This week on Between the Sheets we're talking to hyper-multidisciplinary artist Peggy Hogan, a.k.a. Hua Li. Classically trained on the piano, Hogan is no slouch—she veers from project to project in a blur, writing and recording her own music, working as a theater composer, and performing both as a DJ and as Hua Li. After studying English literature with a specialization in jazz studies, she's released multiple albums in the last five years and is currently pursuing her master's degree in musicology. On top of all that, she manages A&R at Art Not Love Records, which is releasing her latest, Dynasty, later this year.
Read on for her thoughts on coming up as an artist in queer spaces, the creative potential of lust, and existing between the different categories of self and genre...
Hi Peggy! Tell us a bit about yourself.
Hua Li is my best attempt at being the most me with the least amount of shame possible. A lot of my identity as a queer, mixed-raced singer that is rapping all the time exists in the spaces between categories, so I get/have to code switch a lot as I navigate my daily life. As Hua Li, I get to embody all of those contradictions in my identity and really feel a sense of blending and harmony as these different parts of myself find a forum to be expressed in.
In your music, you explore themes of race, gender, feminism and more. Do you approach your work more as a form of communication, or community engagement?
I try to keep my lyric writing as authentic as possible, so while I never really meant for this project to be political, these issues come out in the music because they are things I think about all the time. I’m not so sure that I am engaging my community through my music so much as trying to present a representation of my particular experience. I think when identity politics emerge in my work, it is a direct result of my songs being mostly about how it feels to be navigating the world as the particular type of woman that I am—racialized, queer, intellectual and slutty.
As a rapper and a DJ, you have a big presence in a very white-male-dominated local scene. Have you experienced any barriers to entry as a queer woman of color in your field?
When I first started this project, some local queer hip hop promoters that went by Rough Diamond Collective gave me a really helpful boost, booking me onto line-ups with folks like Mykki Blanco and ManChyna, and I also got a lot of support from the more indie and electronic scenes in Montreal. When I started DJing and performing on more, uh—mainstream? straight?—hip hop line-ups with the boys, I felt like I could hold my own because I had already cut my teeth in these other spaces. It’s so important for marginalized artists to have a safe space to do their first shows in, because it gives them the confidence to deal with the bullshit of the music industry at large.
You’ve discussed founding a hip-hop label for women of color. What other dream projects have you got in the pipeline?
The future label is definitely a dream and hopefully not too far off! More bite-size dreams include finally releasing my full-length as Hua Li, which is happening this year—I really can’t wait to share this music with everyone!
What is the role of self-care in your life? Do you use it to control stress, or just be present with yourself?
Pretty much every time I complain to my therapist about how crazy I feel, how overworked I am, or how little tolerance I have for the slightest things, she is like, “What have you done for yourself lately?” I’m not sure it’s possible to grow up culturally Chinese and not have a bit of an anxious, perfectionist streak, so these reminders to slow down and get in tune with my needs are life-saving for me.
What are some of your favorite rituals?
Very cheesily, I keep a gratitude journal. I used to try to do this at the end of the day, but sometimes I found it hard to be grateful for things if I had a really bad day or if I felt like nothing I accomplished was good enough to celebrate. Now I start my day with a list of things I’m looking forward to, which are often really small (playing with my dog is pretty much on my list every day, for instance) but it feels nice because when I arrive at those moments in my day, I feel even happier about them than I would without having reflected on them before. I also practice music daily, either singing, piano or writing, and this is a major key in my maintaining a semblance of sanity in this world!
Do you think sex (with yourself or others) can be a form of self-care?
Yes! I think sexual energy and creative energy are so closely linked—as an artist, and especially as a sex-positive woman who writes a lot about lust and romance, I feel like I produce better material when I am taking care of my sexual needs. Conversely, I think when my relationship with my art practice is at its strongest, I emit more sexual energy and skill—a great motivator to sit down at the piano and practice scales from time to time.