Viewing posts tagged 2019

New Release: Christmas in LA

The holidays can be challenging for a lot of people, especially those who are away from where they grew up or those without family close by. Christmas in LA attempts to reflect that vibe while reminding the listener to embrace the friends and acquaintances around them because we all need each other.

I wrote this song together with Timm Shingler, who is the bassist in the BAO live band. We were hanging out in his garage with an electric guitar and after some banter, we decided that a Christmas song might be interesting to try. I have a long list of song ideas on my iPhone and we pulled one of the phrases, “this must be the place.” Timm wrote most of the chord progression while I put some lyrics together. We tried the song a few times, tweaked a few chords and words, then recorded a quick demo with only guitar and voice.

The lyrics focus on the experience of people who are away from home during the holidays. It starts in a sad way, reflecting on being homesick and lonely, but it ends in a more uplifting way with the recognition that friends are family. It’s a theme that I return to a lot in my songs that can be summed up with a Ming & Ping lyric, “It’s not what happens and not what you do. It’s only the eyes you choose to look through.”

Months later, I picked up that demo and decided to produce a more refined version featuring a minimal drum machine pattern and a synthesizer. The song’s production focuses on the voice, starting low and slow then bursting into a more melodic chorus.

The cover photo was shot by Timm and it features a public art piece by WRDSMTH. I actually wasn’t familiar with his work when we decided to put it on the cover art, so I felt pretty bad when he called me out on it on Instagram. Since then I’ve been checking out the rest of his work online and recognizing it around the city. Hope I can make it up by sharing his link here.

I’ll be taking a short break in 2020 to travel, plan, and create lots of new music and content, so please stay tuned to my social media. If you’d like to support my work, here are a few other ways:

Thank you!

“Quan 13” Vietnamese Food Documentary

What does it mean to be Vietnamese? Former CNN Producer and first-time filmmaker Hieu Gray seeks to answer that question through the lens of food in her debut documentary “Quận 13”. The short film features original music composed by BAO to compliment tantalizing cinematography by David Woo.

Join us Friday, November 1st at Nguoi Viet in Little Saigon, California for a screening of the documentary “Quận 13”. Stay for a discussion with director Hieu Gray (Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, Larry King Live), composer BAO, and more, to be moderated by LA Times writer Anh Do.

Friday November 1, 2019 6:30 PM – 9:00 PM PDT

Nguoi Viet Online
14771 Moran Street
Westminster, CA 92683

RSVP to The Premiere
Learn More About Quan 13

New Release: Disappearing

I’m usually the person reminding my creative friends that “Not everything needs to be a masterpiece,” but sometimes I forget that myself. Sometimes a song just wants to stay modest and doesn’t need to be your own Bohemian Rhapsody. That’s the story of this latest single called Disappearing.

I had Disappearing finished for a while, but since it was so short (1:20 min) I never considered it done. However, every time I listened to it, I didn’t feel like it needed anything else. My final adjustment to the song was to add a meaningful field recording at the end during the mastering phase. This brought the song to an epic 1 minute and 35 seconds! But maybe a song called “Disappearing” doesn’t need to drag on and on…

The song was written fairly quickly earlier this year while I was in a reclusive aka “hermit” period. I spend hours sometimes going through the thousands of different keyboard sounds in my music production software, adding the sounds I like to various “favorites” lists. During this time-consuming process, I get to freely improvise on the keyboard and make up random micro-songs based on how the various sounds make me feel. That’s when I found the main “pad” sound that makes up the majority of Disappearing. It’s a setting on a software version of the Yamaha DX7 synth, from the late 1980s.

While I played the chord pattern, the lyrics came out pretty naturally without much belaboring. I like that the flow is a little bit reminiscent of the sing-rap style of Drake or Khalid–it’s a bit different for me. BTW, I cut a sped up 1-minute version that I used for an Instagram post.

The song’s subject matter is halfway between self-deprecating and actually concerned. LOL. I sometimes get into periods where I have conflicting feelings of being too isolated, but also feel antisocial at the same time. So I was hibernating and reflecting on topics including legacy, mortality, and what people choose to do with their limited existence. It culminated into the concept of “disappearing” if you’re not present in anyone else’s life.

The final addition to Disappearing was a meaningful sample that I got from my friend Mike Harrison, who passed away last year. He made a bunch of field recordings during a trip to Japan in 2016, most of which were of busy streets, arcades, and mass transit. But there was one of crows in a field. If there are any old-school Ming & Ping fans reading, you might know that I’ve often used a crow as a stand-in for myself in Ming & Ping’s music and even some photos, like this one by Julie Klima. It’s also in the lyrics of Ming & Ping’s most popular song, Beautiful Things:

“All the people scream for their dead dreams
And tell you not to try ‘cause you won’t fly
And you just watch the show like a black crow
You just watch the show like a black crow.”

– Ming & Ping, “Beautiful Things”



The crow is basically a symbol of actual BAO creeping in the background while my eccentric art takes the spotlight. The crows also reminded me of my late friend Mike, whose legacy will always be a strong and beautiful one with the people who knew him. I just wanted to pay tribute to something we had in common: being innately antisocial while making weird eccentric art.

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to support my work, here are a few other ways:

Thank you!

New Release: This Whole Love Thing

Whoo! Here’s another silly love song! Like a lot of my other work, This Whole Love Thing has a bunch of musical and cultural references snuck into it. That kind of stuff is fun for me. Sometimes it’s more obvious than others, but on this one, it’s very obvious. Keep reading to learn about some of the fun references that are included in my latest release.

This song had been around as a demo for over 4 years before I finished and released it. The hook “This Whole Love Thing” was inspired by a conversation with one of my friends who said the phrase while describing how he didn’t expect to have such strong feelings for a woman he was dating. Of course, I wrote it down in my phone as a song idea and eventually developed it.

The opening drum machine pattern is a reference to a 1990 Roxette single called It Must Have Been Love, which was in the movie Pretty Woman, starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. I started out wanting to write a power ballad, and that Roxette track is one of my favorites. My song didn’t turn out to have that much “power” but it’s still got some ballady vibes. The drum machine samples I used are from the Akai MPC60, which came out in 1988.

The other instruments that make up the song are pretty classic: a Rhodes electric piano, bass guitar layered with a Moog bass synthesizer, a few electric guitars, and for the country music vibe I put in Hammond Organ.

In the lyrics, I also snuck in a reference from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, the film from 1985 starring one of my biggest influences in entertainment, Pee Wee Herman. The reference is in the first verse. Can you find it? (Leave me a comment on this blog entry)

The vocal treatment for the verses was inspired by John Lennon’s song Watching the Wheels. After I had finished recording the vocals, I was at a lost as to how to affect the dry vocal recordings, so I asked a couple of friends. Patrick Kornegay, a movie producer and music nerd, responded by suggesting I try something like Watching the Wheels. I was dubious at first, but after I figured out which effects to put on the voice, it was exactly what the song needed.

I love the cover photo for This Whole Love Thing, taken by my friend and BAO bassist Timm Shingler, because it makes me look like Steve Carell from the movie The 40-Year-Old Virgin. LOL! I look like I’m staring off into space daydreaming about my crush or something. It’s just so innocent and dorky and funny. The photo was taken on 120 film, using a Voigtländer Perkeo I camera from the 1950s. I also took a similar image of Timm too, check it out.

Real question, tho: Are you interested in Youtube videos where I dissect each song and talk about the technical construction and inspiration for each song? Lemme know, yo! If you’d like to support my work, here are a few other ways:

Thank you!

New Release: Diggin’ Your Love

February 19 is my birthday! I am celebrating life, art, compassion, and learning. As a gift to you, you can download “Diggin’ Your Love” for free right here on this page. As a birthday gift to me, could you donate to a cause that’s super close to my heart – The Slants Foundation?

The Slants Foundation is a nonprofit that helps Asian-Americans who strive to incorporate activism into their art. I’ve served as a Board Member since its founding last summer and we’re just about ready to launch to the public. Go to theslants.org and hit the donate button – no contribution is too small. If you’re not able to donate right now, that’s okay. Enjoy the song, and you can still donate in my name until the end of February. Check out the new tunes and keep reading if you’re interested in a 2,000-word essay on what’s meaningful to me on this birthday.

First, a little about the new song. Diggin’ Your Love is an upbeat, irreverent reflection on modern dating and “catching feels.” The song draws stylistic influence from 80’s Minneapolis funk, pop, and rock and channels artists like Michael Jackson, Prince, and The Time. Oh, and some modern influences like Pharrell Williams and Bruno Mars too. Killer guitar solo and rockin’ guitar parts by the super cool and talented Jesse McInturff. Thanks a lot to Taylor Shechet and Davy Drones for arrangement and mixing help.

So, I’ve been reflecting a bit lately on the extraordinary life I’ve enjoyed and the invaluable people who’ve made it happen. The last couple of years for me have been about understanding what I have to contribute to the world and then giving it – through my art, my presence, and through passing on my knowledge. There’s a quote that’s been floating around the internet, being attributed to Pablo Picasso, William Shakespeare, and a million other people. I don’t know whose quote it is, but I’m feelin’ it:

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”

In 2017, I had an idea for a nonprofit called Other.Us that would exist to help Asian-American songwriters with the resources, knowledge, and network needed to get their unique stories out to more people. I had a lot going on at the time and really struggled to get it off the ground.

A few months later, I got an email from the highly accomplished artist and activist Simon Tam describing a nonprofit that he wanted to start. Its purpose would be to provide resources, scholarships, and mentorship to Asian Americans looking to incorporate activism into their art. He wanted to know if I’d be interested in serving on the foundation’s board. Um, yeah!

Anyway, I’ve been releasing music since 2004, starting with Ming & Ping. Whether you knew it or not, those songs were written from an Asian-American perspective with strong references to the Asian-American immigrant experience. There’s no way to not hear that in my new music and the awesome stuff I have in the pipeline. If you like my work and want to help empower the next generation of Mings and Pings and BAOs, please head over to The Slants Foundation’s website and pitch in a few bucks.

There’s nothing more exhilarating to me than knowing that the stupid song ideas I hum into my phone could one day become meaningful songs in someone else’s life. Seriously, not many get this opportunity and I’m not going to waste it. Let’s do this!

If you’d like to support my work, here are a few other ways:

Thank you!

New Release: Far Away

Happy Lunar New Year. Let’s celebrate with my first song of 2019 called Far Away. It’s a tribute to the immigrant and refugee parents out there.

Far Away is a song for immigrants and refugees, especially those who are what I would consider 1.5 generation: immigrants who came to another country as young children and don’t have much or any memory of their birth countries. Those who struggle to belong in both the home they left and the home they’ve been brought to.

While the lyrics speak to the many images of my parents’ history in Vietnam, Far Away is about knowing your “homeland” only through the stories and photographs that your parents share. For some of us, that’s not a lot and they’re always tinted with personal trauma and biases.

The music and vocal melody for Far Away had been around for three years, but the song was so special that I couldn’t find a topic or lyrics that did the song justice. Then in late 2018, I had a conversation with my friend Hieu Gray, who is working on a beautiful documentary about Vietnamese food spreading to other parts of the world through displaced people.

We spoke deeply about how, as immigrant babies, our knowledge of Vietnam is mostly constructed from stories and photos. We thirst to learn more about our culture, but will always feel like tourists in our birthplaces. When I wrote the lyrics based off of our conversation, it was a super emotional experience filled with gratitude and respect for everyone who made the journey to find a better life. It’s especially relevant in today’s political climate in the United States.

I hope you enjoy the song. Leave me a comment.

If you’d like to support my work, here are a few other ways:

Thank you!