Run River North Releases Their Debut Album

Story by Taylor Weik. 

“The album art is actually inspired by ancient Korean art,” drummer John Chong is saying, gesturing to the cover of the seven-inch vinyl — a large white square smeared with blue, gray and purple brush strokes detailing mountains and trees, clean and dirty at the same time — when all of a sudden, rock music begins blasting from the next room over, and the windows and doors start vibrating with the beat. It’s 5 p.m. at the Troubadour, just two hours before the indie folk-rock band Run River North takes the stage to promote their newly released, self-titled debut album.

“If you go to LACMA, you can find a lot of Korean landscapes with clouds, mountains and a lot of black,” Chong continues as if nothing has transpired, yelling over the music. The other five band members — Alex Hwang, Joe Chun, Daniel Chae, Sally Kang and Jennifer Rim — titter at his attempt to be heard in the small bar that now pulsates with rock. “We’re performing a sold-out show at the Troubadour,” says lead vocalist and songwriter Hwang. “Again.”

The last time Run River North performed at the Troubadour — the West Hollywood, Calif., club with a long, colorful history, famous for kicking out a very drunk John Lennon, and whose stage has been graced by everyone from Fleetwood Mac to Guns N’ Roses — it was 2012 and they were operating under the moniker Monsters Calling Home. The San Fernando Valley-based group changed its name when fellow indie band Of Monsters and Men rose to fame with its hit song “Little Talks.”

“We’re now Run River North, which can mean many things,” says Kang, who plays keyboards. “It describes the different ranges of our music — from being laid-back and letting our harmonies shine through, like in ‘Growing Up,’ which represents the steady flow of a river, to being as crazy and loud and thrashing as some of our other tracks that are a little more rock-ish, which portrays a rushing river.”

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Run River North captured the attention of YouTubers (and auto execs) in 2012 with their music video for their upbeat single “Fight to Keep,” filmed entirely in their cars while driving through parking lots and across streets. Honda executives took note of the video — which has garnered more than 200,000 views on YouTube — and booked them as musical guests on Jimmy Kimmel Live. “Fight to Keep” is arguably their most popular song and is included in the new album — the one Chong was describing at the Troubadour — but the members have other favorites.

“My favorite song right now is ‘Beetle’ because we added an extra four-minute jam section for the show,” says Hwang. “Also I get to play the electric guitar, which I don’t usually get to do.” Rim, the violinist, favors “Lying Beast,” a softer, more lyrical tune inspired by a Korean folk song “to add a bit of our heritage.”

Their heritage is reflected in more than just the melodies. All six of Run River North’s members are Korean American, and more than a few of their songs function as stories of their experiences as children of Korean immigrants. “Monsters Calling Home,” which Hwang penned, pays homage to their parents and the sacrifices they made to leave behind their homeland for the “American Dream.” They’re walking heavy to the beat of a broken drum, Hwang croons in the song while Rim plucks violin strings in the background. Digging for worth in a land under a foreign sun.

Though their identities as Asian Americans play a significant role in their music, Hwang and the others members make sure to produce content that everyone can relate to and enjoy. “Our mental process when making music isn’t ‘this is what Asian music should sound like,’ but ‘this is what good music sounds like’ — it just so happens to be that we’re Asian American,” says Hwang. “We try not to be so intentional about our Asian-ness, but let the quality of the music speak. The way we look to people should come second to the way we sound.”

While Run River North has a loyal fan following, their biggest fan may be Korean American actor Steven Yeun. Not only did he tweet his support and encourage his followers to buy their debut album (Hwang and Yeun have been friends since before Yeun landed the role of Glenn Rhee on AMC’s The Walking Dead), Run River North takes a portable Glenn Rhee doll with them on their adventures, Instagramming photos of him wherever they go, whether it be on stage at SXSW or at a sleepy Nashville diner on their way to their next show, accompanied with the popular hashtag #glennontourwithrrn. “You have to tote the fine line between self-promotion and braggery, especially when it comes to social media,” says Hwang. “Glenn is that buffer for us so we can stay humble while sharing fun snapshots from our lives.”

Some of these snapshots are playing a role in documenting the rise of Run River North from a local “baby band,” as Chun calls them, to a more widely recognized name. After their album release show in March, they spent the entire month of April on tour with the Goo Goo Dolls, driving all over the Midwest and East Coast, before focusing more on the West Coast in June. Even so, when asked to share a favorite memory from their past year, what sits with Chong isn’t performing with celebrities or singing on the radio.

“When we were up in Seattle recording our album, there was one night when we went to Costco and just bought a bunch of food to prepare a feast,” he says. “It was a long day, and at the end we sat and ate together like a family. It was one of the best feelings. We aren’t a nuclear family, but we’re a family nevertheless, and we remind one another where we come from and belong in this crazy world.

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

Kina Grannis: A New Sound & A New Look For Her Latest Album

Story by Ada Tseng.

It’s been half a decade since Kina Grannis began writing her 2010 debut album Stairwells, which featured songs that were practiced, appropriately, in the stairwells of the University of Southern California, where she attended college. Now 28, she’s gone through much personal growth, spurred by everything from the tragedy of her grandfather’s passing to the joy of a new marriage to her frequent musical collaborator, Jesse Epstein. These life experiences gave her the courage to write songs about topics she may have shied away from in the past. She also began working with producer Matt Hales (also known as Aqualung) to experiment with her music sonically.

In the days leading up to her new album release this past May, Grannis uploaded a series of “Making the Album” videos onto her YouTube page, where she let her large and supportive online fan base glimpse behind the scenes, from Hales’ unique instruments (the glockenspiel is featured on the track “This Far”) to her pet corn snakes, Hubert Cumberdale and Jeremy Fisher, who often joined them in the studio. Now that the album’s out, we follow up with the Japanese American hapa.


Audrey Magazine: Why the title Elements?

Kina Grannis: I was looking over the titles [of my songs] one day — “The Fire,” “Dear River,” “Write it in the Sky,” etc. — and the word “elements” came to mind. The idea of the basic elements of life really struck me. To me, that’s what this album is all about: family, love and loss. Beginnings and endings, past and future.

AM: You wrote a lot of the songs in a cabin in the woods. Have you secluded yourself in nature to write before, or was this a new experiment?

KG: I’d actually never done this in the past. A sophomore album is an interesting thing. For the first album — in my case, Stairwells — you basically have your pick from all the songs you’ve written in your life, up to that point. And before Stairwells, I had all the time in the world to be writing. Since then, however, I’ve been touring and posting videos almost nonstop, so by the time I needed to start working on the new album, I had very few songs to start from. I started doing these retreats as a way to get out of my normal routine, connect to myself and nature, and really give myself a safe place to start flexing those creative muscles again. Thankfully, it ended up being a really natural and inspiring way for me to get back to writing.

AM: Can you talk about what inspired the song “Winter,” about the impending ending of a relationship?

KG: Strangely enough, “Winter” was inspired by a vase of dead flowers. I found them in one of the cabins I stayed in, and they were so beautiful, but there was something really sad about them to me. Soon enough, I found myself singing the chorus. This song really hit me hard emotionally when I was writing it — when I realized I wasn’t singing about the flowers at all.

AM: The song “My Own” features your two sisters. What was it like growing up with musical siblings, and how did that collaboration come about?

KG: My parents had a lot of instruments in the house [when we were] growing up. We had a grand piano, and under it, there were about 15 different assorted instruments, from violins to recorders to an accordion to a Japanese koto. Most of them didn’t really get touched by us, but just having them around led me to really experiment with music as a kid. My sisters and I used to sing together all the time — usually Disney songs, Christmas carols or whatever our favorite albums were. “My Own” came about one day when I was thinking about my family — how they are so unique and amazing and entirely mine.

AM: Looking back, was there a moment when you realized music was something you wanted to pursue more seriously?

KG: Before I even started taking singing seriously, and before it ever occurred to me to touch a guitar, I had that moment. I was at an annual Christmas concert when I was about 15. Something struck me so deeply, watching all these people standing in front of us and singing their hearts out, that I basically ran out of the concert balling. I hid in the bathroom for the rest of the night trying to figure out what was wrong, and that’s when it hit me. I felt if I didn’t make singing a main focus in my life, that I was going to be missing out on who I was.

AM: By the way, we love your new look! Was this just a fun change, or does it feel like the start of a different phase in your life?

KG: It definitely coincided with a new chapter in my life. I had been touring around, living a Stairwells-driven life for the better part of three years. When I got home after the last tour, it just felt different. There were also a lot of other significant changes going on in my life at the time. I felt the need to start this chapter fresh and uninhibited, and that’s when I said goodbye to 19 inches of hair.

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

The Filharmonic’s Breathtaking ‘All of Me’ Cover

We’ve seen a lot of covers to John Legend’s “All of Me” over the past  couple of months. Just when we thought we had seen the last of these covers and remixes, The Filharmonic releases what may be our favorite “All of Me” cover ever.

Fans of NBC’s “The Sing-Off” will recognize The Filharmonic from season 4 where the boys reached the final four. Needless to say, the group has continued to gather fans since their appearance on the American television singing competition.

The all-male a cappella group consists of six Filipino singers: Vocalists VJ, Joe, Trace and Barry, Vocal Bass Jules, and Beatboxer Niko. The Filharmonic’s official website goes into further detail about the singers:

“What started as friendly chance encounters at singing competitions eventually solidified into a harmonious group as the boys discovered their shared genuine chemistry, unparalleled love of music, and undeniable musical talents. Through social network and a strong kinship to their Filipino culture they have found their niche in the musical community. Though their passion for great music is on par,  their combined talents come from a wide variety of backgrounds in the performing arts industry, including pop, a capella, jazz, opera, theater, classical, etc.  Together they honor their Filipino heritage through incredibly nuanced musical performances that are both moving and fun to experience.”

 

Just today, the group released a breathtaking a cappella cover of John Legend’s “All of Me.” Trust us when we say this is a must-see. Check it out below.

 

Phyllis Chen Proves Toy Piano Ain’t No Child’s Play

Story by Jimmy Lee. 

When you tell people you play the toy piano professionally, hearing snickers or getting a blank stare just comes with the territory. It’s something Phyllis Chen is not unfamiliar with.

“People used to turn their noses when they heard I played classical music as well,” says Chen. “But that’s OK. That’s not a major concern of mine.”

The more pressing matters on her mind include finishing her latest commission, a composition for string orchestra and toy piano, which she will debut in April in Austin, Texas.

Chen is just one of a few musicians demonstrating that the toy piano is not just a plaything for children. “When I touched it, it was like how I felt about the piano. I just loved the tactile experience of playing it and fell in love with the bell-like sound,” says Chen, who first came across the miniaturized instrument when she was 21 (it was being used as a prop in a puppet theater). Now she’s composing new pieces and releasing CDs highlighting the toy piano. “I knew that there wasn’t a lot of music out there for it, and it made me feel like I can create new repertoire for something that doesn’t have boundaries and the traditional thinking that is expected in classical music.”

There is, however, a lot of misconceptions about what Chen does. For one, she is not anything like Schroeder of the Peanuts comics and cartoons, playing Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” on her toy piano. And she’s not the child whom producers from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno assumed she was when they inquired about her appearing — they weren’t interested in adult toy pianists, apparently. And some people who venture into one of her concerts might walk in with wacky expectations, like the one time a few audience members told Chen they thought she was going to be a miniature pianist (as in a small person).

“It’s a profession filled with misunderstandings,” says Chen.

Another refrain she hears often is that people who hear toy piano automatically assume it’s music meant for kids. But what she’s playing is verging on the avant-garde, and could even be construed as too arty; it’s music not for the masses. One of the first pieces she performed publicly was written by John Cage, the master modern composer most notorious for “4”33’,” which is 4 minutes and 33 seconds of the orchestra sitting in silence.

So how does a classically trained pianist, who started playing at the age of 5 and has music degrees from Oberlin (undergrad) and Northwestern (master’s) and is nearing completion of her doctorate from Indiana University, end up behind a toy piano? For Chen, it started with tendinitis that affected her hands. The doctors told her to take a break from the piano. “In a way, it was a blessing in disguise. It gave me the actual chance to do my own thing,” says Chen.

Her hands, since childhood, have gravitated toward sonic-producing objects. She was the one who wanted to start the piano at age 5, not her immigrant Taiwanese parents, who moved Chen, born in Schenectady, N.Y., and her brother to the South when she was 1, after her father became a professor at Virginia Tech. “Now, thinking about it, I rented bassoons, oboes, clarinets and flutes — all these things when I was a kid. I just wanted to get my hands on them and play them,” recounts Chen. “It was again the tactile experience.”

She does still play the piano, often with the International Contemporary Ensemble that she co-founded. She has also tackled the violin and yet another keyboard instrument: “I was completely in love with the accordion, and I totally thought I would become an accordion player,” says Chen. She even joined a klezmer band, but bearing it on her shoulders was too much while dealing with her tendinitis. The toy piano, on the other hand, “was an easy instrument to play because of the light touch.”

Chen exhibited that touch at a concert last September at New York City’s Joe’s Pub, while seated on a short stool. Yet she still loomed large over two toy pianos, one in the shape of an upright and the other a baby grand. You not only hear the bell-like tinkling of the notes she plays, but also the movement of the keys as they’re being depressed. And it’s really noticeable when Chen’s fingers are flying across the few octaves that fit on the keyboards. Her instruments project a clangy sound that dissipates quickly. There are no rich, resonant tones that you’d expect from a concert Steinway. And Chen is perfectly fine with that.

“[Toy pianos are] really kind of like a voice. They all have their own weird quirks,” says Chen. “It’s funny, but I’ve met instrument makers who say, you should put this into maple wood, and I could tune it for you [to make it more like a real piano]. Well, then, it’s not a toy piano if it’s perfect, beautiful sounding.”

With the toy piano, there are no unwritten rules to be bound by. Rather, the toy piano is pushing Chen to be a better artist. “I don’t feel as musically stuck anymore, or stifled by the classical tradition,” she says. “Now I could finally give myself the permission to do whatever I want and take responsibility for it.”

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

VOICES CARRY: Carissa Rae

Story by Ada Tseng. 

In so many ways, music defines a generation or a culture, giving us the soundtrack to our multilayered, bicultural landscape. And the 10 women we highlight here not only lay it all on the line and bare their souls in their music but, each in their own way, do much to round out a picture of what it is to be an Asian woman in America. Our cover girl Yuna defies the modern definition of pop star with her inimitable voice juxtaposed with a girl-crush-worthy style of chic turbans and covered-up ensembles. We have the gossamer voiced Priscilla Ahn, whom we feel like we’ve grown with as her life journey (and music) goes from melancholy to bliss. Then there’s the flame-haired Hmong American hard rocker and an indefinable artist whose voice is featured in one of the hottest hits of the year. From sweet little ditties to feminist anthems, from odes written in the throes of love to songs that feel more like a cathartic purging, their music moves us, inspires us, rocks us. Take a glimpse into the meaning and memories behind the melodies. 


Filipino American singer Carissa Rae Alvarado, born and raised in Southern California, first started appearing in YouTube videos in 2008, crooning covers of Alicia Keys and Michelle Branch when she was still in high school. One day in 2011, at a friend’s music video shoot, she met a boy, a fellow singer-songwriter named Michael Alvarado, and little did she know that after three hours of talking and laughing, he had told his friend he was going to marry her.

A year later, there was a ring on her finger, and their individual YouTube followings only grew when they shared their proposal and wedding videos with their fans online. Eventually, Carissa Rae and Michael also officially combined their singing personas to create the duo called Us. In addition to their love songs about different stages of their relationship, their 270,000 subscribers can’t get enough of their general adorableness. The 23-year-old recalls how they got all their friends and family to sing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” her favorite karaoke song, at their wedding reception. She admits to being scared of whales since she was 8. She loves jump roping. And they post new videos every “ThUSday.”

“My husband always knows how to make me laugh,” she gushes. “Even if it’s just a silly face he makes. I always tell him he is the most handsome and most ugly person I’ve ever met, because he can make some of the nastiest faces ever, and it just cracks me up!”

The duo recently released their sophomore pop/folk album No Matter Where You Are last November.

First Song: The very first song I wrote was about love. I was about 15 years old when I wrote it. It was basically about when you literally are so in love (in this case, it was puppy love) with a person, he or she is all you can think about. So no matter where you go, you see that person’s face.

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder: My husband and I were in a long-distance relationship for a while when we were dating. He lived in North Carolina, and I was in California, so one way that we coped with the distance was writing songs about it. “Near or Far,” which is on our first self-titled album, speaks about how we don’t need to worry about the miles in between us, that I’ll always be right there with him in his heart. This song was a wonderful reminder to stay strong and never give up on us even though distance was tough.

Favorite Music of the Moment: Lorde’s album Pure Heroine has been [playing] on repeat lately. She is such a wonderful songwriter!

Instrument Envy: I’d love to learn how to play an upright bass. The instrument itself, along with the sounds it makes, just fascinates me.

Guilty Pleasure: Excessive shopping is a habit that I need to break. I personally love shopping and can’t get enough of it, but my wallet (and my hubby) aren’t as thrilled when it comes to new clothes. If I weren’t doing music right now, I’d probably be working in fashion.

Fall in love with Carissa Rae at AudreyMagazine.com/carissarae.

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

VOICES CARRY: Thao Nguyen

Story by Ada Tseng. 

In so many ways, music defines a generation or a culture, giving us the soundtrack to our multilayered, bicultural landscape. And the 10 women we highlight here not only lay it all on the line and bare their souls in their music but, each in their own way, do much to round out a picture of what it is to be an Asian woman in America. Our cover girl Yuna defies the modern definition of pop star with her inimitable voice juxtaposed with a girl-crush-worthy style of chic turbans and covered-up ensembles. We have the gossamer voiced Priscilla Ahn, whom we feel like we’ve grown with as her life journey (and music) goes from melancholy to bliss. Then there’s the flame-haired Hmong American hard rocker and an indefinable artist whose voice is featured in one of the hottest hits of the year. From sweet little ditties to feminist anthems, from odes written in the throes of love to songs that feel more like a cathartic purging, their music moves us, inspires us, rocks us. Take a glimpse into the meaning and memories behind the melodies.  


Born and raised in Virginia, Vietnamese American Thao Nguyen began playing guitar and writing songs as a pre-teen, before starting the alternative folk rock band Thao & The Get Down Stay Down with two of her College of William & Mary classmates in 2005. Last year, after years of touring and numerous albums, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down released their third full-length record, We the Common, which was inspired by Nguyen’s volunteer work at the California Coalition for Women Prisoners in San Francisco, Calif. The title track, “We The Common [For Valerie Bolden]” is dedicated to the first prisoner Nguyen ever met. Though Bolden, who is serving life without parole, has not heard the song — there are strict rules about bringing music into prison — Nguyen has read her the lyrics. “I just had a very intense interaction with her that stayed with me,” remembers the 29-year-old. “She talked about how she doesn’t want to die in there. She wants to see her daughter. I was struck by how lighthearted and casual our conversation was, yet it was punctuated with very poignant moments.”

“The Feeling Kind,” their latest music video for another single off the new album, made local news when the California Highway Patrol had to halt the shoot mid-production. It was the first music video to be shot on the new San Francisco-Oak- land Bay Bridge after it opened last September. “We had a salsa dancer dressed in full carnival regalia,” explains Nguyen, “and the outfit was beautiful but also revealing. I think traffic on the bridge came to a dead stop.” Luckily, they had gotten enough footage to make the parade-themed video.

After finishing up their We the Common tour early this year, Nguyen and her bandmates will begin working on their new album, tentatively scheduled for early 2015.

First Musical Memory: Listening to Smokey Robinson for the first time on the radio. And playing my brother’s Casio keyboard.

First Song: The first song I ever wrote was a rap song in the third grade. I had a choice to write a book report on Charlotte’s Web or to do something else, so I wrote a rap about Charlotte’s Web. My secret dream was to become a rapper, so it was a no- brainer that I would do a rap song at that age.

Best Advice: When I was 17 and living in Virginia, in the suburbs of D.C., I went to a small coffee shop show to see one of my favorite musicians, Erin McKeown. I got her to sign something, and I told her, “My dream is to do what you do.” And she was very direct and straightforward with me. She said, “It’s not a dream. You just do it.” I took that to heart, and she was right.

Inspirations: I looked up to Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders, Cowboy Junkies and country blues players. I didn’t know any Asian American musicians when I was growing up, so I want young [Asian American] girls today to see that it’s a possibility to make music your career.

 

Check out Thao & The Get Down Stay Down at AudreyMagazine.com/thaonguyen

 

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

VOICES CARRY: Nadia Ali

Story by Ada Tseng. 

In so many ways, music defines a generation or a culture, giving us the soundtrack to our multilayered, bicultural landscape. And the 10 women we highlight here not only lay it all on the line and bare their souls in their music but, each in their own way, do much to round out a picture of what it is to be an Asian woman in America. Our cover girl Yuna defies the modern definition of pop star with her inimitable voice juxtaposed with a girl-crush-worthy style of chic turbans and covered-up ensembles. We have the gossamer voiced Priscilla Ahn, whom we feel like we’ve grown with as her life journey (and music) goes from melancholy to bliss. Then there’s the flame-haired Hmong American hard rocker and an indefinable artist whose voice is featured in one of the hottest hits of the year. From sweet little ditties to feminist anthems, from odes written in the throes of love to songs that feel more like a cathartic purging, their music moves us, inspires us, rocks us. Take a glimpse into the meaning and memories behind the melodies.  


Nadia Ali first garnered attention in 2001 for her band iiO’s hit single “Rapture,” the quintessential early 2000s dance song that inspired partygoers to get on their feet and lose themselves amongst the strobe lights.

The Pakistani American songbird was first introduced to dance music by the likes of C+C Music Factory and Cece Peniston as a teenager frequenting New York City nightclubs. By 17, she had met producer Markus Moser, who’d be her collaborator in iiO, and in the years after, she’d debut as a solo artist with her 2009 album Embers, which included the Grammy-nominated single “Fantasy.”

Last year brought not only a new marriage but also a move from New York to Los Angeles (“There is inspiration everywhere in L.A.,” gushes Ali), and she’s currently working on a new album called Phoenix, set to be released this year.

First Musical Memory: I must have been about 3 years old. It had to do with watching Bollywood movies. They’re all musicals.

Musical Inspirations: What made me want to get into music was actually a cartoon called Jem and the Holograms. That’s what really made me want to be a singer. Then Madonna, of course.

Personal Inspirations: My husband. When I first met my husband, we remained friends for nearly a year before we dated. In that time, I had such a big crush on him, and I didn’t know if he was interested. And out of that came a lot of songs, like “Must Be The Love,” which I released with Arty and BT last year.

 Get your dance on with Nadia Ali’s “Rapture” video and more at AudreyMagazine.com/nadiaali

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

VOICES CARRY: Teresa Lee

Story by Ada Tseng.

In so many ways, music defines a generation or a culture, giving us the soundtrack to our multilayered, bicultural landscape. And the 10 women we highlight here not only lay it all on the line and bare their souls in their music but, each in their own way, do much to round out a picture of what it is to be an Asian woman in America. Our cover girl Yuna defies the modern definition of pop star with her inimitable voice juxtaposed with a girl-crush-worthy style of chic turbans and covered-up ensembles. We have the gossamer voiced Priscilla Ahn, whom we feel like we’ve grown with as her life journey (and music) goes from melancholy to bliss. Then there’s the flame-haired Hmong American hard rocker and an indefinable artist whose voice is featured in one of the hottest hits of the year. From sweet little ditties to feminist anthems, from odes written in the throes of love to songs that feel more like a cathartic purging, their music moves us, inspires us, rocks us. Take a glimpse into the meaning and memories behind the melodies. 


 

Teresa Lee first met her PaperDoll bandmate (and husband) Patrick Moloney at an open mic in New York’s Lower East Side. She was a Chinese-Thai-Taiwanese American singer-songwriter who played piano, he was a guitarist, and they joined together with Jack Koch and Will Haywood Smith to form the pop-rock group PaperDoll.

Two albums later (2008’s Ballad Nerd Pop, then 2012’s Sashimi Deluxe) as well as tours all over the world, from the U.S. to China (they were first invited to perform in Shanghai for the 2010 World Expo and have been rocking out around the country since), Lee finally decided to take a break at the end of last year to enjoy her last months of pregnancy with her and Moloney’s first baby. While the 28-year-old is counting down the days to new motherhood (“I know this sounds insane, but I swear the baby is tapping out very distinct rhythms in my belly,” says Lee), she continues to write music — country music, of all things — and can’t wait to take their child on tour with them one day.

First Song: The first song I wrote that I was proud of was called “I Just Lied.” It was on an EP I had out in 2004, and it was about being lost, but embracing what you’re feeling at the moment, even if it’s nothing. The lyrics were: I don’t need to know right now how to feel / It’s too soon to tell, wouldn’t know what to do anyhow. Someone told me, “My friend passed away, and this song helped me through it.” It was the first time I was really proud of my work, and it gave me a lot of confidence to move forward.

First Musical Inspirations: I used to say this as a joke, but now I think it’s true. Remember Tia Carrere’s character in Wayne’s World? The movie came out when I was like 7, and she was a kickass girl that vaguely looked like me, a singer who played bass, and I remember thinking, “Oh, that’s a possibility!” [Laughs] Also, Jem and the Holograms.

But if we’re talking about people who aren’t fictional: Emily Haines from Metric and Tori Amos. My friend’s older sister had [Amos’] album Little Earthquakes, and I remember thinking I didn’t know that music could be that good.

Personal Inspirations: My mom has been so fearless and encouraging of my music, in a way that I didn’t even realize was unique until I was an adult. I honestly didn’t know that Asian parents wanting you to take the safe route [and be a doctor, engineer or lawyer] was a stereotype until I went to college and read about it in books. She always wanted me and my brothers and sisters to do something that inspired us, and I can’t thank her enough for that.

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

VOICES CARRY: Chhom Nimol

Story by Ada Tseng. 

In so many ways, music defines a generation or a culture, giving us the soundtrack to our multilayered, bicultural landscape. And the 10 women we highlight here not only lay it all on the line and bare their souls in their music but, each in their own way, do much to round out a picture of what it is to be an Asian woman in America. Our cover girl Yuna defies the modern definition of pop star with her inimitable voice juxtaposed with a girl-crush-worthy style of chic turbans and covered-up ensembles. We have the gossamer voiced Priscilla Ahn, whom we feel like we’ve grown with as her life journey (and music) goes from melancholy to bliss. Then there’s the flame-haired Hmong American hard rocker and an indefinable artist whose voice is featured in one of the hottest hits of the year. From sweet little ditties to feminist anthems, from odes written in the throes of love to songs that feel more like a cathartic purging, their music moves us, inspires us, rocks us. Take a glimpse into the meaning and memories behind the melodies. 


Chhom Nimol, 35, the lead singer of the Los Angeles band Dengue Fever, is part of a family of well-known musicians in Cambodia. Chhom’s brothers and sisters taught her how to sing while they were growing up in a refugee camp in Thailand, just across the border from Cambodia, during the Khmer Rouge regime.

Upon their safe return to Cambodia, Chhom made a name for herself by winning a national singing contest, and shortly after she moved to the U.S., her American bandmates Ethan and Zac Holtzman discovered her in a Long Beach nightclub. They were looking for a vocalist to sing in Khmer so they could record covers of Cambodian psychedelic rock. Chhom agreed to join their band in 2001; 13 years and seven albums later, Dengue Fever released their latest EP, Girl from the North, last December, and another new record is already in the works.

First Musical Memory: When I was 6 or 7, I remember going to a neighbor’s place, and we would listen to music on their radio. Mostly it was Khmer-Surin music, a mix of Thai country songs with Khmer lyrics that is popular near the border. I still love that music so much; it has good memories for me.

First Song: I was about 18 years old, on a singing trip to Australia. I really liked this Cambodian man so much, but he already had a girlfriend. I was young. My heart was broken, and I wrote my first song. The English translation of the title is “In This Life We Cannot Be Together.” It is a very sad song. I still remember all the words.

Turning Struggle into Art: When we first started the band in 2001, I had a problem with my visa to stay in America. Our car was stopped by the police after a show in San Diego, and they arrested me and put me in jail. I was so scared because my English was not so good, and I did not have money to pay. Plus, they only let me eat burritos in jail, and I did not know how to eat burritos. I was lucky that my sister, my band and my friends raised money to help me, but I had to stay in jail for 22 nights. That was a terrible time in my life. There is a song on our first album called “22 Nights.”

Check out Chhom Nimol’s distinctive sound at AudreyMagazine.com/denguefever.    

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

VOICES CARRY: Hollis Wong-Wear

Story by Ada Tseng.

In so many ways, music defines a generation or a culture, giving us the soundtrack to our multilayered, bicultural landscape. And the 10 women we highlight here not only lay it all on the line and bare their souls in their music but, each in their own way, do much to round out a picture of what it is to be an Asian woman in America. Our cover girl Yuna defies the modern definition of pop star with her inimitable voice juxtaposed with a girl-crush-worthy style of chic turbans and covered-up ensembles. We have the gossamer voiced Priscilla Ahn, whom we feel like we’ve grown with as her life journey (and music) goes from melancholy to bliss. Then there’s the flame-haired Hmong American hard rocker and an indefinable artist whose voice is featured in one of the hottest hits of the year. From sweet little ditties to feminist anthems, from odes written in the throes of love to songs that feel more like a cathartic purging, their music moves us, inspires us, rocks us. Take a glimpse into the meaning and memories behind the melodies.


That girl singing the hook from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ hit song “White Walls?” That would be Hollis Wong-Wear, a frequent collaborator with the Grammy-winning hip-hop duo — and the one who inspired Macklemore to write a song about his Cadillac. “I thought it was the perfect metaphor for his career at the time,” says the 26-year-old. “And he loves Cadillacs, so I said, ‘Write about what you love. Why not?’”

Wong-Wear is a musician in her own right. Though she’s performed in choirs and theaters from a young age, it wasn’t until she discovered poetry that she realized she wanted to create art. “I realized I had something to say,” she says. “It was the first time I was being validated for my personal narrative.”

Spoken-word poetry naturally led her to hip-hop — she was part of the two-women rap collective Canary Sing — and she loved the challenge of being a lyricist, MC and freestyler, especially as one of the few Asian American (she’s biracial Chinese) women rappers in the Seattle music scene. But just as she was making a name for herself in hip-hop, she went in another direction, starting a synth-pop group The Flavr Blue with bandmates Parker Joe and Lace Cadence.

“I’ve never felt like I fit into a box, so I’m always pushing myself to be daring and different,” says Wong-Wear. “In the seven years that I’ve been making music, I’ve done rap, R&B, dance/electronic music and super lounge-y soul. I’ve sung in a jazz quartet. I’m way more motivated to do something I’ve never done before than to perfect one particular type of music.”

Nowadays, in addition to her work on The Flavr Blue, she’s excited about who “Hollis” can be as a solo artist. But don’t expect her to make an album of hip-hop/R&B songs just because she’s riding high on her high-profile Macklemore collaboration. Wong- Wear won’t be satisfied unless she surprises everyone — even herself. “I want to channel that rawness, honesty and emotional heft that I had when I first started out in poetry,” she says, “and carry it through to where I am now, so that I’m always evolving musically.”

First Musical Memory: Raffi’s “Baby Beluga.” Live in concert, the VHS tape. I watched that video every day for years.

First Song: I wrote a song on the piano when I was 17, and it’s about being trapped in the suburbs. Now that I think about it, it was the suburban California version of [Lorde’s] “Royals.” [Laughs] Not as polished, but very dark.

Inspiration: My mom emigrated from Hong Kong to the U.S. by herself, and she was an entrepreneur who started a Cantonese restaurant. So I think I inherited the hustle of being an immigrant from her, and I apply it to my own life and career. Her drive and relentless energy inspires me, and that’s why, for example, it’s important for me to manage the band that I’m in, to be at the helm of my own music. My goal is not to be a singer; my goal is to be an artist and businesswoman.

See Hollis Wong-Wear in Macklemore’s “White Walls” video and more at AudreyMagazine.com/holliswongwear.    

 

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