Photo: Skylar Steinberg

Interview: Luna Li attempts to find balance in Duality

Hannah Bussiere Kim – also known as Luna Li – has gone through a whirlwind past couple of years. The Toronto musician went viral on social media in 2020 with a series of one-minute instrumental jam videos that effortlessly combined guitar, piano, violin, harp, bass, and drums to create soothing psychedelic and dream pop melodies. The following year, she went on tour with Japanese Breakfast and performed at 88rising’s Head in the Clouds Festival. As a culmination of her artistic growth up to this point, she recently released her debut album, Duality, and is setting out on her first headline tour this month. 

However, Bussiere Kim’s musical journey started long before this. She first started working on Duality four years ago, and around this time, she was writing one of the album’s singles “Silver Into Rain”. She recalls that it was raining for the entire week in Toronto, making everything gray and wet. “I was in a mood, and I just kind of wrote ‘can I even do this?’” These feelings of self-doubt came out as self-deprecating lyrics in the track. “I’m too young for my age / Too shy for the stage, too careful to be brave.” Bussiere Kim created Luna Li to develop a persona that could overcome these lyrics and be confident and unapologetic. She was the rockstar who could shoot music videos and perform onstage in front of large crowds. 

But before there was Luna Li, Bussiere Kim was a part of a Toronto rock scene that was dominated by men. This made it difficult to find musicians that looked like her. She remembers that one of the first musicians she saw that reflected her life experience was Michelle Zauner, aka Japanese Breakfast. “I really saw myself represented in that we’re both half-Korean,” she recalls. “And when I went to her show, I was just so happy and emotional.” Bussiere Kim wanted Luna Li to take up space in the indie music scene as an Asian woman and be the inspiration that she was looking for when she was growing up. “The most meaningful thing to me is when I get other young Asian girls coming up to me at shows, and they feel seen and inspired,” she says. 

With Duality, Bussiere Kim wished to create a welcoming space where anyone could be themselves and feel like they belong. To achieve this vision, she asked three women of color – Jay Som, Dreamer Isioma, and Beabadoobee – to feature on the album and specifically worked with women to direct her music videos and visuals. “I really made a mental note to have that be a part of my project,” she explains, while also stressing the value of uplifting other women of color. With her newfound international audience, she intends to build an ever-growing arts community of women through her Luna Li project. 

When contemplating the story she wanted to tell with her album, Duality felt like the right theme. In addition to her cultural identity, she found the idea of duality showing up in other aspects of the project. She recalls a conversation with her producer, Braden; “The songs never just had one theme. Like if it was a happy song, there would always be some line that alluded to [an] uncertainty or anxiety below it.” To Bussiere Kim, these factors seemed to represent a balancing act in her life and reflected her journey of finding her place in the world. 

Duality also extended to the album’s inclusion of both classical music and modern rock influences. Growing up in a musical household, Bussiere Kim was encouraged to play instruments from a young age. After high school, she felt pressured to continue her classical training in violin and enrolled in McGill’s music school. However, after one semester she found that it wasn’t for her, dropped out. This was never going to be the end of her musical journey though – she set her sights on making it in the Toronto rock scene.

Once there, she couldn’t find a way to incorporate her classical sounds into her music. “I felt like just having a violin on stage or like a violin line in a song felt very folksy or country,” she explains. However, one birthday she asked her grandma for a loop pedal. She initially intended to use it on her guitar but experimented with plugging it into her violin. “I realized I could layer the violin and make it sound really lush and orchestral. And I just really fell in love with that sound.” From then on, she embraced her sound’s duality by mixing her classical background with psychedelic pop. 

To find balance within the duality of her life, she looks to find peace with being herself when she’s alone. Finding this comfort allowed her to self-reflect and take the necessary steps towards self-acceptance, but it’s still something she’s working on. In “Alone but Not Lonely”, she repeats the title mantra in an attempt to remind herself that the time she spends alone is special and should be celebrated. She taps into this idea through her creative process. “When I’m creating, that’s when I’m in a space where I feel a magical energy [that] comes around when I’m alone,” she says.  

Bussiere Kim also looks to nature to ground herself. “When you feel really connected to nature, you feel really connected to the earth and connected to yourself. And that’s a really special feeling,” she says. She also connects nature with her family and her mom in particular, with whom she spent a lot of time staying in cottages, camping, and going on hikes. She explains, “there’s a really special nurturing feeling to me that I associate with nature.” She finds comfort in its duality as well, feeling that the sun and the moon and clear and cloudy skies unite everyone under one common roof.  

While Bussiere Kim is able to decompress by reconnecting with herself and nature, Luna Li lives the nonstop life of a modern musical artist – maintaining a social media presence, coming out with music on a regular basis, and touring. But she’s more experienced now. She has a team and family and friends that support her, and she’s getting better at setting boundaries. In the future, she’s thinking about expanding Luna Li into other art forms like dance and fashion, but now she’s just “trusting the process and excited to see what happens next.” 

Duality is out now via In Real Life. 

You can find Luna Li on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook