It’s no secret that Asian American artists are underrepresented in music. Not many people realize that they are here — and have been here.
Below are six indie Asian American artists that are making waves in music right now, from those who are writing, recording and playing to those who have created their own platforms to make their mark. Whether they’ve toured internationally, nationwide or gained traction online, they do what they do and they do it well. Get to know a few of those artists below.
Toro y Moi
Half-Filipino creative and Berkeley-based singer, songwriter, record producer and graphic designer Chazwick “Chaz” Bundick has created moody chillwave tunes under the moniker Toro y Moi since 2008. His debut album “Causers of This” showed his knack for sampling and experimentation with production as he developed his own personal chillwave sound. With five full-length albums and several side projects (such as creating electronic dance music as Les Sins and collaborating with jazz duo The Mattson 2 in “Star Stuff”), Bundick’s experimentation in sound — from chillwave, funk and R&B to house and guitar-rock inspired tunes — has solidified him an artist to watch. This year, the city of Berkeley even designated “Chaz Bundick Day” on June 27 for his contributions to the city’s arts and music.
Japanese singer-songwriter Mitski is at the forefront of Asian American women dominating the indie music scene. With a childhood built on traveling and living from one Army base to another, her sense of wandering and search for home is something that ties all of her work. She recorded her first two albums while in college at SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Music in New York and released her follow-up “Bury Me at Makeout Creek” the year after in 2014. Rolling Stone named her an artist to watch in 2015, describing her voice as “both confident and sad.” With a knack for turning soft indie-folk music into confessional heavy rock throughout her songs, her last album “Puberty 2,” released in 2016, has received indie music acclaim.
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down
Indie folk singer-songwriter and guitarist Thao Nguyen creates tunes tinged with country folk and blues, something that may have come from her upbringing: Her parents were Vietnamese refugees who settled in Falls Church, Virginia. With a voice that has been compared to Cat Power, Fiona Apple and Regina Spektor, she began writing music and playing guitar at age 12. After releasing her debut album in 2005, she started her work with Thao & the Get Down Stay Down in 2008 and has released four albums and two side projects since. Ever since her move to San Francisco in 2009, she has been greatly involved with outreach projects for the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (“We The Common,” released in 2013, was inspired by someone she met during one of her prison visits) and she also fundraised with Dianna Agron (“Glee”) for Oxfam America, who also directed her music video for “Body.”
Before Japanese Breakfast, Michelle Zauner fronted Philadelphian indie rock band Little Big League. She started her solo musical project in 2013 after returning to her hometown of Eugene, Oregon, to care for her cancer-ridden mother. With melodic, guitar-driven tunes and synth-heavy pop, Zauner’s music explores the juxtaposition between Asian exoticism and American culture. Her debut album “Psychopomp” was released in 2016 under Yellow K Records, drawing from the grief of her mother’s passing. Her 2017 follow-up “Soft Sounds From Another Planet” is more atmospheric, with electropop and folk influences that draw from her personal healing.
Kishi Bashi is singer, violinist, composer and multi-instrumentalist Kaoru Ishibashi. Before embarking on his epic orchestral solo project in 2012, K was the singer and founding member of electronic rock band Jupiter One and was a former member of indie rock band Of Montreal. His music under his solo project is incredibly exciting, optimistic and rhythmic — tinged with ’70s soft rock and synthpop — with his third album “Sonderlust” released in September 2016. With extraordinary musical compositions and lyrics, Kishi Bashi’s music is complex, unique and brings lots of layers of sound.
Los Angeles-based Filipina Angelica Lopez, known as Low Leaf, strives to create a new kind of sound with her soulful, transcendent and organic music as she imbues her music with the electric harp, piano, guitar, vocals and synth beats. A musician with great passion for the earth, she combines folk and electronic elements that mirror her conscious lifestyle. She told Further Future, “I’ve lived by ‘create or die’ since 2007, and since then it’s evolved into ‘Creator DIY.’ I felt this heavy responsibility and fire to create a new sound, to open up portals on earth. I still thrive off this momentum, but now with a more refined awareness and intention.” The 28-year-old multi-instrumentalist has released four EPs and two full-length albums, giving way to her own unique sound that has allowed her to tour internationally, such as at the Malasimbo Music & Arts Festival in the Philippines in 2014, behind her harp, vocals and band of musicians.
Who did we miss?