Indie folk songstress (perhaps this generation’s quintessential indie folk songstress) Priscilla Ahn recently took a trip to the desert all on her lonesome. The result of this trip is This is Where We Are, her latest LP, released in the US this February. Priscilla was drawn to this journey in hopes of discovering who she truly was in her current form… and, musically, that form is quite a bit more complex than her previous catalogue would lead you to believe. She apparently has quite an appreciation for quite a bit of indie pop and electronic music, which she also displays quite a knack for on This is Where We Are, which would seem to expand her sonic dimensions exponentially. She’s currently bringing her live versions of her latest songs on the road in U.S. She just kicked off a tour and will find herself at our very own Tin Angel this Sunday, May 4th. She recently took some time to tell me about her journey to the desert and her current journey across the country.
Izzy Cihak: I must say, you’ve released a lot of music in a relatively short period of time. So I’m curious, what is your process for writing and recording… if you have a particular process?
Priscilla Ahn: I have? I feel like I’m such a slow writer [haha], although this last album sort of came together quickly, and relatively painlessly, once I started trying to write it. Usually I wait until inspiration hits, and then sit down to write. Recording would come last, when all the songs were finished, and I’d bang out an album with a live band in a studio for about 2 – 3 weeks. However, this album’s process was completely different. Inspiration wasn’t “hitting” me a long time. It was actually worrying me for a while. Finally, I did what I never do, and I “forced” myself to write. I booked a hotel room in the middle of the desert, with my guitar, keyboard, and some recording gear. I usually write all my songs on the guitar. This time I wrote a majority of them on a keyboard with a bunch of new samples. I found the whole thing really inspiring, and suddenly, all these songs came pouring out. I just needed a little isolation and focus, some new sounds to play with, and a care-free, “this is just an experiment” attitude to begin writing again. As for recording, a lot of the demos I made in that hotel room are the original recordings you hear on the album. All the vocals I did on my own at home. And I only met with my producer, Keefus Ciancia, two times a week, over the course of about six weeks. I loved it. I didn’t have any “cabin fever” being cooped up in a studio for 14 days in a row. And having a few days in-between recording sessions to come up with new ideas, and digest what we’d recorded already was a real luxury.
Izzy: You’ve collaborated with a ton of really amazing artists. Is there anyone that you dream of one day getting to collaborate with, that you have yet to?
Priscilla: It would be a dream to do something with my life-long hero, Neil Young. Or get to sing on a De La Soul song or something.
Izzy: This is Where We Are was released a few months ago here in the states, but nearly a year ago in Japan and Korea. What have been the highlights of promoting it so far?
Priscilla: It was immediately satisfying to have finished making the record, and then have it be released shortly after in Japan and Korea, as well as Taiwan and China. One of the biggest highlights of promoting the album over there was performing the songs for the first time at Fuji Rock Festival in Japan. For the first time, I felt like I had songs that suited a big music festival like that — and the crowd was awesome! Also, I got to perform in Taiwan and China for the first time ever, which was pretty memorable. All that being said, there was definitely a new excitement and feeling for this U.S. release. It feels like it’s finally complete! And now I’m about to kick off the U.S. tour, playing these songs for the first time here…. I’m really nervous and excited all at once.
Izzy: What would you consider to be the album’s most significant influences and inspirations, musical and otherwise?
Priscilla: This album is definitely influenced by a lot of the “newer” music I’m listening to right now: Twin Sister, Gardens & Villa, Lykke Li, Toro y Moi. While I was writing in the desert, I watched the movie I Am Love, which I feel found its way in there in bits and pieces. Also, I had been reading Joseph Campbell’s A Hero With A Thousand Faces, which got me into mythology, which definitely inspired the opening track, “Diana.”
Izzy: Is there a particular track which you’re most proud of, or that you most enjoy playing live? Despite its briefness and relative simplicity, I find “Your Name” to be profoundly heavy.
Priscilla: Thank you! I really love that one, especially for its simplicity. That’s why one of my favorite tracks is “I Think I’m Ready To Love You.” The title is basically the lyrics, hehe. But those words mean so much to me personally. “Diana” is definitely a track that I am proud of though… just because it really pushed the boundaries for me musically, sonically, and lyrically. I just bought a Tenori-on, which I will be programming live on stage to play “In A Closet In The Middle Of The Night,” which is super, super fun. New instruments are always fun.
Izzy: You’re about to kick off a US tour, which includes a stop here in Philly this weekend. What can be expected of the live show? Has your style of performance shifted at all with the shift in the recent sounds you’ve been exploring?
Priscilla: I’m very excited to come to Philly! I’m going to incorporate a mix of new songs and older songs. I’ll be playing a bit on the keyboard, instead of the guitar. I still plan on telling some stories and engaging with the audience a little bit, as I usually like to do. But we’ll see… I’ve never really played these new songs for an English-speaking audience before. I don’t even know what kind of stories I’ll tell yet!
Izzy: You recently teamed up with jeweler urbanNATURES for a contest to raise some money for a non-profit. Would you care to talk about that? How did that come about?
Priscilla: A friend of a friend reached out wanting to do something like this with me. Her pieces were really beautiful, but when I realized that a portion of all urbanNATURES sales when to Youth Farm, I was definitely in. Youth Farm is a non-profit that provides food education to schools in the Minneapolis area, raising awareness on eating organic and local, and even help establish and maintain urban gardens, which I think is the coolest thing ever. And it’s something that’s very important to me. I’m way more aware of what I put into my body these days. Trying to eat completely vegetarian as much as I can, as well as organic, GMO-free, and locally grown. I feel like kids at least deserve the chance to learn about these things, so that they can later make healthier eating choices, or ask their parents for fresher, organic food whenever possible.
Izzy: And what are you hoping and planning for the rest of the year? Anything you’re particularly excited about in 2014?
Priscilla: I’ve written the ending theme song for the next Studio Ghibli film coming out this Summer in Japan. I am a huge fan of their movies. This opportunity is actually a real dream come true for me. So I am very excited for the release of that. After that, there are plans for a Fall tour of some sort.