Interview – Priscilla Ahn
– by Shawn Conner
For a glimpse into Priscilla Ahn‘s sense of humour, check out “The Boobs Song”, complete with kazoo (or perhaps Smarties box) solo, on her Myspace page.
It’s a far different Priscilla Ahn than the dewy-eyed gossamer of loveliness presented on the cover of her debut, A Good Day, or the delicate, sensitive wallflower behind demure folk/pop tunes like “Willow Weeping” and “Dream”. Though, to be fair, “I Don’t Think So” does have a nice, defiant lilt to it.
Inspired to pick up the guitar and write songs at least partly by her father’s love of classic rock, the 25-year-old Korean-American (she goes under her mother’s maiden name) moved from Pennsylvania to L.A. after graduating high school. Tours with Josh Radin, the Cary Brothers, and Meiko followed. She sang on Amos Lee‘s album Supply and Demand, has appeared on late-night talk shows and licensed songs to Grey’s Anatomy (of course) and the movies Disturbia and Bride Wars.
We reached Priscilla finishing up her European tour, in Nice, before leaving for Japan then coming back to North America for more shows.
Shawn Conner: I was just reading a blog entry on your website called “Puke and poop”.
Priscilla Ahn: Did I actually write that?
SC: Unless you’re hiring ghost-writers…
PA: Oh my God, I’m so shocked at myself!
SC: I’m sure you are. And then I was reading one of your more recent entries, I think it was about the Glastonbury Festival…
PA: Oh, yes..
SC: And how you went looking underneath all the doors of the Porta-pots, looking at peoples’ feet. And I can’t help but think, Priscilla Ahn, that you’re a little bit poop-obsessed.
PA: On this tour we’ve been talking a lot of poop talk [laughs]. We’re all very open about our pooping. And also I had food poisoning in front of everybody, and that sort of opened the doors really wide.
SC: So who gets to hear all your poop talk?
PA: Well, I have two musicians with me. Jake Blanton, who plays keyboards, he’s very open about poop. And then there’s Wendy Wang, who’s playing bass with me, and then my tour manager, who’s this big German guy and is as sweet as can be. There’s the four of us, and we’re all silly and odd.
SC: Is your tour manager introducing you to some German words for bodily functions?
PA: Yeah, he taught us “caca”! [laughs]
SC: So your background, you heard a lot of classic rock growing up because of your dad? Was he more Steely Dan than Lynyrd Skynyrd?
PA: Uhm, I can’t really vouch for either of those. He’s really into Neil Young and Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett. He’s a huge Pink Floyd fan, he loves all their stuff. As do I.
SC: Did he stop following music at a certain point?
PA: Hmmm, I think so.. I’m trying to think…
SC: What was the last record or download he purchased?
PA: Maybe some Beck stuff? He took my little brother to a Beck show. I tried to get him into Radiohead but that’s not working out as well.
SC: You come across as a huge Neil Young fan, I’m wondering if there’s a period of his that’s your favourite.
PA: I’m into it all. I don’t have some of his more recent records, since the Greendale album. I really love his old stuff, at the same time I love Harvest and “Rockin’ in the Free World”. The folky stuff, the rock stuff, the country stuff.
SC: So what’s this magazine you’ve been putting together? [On her website, Priscilla Ahn mentions a magazine she’s self-published as a tour souvenir.]
PA: When I was on my last European tour, we wandered into this show in Scotland and there was this girl, Charlotte Webster I think is her name, and she made these homemade magazines. And she was selling them alongside her CDs. And I was like, Oh my God, this is so adorable. It had journal entries and little pictures she drew, and it was really personal. It was something I wanted to buy, and I thought it would be so fun to make some myself. It turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. [laughs] There’s actually one page that’s blank and at the top I put, “Your thoughts.” [laughs]
SC: We should do that with the newspaper I write for, just leave a page blank and put “Your news here” up top.
PA: Yeah! But it’s a lot of fun to sell something new, too, and not just be like, “Buy my CD.” But also like, “If you don’t want to buy my CD, buy my magazine.” I just think it’s funny.
SC: So do you have any copies left?
PA: I do. I made a first edition of 50, and I have about 20 left. I’m going to take them to Japan where I hope I’ll sell the rest of them, and then when I come home I’ll print up some more for the U.S. tour.
SC: Well bring some up to Canada, I wouldn’t mind writing “my thoughts” down in your magazine.
PA: [laughs] It’s really fun, some people have given me their “my thoughts” page after a show. And I made my own maze.
SC: Is it challenging?
PA: I thought it was. Then my friend just sort of zipped right through it.
SC: So you have some Korean heritage? Is that on your father or mother’s side?
PA: Its on my mother’s side. My musician last name is from her side.
SC: That must be hugely helpful in opening Asia up for you.
PA: Definitely. I don’t know if it has to do with my Korean last name, but in Japan I sold so many records when it first came out, and now I’m putting out an exclusive EP for Japan and I’ve been over there to tour a couple of times. And I’ve been to Korea once now and I’m going to go there next week for my second time as a performer. It definitely helps, being Asian. [laughs]
SC: I was talking to someone the other night who’s really into Korean boy bands. I didn’t even know there was such a thing.
PA: Oh my God, they’re huge over there! I don’t follow it at all. But my mom tells me about it
SC: And you recorded a Frank Sinatra song [“I’ll Never Smile Again”]?
PA: Yeah, that was a lot of fun. I’m a big fan, especially his early years on Columbia, with Tommy Dorsey.
SC: Is that unusual? Because you hear a lot more about the Nelson Riddle and Capitol Records years.
PA: Yeah. I prefer the older stuff. His voice sounds so young back then. And I think the orchestrations from those records are just genius.
SC: You’ve got some fairly lush arrangements on your album. Where do you see your music going, like what kind of arrangements would you ideally like to have?
PA: Well, I’m one for keeping things really simple and intimate and warm sounding. With my first record, A Good Day, I thought that it could even sound smaller than it already does. But at the same time I’m also into experimenting with different things. I’m open to whatever. I have no idea what the next album is going to sound like. I’m supposed to start recording it at the end of the year and I’m like, Oh my God! [laughs]
SC: The songs you’re touring with now, do they date back awhile?
PA: Let’s see, there are two songs I wrote back when I was 16 and 18,
SC: And what are you now, 19?
PA: Yeah, I’m 19! No, I’m 25.
SC: And how’s Twitter treating you? It seems like you don’t quite have the hang of it.
PA: I have not, I have no idea how that thing works. It’s really embarrassing because sometimes people write me on Myspace: “You never Twittered me back.” And I’m like, Oh my God, I don’t even know what that means.
SC: Well when you do, will you follow me? Or are you one of these people who don’t follow others?
PA: I don’t know, I don’t even know what that means!