Singer and songwriter Priscilla Ahn has had a remarkable career since the release of her acclaimed 2008 debut. Over the years, she has released numerous albums with multiple songs featured in films and television shows.
This past October, the folk-pop musician released her latest album, LA LA LA. The children’s album was a personal project of Priscilla’s with further inspiration for the album coming to her when she became a mother herself in 2015.
HalfKorean.com was able to catch up with Priscilla this past October prior to the album release to discuss motherhood, the new album and what she has been up to since our last interview with her in 2011.
Please note that HalfKorean.com comments/questions are in BOLD.
First, congrats on becoming a mother since we last talked to you! How old is your son?
Thank you! He is almost a year old.
How has motherhood changed you?
Oh my God. It is a complete life changer, of course. I love it so much. It is so challenging every day in just who you are as a person and not feel like I am failing every day. I think I am getting better.
How difficult was it to perform at your recent shows and be away from your son?
It wasn’t easy. I’ve always wanted to be a mom, and if I was going to be a mom I wanted to be a mom first. I didn’t have any plans of being a career woman who was also mom. Which is a little bit tricky because I think it is important that I still do my music and show him that side of myself as he grows up. It’s been really hard for me to leave him and also for him because we are so attached to each other right now. It got tricky because my husband is an actor and he got a job and so I had to leave my son with two different babysitters that he had never met before, one in San Francisco and one here. So I had a lot of anxiety over that, but in the end I realized he was fine and I was actually able to focus on my shows, which was nice. And also, when I got into playing my music, that anxiety and that worry just kind of goes away. Even though I’m still thinking about him, it was nice to focus on something else and that other side of my life of what I once was before becoming a mom.
Do you play music for your son?
Definitely! I’ll play guitar or ukulele and he has a bunch of little shakers. It’s really fun because I can tell he loves music so much.
Do you plan to try to teach Korean language and customs to him?
The Korean language part is hard just because I only know a little. But the customs and words I do know, I’ll incorporate them here and there just out of habit. There are some Korean songs that I sing to him when he’s eating food. My mom comes to visit a lot and I’m sure that the cultural things will be introduced by both of us. Like food, the whole aspect of respect for elders, and that kind of stuff. I’m going to do the best that I can! I’m afraid I’m not going to be a really good teacher in the language department; maybe he can take a class or something.
Are you planning to have a Korean style one year birthday for your son (돌)?
Yeah, actually when some friends of mine who live in Korea came to visit they brought the traditional outfit for him to wear for his birthday. I think we will do the game where you lay out the objects for the different careers. His birthday will land on Thanksgiving this year so I think we are going to do something small with our family and there will definitely be Korean food there.
Did you do the 100 day Baek-Il (백일)?
You know what? I missed it. Someone had asked me about that and I had been meaning to, so I sat down and counted the calendar days and it turned out that that day was the 100th day! I blew it and was really depressed about that. [laughing]
Are you and your husband planning for more children?
He’s more than enough to love but I think it would be nice for him to have a sibling. I don’t know when, but down the road maybe.
I know that you have a younger brother too but is your son the first grandchild?
My brother is nine years younger than me and, yes, my son is their first grandchild. My mom and dad ask for pictures daily and tell me that they miss him all the time.
I know that your new album LA LA LA was released in Asia earlier in the year. Was it released in Korea too?
Yes, it was released in Japan, Taiwan and China. I don’t know about Korea. It’s crazy because I don’t really have a big career in Korea. I’m sure it has a lot to do with me not being able to speak Korean. That’s kind of what I have figured out over the years.
What has been the response so far?
It seems like people thought it was nice. I actually don’t really pay enough attention to that stuff. I’ve been getting nice feedback over here from family and children’s world music critics, which is cool. A lot of other moms who listen to my song “Forever and Forever”, which is kind of an upbeat song, end up crying because of the lyrics. It’s about your kid growing up and leaving one day.
How much of this album was written by you?
It’s about half and half with this album. I did a lot of songs that I wanted to cover and put on this album just because I loved the message of the song and thought it would be good for children.
When we last talked in 2011 you had mentioned that you had wanted to create a children’s album. You have released multiple albums since then. Have you been working on this album since then?
It’s been a little bit of both. Like the song “All By Myself” was one I recorded years ago and I was saving it for when I’d finally make the children’s album. It was a gradual work in progress.
What was the creative process like for this album?
You know some of the older songs, they just kind of came naturally and ended up being kid-appropriate. When I was sitting down to write, it’s interesting because I almost put it back on the back burner again. I was putting too much pressure on myself and we were setting these release dates that were way too early and I was like I’m never going to get it done on time. And then I got pregnant. Just being pregnant gave me a lot of inspiration to finish the album. I wrote “Forever and Forever” and “Dust Bunny” and a couple other songs and filled out the rest of the album. And we pushed the release date back so there was less pressure.
The artwork and coloring book for the album are very cool! Whose idea was it?
The coloring book was actually my idea. The artist is this girl from Singapore and she lives in Japan and that was how I met her. Her name is Ros Lee and she goes by the name Polkaros. Her work is so cute and is bright and cheerful. She had the perfect vibe for the album. She told me that coloring books are in right now and I had no idea because I’ve been locked in the house with my baby. So that kind of worked out really nicely. But yeah all of the artwork is all hers and it’s awesome!
Any plans for other album artwork-related merchandise?
I had a lot of big ideas but it is hard and expensive to follow through with all of them sometimes. So I’m just not sure what makes the most sense. I think we are definitely going to make some postcard sets of the album artwork that can be colored in. I think it would be cool to do a bigger edition of the coloring book and maybe some stickers. We are still kind of playing around with ideas. The beauty and difference about doing a kids album versus a normal album is that it’s not really about how many albums I sell on the release date. It’s one of those things that will hopefully have a long lifespan and parents will share it with other parents or give it as a gift to new parents, stuff like that. I’m hoping it will work out that way and we can continue to develop new artwork and things that go along with the packaging.
Will you be having any more shows soon?
Some of my fans have told me that I should do another online show and I think that would be cool right now since I’m always at home. I have already toured for this album in Japan, which was a lot of work, and in San Francisco and LA.
The music industry has changed quite a bit over the duration of your career. How has it affected you as an artist, both good and/or bad?
Like the obvious, a lot of things have become more digital and more about streaming and not really buying songs anymore. I’m kind of okay with that. I know that it’s not so great for the artists as far as making money but I think it is cool that music is so readily available. I enjoy listening to Spotify and Pandora and streaming things and finding new music and if I find an artist that I really love, I will go out and buy their album. It is just a cool way of discovering new music other than listening to what is on the radio which can be kind of restricted and repetitive. I feel like nothing lasts very long anymore. That’s just in general. People’s attention spans are a lot shorter because there is so much information out there. There are so many options out there and so, to me, that is a little bit frustrating. You know people don’t buy an album, they will buy one song. People don’t go see movies anymore, they stay at home and watch Netflix. It’s easier to invest in a 20 minute TV show than an hour and a half movie. As a new parent, I understand, but there is some part of the artistry that is kind of looked over when your attention span becomes short like that. That’s kind of a bummer to me.
Any future albums or projects in the works?
I definitely want to make another album. I have no idea what kind of album it would be and at this point, I could probably make another children’s album because every day I’m making up new songs. I will probably do another “normal” album but I haven’t started on it yet. Probably in the next year when I’m in a new rhythm and my son is a little bit more independent.
Any goals that you are still pursuing as an artist?
I don’t want to sound lazy but, not really. I feel really happy. I’m really satisfied with how far I have gotten in my career and the way I have done it which was by not compromising my honesty and integrity. The fact that I was finally able to make a children’s album is really cool. Also, I was saying at my shows, I played the song that I wrote for the Studio Ghibli animation called “Fine on the Outside” and that was kind of like the highlight of my career because I’m such a Studio Ghibli fan. To be able to do that, which was something I didn’t even foresee or try to make happen, was such an awesome experience. I feel a lot of different things have come my way kind of naturally and I feel so fortunate and blessed to have had those opportunities. I feel really happy. I want to keep writing music but I kind of skipped out on going to college in order to pursue my music career. There is a part of me that kind of wants to go to college. Yeah, so we’ll see. Maybe I’ll get to do that next at some point in my life. [laughing]
How did the connection with Studio Ghibli happen?
It was kind of by pure chance which was crazy. I played a show in Tokyo and someone who works at the Ghibli museum came to the show. At that time, I was supporting one of my albums over there that had a lot of Ghibli song covers on it. He realized that I was a big Ghibli fan and so he worked really hard to get me there to perform at the museum. They asked me and so I told them of course I would love to perform there! This was around Christmas time and I flew in and flew out, it was a two day trip. I guess at their annual Ghibli Christmas party, the producer of “When Marnie Was There” was talking to one of the museum staff about how they were still looking for the right theme song for the movie and how they hadn’t found it yet. They told him, “Why don’t you check out Priscilla Ahn, she just played at the museum.” This all happened in like a two week period and then I got an email at the beginning of the new year. The producer flew out here to meet with me and that was it. I started working on it.
I read on your blog that you had a starring acting role in the Japanese TV movie Red Brick recently. We know that your husband is an actor; would you want to further pursue acting?
No. I didn’t want to do it at all to begin with in the first place. The guy who wrote and was directing it was someone I had known for a couple years and he kept wanting me to do something like that. I had told him many times that I’m not an actor. He ended up writing a really great part for me. The character was a singer-songwriter, so it seemed like a nice fit. But I was pregnant at the time they wanted to start shooting, so I still had reservations but my husband told me to just do it. My husband said if it made me uncomfortable to do the part because I was afraid, then I should do it. In the end, I’m really glad that I did it because it was an awesome experience.
Is there a fellow artist that you have yet to work with whom you would want to?
There are two songs on the new album that are written by this group called Lullatone. They are based out of Japan and are a husband/wife team. I love their music so much and I really wanted to collaborate with them on a song. So they had sent me a song that they had started, the song “Body Sounds” which is the opening track to the album. I loved the song so much and it was perfect for the album but I didn’t really see where I would need to change or add anything. It was just perfect the way it was. So, it ended up being a cover song and not a collaboration. It would be fun to one day collaborate with them.
Have you been back to Korea recently?
No, I haven’t and I think in this next year when my son is a little older I definitely want to take him to meet his family over there. It is definitely something we plan on doing.
Do you plan to pursue collaborations with any artists in Korea in the future?
I would collaborate with anyone in Korea! It would be really fun! It would be a cool opportunity to work more with Korean artists and get into that world. If the opportunity came up and it was the right match, I would love to. Make it happen!
What do you have in store for yourself in the near future?
Just doing the shows and album release was a lot of work and involvement. Now that it is all ending, I feel like I can take a deep breath and it is feeling like Fall finally here in LA. I plan on kind of relaxing and I feel like I have a much better handle on motherhood. I feel like being able to do that will lead to more space to hopefully get into songwriting again. Also, I started a new mom blog. I have my Priscilla Ahn blog and then I just started the mom blog. It’s going to be filled with all of the mistakes I’ve made and the little things I’ve learned along the way that I wish people had told me about and warned me about. Hopefully it will be a helpful guide for new moms out there. I have one post on there and now that things are settling down, I’ll be able to do it on a more regular basis. I have like 20 posts that are ready to go and I just need to post them.
We want to thank Priscilla for taking her time to do this new interview with us and wish her much continued success. We highly recommend her new album, so make sure to support!
We would also like to thank Beth Blenz-Clucas of Sugar Mountain PR for helping coordinate this interview.
You can find out more about Priscilla via her official website, Blogspot, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Interview by: David Lee Sanders