Listen to this track by pianist, world-traveler, arranger, and singer-songwriter Asia (pronounced Ah-sya) Mei. It’s an early single “Big Apple Tree”, the outlier to the new album released this past summer Introverse, and her second.
Asia was born in Russia, raised in Israel, and can now call herself a one-time New Yorker too. While traveling and honing her craft, she’s thrown her hand into many phases of music making, from writing, to arranging, to autotune editing for other artists in the studio. The feelings of restlessness and movement comes through in her writing as well, full as it is of shadows and light, and boltered by playing that is the product of formal training at Boston’s Berklee School of Music.
Now in Boston with her musician husband Andres Wilson, all of her travels have culminated into this tune, a tale of reflection on the city of New York, as much a cultural presence as it is a physical one.
I exchanged emails with Asia about her career and about the Introverse record which was released this summer, and abetted by her growing fan base who helped her to fund it.
I asked her specifically about this song, which had been a single before it came to reside on the new record. This is what she had to say about it.
“Big Apple Tree” is the first song I recorded, about a year before the rest of Introverse came out. I wrote the song, together with the rest of the album while living in New York City and a few of the songs talk about life and impressions of the city. I recorded the album after moving with my husband to Western Mass and I felt it was a perfect time to summarize the NYC experience.
For “Big Apple Tree” I was playing with the idea of taking a bite from the apple in the Garden of Eden, and taking a bite from the big apple and how both could bring a loss of innocence. Life in NYC can be tough, lonely and alienating and not as glamorous as it may look on the outside and that was the mood that brought about the song.
I had the words in a notebook, I actually don’t remember the actual moment of writing them but it could have been a long subway ride which is when I did a lot of writing. The piano part on the song was originally written with other lyrics, but I tried to sing along with different lyrics in my notebook, and “Big Apple Tree” sounded right, the chorus came out instantly after that
At the time of recording I was working as a producer’s assistant with David Seitz, who produced Jeff Buckley and Dar Williams along many others. During our free time we would try to develop some of the songs; we’d record a little in the studio and I’d work on loops and programming at home. Not being able to afford a NYC recording studio, I got recording time for the piano and vocals by working there for free. I like that, I may not have money but I had plenty of skills to offer instead! I ended up doing a lot of pro-tools editing and auto-tuning for other artists, (which is) a grueling job people love to assign to someone else.
The live instruments on this tracks are piano, voice and guitar which my husband and guitarist Andres Wilson completed in one take. The snare drum pattern in the beginning was played by drummer Rich Zuckor who volunteered a few minutes in exchange of some studio editing. The rest of the instruments and sounds are programmed, many out of a financial consideration but over time I’ve grown to really like those sounds, and the contrast it provides for the album to the more organic sounding selections.”
For more information about Asia Mei, check out asiamei.com, where you can also find links to her Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites where you can formally become one of her fans.
You can buy Introverse on iTunes.