Priscilla Ahn found her new album This Is Where We Are difficult to write. Why? Because, notes the 30-year-old Laurel Canyon resident, she's in love.
“A lot of my older songs are about wanting to be loved or feeling like I belonged somewhere,” says the singer-songwriter, who performs at Hollywood Forever Cemetery's Masonic Lodge tonight.
But then she married actor Michael Weston (House, Six Feet Under, Scrubs) in 2010 and things fell into place. She was suddenly finding it difficult not to write, in her words, “super happy cheesy songs.”
After collaborating with soul-folk singer Amos Lee on his 2006 release Supply and Demand, put out by Blue Note Records, Ahn joined him on the label. Also on the imprint? Norah Jones, to whom Ahn is often compared. With her delicate, acoustic guitar-driven folk songs, Ahn was part of a wave of artists that helped usher in a new sound to the historically jazz-focused label.
Her debut album, 2008's A Good Day, received international acclaim – especially in Japan, though the half-Korean Ahn isn't sure why. Her singles “Dream” and “Find My Way Back Home” were featured in films like Disturbia and on shows like So You Think You Can Dance. After touring with Joshua Radin, Ray LaMontagne, and Willie Nelson – and collaborating with Tïesto on his 2009 track “I am Strong” (above) – expectations were high for Ahn's second project.
But when the sophomore work When You Grow Up was released in 2011, Ahn felt like she was left hanging. “They didn't really do anything for it,” she says of the label. “It was like it never came out.”
So, Ahn left Blue Note and took to the desert.
[Over the span of two weeks in 2013, she holed up at the La Quinta Resort in Palm Springs, staring at the Santa Rosa Mountains as she dipped in the 1920s retreat's swimming pools, and watching I am Love and Scent of a Green Papaya in an old Spanish-style casita.
She brought the music production software Logic with her and taught herself how to use it. No longer just writing songs with an acoustic guitar, Ahn felt free to experiment and create more self-sufficiently. “I was able to portray a side of myself I've never really been able to show in other albums,” she says of This Is Where We Are, out on SQE Records. “That's part of the fun in it. Just to let it become what it becomes.”
Ahn's electronic experimentations are in evidence on the album's first single, “Diana,” which was influenced by the Greek myth of Artemis. Diana (Artemis' Roman name) is a huntress and is among the most empowered goddesses in mythology; Ahn's inspiration ripples through the record.
On the album, Ahn also felt able to express her sexuality – something she previously avoided – with lyrics like “Love me deep/ And I will throw you in the fire/ Show you all my mind desire…Love me slow/ Don't let go.” Ahn describes “Diana” as “sexy, magical, mysterious.”
“Being sexual can be dangerous as a woman. I don't want to be pigeonholed as trying to sell music through sex,” she says. Being married made her more comfortable in this realm, she adds.
This Is Where We Are chronicles Ahn's departure from loneliness into a new stage of her life. “I feel like I found a place where I belong. It feels so good to write songs about where I am now.”
Priscilla Ahn plays tonight, May 30, at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery's Masonic Lodge.
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