Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Priscilla Ahn has always maintained her musical and cultural backgrounds as grounds for success. Her music comes from a creative mix of her passion for the acoustic sounds of indie-folk music and a love that was rooted in her father’s tastes.
“I grew up listening to a lot of the music my dad listened to, and that was artists like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, even the Beatles,” Ahn explains. “Then in high school, someone introduced me to Joni Mitchell, so I was very, very influenced by that kind of music growing up, acoustic-guitar-meets-singer-songwriter music. So that’s what introduced me to and got me inspired to write that kind of music.”
It was at age 14 that Ahn picked up a guitar and began performing in choirs and musical productions at Tulpehocken Area High School in Pennsylvania. Once she graduated, she decided to move to Los Angeles and pursue a career in the music industry – thanks to an idea instilled by her music teacher.
Eventually the folk singer was signed by Blue Note Records, and in 2008 her debut album, A Good Day (produced by Joey Waronker), was unveiled. A national tour followed the release, and it received approval from fans all over the world. Her second effort, When You Grow Up, was also released by Blue Note in 2011, but despite collaborations in the studio with artists like Inara George, Sia Furler, Eleni Mandell, Charlie Wadhams and Jake Blanton, Ahn was not as happy with the way the label handled promotions for this album.
It was her most recent album, This Is Where We Are, that pushed Ahn to break out of her shell as a musician. The album was released in Korea and Taiwan in 2013, and in the United States on Feb. 15, 2014. Inspiration for the album came from an excursion into the desert where the simplicity of her own experiences at the time gave This Is Where We Are life.
“A lot of my songs are about where my life is now. For a while after I got married four years ago, it was hard to write songs because writing songs for me was always like therapy. Whenever I was feeling alone, sad or upset, I reached for my guitar, and that’s what a lot of my songs are about,” Ahn describes. “After I got married, I was in a happy place, and it was really hard for me to write songs because I felt like I didn’t need that therapy or outlet. So I really wanted to try and write an album about where I was in my life now. Songs that weren’t cheesy happy songs. I took a trip out to the desert, secluded myself and, instead of writing a lot of songs on the guitar, I got a keyboard and a computer setup and started writing on the keyboard with different sounds and beats.”
She combined her vocals with experimental, synth sounds. Her move to more pop-like tunes and an exploration of newer themes on the album was accepted and supported by many.
“I really love the [album’s] first song, ‘Diana,’ because this song was such a departure musically and lyrically for me. It has a lot of electronic elements, but the song starts out with just my voice and a drum beat, which I think sounds really cool together. I’ve never done before,” a passionate Ahn reveals. “Lyrically, there’s sort of a sexuality that’s more prevalent in the song and a few others that I never even tried to write about before because, as a female singer-songwriter, it can be a dangerous, sort of scary thing to do; writing songs with racy lyrics. You can quickly and easily be pigeon-holed in that genre, [but] I felt like I put out a couple of albums now that show who I am.”
From the United States to Asia, Ahn has traveled a lot in her musical career thus far and has learned how different it can be to perform for the rows of fans who sellout her shows from country to country.
“It depends where I’m playing, lately it’s been a lot of Southern Asia, so the biggest difference for me there is the language barrier. If I play a show in L.A. or in the states, I tell stories in between my songs. If I’m playing in China, I don’t do that as much,” Ahn tells. “There is a little bit of a connection that’s lost, a connection for me personally.”
According to Ahn, her adopted hometown of Los Angeles has been very welcoming, especially the fans.
“The L.A. crowd has been so supportive of me. This show that I just did [at Hollywood Forever on May 30] sold out, which I wasn’t expecting. That in itself just goes to show what kind of fans are here in L.A.,” a grateful Ahn shares. “They seem super supportive, and it’s nice because sometimes L.A. can get this rap of [having] a jaded audience, which in certain shows is there, but I feel very fortunate that with my shows, the fans that come are so nice, very genuine and super supportive. [They’re] very open about their love for the show, which is just such a nice feeling and energy. It’s definitely always a good feeling, playing in L.A.”
Ahn – whose songs have appeared on television shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Knight Rider,” “Make It Or Break It,” and films like Disturbia and My Sister’s Keeper – has toured alongside artists such as Willie Nelson, Joshua Radin, Amos Lee and Ray LaMontagne.
“Touring with Willie Nelson and getting to see him perform every night, he is hands-down my favorite performer I have ever seen, which a lot of people find surprising because his live shows are so different from his recordings. He’s just such a badass on stage. It’s very inspiring, I learned a lot from watching these guys and it was such an honor to be a part of their tour. I am very thankful,” she says.
With the end of her own North American tour in support of This Is Where We Are, Ahn is aiming her sights abroad with ambitions and projects that aren’t restrained to the creation of music solely for new albums.
“I’m writing a theme song for a Japanese TV drama, so I am back in the studio to finish that. Then I leave to go to Japan for six weeks to do press for a movie that I wrote another theme song for,” Ahn says. “After that, I am hoping to go back on the road in the U.S. one more time in the fall, and we’ll see what happens after that. I’m sure I’ll start writing again.”
This Is Where We Are is currently available. For more information, visit priscillaahn.com.