Artist of the Week: Priscilla Ahn

Music Features Priscilla Ahn
Share Tweet Submit Pin

Hometown: Bernville, Pa.
Fun Fact: Priscilla Ahn once shared an L.A. apartment with Meiko, another small-town expatriate with a talent for indie-folk songcraft.
Why She’s Worth Watching: Shifting between soft-spoken ballads and upbeat odes to love and childhood, A Good Day is a classic folk album for the iPod generation.
For Fans Of: Jaymay, Missy Higgins, Ingrid Michaelson, Joni Mitchell

After spending the past six years touring L.A.’s open mic circuit, crisscrossing the country with songwriter Joshua Radin and serving lunch to “cranky and miserable” customers at an Italian restaurant, Priscilla Ahn is savoring a brief period of rest. "I feel like this is the calm before she storm," she says from her manager's office. "I have no idea what to expect when the album comes out."

The twenty-four-year-old Ahn is referring to A Good Day, her debut effort for Blue Note Records. It's a collection of fingerplucked folk that belies the songwriter’s young age, with traces of vintage country and indie pop peppering the mix. Piano and strings support Ahn’s guitar, but it’s the songwriter’s vocals—clear and quietly confident, not unlike fellow labelmate Inara George—that rightfully hog the spotlight.

Ahn developed her voice while growing up in Bernville, Pennsylvania (population: 865), a town whose remote location required her to travel upwards of seventy-five miles for gigs. Appropriately, A Good Day gives equal space to the imaginative country girl and the independent, street-smart road warrior. She’s a shy wallflower one minute, a savvy power-female the next, and a convincing performer throughout, even when she veers into the Beatles-styled psychedelia of “Astronaut” or channels Willie Nelson during a chirpy cover of “Opportunity to Cry.”

Lured by the promise of warm weather and mellow neighbors, Ahn relocated to southern California during her late teens. She took a waitressing job to help pay rent, but music remained at the forefront. “I’d go to an open mic almost every night to get my music out there, get experience on the stage, and meet the other musicians in town,” she remembers. Harmonica skills gave her music a rootsy coffeehouse ambience, while a loop pedal helped expand Ahn’s one-woman sound into something more ornate. “When I first bought my loop machine, I was trying to use it on my guitar,” she says. “Then I saw Andrew Bird perform. He loops the violin, and I realized I could loop my voice. I love to harmonize and miss singing in choirs, so I thought, 'I should totally stack my vocals up.'”

Ahn began dueting with herself, using the loop machine to decorate songs like “Lullaby” with cooing triads and intersecting melodies. A gig at Hollywood’s Hotel Café brought her face-to-face with singer/songwriter Joshua Radin, and Ahn soon found herself on the road with her guitar-toting contemporary, finally earning some money for the songs she’d been peddling for years. Things snowballed from there; she issued an independent EP in 2006, jumped aboard the Blue Note roster, traveled alongside Sara Bareilles and Dan Wilson on the Hotel Café Tour, and recorded her major-label debut. A Good Day arrives this week (June 10), just in time to fill the demand sparked by Colbie Caillat’s Coco with something less glossy but equally endearing.

Recently in Music