The perfect day for ASKA begins on a hiking trail in her native Los Angeles. The beauty and excitement of nature serve not only as inspiration, but also as a calming ritual. Beneath her astral façade, the artist is shy and, if you can keep a secret, prefers songwriting over performing, writing all of her songs in the bedroom.
The trip from womb-like room to public stage can be traumatic, but it’s never the same trip twice.
The composer/songwriter, whose full name is Aska Matsumiya, feels just as at home in an art gallery as a club. Her music has accompanied runway shows for the likes of Phillip Lim and Alexander McQueen. She headlined the Rock and Roll Circus earlier this month in Brooklyn with Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs). Her song “There Are Many of Us” appeared in friend Spike Jonze’s festival-circuiting film “I’m Here.”
With such a diverse list of venues, it makes sense that she is constantly responding to the space she’s in with her music. In fact, clubs are among her least favorite places to play out, “I like to work with environments I’m in and provide music to a setup. It’s more visually than musically centered … it’s hard to have that feeling when you’re playing at clubs.” Actually, her origins are more secluded than one might think.
For someone as intrinsically gifted as ASKA, it’s hard to imagine that her current incarnation began almost by accident.
As a child in Ashiya, Japan she had dreams of going to Julliard. She was mesmerized by the player piano her family owned, sitting and watching the keys falling for hours. At age three she began following along with her fingers, playing “with the ghost.” She studied classical piano every day for five hours, for more than a decade—no small wonder that she became so introverted, so involved in a life of the self.
It wasn’t until she was 16 and going to conservatory that she was exposed to a music culture outside her own. Punk kids turned her onto other kinds of sounds; it was a moment for her that “altered everything.” It was also the start of a long love affair and by the time she left conservatory she had entirely abandoned her dreams of Julliard in favor of playing in bands. Rapidly evolving, she made the move from punk to art rock and garnered a name for herself in the Los Angeles music scene (the Sads, ASDDSKA, Moonrats).
Her singing voice is long, airy and ethereal. It can be difficult to make out the barely enunciated words, but the pitches are undeniably there. The artist refined her sound in an empty church near her home, the doors open late at night for her to use the piano. “I’m definitely not a singer,” she says, but that doesn’t mean she’s glossing over it. “I feel like singing isn’t the focus of my music; it intertwines and accents the music, but my voice is more with the music than the actual words. I fill emotions more with melody than singing.” It’s melody that’s alternately haunting, intimate and celestial—depending on the void she’s filling.
Songs aren’t simply stories to ASKA, they’re apparitions, “When I make music, even when I hear it, I see colors, visions; a world waiting to be connected with the world we live in.”
It’s synesthesia to an otherworldly extent. She calls it “creating the world” and being a mother, the responsibility she feels toward her songs is immense. “I feel like songs are children, but also that I’m a bridge … they exist already and they come to you and they come through you. You’re not creating the world, you’re just another element that it’s giving to the universe.”
While she may have left behind a career in Classical music, she still consciously looks back to composers for inspiration. Her full-length album will feature a concerto for piano and cello. She also composes for the LA Ladies Choir, a project she started with Becky Stark (Lavender Diamond), which is part humanitarian fundraiser and part community organizer. It’s proof that she’s unafraid to draw inspiration from any source. “I feel so selfish or self-involved making music on my own and I just wanted to do a project where it’s more charity oriented,” she says. Even the responsibility for songwriting she feels is checked by humility.
ASKA is on the move. With her self-titled EP available digitally now and a full-length coming in July, she’ll be bringing her unique fusion of conceptual art and music to the masses. Right now that means a lot of recording. “I want to do more film scores, [including a] feature length. It just feels very natural.” Who better to match space to sound? Having already generated such a buzz and resounding endorsement of her scene, we’ll be hanging on every note for an invitation into her world.