THE FIRST TIME Clay Garner’s high school Mandarin Chinese language teacher called him “Gaoshan,” which literally translates to “tall mountain,” he had no idea the name would attain millions in household recognition, thousands of miles from Garner’s Connecticut high school classroom.
But this rapid rise to fame, as Garner ‘17 puts it, is just another testament to the miracle of the information age. After posting a few videos of himself performing original songs in Mandarin on what he called “the Chinese version of YouTube,” all it took was a little time.
“One morning I woke up and there were like a million views on one of my videos,” Garner explained.
Q. What is the impact that your music career has had on your Stanford career?
A. It’s nice because I became big so far away from home. People on campus don’t know about Gaoshan, and I think I prefer that. I feel more like a student than a celebrity.
And, coincidentally, the rise of Gaoshan was not Garner’s first appearance in the media spotlight. As a toddler, he was featured in a series of Japanese Disney educational programs for teaching English.
Q. If you wanted to make music, and you also knew English and Spanish, why did you choose to write songs in Chinese?
A. I guess I could have done songs in Spanish, and I thought about that. But Chinese music is basically all sad love songs. If you listen to my music, that’s basically all it is. Sad love songs. It’s perfect for me.
Q. Who helps you make your videos and arrange your performances?
A. My dad actually helped make my videos. It’s funny because he makes golf clubs for a living, but doubles as my camera man. My family has been really supportive. And it’s nice not having a manager or anything. No one decides what songs I’m going to sing or when I’m going to sing them.
Even for the shows he has appeared and performed in, Garner has arranged everything himself. After his first video blew up online, Garner was featured on a couple of Chinese newscasts, until one day he got a call asking if he would appear live.
Q. What do you want your listeners to take from your music?
A. First and foremost, I hope that my music can touch upon some kind of real feeling. I hope that my own experience writing and performing the song can serve as an emotional catalyst for my listeners. But also, seeing that my listeners are from all sorts of different places and backgrounds, that music is something that can connect us all on a fundamentally human level.
Q. What are your hopes for your music in the future?
A. I would love to continue performing and writing songs that mean something to me and other people. I am so lucky to have inspired anyone at all through my music, and I am still shocked by all of the places music has taken me. It would also be cool to learn another language to sing and write in.
By: Katlyn Alapati
Photography: Ameeqa Ali