folk posts

Aurgasm Live: Priscilla Ahn

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012 by Michelle

singer songwriter // folk

When we first featured Priscilla Ahn back in 2007, she only had a 5-track, independently released EP available. Since then, she got signed to Blue Note Records, released two full length albums and has had her music featured in a number of films and television shows. And last week, she and Charlie Wadhams released a free EP under the moniker Sweet Hearts. She’s been pretty busy! Priscilla was nice enough to take some time to talk with us about making When You Grow Up and played a couple tunes, which we’ve included below!

Priscilla Ahn – “Lost Cause” (Live)

It’s been a few years since your EP and A Good Day came out. For the new album, When You Grow Up, were these all brand new tracks, or were some of these tunes you had written a while back?

Yeah, there’s only one song off the record that I started writing back in the EP days, and that’s “Lost Cause”. Everything else has been written sort of from the last record until now. I named the album “When You Grow Up” because a lot of those were written in a growing period. I took a lot of time to do a lot of reflection and thinking, and I feel like a lot of the songs came out of that.

Can you talk a little about your songwriting process? You’ve got a lot of layers in your songs — vocals, guitar and harmonies. How do you start off?

Well I write the lyrics and the guitar parts at the same time, it sort of just flows together. I’ll make a demo of it, so I’ll record that part, and then — it might not even be harmonies I’m thinking of, it could be other instrument parts — I’ll just sing them, to add something to the demo. [laughs] But they usually end up just being crazy harmony parts. I’ve done a lot of co-writing on this record, and each process for that has been really different.

When you’re co-writing, do you go in with an idea, or is it more collaborative?

The one with Inara [George], that was completely collaborative. We just sort of came up with that together on the spot. The one with Charlie [Wadhams] — I was late [meeting him], so he started writing an idea he got, which was great! The one with Sia; the night before I was meeting with her, I remembered that she doesn’t play any instruments, and realized it was all gonna be on me for guitar. So I actually came up with all the chords and stuff for that song, and then she pretty much wrote all the lyrics, which was really cool. And all the other ones have sort of been collaborative ideas coming together.

The people you wrote with, they all have a number of musical projects they work on (both solo and as part of a band). Do you feel like they’re musical influences as well as being friends, and who are some of your other musical influences?

They’re totally musical influences, because I’m such a fan. You know, I’m their friend but also their fan. Which is awesome because I respect what they do and I trust their ideas. At the same time, it’s a comfortable working environment because we’re friends, so it’s real easy-going. Other musical influences, as of late, I’ve been listening to a lot of Beach House, especially when we were recording the record. Françoise Hardy was an influence. I was listening to a lot of her music when I wrote “Cry Baby” so it was sort of influenced by that. Who else has been an influence…

I mean, not just for this record either, but also–

In life?

Yeah. That’s such an enormous question, I know.

Well, Neil Young is one of my biggest heroes. Andrew Bird is really cool. Growing up I listened to a lot of Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Beatles. Radiohead was another big one. Pink Floyd.

Priscilla Ahn – “The Moon” (Live)

How did recording this album differ from your first album? I know you went over to England to record it with Ethan Johns, how did that impact the album?

It was really different, this whole recording experience was really different from my last recording experience. Ethan, he works really old school; we record to tape and he’s very organic. On the last record (A Good Day), I was so used to us doing two or three takes of a song, and we’d piece together the best parts in Pro Tools and then — oh we’re done! When [Ethan] started doing it, he had us play the same song all day, into the next day, and I would think, “This is taking forever!” But then I realized how genius it is, and what a big difference it makes, because it actually puts you into the song. Everyone who’s playing is also in the song, and you all listen to it together, and you find that magic take. And for a producer to have that kind of patience I think is really cool. It’s important to him.

And being in England, at first I was so stressed out because I wasn’t going to have all my musician friends around me, and I was not going to be at home, you know? So I was really freaking out about it. But once I got in there, it was much better for me. When I record in LA, I get really antsy in the studio, and I’m like, “I can’t wait to go home” and I’m not really focused. Whereas being there, what do I have to go back to? A hotel room by myself. Being in another country is also a deadline. I can’t stay there forever. I have a plane ticket for this day, so we have to finish. It was just really focused, and made time go by really fast, which was great. It was a really good experience for me to break out of my comfort zone, and try something new. And I ended up meeting some other really great musicians, like Sam Dixon, who played bass, who’s amazing. And Jeremy Stacey who played drums.

On the first album, you had someone play a saw, there was an autoharp — a lot of cool stuff. There were also a lot of interesting instruments on the new album, an omnichord, mellotron, celesta, marxophone. How did you start incorporating all those instruments in the recording process?

Well, for the first record, we just went in there and whatever was available. Luckily Joey [Waronker]’s studio had all this cool shit, and we were like, “Oh, let’s try this!” But for this album, I wanted it to be a little more thought out before we went in to record. For the sake of time, but also to have a sound for the album. I made a list of all the instruments that I really liked, which were a lot of those, and Ethan had a couple other things like a mellotron, and a really old pump organ. Each old instrument brings it’s own character and soul to the song, I think. For this album I gave it a little more thought, I mapped it out a little more. I went through each song and was like, “This one, I hear this, this, and this.”

Priscilla Ahn – “All You’ve Got To Do Is Fall In Love” (Live) [Benji Hughes cover]

The album includes a cover of Benji Hughes’ “Vibe So Hot”. What made you decide on a cover, what drew you to the song?

For this album, I wanted to do a more upbeat song, and I was listening to Benji’s album and I thought “Vibe So Hot” was so funny and fun.

When you were putting the record together, did you feel the need to include more upbeat songs to balance it out? I know a lot of the songs are slower tunes.

Yeah, I naturally just write slower songs and I wanted for there to be more movement in the album. With the first record, I had so much time to write all these songs, without thinking about it. Without worrying about, “I need this kind of song, that kind of song.” For these songs, they were all pretty new. I was definitely more conscious about it, in a stressful way.

Are there any songs or bands that have caught your attention recently? What music have you been excited about lately?

Well I love Cass McCombs. I’ve been listening to Little Dragon, but they’re a little more known. Oh, Blake Mills. He’s here in LA and his music is really cool, I have his Live in Shanghai EP and it’s so good!

Thanks Priscilla!

Priscilla’s recommendations:
Blake Mills – Cheers (demo) from Live from Shanghai EP

Get a free download of Blake Mills’ Live from Shanghai EP here.

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Maïa Vidal

Monday, October 31st, 2011 by Julija

pop // folk

Armed with her distinct multilingual vocals and an array of instruments, including toy piano, accordion, violin and percussion, French-American chanteuse Maïa Vidal crafts sweet and quirky pop-folk songs. Maïa’s debut album God is My Bike (2011) falls somewhere in between the sweet melancholy of Alondra Bentley, charming cabaret pop of Lonely Drifter Karen and Jessica Fichot’s tender waltzes. “Follow Me”, featured here, gives a good taste of Maïa’s quirky, yet accessible and playful songwriting.

Whimsical folksy melodies.
Maïa Vidal – Follow me
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Pedro Luis Ferrer

Thursday, April 28th, 2011 by Julija

modern son // guaracha

Musician and composer Pedro Luis Ferrer has been an active Cuban musician since 1965. In his native Cuba he is famous as a musical innovator as well as a sharp social critic and a master of the guaracha musical style. He combines the influences of dynamic Cuban sounds, including Cuban son, guaracha-style songs with his own lyrical poetry. Ferrer’s latest record Tangible (2011) sparkles with bursts of horns, Latin percussion, earthy guitar and and the tres, inviting your feet to move.

Vibrant spirit.
Pedro Luis Ferrer – Tangible
Pedro Luis Ferrer – Zarandeando
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The Sweet Hurt

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011 by Michelle

indie folk // singer songwriter

The Sweet Hurt, Wendy Wang’s solo project, has been around in various forms since 2003 — since then she’s released a handful of EPs, plays for what seems like a thousand different bands (including The Bird and the Bee, Priscilla Ahn and Obi Best), and last year, released her first full-length album, The Sweet Hurt LP. The album was well worth the wait; it’s winsome and strikingly honest, and highlights Wendy’s talents as a songwriter and instrumentalist. Like the name suggests, there is a quiet loveliness that pervades the entire album, highlighted by the elegant chamber pop arrangements. Take a listen to the stunning “Things Fall Apart” and the impossibly catchy “Hugs” below!

Heartbreaking and heartfelt.
The Sweet Hurt – “Things Fall Apart”
The Sweet Hurt – “Hugs”
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Javier Dunn

Monday, November 15th, 2010 by Michelle

indie folk // singer songwriter

Javier Dunn may be an unfamiliar name to most, but the singer-songwriter has years of experience under his belt. The Los Angeles-based songwriter has been playing guitar since he was 10, put out his first full-length album in 2006, and has been playing guitar with Sara Bareilles since their days at UCLA. Despite spending an incredible amount of time on the road as part of Sara’s band, he’s managed to release another EP, Vessel, earlier this year. The new EP features “If You Go,” an folk-pop gem that is as refreshingly catchy as it is sincere. His stripped down cover of Miike Snow’s “Animal” isn’t on the EP, but remains a particular favorite of mine. Javier’s take on the electropop hit highlights the plaintive lyrics without sacrificing a groove that keeps the track moving. Like, “If You Go,” Dunn’s version of “Animal” is vulnerable, heartfelt and unerringly catchy. Take a listen to both tracks below and see for yourself!

Gorgeous melodies and aching lyrics.
Javier Dunn – “If You Go”
Javier Dunn – “Animal” (Miike Snow cover)
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Wednesday, October 13th, 2010 by Julija

folk // soul // french vocal

French-Senegalese chanteuse Madjo first captured my attention with “Le Monstre” back in 2009 making her debut album Trapdoor (2010) among my most anticipated albums of the year. While there is very little information about Madjo available to English speakers, she’s the new chanteuse on the rise among French music lovers. Madjo’s repertoire varies from vintage pop influences to Southern folk-blues and tender ballads, somewhat recalling Feist, Yael Naim and Okou with the subtle avant-garde touch of Camille. Une chanteuse extraordinnaire!

From acoustic simplicity to multi-layered beauty.
Madjo – Le Monstre
Madjo – Cracheur De Feu
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Folded Light

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010 by Michelle

indie folk // alt pop

It’s hard to believe that the intricately layered melodies of Folded Light are the product of two friends (and not say, a legion of musicians), but it’s true. Steve Damstra and Jaffe Zinn make up the Los Angeles-based band, who released their self-titled debut in 2009, and Kelly earlier this year. Folded Light’s deceptively simple and catchy soundscapes belie the complexly woven arrangements beneath them. There is an oddly cinematic feel to Folded Light’s music; “Landscape” in particular conjures up images of open roads and rolled down windows. (It doesn’t come as a total surprise to learn that both Zinn and Damstra have other film-based projects: Zinn is currently finishing post-production on his first feature length film and Damstra composes music for television and film). Summer might be winding down, but take a listen to two of my favorite songs from Kelly, and see if you can’t extend the feeling a bit longer. The hints of lo-fi fuzz amid rolling guitar licks made “Kelly” one of my summer jams, while “Landscape” is a delightfully woven fabric of intricate melody, sweet vocals and humming instrumentals.

Delicately fuzzed-out melodic harmonies.
Folded Light – Kelly
Folded Light – Landscapes
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Katie Herzig

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010 by Julija

acoustic // folk // singer-songwriter

You might have heard Katie Herzig’s lovely vocals by now on Grey’s Anatomy, NPR or KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic. Katie embodies the qualities of a true Aurgasm darling: appealing voice, captivating songwriting skills and a Southern charm. While the work of the Nashville-based songstress carry country influences, her repertoire is much richer than that. “I Want To Belong To You”, Apple Tree (2008), displays Katie’s melancholic yet playful, intimate and emotive songwriting. “Two Hearts Are Better Than One”, from her Live in Studio: Acoustic Trio (2009) release, delivers charming whistling, rhythmic verses and Katie’s sweet vocals.

Whimsical Southern folk melodies.
Katie Herzig – I Want To Belong To You
Katie Herzig – Two Hearts Are Better Than One
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Duke Special

Friday, June 25th, 2010 by Julija

bohemian retro ballad // singer-songwriter

Belfast artist Duke Special, a.k.a. Peter Wilson, is a de-facto Vaudeville revivalist. Duke’s songwriting is highly theatrical and colourful, somewhat recalling the aching beauty of such artists as Rufus Wainwright and Antony Hegarty as well as the Dresden Dolls’ cabaret extravaganza. In “Our Love Goes Deeper Than This” Duke merges a variety of inspirations such as melodramatic Vaudeville, big band and Bebop with rich and bouncy piano, clarinet, trumpet, drums and quirky sound effects. “Wanda, darling of the Jockey Club”, taken from his latest release The Stage, The Book And The Silver Screen (2010), parades the jaunty and retro swinging side of Duke’s song crafting.

Bittersweet Vaudeville melodies.
Duke Special – Our Love Goes Deeper Than This
Duke Special – Wanda, Darling Of The Jockey Club
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April Smith and the Great Picture Show

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010 by Michelle

cabaret // folk pop // singer-songwriter

If you think that April Smith and the Great Picture Show sounds like the name of some 1930s vaudeville act — well, you wouldn’t be so far off. The upbeat and retro stylings of April Smith and her band bring to mind cabaret acts, jazz, and swing with an indie twist. As we saw at SXSW, there’s a swagger to her live set as well as the band’s recordings. April’s brassy vocals are well matched by the myriad of instruments backing her, including piano, upright bass, horns, accordion, drums, guitar and even a ukulele. Her album, Songs For A Sinking Ship, was a true-blue grassroots effort, financed by her fans on and the result is stunning, quirky and lively. This is burlesque with a swagger… and a heart. Take a listen to “Colors” and “Movie Loves A Screen” below and just try to refrain from clapping along.

Boisterous indie pop meets swingin’ cabaret.
April Smith and the Great Picture Show – Colors
April Smith and the Great Picture Show – Movie Loves A Screen
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