Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Eh! to Zee Avi

I am really excited to see Malaysian artist Zee Avi play at the Media Club here in Vancouver tomorrow night. Even though she's basically my favourite new artist of the year, I've somehow avoided blogging about her since first finding out about her music in April. My first exposure to Zee Avi was through a post on Ukulele Hunt with the chords to her song Just You and Me and a brief description of her heartwarming journey from YouTube uke picker to a US record deal. Admittedly the part that immediately grabbed my attention and had me dig deeper was the mention of her video being "discovered" by Raconteurs drummer Patrick Keeler.

Dating back over two years ago, she had been posting several original songs and covers (including The White Stripes' We're Going to Be Friends) under the username KokoKaina, but it was her original Christmas song No Christmas for Me that exploded in popularity, being featured on the YouTube front page and leading to a deluge of e-mails from well-wishers and label reps. One of those was from Ian Montone, manager of The White Stripes and The Shins among others, who had been shown the video by Patrick Keeler. This eventually led to her being flown to L.A. to record her self-titled debut album, which was jointly released this past May by Monotone Records and Jack Johnson's Brushfire Records. Her No Christmas for Me was also released on last year's Brushfire X-Mas compilation, This Warm December: A Brushfire Holiday.

If I'm not mistaken, this will be her first ever gig in Canada. Don't worry, we will refrain from referring to her as Zed Avi... Based on some of her tweets today, the gig was a little up in the air:

    @ZeeAvi: Wow. What an ordeal of a morning. Up since 6. Headed to Canadian Consulate, told 2 come back at 1:30, found out we didn't just in time b4 10

    @ZeeAvi: Waiting for my number to be called out. Keeping my fingers crossed for same day approval. Big ups to my agent Robin Taylor for running...

    @ZeeAvi: with me. Literally. Running.

    @ZeeAvi: Cross your fingers with me. Let's make Vancouver happen!

    @ZeeAvi: So after ONE whole day of walking, Vancouver is good to go! Ohsem!
Huzzah! This is the third time this year she's been scheduled to perform a Vancouver gig and I would've been very disappointed to find out another show was scrapped. I was originally going to see her show here in July when I found out it had been canceled with no explanation. Then she was re-scheduled a month later as the opener for Pete Yorn, unfortunately on the same night as The Dead Weather's Vancouver debut. It turns out that Yorn gig never happened anyway for reasons unknown. So third time's the charm, right?

Even when you check out her early videos her on YouTube, it's easy to hear that star-making quality in her voice, which has a jazzy Norah Jones vibe. Though most of the songs are performed on guitar, she starts writing them all on ukulele. In an interview I read or heard somewhere, she describes The Velvet Underground as an influence, in the sense that she would write these happy, upbeat songs that belie the lyrical content. For example, one of the standout songs Poppy describes losing a boyfriend to heroin addiction with the head bobbing chorus "The poppy took my baby away from me". Another great song Kantoi jauntily flops back and forth between Malay and English while telling the story of two cheating lovers ("Kantoi" = "Busted!"). Some other ones I dig are Bitter Heart, Monte, Honey Bee, and a cover of Morrissey's First of the Gang to Die. Zee has also been doing the radio circuit this summer, which has produced some other sweet covers:

Zee Avi - First of the Gang to Die [originally by Morrissey]
From Zee Avi's self-titled album, available on Amazon, iTunes, and the usual spots.

Zee Avi - Slow Hands [originally by Interpol]
Zee Avi - Dream a Little Dream of Me [originally written by Wilbur Schwandt, Fabian Andre and Gus Kahn]
Live on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic, May 20, 2009.

Zee Avi - Summertime [originally by George Gershwin]
Live on the Acoustic Cafe, September 21, 2009.

Two dates left on the tour:
December 10th The Crocodile - Seattle, WA
December 11th Roseland Theater - Portland, OR

Check out Zee on the internet:


Leopold Stotch said...

Nice article Fong!

Anonymous said...

thanks for the great writeup and songs, Fong!