a possibility. I could do this.”

What comes through when Alda sings and beatboxes is bravery. You see that it’s been brewing in this small — seemingly shy — person this whole time. When she sings, on stage, in front of thousands of people, it’s powerful. Which is why mega-bands like Death Cab for Cutie team up with her. She collaborated with them on the song “When We Drive” and she opened for them during one of their shows this year.

“That feeling on stage is absolutely worth it,” Alda says, “but I do get mad anxiety before a set. I puked before my Capitol Hill Block Party set and then went on stage and The Stranger wrote about it, that night.” When The Stranger wrote about this performance, it wasn’t about bombing or being nervous. The title of that article read: “Meet a Future Seattle Superstar.”

“At the end of the day nerves are just the demons talking inside of your brain,” says Alda. “When I go on stage and express myself the way I truly want to, like how you dance in your bedroom, and just share that to a bunch of people — the most vulnerable part of you — I think that’s special, and it’s worth it every time, it’s worth the anxiety.”

Alda wants to perform more because she wants her music to reach more people. “You want your music to reach millions,” she says, “you want your message to stretch to millions, but at the end of the day — for me — I just want people to dance. I want people to let go and you don’t get a lot of chances in life to feel that way. So, if I can get that feeling from as many people as I can, I’m good.” That’s the feeling she wants – seeing the energy she feels in her music in the dance moves of other people. Alda’s first audience for her music is her co-workers. “I show my music to my friends every day at work,” she says. “My friends at work are the ones that just know my deepest darkest fears and secrets, and I guess that’s why I show them my music.”

Alda’s deepest darkest fear is losing this music. She’s afraid of something happening and suddenly, all that she has built goes away. “I’m at a place in my life where I can start running,” she says, “but I’m scared that I’m going to trip and fall. I don’t want everything with music not to work and being stuck in a pattern of chasing this wild dream, but like, it’s nice to have a fall-back and I’m very grateful for the opportunities my day job has given me. I mean, I can live in an apartment – I got my own place. But I want to make music my whole life and I’ll do anything I can.”

Alda moves through life to the tempo of the songs playing in her head and in her chest. Dancing from the prep-line to the mainstage. “I am dancing all the time, constantly,” she says. “It’s fun. But it’s also my way of getting all that anxiety out… And joy, there’s so much joy when I get to play and have the chance to share my music. There’s a lot of joy and liberation that comes with that, so yeah. I guess, what you see when I work my day job is a little similar to the Chong the Nomad you see on stage.” Alda recently worked with Singapore Airlines to create a track called “Non-Stop.” It’s made entirely of noises found and created on their planes to promote Singapore Airlines first direct flight from Seattle to Singapore.

And, since talking with Sound & Vision, Alda has given her notice at Nana’s Green Tea. She’s finally making it work with creating her music full time.

This story was reported by Brie Ripley, Ryan Sparks, and Rachel Stevens.

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