ALISA XAYALITH of The Naked and Famous On Stage Fright and Breaking Through

 

Just four years ago, Alisa Xayalith was a shy singer from Auckland, New Zealand, who had suddenly exploded onto the international indie music scene with her band The Naked and Famous and their surprise hit song “Young Blood.” Though it’s the power of her voice that drives the catchy electro-pop anthem, Xayalith didn’t have much experience performing live. She had stage fright, often hid behind her long black hair, and didn’t yet know how to act the part of a front woman.

“You have to look up this [2010] video on KCRW of us playing ‘Young Blood,’” she says. “I was so timid! When I look at that girl now, I think, ‘Who was that?’” She laughs. “Performing feels like second nature now, but it’s definitely been a process.”

Her hair newly cropped and dyed into a bleached blond pixie cut, Xayalith, 27, isn’t hiding anymore. There is no secret to becoming more confident in front of a crowd, she says. It’s all about practice. In the last few years, The Naked and Famous has performed all around the world, most recently touring with Imagine Dragons and performing at Coachella, before kicking off the European portion of their international tour in June.

As a child, Xayalith grew up listening to a lot of Laotian folk music because her dad was a singer in a local Laotian band in South Auckland. But she also remembers her father introducing her to English-language songs. “He used to sing me ‘Mona Lisa’ by Nat King Cole,” she remembers. “And then when I got older, I became obsessed with Mariah Carey for a long time.”

Her mother passed away from breast cancer when Xayalith was just 7 years old, a personal tragedy that she finally got the courage to write about in “I Kill Giants,” a track on The Naked and Famous’ second album, In Rolling Waves, released late 2013. The saddest of days, she sings. Why couldn’t we save you?

 

 

“I had written these lyrics and Thom [Powers, her The Naked and Famous bandmate] really loved them,” says Xayalith. “He said, ‘Don’t change them. I’m going to use them for something.’ It’s the most revealing that I’ve ever let myself get, lyrically, and I was really apprehensive about it. But he really pushed me.”

Xayalith, Powers and bandmate Aaron Short met at Auckland’s MAINZ music college in 2006. (David Beadle and Jesse Wood joined the band in 2009.) Xayalith always wanted to be a singer, but she says her songwriting skills weren’t fully realized until she met Powers and they started writing together. Soon they formed The Naked and Famous. The band name is taken from the song “Tricky Kid” by English trip-hop artist Tricky, which has the line “everybody wants to be naked and famous,” about being ambivalent to the idea of celebrity.

Their first collaboration was a trip-hop song that Xayalith says she’d be embarrassed if anyone heard now, but their second song, “Serenade,” which ended up on their debut EP, gave them their first taste of success when it reached number one in New Zealand’s college charts.

“I remember Aaron, Thom and I were sitting in the living room listening to the countdown, seeing if we’d be on it,” she says. “Aaron has a recording of it actually. All of our friends were there screaming, ‘You guys are number one!’

“But international success didn’t come until we released ‘Young Blood’ in 2010,” she continues. “That song changed our lives. It catapulted us out of New Zealand.”

 

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Xayalith still remembers fiddling with the melody that ended up turning into “Young Blood.” When she showed Powers what she was working on, he immediately recognized the potential behind those chords, and they came up with the music for the song together in two hours. “It was just a natural moment of inspiration that we harnessed,” says Xayalith. “Then I wrote the lyrics, and Thom said, ‘How about you sing it higher?’ And I was like, ‘Really? I don’t know about this!’ But I did it, and he said, ‘Alisa, we’ve got it.’”

At the time, the band members were still working day jobs — Xayalith was working at a record store and in fashion — and they were recording their first studio album, Passive Me, Aggressive You, on the side. When “Young Blood” blew up in New Zealand, they were suddenly wined and dined by record labels and eventually dominated the 2011 New Zealand Music Awards, winning everything from Single of the Year and Album of the Year to Best Group. American audiences eventually caught on after “Young Blood” was featured everywhere, from Chuck and Gossip Girl to American Idol and the 2013 film Carrie.

Soon after, the band moved to Los Angeles to pursue their music full time and recorded their entire second album in the Hollywood Hills neighborhood of Laurel Canyon. In addition to the vulnerable “I Kill Giants,” the songs on In Rolling Waves are moodier. The first single, “Hearts Like Ours,” is about being brave despite anxiety, while their second single, “A Stillness,” deals with rising above fear and learning to be calm. “What We Want” — their first collaborative effort with a singer-songwriter outside of their band, Max McElligott from Wolf Gang — is a melancholy duet. The somber tone throughout was inspired by the first song the band wrote for the album, “Grow Old.” “It’s one of those slow burn, sad, miserable songs,” says Xayalith. “It’s a Naked and Famous love song, so that means it’s not very happy.”

As Xayalith juggles an intense touring schedule, which means she’s only “home” in L.A. a few months of the year, she hopes that their sound continues to evolve. “Our early music had a punk attitude,” Xayalith explains. “We wanted to be pop, but also had a love for rock music, like Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins and Queens of the Stone Age. If you look at our body of work, you can see that our music is multigenre and hard to pinpoint.

“But it’s important for us to develop and change,” she adds. “We don’t have to worry about consistency and continuity, because the music is always going to be written by us and sound like The Naked and Famous.”

– Story by Ada Tseng 

 

This story was originally published in our Summer 2014 issue. Get your copy here!

Watch Out Hello Kitty — Pikachu Pop-Up Café Is Moving In (For Now)

 

Japan is clearly the go-to destination for all things cute. In the past, we brought you Little Twin Stars and My Melody-themed cafés in Japan, where you can eat the world’s most adorably shaped foods. And of course by now, you probably already know about Sanrio’s Hello Kitty café that has now expanded its stores worldwide. But obviously, the cartoon-themed café trend isn’t complete without everyone’s favorite yellow rodent — Pikachu. Hence, a Pikachu pop-up café made its debut in downtown Tokyo, Japan on July 19, shortly after the release of Pokémon the Movie XY, a Japanese anime film. In addition to purchasing adorable Pokémon-themed food and beverages at the café, you can also purchase Pokémon postcards, T-shirts and more.

Even though the franchise is now 20 years old, die-hard fans (surprisingly, mostly adults!) still go the distance to stand in long lines, eagerly waiting for their Pikachu-shaped meals. The pop-up café ends on August 31, so Pokémon fans, get moving!

Here are some of the café’s most appetizing dishes!

 

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Photos courtesy of Kotaku

 

Steven Yeun to Create More Opportunities for Asian Actors

 

In 2005, when Korean American actor Steven Yeun decided to pursue acting rather than get a job that directly correlated to his degree in psychology, you can imagine all the people who thought he was ludicrous. After all, as difficult as it is to maintain a successful career as a working actor, it’s even more difficult with the limited opportunities for Asian actors. Luckily, the odds didn’t seem to scare him away.

Fast forward to today and 30-year-old Yeun is now one of the most popular Asian actors in mainstream media. We can all rest assured that he certainly doesn’t regret his “ludicrous” decision to go into acting. “[Glenn] is a really exciting character,” Yeun told Audrey Magazine in an interview in 2010. “As an Asian American male, it’s something that isn’t very stereotypical and really kind of stretched to show a lot of dimensions.”

In addition to his role, Yeun also stretched his career in many directions. In 2011, he was nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor on Television. In 2013, Yeun was on the list of of People magazine’s “Sexiest Men.”

With all this success, it’s safe to assume that Yeun is drowning in job offers right? Apparently, that’s not necessarily the case.

 

 

“People ask, ‘So, how are the roles now? You must be getting so many.’ And it’s like, I don’t know if you know, but I’m Asian still,” Yeun told TheWrap during an interview in July. “It’s not a complaint, that’s just how it is now. I think that if I had not been Asian, I probably would have a whole plethora of roles, at least to audition for, but it’s just not what has been written.”

And Hollywood certainly isn’t helping. Many Asian films, such as Oldboy, have been remade and recast with white actors, instead of simply opening up to the idea of more Asian actors on screen. (Looking at you, The Last Airbender.)

So is Steven Yeun, the man who took a leap of faith into acting despite the odds against him, going to sit around and just wait for more opportunities for Asian actors to pop up? Of course not. Yeun is taking matters into his own hands by writing and producing his own projects that will offer better roles to Asian actors.

Yeun is working on an adaptation of Kang Chol-Hwan’s memoir The Aquariums of Pyongyang, which focuses on life inside of North Korean concentration camp, as well as some comedies and cartoons.

Yeun’s drive to progress not only his career but also the opportunities available for Asian actors comes from a place many of us are familiar with: a desire to make our parents proud.

“I think my greatest fear is letting my parents down,” Yeun told Audrey Magazine. “That might be inherent in anyone, but coming from my perspective, it’s pretty inherent in the Korean culture. [My parents] sacrificed so much for me, and I said I was going to be an actor after they paid so much for everything. And yet they stood behind me and they were very supportive. I definitely want to make this a long career and definitely want them to be proud.”

I can’t speak for his parents, but I for one can say he is certainly someone the Asian American community can be proud of.

 

Growing Up With Chinese Food, Dwayne Johnson and a Shake Weight, And Other MUST READS OF THE WEEK

 

1) 23 Food Things Only Chinese American Kids Would Understand (READ HERE

 

2) Maxine Hong-Kington and Billie Tsien Honored With National Medals of Arts (READ HERE

 

3) Chinese Businessman Sips Tea From $36.3 Million Ming Dynasty Cup, Angers Netizens (READ HERE
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4) 21 Annoying Comments Filipinos Are Tired Of Hearing (READ HERE

 

5) Actor George Takei Shares Family’s Story of WWII Internment (READ HERE

 

6) Move Over McDonalds, Brand Bringing Thai Fast Food to Cities Across the U.S. (READ HERE

 

 

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7) Pools in China are so crowded, you don’t swim, you go for a stand (READ HERE)

 

8) 10-Year-Old Hapa Girl’s Guitar Cover Of “Slayer” Is Insane (READ HERE

 

9) Run For Your Lives! Zombie-infested obstacle course heading to Singapore (READ HERE)

 

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10) Jimmy Fallon And Dwayne Johnson Make Hilarious Workout Videos (READ HERE

 

 

Top Stories of the Week: An Inspiring Granddaughter and Floating Babies

1) What This 20-Something Does For Her Grandmother Who Raised Her 

 

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2) “Mistresses”‘s Catherine Haena Kim Dishes On Working with Yunjin Kim and a Surprising Famous Relative 
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3) Chinese Doctors Bow For An 11-Year-Old’s Selfless Decision 

 

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4) Viral Video Alert: Tiny Floating Asian Babies

 

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5) Lee Hyori’s Behind-The-Scenes Photos of Her DIY Wedding on New Lifestyle Blog 

 

Chinese Doctors Bow For An 11-Year-Old’s Selfless Decision

 

These bowing doctors are not the only ones in awe of 11-year-old Liang Yaoyi. This image, along with its inspiring story, has been circulating all throughout China. Everyone seems to be impressed with this selfless young man who proved that children are most certainly capable of doing what is noble and good.

Liang was a fifth grader in Shenzhen, China. Despite his young age, he already knew that he wanted to save lives as a doctor in the future.

“There are many people doing great things in the world,” he told ChinaDaily.com. “They are great, and I want to be a great kid, too.” Well it was only a matter of time before Liang fulfilled that longing.

In April, Liang was diagnosed with brain cancer and even after multiple surgeries, his body could not handle the cancer. There on his deathbed, Liang told his parents about his final decision: After he died, Liang wanted to donate his organs so that he could help others live.

 

 

Soon after, the brave 11-year-old passed away. Touched by his incredible selflessness, Chinese doctors bowed to Liang before performing the surgery.

Although he didn’t end up becoming a doctor, Liang managed to fulfill his wish of saving lives. According to China Daily, the boy’s kidney and liver were successfully transplanted to people in need.

 

(Source 1, 2)

 

The Most Breathtaking Photos of Indonesian Village Life You Will Ever See

 

“I am an amateur,” Herman Damar humbly told us when we asked about his incredible photography skills. Despite Damar’s insistence that he is just a self-taught photographer, no one can deny his natural ability and talent. In fact, it’s obvious to anyone after just a short glance at his work.

Based in Jakarta, Indonesia, Damar often shows the everyday lives of rural Indonesian villages in his work. His photos capture children playing together, villagers swimming in the river and even elders at work.

“I am interested in photography because I want to capture every moment, especially the beauty and life of Indonesian society,” the Indonesian photographer explains. “I want explore the rich diversity of Indonesian culture.”

Well, if showing the beauty of Indonesian culture was his goal, he can consider his task complete. It’s rare that we come across such beautiful photos of the everyday Indonesian lifestyle.

Damar mainly uses natural light and shoots with a Canon 550D. Using Adobe Lightroom and After Effects, he makes his photos come alive. See them for yourself below and be sure to check out his official site here.

 

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Photos courtesy of Herman Damar Photography

Lee Hyori’s Behind-The-Scenes Photos of Her DIY Wedding on New Lifestyle Blog

 

Gathering greens from her homemade garden at her quaint, new home on Jeju Island, South Korea, former Fin.K.L leader Lee Hyori has come a long way from her glamoured-up K-pop star days. On her new blog, she sheds her sexy pop star image and reveals what’s underneath — her organic, vegetarian lifestyle, her undeniable love for animals, and her insight on what it’s like to be a new housewife, as told by text and photographs.

“It’s been a long time since my friends from Seoul have come down [to Jeju],” she wrote in Korean, in her most recent blog post. According to Korea Times, the name of her blog, “so-gil-daek”, refers to her home in Sogil-li, Jeju Island. The site, which went live on May 29th, has already amassed more than 8 million views as of Thursday.

Scrolling through 20-some pages of her Naver blog reveals photos of her friends wandering the woods, her latest embroidery ventures, her adorable dogs (and her imaginary conversations with them) and what’s on her dinner plate, all accompanied by short and sweet blurbs about her day. There’s nothing glamorous about it. She’s almost — dare I say it? — one of us.

Surprisingly, Hyori has received some backlash from critics who say that she is making a fuss, using her fame to glamorize her “simple” life — a life that many ordinary people lead. Characteristic of her rather humble and honest demeanor that is apparent throughout her blog posts, Hyori responded to this criticism in her blog post titled, “Irony.”

“I am famous, but I want to live a quiet life,” she wrote. “I am living quietly, but I don’t want to be forgotten. I’m simple but rich, and I’m rich but nothing is really different. I confess to my ironic life.”

Don’t worry, Hyori — we’re all for it. Even without her fame and popularity, her blog holds its own. Imbued with an overall artsy, bohemian, hipster-esque aesthetic, her photos tell the story not of Hyori, the K-pop Queen, but a down-to-earth human being who just loves adventure with her husband, friends and dogs. She shares her life in simple and candid terms.

Speaking of her husband, here’s what you’ve been waiting for (unless you just skipped to the photos, because I wouldn’t blame you): the adorably adorable wedding photos of Hyori and Lee Sang-Soon! The two talented musicians tied the knot last September in a very private, intimate wedding at their home on Jeju Island, and Hyori recently uploaded exclusive behind-the-scene photos on her blog early July. The whole affair gave off strong vibes of DIY decorations and accessories — from floral crowns to homemade backdrops — that just may inspire your own bohemian, outdoor wedding.

 

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The caption under this last photograph reads: “When night fell, we were all exhausted. Everything that I was worried about fell away, and after drinking beer, my body just collapsed. ‘How will I live from now on, on this foreign ground bearing my husband’s name?’ I thought to myself, and my heart felt heavy. Then I saw a small light flying around a nearby bush. It was a firefly. It felt like it was the first time I saw a firefly since childhood, and it seemed like the firefly was dancing, flying in between and around us and shining its light all over the place. If I believe that the firefly was telling me that it will all be OK and that I will do a great job, would that be too sentimental? But I looked at the scenery around me, and I realized that there was nothing more that I could ask for. Then, my heart seemed to feel a little lighter.”

Damn. Leave it to Hyori to be beautiful, down-to-earth and poetic all at the same time.

All photos courtesy of Lee Hyori’s blog.

 

Kara Birkenstock Dishes On ’90s Icons and Britney Songs

 

We were lucky enough to get the chance to talk to Kara Birkenstock, the beautiful host of Lifestyle Network’s Style Bites, a show that brings the very best of every girl’s BFFs: fashion and food. Still want to learn more about the Thai-Filipino American model, actress and host? We got the scoop below.

 

Who is your fashion inspiration?
Niki Taylor (first supermodel in the ’90s) and Jennifer Lopez. Jennifer Lopez is just amazing. Her body is amazing and she can rock anything and pull it off. Her main fashion accessory is her confidence.

What is your go-to karaoke song?
Oh gosh, this is embarrassing. “I Will Survive”comes to mind, but I have sung “Oops I Did it Again.”

Favorite celeb of all time?
Brad Pitt. There’s the obvious physical features, but I’ve always enjoyed following his career and he’s always giving back. He turned from a cute actor to an inspiring, powerful role model.

Favorite part of your day?
Probably the end when I’m done with a long day of work and coming back to my little retreat. Getting home to my family, making dinner and sitting down with a yummy meal.

Hidden talent?
Rhythmic gymnastics. I could probably pull that out if I had to. Ha!

Habit you need to break?
I need to be better at following up with friends. Life gets in the way and we all get really busy, so I need to be better at staying in touch with my dear friends.

 

 

Word or phrase you say too much?
Gorgeous or gorg.

Your guilty pleasure?
CARBS. Fried rice and noodles are my big guilty pleasures.

Your pet peeve?
When people don’t say thank you. In cars when you let them pass or on elevators when you hold the door open. You know, ungrateful people.

Greatest Fear?
I actually try not be scared of things. I try to live my life that way. If I’m scared or hesitant about something, I usually jump off the cliff and do it since life’s too short not to.

Your job in another life?
I hate to respond this way, but I feel like if I was in another life, I would know I was destined to do something like this — being in front of the camera or producing or creating fun content. I’ve always wanted to do this. If I died and was born again tomorrow, I think I’d still want to do this.

What’s cool about being Asian?
What’s not cool!?

 

Be sure to read our story on Kara Birkenstock’s show here. For more Kara, don’t forget to watch her latest episode of Style Bites which airs daily with new episodes premiering weekly on the Lifestyle Network. For more information, click here.

 

Asia Street Style: Do Summer Like These Bangkok Stylesetters

 

If there’s anyone who knows how to stay chic during the sweltering months of summer, it’s Bangkokians. In a crowded city where public transportation is the norm, dressing in Bangkok requires equal parts practicality (walkable shoes are a must) and style. Prepping for my trip there last February (where it was already in the 80s and humid), I — used to air conditioned cars and high heels on a daily basis — fretted over how to look chic while staying cool. These stylesetters could have taught me a thing or two then. Let’s take a few style lessons from them now (and just in time for L.A.’s heat wave).

 

1. Something graphic and short is always cool — make sure you add a sun-blocking hat. Bonus points for studded oxfords (again — all that walking!) and an oversized handled clutch.

 

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2. Wear something mesh — it lets the breeze in while still keeping you somewhat covered up. Wedge heel sneakers keep you comfortable while still giving you a bit of height.

 

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3. A simple oversized tee and a mini are instantly chic-ified with a multi-chain necklace, a pastel oversized bag and the coolest strappy platform sandals ever. (Again, adds height, still walkable.) And how adorable are her metallic mint green toes? That color alone is enough to keep you cool.

 

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4. If you have to commute to work, this look is perfect: a sleeveless jacket worn over a crop top for the perfect peek of midriff. Yes, the heels are high, but the platform make it doable.

 

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5. If you’re a bit more of a fashion risk taker, try a mesh skirt in a pop of yellow worn under a long sports-inspired tank. Triple platform Converse balance the girly skirt and metallic crossbody.

 

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6. When you’re wearing a print dress with a look-at-me clutch, normcore sneakers are not only OK, they’re almost required.

 

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7. And when all else fails, keep the clothes simple and let your accessories do the talking.

 

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