Melissa Li
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Melissa Li

Boston, Massachusetts, United States

Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Band Spoken Word Singer/Songwriter

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"A Minute With Melissa Li & The Barely Theirs"

Melissa Li & The Barely Theirs (MLBT) aren’t just breaking ground as a pop and rock band fronted by an Asian American woman. Singer-songwriter Melissa Li (also guitarist) is breaking barriers as an openly gay musician, leading the band with her girlfriend Ashley Baier (drums), Chris Takita (lead guitar) and Darren Lipper (bass).
Originally from Hong Kong, Li got her start with the music and poetry duo Good Asian Drivers. Since then, the band has played nationwide, from San Francisco to Boston, and is currently recording their album, The Beginning, while on tour. MLBT is also hosting their very first showcase “Women on the Loose: Winter Rock Festival” on Tuesday, December 21, 2010, at the Union Hall in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Audrey Magazine sat down with the spunky quartet recently for an an electrifying interview.

Audrey Magazine: Sara Bareilles and Maroon 5 are a few of your band’s influences, but as a child, what kind of music were you into?
Melissa Li: Actually, Sara Bareilles and Maroon 5, being relatively new artists, are not our band’s influences. They’re just what we kind of sound like in terms of songwriting and performing style. Growing up in an immigrant household, I actually started listening to Cantonese pop music when I was a kid. So at an early age, I was exposed to traditional pop structures, even though a lot of it was a bit predictable and cheesy. Later on, I was exposed to a lot of the music my mother enjoyed, like The Carpenters, Simon & Garfunkel, and Peter, Paul, & Mary, so I also developed a love for folk music — essentially, music for the American people. But ultimately, my thinking on songwriting, particularly lyric-writing, evolved when I started listening to Ani DiFranco. I would say she’s my biggest influence.
Ashley Baier: Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Led Zeppelin, and musicals.
Chris Takita: Green Day, Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer.
Darren Lipper: Nirvana.
AM: Being born in Hong Kong, how has that played a role in your identity? How do you define yourself?
ML: I am a Chinese American who has a strong connection with my cultural history. I grew up primarily influenced by American identity and values, and I’m very proud to be American, but I grew up facing a lot of racism and isolation because of my background, so I’m very passionate about positive representation in society for other Asian Americans, specifically dispelling negative stereotypes and creating our own place in this country.

AM: In your bio it says, “juggling both the personal and professional is not without its challenges.” Can you give us a few of those challenges?
ML: Our drummer Ashley Baier is my girlfriend and we live together and play music together in our home. She’s been playing music since she was 7 or 8, so she and I both have decades of experience with music. We both care a lot about what we do, we’re passionate about the band, and we have strong opinions. That’s where sometimes it can be challenging, for example, disagreeing about musical ideas, what sounds better, who should play what parts, or where the song should go in the bridge.
AB: We are both opinionated about the music, and we’ll argue passionately about it, and get angry at each other.
ML: But then we take it out of the band room and into the bedroom.

AM: If you were to sell your band in one word, what word would that be? Also, what sets MLBT apart from other bands?
AB: Addictive.
CT: Sassy.
DL: What sets us apart is that the bass player is the hairiest bass player that ever existed.
ML: And you have an Asian American female lead singer singing rock music. That doesn’t happen very often.
AB: Also, we’re not bound to any one style. We play some country, some rock, some blues, some jazz, some jam-band music. But ultimately, we have a lot of fun and the tunes are catchy and addictive.

AM: Do you have a favorite quote or poem that you live by?
ML: I do. I actually have it on my Facebook under my profile pic. “Words are vitamins and life is short.” It’s an Ani DiFranco quote, and as a songwriter I do think being able to express yourself accurately, poignantly, and positively is important. No matter who is judging.

AM: If you could go on tour with any musician or performer, who would you choose?
CT: Prince.
AB: Rolling stones.
ML: Probably Sara Bareilles. We would be good on the same bill.

AM: On the topic of figures, who are your icons?
ML: Again, Ani DiFranco is a huge icon for me, not only because she was outspoken about being queer, but also because she was able to take her music and art, have confidence in her work, and build her own empire by herself. She is one of the very few musicians who, especially at the time, was able to have a successful independent career outside of the mainstream music industry. She’s a visionary artist with unparalleled determination, which is what I aspire to become.

AM: How would you describe a day in the life of MLBT members?
AB: Full of laughter.
DL: A day of music, apps, dirty jokes, and chicken.
ML: Darren and Chris show up to our house around 7 every week for rehearsal and we work on new songs and maybe even start a jam together. The boys like heavy metal, so once in a while we’ll break out in a metal jam just for fun.
AB: I’m not sure the neighbors like that though.
ML: Probably not. The other day we did a choreographed dance. AB: And afterwards we drink beer and hang out. All of us really love each other.

AM: Where do you plan to take MLBT?
ML: Everywhere! We want to travel and tour and play music and make albums and inspire people around the world. Ultimately we want to make this our only job someday, because we love what we do and we want other Asian Americans to be proud to have positive representation like us in the arts.
DL: Thailand.
CT: And Mount Fuji. Then the Vatican.

To find out more about Melissa Li & The Barely Theirs, including where they’ll be playing next, go to their official website.
- Audrey Magazine


"Melissa Li & the Barely Theirs"

On July 1st, power pop/rock band Melissa Li & The Barely Theirs will celebrate Pride with a feature at Slack's Restaurant and Bar. This performance marks the Canadian debut of the Brooklyn-based band, who will be sharing stages with The Joys and Tonella. Melissa Li & The Barely Theirs was formed early in 2010 when lead singer-songwriter Melissa Li decided to go solo after 2 national tours with Good Asian Drivers, which was nominated for a 2009 OUTMusic Award.

The band, which channels the likes of Ani DiFranco, Jason Mraz, and Sara Bareilles, includes drummer Ashley Baier (Good Asian Drivers, Just Puppets, Changing Modes), bassist Darren Lipper (Coyote Love, Moonspank), and guitarist Chris Takita (Takaya Kawasaki, Go Yuki). Melissa Li released her solo debut album 2 Seconds Away in 2008 and received positive reviews from Curve Magazine, Bitch Magazine, Hyphen Magazine, and Giant Robot. In addition to performance at San Francisco Pride Main Stage, Boston Pride Main Stage, and Pridefest Milwaukee, Melissa has shared the stage with Bitch, The Cliks, Kate Bornstein, Solange Knowles, Joshua Klipp, and more. Following their show at Slack's, MLBT is set to appear on July 4th at Pride Toronto's Freezone stage.

Melissa Li & The Barely Theirs appearance in Toronto coincides with the release of their new EP, The Beginning. For more information on the band, booking, and tour dates, please visit www.melissali.com - XTRA!


"Voice of Change: Kit Yan boldly speaks out about transgender issues as the 'hot tranny boi slam poet'"

Kit Yan is gender queer. And he's letting everyone within the sound of his voice know that.
In his journey in altering the body formerly known as Laura Yan, the 22-year-old felt he had to move from his Oahu birthplace to the mainland and college in order to feel comfortable as a transgendered person. That is, as "comfortable" as one can get for someone who deliberately blurs the male-female line and doesn't hide it.
Yan is bold in speaking out as a "hot tranny boi slam poet." On his Web site, Yan states that his vision is "to take trans issues public through any channel (TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, etc.) within three years."
He definitely garnered his share of attention as a featured guest at this month's First Thursday poetry slam at the Hawaiian Hut. Decked out that night in cap and T-shirt as a self-professed "walking vegan poster child," Yan regaled a rapt crowd with sculpted verses that were at times raunchy, at times tender, but always upfront and truthful about his transgendered life.

He has a comfortable command of the stage, even using the microphone's phallic shape to humorous effect. There might be a hint of tonal "femininity" still in his voice, but for all intents and purposes, Kit Yan is well on his way to becoming a young man.
It's a life-changing decision that his family in Moanalua has come to accept.
"I have two brothers," Yan quietly said outside after his gig. "The youngest one (at 7) is actually the most understanding because little kids understand the world to be what they see and how you explain it to them. So he understands that I was his sister but now I'm his brother, and he has no problem with that idea. He's even explained this to some adults, like his piano teacher.
"My parents are actually supportive of my life. At first they didn't understand it, but through a series of conversations on gender versus sexuality, they have come to understand that there is a difference and that I am a boy who dates women and not just 'gay.'"
As in HIS poetry, Yan spoke candidly about who he is in a deliberate and focused tone.
"This has been a serious process for me. I was into poetry before coming out as a gender queer. It was only afterward that I started to include GLBT (gay/lesbian/bisexual/trangender) issues, and my transition from female to male, in my work."
He professes to a relatively normal life as a young Boston professional who has come out as a transgendered male to his employers, although "I don't know if any of my co-workers know."
An admitted tomboy while growing up (as well as being an avid golfer to this day), Yan was first exposed to transgendered life while attending Pearl City High School.
"I knew that two students in my high school class were transgendered. While I was watching their struggles, I wondered what would happen if I came out."
A couple of years later, he would find out. "When I was 20, I was really thinking about how wrong my gender was for me. ... We usually think there's only two choices, male and female. I think a lot of people feel it's a binary system that they're trapped in."
He said he always hated his female body but didn't realize he had an option. "My trans role models were mostly male-to-females, and I guess as a kid I didn't understand that it could be the other way around."
After seeing media presentations such as the series “Transgeneration” on the Sundance Channel and, of course, the movie “Transamerica,” starring Oscar nominee Felicity Huffman, Yan is heartened that the day would come that transgendered people will no longer be marginalized. “It’s slow, but I want to be part of that change,” he said. “This is my art, my life, where I’m allowed to talk about anything and to feel accepted and embraced by those that hear me.”

- Star Bulletin


"Creators of new musical aim to bridge cultures"

Melissa Li and Abe Rybeck are not your average pair. Rybeck, 46, is the gregarious and sometimes outrageous playwright and founder and artistic director of the Theater Offensive, while the earnest Li, 23, is a fledgling folk musician and filmmaker. But the two have teamed up to create a musical, "Surviving the Nian," which will have its world premiere tomorrow in the Roberts Studio at the Boston Center for the Arts' Calderwood Pavilion.
"She's half my age," says Rybeck, "but she has this enormous talent. She [has] a wonderful ability to listen, learn, and then almost instantly apply what she needs to the show. "Li, whose family moved to Boston when she was a baby, had never written a musical , but she says, "music is my language. The challenge for me has been writing songs that fit with a character and move the story along. That's different than just writing for myself."
Music director Juri Panda Jones says working on this music has been a treat because it's such a mix. "Melissa has folk, rock, and pop tunes among the 26 songs in the show," says Jones, "but she also has worked in some Chinese melodic modes, which involve large musical leaps for the singers."
"Surviving the Nian" follows 23-year-old Kaylin, who is returning home to Hong Kong after five years studying and working in Boston. She's spending the two-week period of Nian (New Year) with her family and using the reunion as an opportunity to introduce her family to her girlfriend and let them know she won't be staying to help with the family business. The story's dramatic arc takes advantage of the traditional symbolism of each of the days of the Chinese New Year celebration, while also working in themes of family expectations and loyalty.
"It's really about mothers and daughters," says Li, "and I think most people can relate to that tension."


Rybeck and the Theater Offensive have been nurturing "Surviving the Nian" during its four-year development, with workshops and readings through the company's Plays at Work program. Li's talent was recognized from her first days of involvement as a teenager working with Theater Offensive's True Colors group, and she wenton to make a documentary about the Theater Offensive while at Boston University.
Two years into the growth of "Surviving the Nian, " she asked Rybeck for help writing the book. "My job is to help shape the big picture of the story," says Rybeck. "Sometimes I would write dialogue to get the scene going, and then Melissa would use that information to write a song there. "The collaboration has paid off; the team won a Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation Award for New Musical Theater in support of the production.

"I'm thrilled with the recognition," says Rybeck, "but I'm really more excited about the story Melissa is telling. By developing new work like this, we're making this art form accessible to people from different communities, but the story we're telling --be true to yourself --is universal."

- Boston Globe


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

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Bio

Kit Yan is a 23-year-old transgendered slam poet, originally from Hawaii. He has been slamming in the Boston area since he was 18, winning numerous slams in Massachusetts, landing a spot in the Lizard Lounge national slam team, competing in the Individual World Poetry Slam, and winning the world’s largest slam, First Thursdays.

Melissa Li is a 24-year-old folk/rock singer-songwriter, who has been performing in Boston since she was 15. Her music is heavily influenced by Ani DiFranco, Jonatha Brooke, Melissa Ferrick, and other folk musicians. In 2007, she won the Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation award for her debut musical “Surviving the Nian”. The musical opened in April 2007 to positive reception. Li, with a B.S. in Film Production from Boston University, has also directed and produced many videos.