‘Yokohama Ratchet Pop’: Crystal Kay Debuts New Sound

 

“Yokohama Ratchet Pop”? Sign me up.

That’s what Crystal Kay calls her new sound debuted in her latest single, “Dum Ditty Dumb,” and it’s the perfect jam to end your summer playlist.

Born to an African American father and a Korean mother in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan, Kay is a multicultural artist who’s been performing since she was 13 years old. And with such a colorful background, it’s no wonder that her music features an energetic and nuanced sound, totally unique to itself.

 

 

“The reason why it’s called ‘Dum Ditty Dumb’ is because this girl is going crazy over this guy, and she wants him so badly that she feels the need to rap it in Japanese, too,” explains Kay, laughing, in the behind-the-scenes clip for the music video.

Sexy bass lines and rhythmic beats are juxtaposed with the traditional sounds of Japanese koto, and Kay’s sultry voice floats effortlessly between English and Japanese. Basically, the track is Beyoncé meets J-pop meets your favorite EDM staple. And the music video is equally riveting, combining 2D animation with live action for refreshing visual eye candy.

Aaaaand, replay.

 

[Photo via angryasianman]

 

TOKiMONSTA On Being A Female DJ In A Male-Dominated Industry

Just as she steps onto the red carpet to pose for a row of photographers, what had been a light sprinkle suddenly turns into a downpour. A member of the press rushes to grab an umbrella, but TOKiMONSTA, one of the four stars being celebrated that night for the premiere of the Mnet America reality show Alpha Girls, laughs and says, “Good thing I have this hat on.” A black fur-trimmed hat sits atop her shock of blond hair — she’s been known to experiment with color over the years, mixing blues and purples at one point — and though a pair of oversized black shades cover 50 percent of her face, TOKiMONSTA stands out. It’s a part of a life she’s become used to, especially now that she’s one of the few well-known Asian American female DJs in the music industry.

Jennifer Lee, better known by her aforementioned stage name, has risen to the forefront of the electronic dance music scene with two albums, a number of EPs and high-profile appearances at festivals like Coachella and SXSW. The Torrance, Calif., native, who is of Korean descent, was ranked by LA Weekly as L.A.’s top female DJ in 2010 and was a part of the Full Flex Express Tour in 2012 that had her performing alongside electronic music gods Skrillex and Diplo. Not too shabby for a girl who began producing music in her college dorm while studying business at the University of California, Irvine.

In a crowded L.A. beat scene, Lee’s music stands out, like the recently remastered “The World Is Ours,” with its softer, chiller beats (it’s the stuff midnight dreams are made of). But what also makes Lee unique is her success in an industry that has always been dominated by males, and non-Asian males at that. It’s what made her the perfect candidate for the Asian pop culture channel Mnet America’s new web reality series, Alpha Girls.

Alpha Girls, which premiered in February, follows Lee, Korean artist and illustrator Mina Kwon, Korean American supermodel Soo Joo Park and Filipina American fashion designer Lanie Alabanza-Barcena in a series documenting their journeys in the worlds of art, music and fashion. “I joined [the show] because I loved the idea behind it,” says Lee of her Alpha Girl status. “Alpha Girls shows the rest of America that, hey, Asians can choose careers outside of the medical field, and they can still be successful.”

TOKiMONSTA (Jennifer Lee)

Lee’s segment on Alpha Girls follows her as she takes South Korea by storm, performing in her motherland for the first time. She jets around the country in stylish streetwear and looks completely at ease performing in the middle of jam-packed, ear-numbing clubs. “It was scary because I didn’t know whether Korean audiences would be used to my music,” she says, “but I ended up having a blast. I hope girls can watch this show and see us all doing our thing and know that they can succeed at whatever they want to. I didn’t discover the underground scene until college, and now here I am in Korea playing my own music!”

Catch full webisodes of Alpha Girls on Mnet America’s YouTube channel or at alphagirlstv.com. 

 

–Story by Taylor Weik

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

 

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!

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.”

rrn 3

 

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.

rrn 2

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