“But maybe tomorrow will feel better / I’ll try to write a song or two”
Similar to their latest song “Maybe Tomorrow” inspired by their “quarantine crazies,” pop twin duo JaJa Tong and JoJo Tong have been going through life writing and producing music. Classically trained and playing the piano from the age of four, they now release music inspired by pop, alternative and country/folk genres under their stage name Goldlove.
“[Music] definitely played a major role in shaping our 19 years on this planet,” JaJa said. “Growing up it was something that we had every week, piano lessons, band practice, everything, and that took a lot of time, but for both of us, it’s also something that keeps us going and makes us really happy throughout the day, and it lets us relax.”
Although JaJa goes to USC and JoJo goes to NYU, the two find ways to collaborate through late night phone calls on opposite coasts. Going to two different highly reputable music schools has helped the duo develop different skills and the opportunity to work with talented artists.
“There’s one funny story where [JaJa] was calling me at 10 p.m. her time but it was 1 a.m. for me. So my roommates were asleep,” JoJo said. ”And I was just laying under the covers … speed texting back because I didn’t want to wake up my roommates. And so I think we’ve had a lot of stories like that.“
Following their classical training at a young age, the duo progressed to band in middle school and high school, learned guitar along the way as they produced and wrote songs with the help of YouTube tutorials. Initially, credited as producers and working behind the scenes on writing and producing songs for other student artists in high school, the duo decided to start releasing music as Goldlove in 2020.
“The first music we actually started out writing was classical, so we used to write classical piano pieces, orchestral things, things for Symphonic Band. And then we kind of just realized we don’t listen to classical music on a daily basis. Why would we write that like no one else is gonna listen to it?” JaJa said. “So we started writing what we wanted to hear, which was just pop songs. And then once we got into writing pop songs, it just kind of snowballed from there and we learned about production.”
But the two don’t want to be pigeonholed into one genre or style. Instead, they take inspiration from what they’re listening to at the moment. This has led to a portfolio where each song ranges in style, sometimes seamlessly blending multiple genres into one track.
“A lot of what we’re trying to make is based on what we’re into at the moment. And a lot of times it’s based on a song that we heard that we really like,” JaJa said. “If you dig deep enough, you can notice that each song kind of has a reference song. So ‘Listen’ has very Sam Smith vibes. ‘Don’t take it personal’ is a blend of Charlie Puth’s slow mix song with Meghan Trainor.”
One such song is “Drug” in collaboration with Soph Retief that JaJa said was especially fun to work on despite taking one and a half years of production and going through multiple lyric revisions. Taking inspiration from their classical background, the song starts synthy and electronic before it gets to the bridge where a classical string quartet takes over.
“I think every song has its own story. So there’s two in particular that have been really unique experiences, and they’ve come a long way,” JaJa said. “If you look at the lyrics, it’s so far off from how it started, but [Drug] was really fun because we got to insert like so many metaphors … my favorite line is ‘I’m a zombie with a beating heart’ and all these crazy ideas that were put into the song made it really fun to write.”
Retief, a graduate student studying songwriting at NYU, has collaborated with the duo on multiple songs, including two that have been released, and said their versatile music style makes it fun to work with them.
“I think it’s been cool because all their songs are very different styles,” Retief said. “And it’s so interesting to hear because like the songs that we do, there’s kind of like this dark electronic song and then there’s another really light hearted chill pop song and it’s really cool to hear.”
While Retief hasn’t met them in person, she is impressed by their production skills and the level of thought that goes into each draft of the song before the final version.
“You can tell they put so much time and thought into every part of the song, and how it should sound like the arrangement,” Retief said. “They send it to me and they’re like ‘This is done on our end, do you have any thoughts?’ and I’m like ‘No, it’s perfect. I love it.’ … I love hearing the song release and I’m glad that other people get to hear it too.”
What starts as an idea that comes to one person in the form of a verse or chords progresses as both JaJa and JoJo take turns working on it giving each other the space to develop the idea until it develops into a song they are both proud of.
“A lot of our writing doesn’t actually have both of us in the same room writing together,”JaJa said. “Instead, we like to give each other our own space to develop our ideas without any bias from the other person. And then when it gets to production, we kind of do the same thing.”
The duo has made the best out of transition to remote work, using the opportunity to work asynchronously to produce music with collaborators without having to worry about getting everyone into the studio.
“Being virtual has given us a lot more opportunities,” JoJo said. “In February, we got to perform at Joy Rockers Club which is the largest virtual Asian music festival in the world, and that opportunity was only possible because of [the coronavirus] because of everyone turning to online concerts instead of physical ones.”
Another collaborator, Tristan Elma, who goes by the artist name Stan Stan Stan, met JaJa through the Songwriters’ Forum. JaJa started the club at USC as a freshman to connect songwriters, producers and performers to create original music together.
“JaJa is a really hard working person,” said Elma, a senior majoring in computer engineering and computer science. “I just know how passionate she is for the industry and I know that she’s taking classes for it, doing extracurriculars too and just how many different projects she has going on and all the different roles she plays in those projects. I know that she works real hard and her music is a really great product of this. And I’ll be listening to her music on Spotify.”
Elma collaborated with the duo on the song “Find You Again,” a pop song with rock and alternative beats.
Currently with five singles lined up to be released over summer, JoJo and JaJa are trying to expand their video presence by making YouTube videos to show fans the behind-the-scenes of their music process. As a production duo, they want to use this as a way to be more relatable to their listeners.
“We want our listeners to be able to relate to us and find our music and our creative process interesting,” JaJa said. “Making a video series and kind of like lifting the curtain, that’s something that we’re really excited to do in the next couple of months.”
As Asian American women in music, a big challenge they’ve faced is not having any role models to look up to. They have had to constantly prove themselves and show people that music is more than an extracurricular to them.
“Being Asian Americans working on music is so unconventional and so uncommon, and a lot of times people don’t consider that a real thing,” JoJo said. “Back at home, a lot of people didn’t see that it was actually a passion of ours, until we started getting recognition … it was definitely hard to be as taken seriously at first, but we’re both pretty happy with where we are and where we’re going.”