Inclement weather, early morning shoots, and late night sessions cannot stop this singer-songwriter!
Priscilla Liang, otherwise known as Priska, is an independent musician who has gained a following thanks in part to her consistent visibility in the YouTube community. Known for being a featured singer as well as a cover artist, it came as a pleasant surprise to her fans when she not only released one, but three original music videos, coming off her debut EP, State Change.
State Change EP was released last year in 2018, which was crowdfunded by a successful Kickstarter–reaching a stretch goal of over $10,000. Each song stands on its own, varying in genres from belting ballads to feel-good pop to solemn reflections. There is no denying that Priska is a strong vocalist that can do it all.
Getting an album off the ground is no easy feat; music videos are equally a challenge. To have the vision to put lyrics filled with visceral emotions up on a screen takes a high level of skill. Priska credits her directors directly on the video title, each of whom have an impressive list of films they have worked on.
We took the time to ask what it was like working with the directors and discuss further into the meaning of each video.
Your three music videos, “Fly the Coop,” “In the Dark,” and “Gold in the River,” are not only visually stunning, but also touch on deep subjects. “Fly the Coop” and “Gold in the River” are about walking away from toxic relationships, and “In the Dark” is about a man coping with his fiancé departing from the world. What’s your perspective on dealing with relationships that purposefully or inevitably come to a close?
“Fly the Coop” and “Gold in the River” are songs I wrote as I was going through a difficult break up. I was previously in a long term relationship with someone who constantly talked down to me and made me feel small. I came to realize that I felt I deserved to be treated this way because it so closely matched the way I viewed myself. I grew up being bullied and had very low self-esteem, so when I met someone who looked down on me, I thought it was because he knew me better than anyone else ever could. Once I had a healthier view of myself, I was able to find the strength to leave the relationship and seek out a better life for myself.
I wanted the two music videos to encapsulate what a feat it is to remove yourself from a toxic relationship, because often times, even though it’s toxic, you’ve come to rely on it. Breaking free from a nasty codependent relationship, romantic or otherwise, requires tremendous strength, self-knowledge, and courage.
For “In the Dark,” the song is about loving someone while they’re caught in the throes of depression. It was my instinct to run in and try to rescue them from it, but I had to realize there’s no “solution” for depression. The best thing I could do was sit with them where they were, often in complete silence. The music video focuses more so on grief-induced depression as a way to allow viewers to immediately relate to the main character and explore the depths of sadness with him.
In these cinematic videos, I was expecting there to be a beginning, middle, and end. However, the stories in your videos do not seem to offer any happy conclusions. Why is that?
Interesting observation! I think tying everything up with a neat narrative bow is contrary to how life actually operates. Specifically with “Fly the Coop” and “Gold in the River,” each video ends with the protagonist finding freedom. It’s an open ended conclusion but it does leave viewers with a hopeful outlook.
For “In the Dark,” when we began shooting the project, I had recently lost two of my beloved aunts to cancer. One of them was survived by her husband, my uncle Stephen. Seeing him go through so many different layers and iterations of grief was an important touchpoint in developing the narrative for the music video.
How did you balance what the directors had in mind for your music videos and what your vision was for them?
I was really fortunate to collaborate with very dear friends of mine who happen to be talented directors. I was a Film Studies student at UC Irvine and it was there that I met Roxy Shih (dir. Fly the Coop) and Sheldon Chau (dir. Gold in the River), both of whom have gone on to become very successful filmmakers. I met Vu Hoang (dir. In the Dark) around the same time and have always been a big fan of his work. A lot of the process was explaining my thought process behind writing the song and setting them loose to create a visual concept. I love the collaborative process because 100% of the time, what they envision exceeds anything I could even come close to. It was fantastic on set because I completely trusted them, we had a shorthand that only comes with a decade of friendship, and they brought in crews with the most lovely people on the planet.
“Gold in the River” had one of your largest crews in a production and many locations–in an empty tunnel and open skate park. Were there any particular moment (or moments) during the making of “Gold in the River” that were memorable?
SO much of those two days were memorable. Most of all, I was completely overwhelmed that the cast and crew, about 30 people total, were there to help me tell my story. It was immensely humbling. But here are a few other moments that stand out:
It was raining on our first day of shooting, so when we arrived in the underground caverns beneath a YMCA in Brooklyn, everything was flooded. Instead of giving up, our director found creative solutions to ensure we would all be safe in the water given all the electrical equipment. Bonus: Flooding a room on purpose costs quite a large sum of money, so we essentially got cinematic vibes for days for free!
On the second day of shooting, temps dropped into the low 20s, it was COLD. Our dancers, from NYU Tisch’s School of Dance and Technology, were wearing really thin layers and, between takes, were huddling together for warmth. But the second we were rolling, they snapped right back into action, true troopers, running, stomping, and dancing their hearts out. Also, because it was so cold and windy, our drone kept malfunctioning which meant our director had to get really creative with the coverage.
One of the dancers bumped her head on a low doorway and ended up with a golf ball sized bulge on her forehead. She didn’t want to leave set but we insisted she go home. The next day she showed up, raring to go again. I was astounded by her commitment to the project!
Not part of the question but “Fly the Coop” was quite the experience as well. We shot at the Salton Sea in winter which caused a myriad of technical issues.
First, we only had about 10 hours of daylight so to maximize our time, we had to be on the beach ready to shoot before sunrise. First light was at 5 AM, so we were up by 3:45 AM for hair and makeup, the entire crew was up by 4:20 to pack up, prep gear, and load-in. It was pretty brutal but no one complained.
Second, for some reason, there were thousands of bugs, called water boatmen, that were raining from the sky. It was an apocalyptic scene, within seconds our cars and gear were covered in a thick layer of bugs. Sometimes between takes, I’d find bugs caught between my teeth or fluttering in my hair. I’m still shocked that in the final footage, none of these bugs are visible.
Finally, a few weeks before we were set to shoot the video, we drove out to location scout and capture test footage. After a successful day of enjoying the strange beauty of the Salton Sea, I suggested we stop in my hometown on our way back to LA for a piping hot bowl of Pho. During dinner, Roxy’s phone kept pinging, then ringing. When she finally answered, she discovered one of her credit cards had been used at a Walmart not two miles away. Confused, we ran out to the car to find that everything inside our car, which amounted to about $14K of camera equipment, was stolen. It was a heartbreaking moment, we were all GUTTED, and we never did recover any of the items lost. The only minor silver lining was that it bonded us together in sisterhood and I think that set the tone for our shoot a few weeks later.
In the “Gold in the River” lyrics, I am wondering what “I know there was gold in the river that night when you stole me away/ I saw all the eyes on the back of your lies when you took me that day” means?
“Gold in the River” is a song about discovering hidden potential. In my mind, it’s a tale of deception, where the protagonist of the story was ripped away from her home and told she had no value. The revelation of their true gilded worth is what gives the protagonist the power to escape from captivity. In the line “I saw all the eyes on the back of your lies,” I wanted to play with the idea of “lies” personified, the lies are as numerous and unnerving as bats in a cave.
You collaborated with many notable YouTubers in the Asian American community, such as DANakaDAN, Fung Bros, and Alfa. How do you see your participation in others’ creative projects played a role in developing yourself as an artist?
I learned so much from working with all of these incredible YouTube artists, and I owe so much to them. Working closely with DanAKADan over the years was one of the most valuable collaborative experiences for me, musically. Through working together, I was able to travel to different cities to do music, see how a music video set was run, and get valuable time in the studio to hone my craft. My friendship with Alfa has sustained me through many quizzical moments in my musical career. I love that we’ve been able to grow together as artists and friends.
Where in your songs do you feel you stretched the most musically?
One of my favorite parts on the State Change EP is the background vocals on “Gold in the River”. At the time, I had considered hiring someone to write vocal parts or to fill the void with other instrumentation. My husband and producer, Abraham Kim, encouraged me to just sit with the song and a microphone and play around with it. By 5 AM the next morning, I had something I was immensely happy with and I was grateful he pushed me to dig deep and not be afraid to write those background parts.
Congrats on making it to the first round of nominations for Best New Artist and Best Pop Vocals for The Grammys 2019! Where do you think the current state of Asian-American music in mainstream America is and where it is heading?
It’s remarkable to see the evolution of Asian-American music over the past 10 years. I remember a time where it seemed there was an AsianAm and a non AsianAm entertainment ladder you could climb; you couldn’t really do both, which was frustrating for so many artists. Now, the sky is the limit! I think many of us feel the weight of responsibility to produce great work and hold ourselves to a higher standard because we want to represent Asian-Americans in the best light. I think what’s great is we no longer have to work so hard to prove that we deserve to be in the conversation, we can truly focus on the work. My sincere hope is that, down the line, AsianAm youths never even have an INKLING of doubt that their voice and stories are valid. I think we’re closer to this than we think, but there’s still work to be done.
How would you describe the role of being a producer in one word and why?
A music producer is essentially the “director” of the project. As an artist, it was important for me to find a producer with a vision for the music that aligned and complemented how I wanted the EP to sound. The producer has the power to set the tone for the entire project; some of what their responsibilities include is getting the best takes out of each musician and capturing it well, making sure the arrangement and instrumentation are just so, and guiding the process from start to finish. I couldn’t have found a better collaborator in my husband, Abraham Kim. He brought a level of zen, focus, and finesse to the project. It was incredible to watch him put each musician involved at ease, create layers of soundscapes to add depth to a track, and work tirelessly into the early morning while mixing the album. Also, after working on the project together for close to two years, he still wanted to be around me.
This interview was conducted by Jonathan Liu via email in June 2019.