When Cincinnati, Ohio-native Mandy Gaines belts out her tunes, listeners are immediately taken back to the time when sultry jazz songstresses and soulful R ’n’ B divas would knock their audiences’ socks off. Her two-month stint at Brown Sugar singing an eclectic mix of jazz, pop, R ’n’ B, soul, and reggae songs started at the beginning of last month. The Taipei Times caught up this sassy veteran of Taiwan’s music scene to talk about her upbringing, what it’s like to make a living out of music, and whether she is the real Brown Sugar.
Taipei Times: How did you start singing?
Mandy Gaines: I’ve been singing to records and putting on little shows for family and friends as long as I can remember. But once I was in school, I sang in choirs and plays and of course in church, too.
TT: Who were some of your early influences?
MG: My early influences were Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, and Barbra Streisand.
TT: When did you first realize that you wanted a career in singing?
MG: I knew I wanted to be a singer early on, too, because that’s all I ever was doing. Singing as a career goal became more formulated in school when I started studying music and being involved in theatrical productions.
TT: Have you found it easy or hard making a living out of music?
MG: It’s hard making a living as a musician. You have to really love what you are doing and be devoted to your craft. Sometimes you’re working and sometimes you’re not. It’s the name of the game. I have been very blessed to be able to keep my schedule fairly booked through most of the year.
(Gaines arrived in Taiwan in 1988, when she was invited by David Maurice, a close college friend, to be a part of a cross-cultural music project that was sponsored by a soft drink manufacturer. They formed the band MIT, which stood for Made in Taiwan, recorded with Rock Records and enjoyed a fair degree of success. She went on to start her own jazz groups during the three years she lived here full-time and recorded with Emil Chau (周華健) and Harlem Yu (庾澄慶), two of the country’s top pop artists.)
WHAT: Mandy Gaines
WHEN and WHERE: Gaines performs three sets starting at 9pm every Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Brown Sugar, 101 Songren Rd, Taipei City (台北市松仁路101號)
ADMISSION: Admission is free, but there is a NT$350 minimum charge each night
ON THE NET: Search for Mandy Gaines Jazz on Facebook
TT: You’ve been coming to Taiwan on and off for 24 years. What are some of the changes that you are most surprised about?
MG: I do love Taiwan, and the changes over the years have been great. The buildings are beautiful, the taxis are nicer and cleaner and there is much more thought in the city planning and expansion. There is an amazing choice in restaurants and also a grassroots cultural and arts explosion has been growing for at least the past 10 years.
TT: What is it about Taiwan that has kept you coming back?
MG: I keep coming back here because Taiwan has become my second home. I have many friends here and Brown Sugar is like a family to me.
TT: Is it true that Brown Sugar was named after you?
MG: I would like to believe they named Brown Sugar after me because I was told that by one of the original owners in 1998 when they opened.
TT: How long are you in Taiwan for?
MG: I’m in Taiwan through the end of May and I don’t know when I’ll be back, although it’s been once a year; so we’ll see!