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Published: 2010/10/14

Zee Avi: A "Road Dog" Has Her Day

Growing up on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia, Zee Avi became another example of how the internet can change people’s lives.

The 23-year-old posted homemade videos on YouTube so that a friend could hear her music. The clips ended up gaining a worldwide audience. She admitted that receiving feedback on her songs became “addictive.”

Ultimately, on the brink of returning to college, Avi posted one last clip, which attracted record label offers. She chose a joint release deal with Monotone records and Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records. Soon, she was working on her material in the mellow music superstar’s solar-powered studio in Los Angeles.

Following an acclaimed self-titled debut last year, Avi put out an EP, One More Time With Colors, last July. Her songs reflect influences from folk, rock and jazz with an occasional island twist thanks to her skills on the ukulele.

While her music has its serious side, causing Avi to be dubbed an “old soul” as a way to distinguish her lyrical content from her age, our conversation reflected her bubbly, lighter side. At the time she was perpetually excited about performing with Lilith Fair as well as future dates as a headliner and support act for Jack Johnson’s west coast tour.

Acknowledging that her career is just beginning, she points out the value of experiencing new things, and recognizes that her time with Lilith as well as other stops in life offers numerous opportunities to watch, learn and be influenced.

As the interview, which took place in late summer begins she talks about her experiences now that she has transplanted to Brooklyn.

JPG: So are you running around the city constantly, soaking things up and touring when you get the chance?

ZA: You know, I’m just soaking things up. I have a pretty nomadic situation. Everywhere I go I try to take everything in or as much as I can with every place and everything. Being in New York is awesome! There’s so much going on here. Right now, I’m down at the experiencing part.

JPG: Now, you’re involved with this year’s Lilith Fair, were you familiar with the festival growing up?

ZA: Yes, I was. It’s a pretty big deal, especially for me coming from Malaysia and everything. And when I was added to the bill, word got out back home as well. I’m just excited to represent.

It’s an amazing collective of talented female performers. I think it is definitely such a privilege for me playing. It’s kind of a surreal moment that I got the news I was going to be playing it. Definitely, definitely something I would never have expected.

JPG: Being around all those talented musicians, will it be something similar to when we were talking about New York, the idea of experiencing as much as you can?

ZA: I definitely just want to stand beside Erykah Badu and watch some of her awesomeness. She’s the queen of cool man, you know?! I’m really excited and I’ve always wanted to see her live and never got to, so I’m more excited about seeing Erykah Badu actually (laughs) as well as performing, of course. It’s a really great lineup that I’m really excited to see. It’s going to be a fun summer.

JPG: As a new artist are you hoping to work with others or do you try to pick up either how someone does this or that onstage or offstage?

ZA: Oh yeah, definitely. With any kind of festival, there’s always a great chance to see other artists in action, artists at work. And for me, I try to soak up as much of that as I can and just catch on to some of the essence that makes them really great musicians, that make them really good performers and artists. I’m really excited for that as well. But ultimately, I’m there to showcase my style and my way of performing as well. Every place that I’ve played, it’s always a different vibe, it’s always a different style, always a different feel. I’m very looking forward to experiencing it. I know it’s going to be very intense, a really amazing line up for the whole festival. And even my mom’s excited.

JPG: Is she coming over here for it?

ZA: No, no. She’s like my verbal Twitter. She knows more about my tour dates than I do.

JPG: Are you performing solo or with a band?

ZA: I’m going to punk rock it with a three-piece. I only travel with just a stand up bassist and a drummer and me on my guitar and a uke. But I’m definitely really excited because I’ve been working on new things for my set and I’m pretty excited to try them out at the festival. I just came back from Malaysia a couple of days ago and I bought some new toys and I’m really excited to play them. One song, it’s a new number that I do. It’s kind of like a theatrical piece I guess. Well, not really theatrical. It’s kind of a poem that I just hit on a whisky jar. And it’s just me just hitting on a whisky jar. I used to hit on an apple. It’s more symbolic with that.

JPG: But it probably got messy.

ZA: (laughs) Not enough resonance.

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