Interview: The A.M.s
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
M: COOKIE CORNER. Kids are motivated by cookies, well, treats in general. When I was four I took lessons at a music store located beneath a strip-mall escalator, and adjacent to said music store was the Cookie Corner. So by attending group piano lessons I always had hope that I would get one of their generic-M&M cookies. I guess I liked piano, too, so I stuck with it. If I hadn’t gotten into music then I would probably be involved with something visual, like painting or illustration, but also maybe food. I loved working at a pizzeria, and now that I am unable to eat certain foods I think it would be fun to work in a place that could make special treat foods for children so that they don’t feel left out of the fun. I think food might be my love language.
A: Taking piano lessons at a young age was definitely a huge reason for me being a musician today. It gave me the foundation and inspiration to be creative and express myself sonically. If I wasn’t doing music, I think I might have ended up being an architect, for better or worse.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
M: I like to paint, draw, travel, spend time with my family, hit tennis balls aggressively at the middle school wall (notice I didn’t say “play tennis”) spin poi balls while listening to music, work out, find some beauty in nature, write, and hula. I think everyone’s brain needs a break from the usual, whatever the usual is. I can become very obsessed with a project so it’s a good pause for me to step away from things and make a different part of my brain work. I enjoy being active which improves my mental and physical state, and also helps my soul stay balanced.
A: When I’m not playing music, I enjoy being outside and getting fresh air. I think being outside, whether hiking, biking, swimming or just sitting on a beach revitalizes me and clears my head and I think I draw a lot from nature, even if I don’t realize it.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
M: I am from Seattle and grew up in the 90’s. Let’s just say I wore plaid… but I also was playing a ton of classical music for piano and I was on a dance team so I listened to top-40, hip-hop, and electronic. And I was in a jazz band so I liked jazz and ska. I was friends with people who liked classic rock music so we’d watch laser shows in those flavors. I’d go to the Seattle Folklife Festival and hear music from around the world. Every childhood summer we’d attend the Obon Festival, basically a Japanese Buddhist block-party that celebrates the ancestors, which includes food and line dancing. In college I was in L.A surrounded by Latin culture. After college I started dancing hula. I’ve become involved with New Zealand performing arts… all of these things have synthesized and marinated in my musical brain and I pull from all these various eclectic experiences.
A: I am based out of San Luis Obispo, a ways from my amazing bandmate who’s in Seattle.
Being in the Central Coast and with the pandemic, I’ve been more of a solo performer than ever before. It’s been much more acoustic guitar and vocal driven than playing bass in a band. It’s made me think about the song much more and wanting the song to stand on its own without all the production and extra glitter.
What is your dream venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
M: It would be so nice just to play TOGETHER. We’re 1000 miles apart so our in person practices are like twice a year, maybe. So really any chance of playing together is awesome. What I do wish is to have the ability to fill out our songs and be able to play them live with a full sound. We layer so much on our songs that we’d need several guitarists, a bassist, and back-up singers to re-create the songs as they were made on the album. So, if we could have the opportunity to fill out our songs and hear them live, that would be amazing. A few of our new songs could probably use some strings, a choir… maybe a brass band – not even joking.
A: My dream venue, as strange as it sounds, is playing outside, maybe under an oak tree for a bunch of friends and family. But there is something about a nice venue that can also be magical, like when I performed at the Triple Door in Seattle. Super cool place and vibe. A place I’d like to play at that I haven’t yet played at is anywhere I can actually play live with my bandmate. I really don’t care. The Columbia City theatre in Seattle could be fun and maybe the Raconteur Room down here in my neck of the woods.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
M: Tori, Norah, Flight of the Conchords, Kishi Bashi, Bobby McFeron, Alicia Keys, Esperanza Spalding, H.E.R. Yes, I have some love for my multi-ethnic sisters, clearly. Ok, this is a list of people I’d love to meet/hear in person/hang with/learn from. This is too hard. I give up.
A: Wow… that’s a crazy question. I would love to be part of a show that included, Norah Jones, Amos Lee, Edgar Meyer, maybe Sting, and Beck. It might be kind of a smorgasbord, but that’s how I like it.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
M: If you want to play better, listen more. I wish I listened more. In the same way that I know I would be a much better writer if I read more. But there’s this thing called “time” which is always in high demand but there’s never enough supply. Also, I’m learning that apparently you’re never too old to join a band.
A: I would say, do what you love and have an open mind. Be a better listener is what I would of told my younger self.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
M: Listen more. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t be afraid of mistakes when you’re young, that’s the time to make them. Ask for help. If you’re not sure, figure out /how/ to ask for help. I still struggle with that. Have more confidence. Surround yourself with others that believe in you.
A: Don’t worry about it being perfect, make sure you can feel it.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
M: Our entire album is deeply personal (duh, every artist would say that). Let me explain why: it documents the journey of being an adoptee and always feeling lost, to finding my birth parents, learning about the past, discovering new emotions, including a different kind of love that I didn’t know existed, and all in a time where the world was shut in and shut down in a pandemic. There was already so much stress and emotion without the layer of finding my birth parents, but after seeing how many people were dying, I didn’t want to lose any more connections to my past and regret not reaching out sooner. Miraculously, I found them, they’re alive, living separately but both 30 minutes from me, in my city, AND they’re still in distant contact with each other. I could go on, it’s insane. Song-wise, almost every one on the album is a little pin on this adoptee map of discovery. They are all a part of this huge experience.
A: “Into the Chill” is one of those songs that gets me every time I hear it. It literally sends chills down my spine. There’s something so simple yet beautiful in the song that it’s hard to explain. Even when things get dark or uncomfortable there’s that silver lining.
What is the creative process for The A.M.s and what inspires you to write your music?
M: I send Adrian lyrics/poems/ideas and he usually puts them to music with his guitar and voice. He sends me a bounce back and I add in some piano and harmonies, and then if we like it that far he’ll add in bass or other layers. He might do several versions and ask me which I like better. We do this over days or a week or two since we’re living in two different states, but if we’re really vibing on it sometimes these things come really quickly. For example he’ll send me an idea in the afternoon and maybe by late evening I’ll have added some harmonies and keys.
A: I’m sure Mari answered this one in great detail :) We are very open in how we write and we support each other’s ideas. Mari writes words (“the Clay”) and then I mold that clay into a tune. It’s a very lovely and nurturing musical relationship.
Tell us a bit more about your latest single “Torn Vine”
M: I wrote the lyrics to Torn Vine before I ever reached out to my birth parents. I didn’t know if I’d ever meet them at this point. I’ve always felt disconnected to my ethnic sides as I didn’t know where to say I was from, what language was mine, or which islands I should even go visit as my “home”. I had been sitting on these concepts of identity ever since I was a kid and never tried to put it into words. Then one day in 2019 I tried, gave the words to Adrian, and now we have this song. My sister is also adopted. She had been going on her own journey of finding her birth parents, so I also think that was also very present in my mind at the time.
A: Again, I think Mari’s got this one covered. I will say that this song was kind of a work in progress for while. It wasn’t just handed to us. It went through many variations and changes until we found what we wanted.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
M: I like big, encompassing, emotions. That’s what we, as humans, all have in common. We go through similar feelings: worry, fear, love, loss, anxiety, hope, and joy. I want to paint these songs of emotion so that most people can relate to some aspect of them. I like to use metaphors so that these ideas aren’t too specific, and people can visualize whatever metaphoric imagery makes sense to them.
A: There’s always something to look forward to. Things change.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
M: Pistols at dawn – I haven’t lost yet. Oh, musical disagreements. Yes, sometimes one of us has an idea for a song and the other one isn’t quite sold on it. Usually we just have to demo it out to paint the full picture and then the other person can understand more of where the other person is coming from. Occasionally it grows on the other person. Sometimes it doesn’t, and then we’ll try a different version. Luckily there’s only two of us and not a third opinion to add to the mix. For the most part, we trust each other to add in our parts. Our strengths are somewhat specialized and we don’t really overlap so it’s nice that we have our own freedom to do whatever we feel is best for the song, and more often than not, the other feels like it works.
A: Our disagreements are very small for the most part, and we try to not to get too worked up over any one thing. We’re honest with each other about how we feel and communicate our thoughts, and I think that makes our musical bond stronger.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
M: We’ll have another single come out, maybe two, before we release the full album in the fall. We’re going to play together for the first time in June in San Luis Obispo. It’s crazy we’ve written 50+ songs, known each other for three years, and we’ve never played in public together. That’s also what made recording the album fun–playing together and adding in a drummer, too! (Shout out to Jason Edwards!) As touring and performing is difficult for a band that lives 1000 miles apart we’ll have merchandise in our online store available for purchase. It should be live by the time our first single is released!
A: We are planning to put out our first album in Fall 2022 and then record a new album in the fall, as well. I think our plans involve us getting our album/songs out there and start growing a following. We have a few singles that are being featured this summer pre-album-release.