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.