Melissa Li & The Barely Theirs
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Melissa Li & The Barely Theirs

New York, New York, United States | SELF

New York, New York, United States | SELF
Band Pop Rock

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Dec
16
Melissa Li & The Barely Theirs @ Union Pool

Brooklyn, New York, USA

Brooklyn, New York, USA

Sep
30
Melissa Li & The Barely Theirs @ Southern Oregon Pride, Lithia Park Bandshell

Ashland, Oregon, USA

Ashland, Oregon, USA

Sep
29
Melissa Li & The Barely Theirs @ The Green Show

Ashland, Oregon, USA

Ashland, Oregon, USA

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I accidentally missed this release last week but wanted to make sure it was on your radar! This is an unexpected treat filled with folky soul, roots and singer-songwriter pop rock with great crossover potential as is best heard on the title track. There are only a few things that can make really good albums better: Queer? Check! Cute Asian baby on the cover of the album who also happens to be the lead singer? Check! I would enjoy The Beginning even if Melissa wasn't born a cute Asian baby, but I can't be alone in my excitement over having more diversity in the music world, right? If you're in the Brooklyn area December 16, they'll be having a CD release party at Union Pool and will be joined by friends of AfterEllen Left On Red, along with Kate Branagh and the Christie Lenée Project for the second annual Women on the Loose: A Rock Festival. - After Ellen


New York band Melissa Li and the Barely Theirs descend on Ashland to rock the Southern Oregon Pride Festival this weekend.

The four-piece ensemble was asked to perform for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Green Show the same weekend as the Pride Parade, which is right up the group's alley. Front-woman Melissa Li is joined by her girlfriend Ashley Baier on drums, Darren Lipper on bass and Chris Takita on guitar.

"I'm an out queer artist, and the band does a lot of prides. Everyone is really excited when we do that," says Li, "so we're staying for another day to perform in the Southern Oregon Pride Festival."

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Tidings Cafe - Melissa Li & the Barely Theirs
Li writes most of the songs, heavily influenced by thoughtful lyricists such as Ani DiFranco. The group then collaborates musically to breathe life into Li's words. Each band member has a diverse background in music, Baier is trained in classical music and both Takita and Lipper are big fans of metal, but what comes through is MLBT's love of what Baier calls "stupid '90s pop."

"Our sound is fun, upbeat and unpretentious pop rock," says Li. "It's a variety of different genres but always tied together with catchy songwriting. We've been known to go into a little jam band territory sometimes but not in a self-indulgent way."

Li caught OSF's eye in 2007 when she won the Jonathan Larson award for a musical she wrote, and after some back and forth with the festival, was finally able make it to Ashland. Already the band has said it has made friends in Ashland, where everyone smiles and greets each other.

"It's kind of perfect that we were asked to do the Green Show and it was the same weekend as Pride. It just worked out," said Li.

Being an openly gay performer has influenced the band's trajectory, Li says, as far as the kind of shows the band books. "But at the same time, if you listen to our songs, it's not like we're trying to make queer music; we're not preaching an agenda," says Li.

MLBT has performed at pride festivals in Toronto, Milwaukie and New York, and individually the members of the band have played at other pride festivals in San Francisco, Boston and even Green Bay.

"I think in this day and age, that's sort of what activism is about," says Li. "It's not like raising our fist and being like 'look at this issue no one has ever heard of.' We're open, and we're just doing our thing and hopefully that's inspiring to people."

During the festival at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 2, MLBT will perform at the bandshell in Lithia Park. For the past year, the group has been recording its first album, "The Beginning." The band was able to raise funds for the project through donations on Kickstarter.com, a funding platform for artists, designers, filmmakers, musicians, journalists, inventors and more.

"We recently just met our goal, but we have, like, eight days left before the funding is over," says Li. "You can donate $10 through Kickstarter, and you'll get the CD, but you'll also get updates on our project."

For the Tidings Café, the group met at Evo's in Ashland and performed an acoustic version of the title track of its new CD, "The Beginning." For this performance, Baier and Lipper were able to be a part of the audience while Li and Takita played the song as a duo with guitars.

Li is in the process of planning a Winter Woman's Rock Festival in Brooklyn, an event she organized last year but just recently decided to make annual.

"We brought in a bunch of female-fronted rock bands in Brooklyn, and we make a big party out of it," says Li. "We'll be doing our CD release then."

Melissa Li and the Barely Theirs' new album is expected out in November and will be available through itunes or through its site www.melissali.com. - Ashland Daliy Tidings


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


[Excerpt]

Another month has passed, feels like time is flying by. This month’s East Meets Words Open Mic Series featured the talented Ms. Melissa Li. A singer/songwriter from Boston, she wrote a musical called “Surviving the Nian” which received some well-deserved praise this past year. Melissa Li displayed her multi-talents by playing her guitar to near perfection. Her style was unlike any other as she pour her life stories into her songs and we were privileged for her to share it with us in the audience. She was truly an original one of a kind performer. - Boston Progress Live


[Excerpt]

...Alternating with Yan’s acts, Li also had her share of rallying cries and funny self-effacing one-liners, but hers took a different form. As she explained in one of her songs, “My little red guitar is my weapon of choice.” Li, a singer and guitarist for nearly a decade, forsook classical music for folk and at fifteen, met and was heavily influenced by Ani DiFranco.

One of Li’s songs, arguably the biggest hit with the crowd, was “Such a Nice Guy,” dedicated to “the lonely straight guy in the back.” The song, which Li described as “like a lesbian anthem,” had Li trying to make a relationship work with a nice boy, while she couldn’t help getting involved with his ex-girlfriend. When the refrain, “Men just honestly don’t do it for me,” elicited a lot of knowing laughter from the audience, Li cried, “I don’t understand why you guys are laughing … It’s a really sad song. I’m breaking up with him!”

One of the duo’s big beefs, media representation, was tackled head on in one of Li’s songs. The song equally indicted mainstream media, “the assholes who control this world have boiled down to two — the white man on the left and the white man on the right,” and those who complain but don’t want to make change. As Li sang, “It’s a sad state of affairs when nobody cares.”

In another song, Li addressed both image issues among Asians and the importance of not selling out, singing, “They say I’m pretty enough to be on TV, but I got a girl by my side and she still wants to be with me.”

Li also works in film and musical theater, two additional talents that had their small place in the show. During the show, the duo filmed one another for a documentary that they are making about their tour, snippets of which can be seen on their website, enumerating various misadventures that may indicate that Yan and Li aren’t as good of Asian drivers as they think. Li, who recently premiered her award-winning musical “Surviving the Nian,” also wrote and composed a cute number for the night, which she called “Good Asian Drivers: The Musical.”

“You pretend to be an angel in front of my momma,” Li complained, while Yan retorted, “I hate it when you talk about your lesbian drama.” It’s too bad the musical stopped there, especially because Yan described the third act as “a rap off.”

Despite performing on a Monday, “Good Asian Drivers” managed to draw enthusiasm from the crowd and thoroughly rocked Olde Club. In a fair world, these two would be all over TV.

To hear more of the “Good Asian Drivers” and see clips of their documentary, please visit them at www.goodasiandrivers.com. - The Phoenix - Swarthmore College


[Excerpt]

...Alternating with Yan’s acts, Li also had her share of rallying cries and funny self-effacing one-liners, but hers took a different form. As she explained in one of her songs, “My little red guitar is my weapon of choice.” Li, a singer and guitarist for nearly a decade, forsook classical music for folk and at fifteen, met and was heavily influenced by Ani DiFranco.

One of Li’s songs, arguably the biggest hit with the crowd, was “Such a Nice Guy,” dedicated to “the lonely straight guy in the back.” The song, which Li described as “like a lesbian anthem,” had Li trying to make a relationship work with a nice boy, while she couldn’t help getting involved with his ex-girlfriend. When the refrain, “Men just honestly don’t do it for me,” elicited a lot of knowing laughter from the audience, Li cried, “I don’t understand why you guys are laughing … It’s a really sad song. I’m breaking up with him!”

One of the duo’s big beefs, media representation, was tackled head on in one of Li’s songs. The song equally indicted mainstream media, “the assholes who control this world have boiled down to two — the white man on the left and the white man on the right,” and those who complain but don’t want to make change. As Li sang, “It’s a sad state of affairs when nobody cares.”

In another song, Li addressed both image issues among Asians and the importance of not selling out, singing, “They say I’m pretty enough to be on TV, but I got a girl by my side and she still wants to be with me.”

Li also works in film and musical theater, two additional talents that had their small place in the show. During the show, the duo filmed one another for a documentary that they are making about their tour, snippets of which can be seen on their website, enumerating various misadventures that may indicate that Yan and Li aren’t as good of Asian drivers as they think. Li, who recently premiered her award-winning musical “Surviving the Nian,” also wrote and composed a cute number for the night, which she called “Good Asian Drivers: The Musical.”

“You pretend to be an angel in front of my momma,” Li complained, while Yan retorted, “I hate it when you talk about your lesbian drama.” It’s too bad the musical stopped there, especially because Yan described the third act as “a rap off.”

Despite performing on a Monday, “Good Asian Drivers” managed to draw enthusiasm from the crowd and thoroughly rocked Olde Club. In a fair world, these two would be all over TV.

To hear more of the “Good Asian Drivers” and see clips of their documentary, please visit them at www.goodasiandrivers.com. - The Phoenix - Swarthmore College


There's a bit of the workshop still clinging to "Surviving the Nian," which Melissa Li began writing four years ago at the tender but clearly prodigious age of 19. It's abundantly evident why the project earned a coveted award from the Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation, a nonprofit set up by friends and family of the creator of "Rent." The script, mostly sung-through, is well structured, and the music and lyrics are complex.

The principal drawback to this world premiere, staged at the Boston Center for the Arts, is that a few of the half-dozen performers appear to have been selected for acting ability more than musical prowess. We tend to expect a musical -- even a chamber musical conceived on a modest scale -- to knock us back in our seats. Here, the experience is intimate but muted. And the score is challenging: It's often atonal, when not channeling sugary Chinese pop.

Megumi Haggerty, the Emerson junior who plays 24-year-old Kaylin Wu, returning to the bosom of her Hong Kong family after five years in the States, shows tremendous promise. She has a lovely voice, only lightly touched by the tendency to nasality that prevails in the world of "American Idol" and has lately begun to infect musical theater. If her stage presence in this production is a bit earnest and drab, that's a fault written into the role.

During this New Year's (nian in Chinese) visit, Kaylin is trying to be all things to all people: a dutiful daughter (here this seems to mean self-sacrificing to the point of self-immolation) and a loyal partner to her traveling companion and significant other, Asha (Abria Smith), whose full significance Kaylin has not yet revealed to her family. Prior to their arrival, Kaylin's mother (Judy Tan, bustling about the apartment like a windup toy) expresses her concern that the friend in question might be a boyfriend: "I hope he's wealthy and polite / I hope to God that he's not white."

"He" is a she, and African-American, and naturally put out at being shoved into a cross-cultural closet. Smith acts the part beautifully, her warmth offsetting the inevitable slide toward moroseness, but her singing voice projects only intermittently and occasionally wanders off-key.

Playing Vincent, Kaylin's acupuncturist brother, Hyunsoo Moon takes a long time to warm up vocally, and his affect is puzzlingly occluded through much of Act One -- a riddle solved once we're told that he's meant to be boring ("When girls meet Vincent, they turn and run," admits his own mother, " 'cuz look at him: He's not much fun."). Vincent really only comes alive in the presence of his stylish fiancee, Jessie. Mariko Kanto is absolutely hysterical as this fully westernized Paris Hilton wannabe. That she sings like a screech owl only adds to the fun.

Gary Ng provides a gently comic turn as self-effacing Uncle Tony, and "Chinese TV Series" -- his duet with Kaylin recapping the trite twists of a typical Hong Kong soap -- is a cozy treat. Later, you'd have to be heartless not to get shivers when, in "100 Flowers Campaign," he and Kaylin's mother are thrust into painful memories of the Cultural Revolution.

Tan, who possesses a strong, clear voice and pinpoint delivery, is a marvel throughout as Mother Wu, a guilt-tripper extraordinaire and a practiced stealth braggart (in "New Year's Greetings," she calls on unseen neighbors, skillfully one-upping each in turn).

This production has so much going for it -- particularly the ensemble numbers "Another Bowl of Rice" and "No You Know Me" (comic and romantic, respectively) -- that it warrants sitting through the occasional stretch of musical wallpaper. Meanwhile director Patrick Wang's staging and Erik Diaz's design produce scenes that seem oddly constricted, given the ample space. That sense dissipates once a more elaborate fold-out set emerges from the wings in Act Two, but visually it's a long wait, with only Nathaniel Packard's shifting mood lighting to lend atmosphere.

The main reason to catch this new musical in its not-all-there-yet form is to witness the debut of a young, sure talent. Li, like her protagonist Kaylin, is not one to settle for the status quo; she'll be going places - Boston Globe


From throwback sounds to futuristic slam poetry music, Good Asian Drivers (Kit Yan and Melissa Li) make political folk-pop that seamlessly flow while celebrating women on their debut, Drive Away Home. And even though the words are a large part of the focus, the instrumental and vocals are just as strong on the album, with an intense soulfulness that I was impressed with straight-off.

Drive Away Home is very, very gay. If you are into songs about gender, feminism and sexuality, you will love what Good Asian Drivers have for you. Even if you don't consider yourself a fan of spoken word, you'll probably find it pleasing with the music from Li. - AfterEllen.com


West Roxbury - Melissa Li is geared up and ready to disprove some Asian stereotypes, hence the name of her national tour — the Good Asian Drivers Tour.

The 24-year-old Boston Latin School graduate will be touring with her good friend, Kit Yan, 23, starting later this month.

Li, of West Roxbury, is eager to hit the road and play her original acoustic guitar material.

“They speak to Asian-American issues and what queer people face in the U.S.,” said Li, who identifies as a lesbian. “They come from my personal perspective. I feel like these communities can really connect. I feel like I service their voice. People come up to me and say ‘that’s exactly how I feel’ or ‘that song is about me.’”

Li’s song “They Say” is a song that speaks volumes to Li due to lyrics such as “They say I’m not pretty enough to be on TV … They say I ain’t rich enough to make movies.”

But Li has already proved them wrong thanks to her recent directorial movie debut of the 25-minute film “Absent Meaning” which recently screened at the Coolidge Corner Theatre.

That’s on top of Li’s successful musical “Surviving the Nian,” which drew positive accolades after being put on by the Theater Offensive at the Boston Center for the Arts. The musical “is about an Asian woman who returns to Hong Kong with her African-American lover to celebrate Chinese New Year with her family.” Li, who grew up listening to cheesy Asian pop songs, said the play is not autobiographical, but like many artists, there are personal pieces in creative outlets.

Li always wanted to always go on a national tour to let anyone and everyone hear her music that often speaks about Asian-American stereotypes.

“We’re still very marginalized and not considered Americans. You think white, then black. Asians don’t have face in the media except as a computer person, bad drivers, for example, or an owner of a nail salon or a restaurant,” said Li. “For Asian-Americans, it’s not being afraid to get out of the box … I truly suck at math. Algebra I was OK. I’m an excellent driver. Kit is OK. I think he’ll tell you I’ll be driving most of the tour.”

Li’s tour partner, Kit Yan, is a spoken word performer who graduated with a business degree from Babson College, but now makes a living from performing.

“I talk a lot about transgender issues,” said Yan, who is a transgender male. “My most recent piece is about sexism.” But common topics for Yan include racism and sexual harassment in the queer community.

But the lively Yan also interjects a lot of humor while talking, like how switching from female to male bathrooms has not been a pleasant experience.

Also, Asian-American queer issues are a central topic. “To be a queer and then in a minority subcategory is more difficult. ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’ and ‘The L-Word’ is pretty American, and those shows have helped,” said Yan.

“I think most of my work is identity centered,” said Yan. “[Melissa and I are] sort of younger and a lot of our work deals with acceptance.”

While Li and Yan will be performing solo for the most part during their tour, they are working on a couple of pieces together. Li may play behind Yan’s poetry or something like that.

But the duo knows that they may face the problems that they write about in their songs and poetry.

“There will be parts of the U.S. that has never seen a transgender person or an Asian person with cameras (they’ll be video-blogging their entire trip online),” said Li. “I do have fears. I don’t know how they’ll react to us. I’ve never really been outside of the U.S. I’ve been very sheltered, and I want to discover America and not just the big cities and all of the Chinatowns.”

“We have a greater social mission to serve as a voice for the queer Asian-Americans and to be role models for younger generations,” said Yan. “We’re performing at a lot of colleges, and we’re hoping that a lot of segments will absorb our messages.”

As for West Roxbury resident Li’s future, it’s up in the air, but expect to keep on hearing from her in one form or another.

“I always feel like my life will be a nontraditional path. And that’s OK. I know I always want to take the next step,” said Li.
- West Roxbury Transcript


Discography

"The Beginning" (2011)
"Drive Away Home" (2009, as Good Asian Drivers)
"2 Seconds Away" (2008, solo album)

Photos

Bio

Melissa Li & The Barely Theirs is a Brooklyn-based power-pop collective known for their infectious anthems, driving bass lines, and lyrics both earnest and charged. Influences range from the catchy pull of pop to the sparse authenticity of folk, with sweeping, explorative guitar solos gracefully tethered by large, controlled vocals. Dance-ready singles like The Beginning are bound to get your washed out Chucks moving, while the expansive swell Darrens Song recalls the sound and structure of early, West-coast indie rock fearless, heart-felt, and inspiring.

Since 2009, Melissa Li and drummer Ashley Baier, guitarist Chris Takita, and bassist Darren Lipper have performed at Union Hall, Bowery Poetry Club, WOW Hall, Milwaukee PrideFest, Toronto and New York Pride, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and countless local venues across the country. Follow them, friend them, see them live.

Band Members