Beeline Interview: Misha’s John Chao & Ashley Yao

Misha has been described as “musically delicious“, which is exactly what they are. Not only is their music beautiful – some of their songs (Weatherbee Acoustics) have that perfect edge for Fall but John and Ashley are such beautiful humble souls, too.

Name: Ashley Yao and John Chao
Occupation: human clothes hangar and suit
Borough/Neighborhood: Gramercy/East Village

Tell us a little about Misha and how you got started, how you guys met, etc.: Misha is a revolving cast of talented musicians and friends–the core songwriting is done by me and Ash, but also in the past we’ve had many great jazz and rock musicians who play or helped produce our music. Right now the live Misha also includes Alisha Westerman on vocals, Jonathan Rothman on synth/guitar/bass, Evan Pazner on drums. Our dearly beloved Ed, the bassist, just moved to Wisconsin. Sadly.

Ash and I actually went to elementary school together in Taipei back in the day, and then we remet in New York because her older sister and my cousin were best friends and had a reunion of sorts where we happened to tag along. Talk about serendipity. Then we found out that we had really similar musical taste–and more importantly, that Ash had an incredible tolerance for listening to the same song again and again during the writing process–which was a godsend, because I’m typically more the “just get it down” type.

That’s basically the background–for a while, we lived in separate states (me in Cali, her in NYC)–and we still travel quite a bit.

You play such beautiful, mellow music. It’s as you describe, “sad-happy”. I feel like if I saw you perform live, it would be euphoric! Where do you find inspiration? Thanks for the compliment! We like our live shows because they show a different side (no pun intended) of Misha–a little more rawk and a little less twee. We’re really not the twee-type, so it’s been interesting showing people who listened to “Teardrop Sweetheart” our rougher roots.

Besides general life experiences, really just lots of movies, books, poetry, painting and other art. We get a big charge out of watching something or going to a museum, and then we try to express that feeling through our music. For example, we were watching a lot of Hou Hsiao-Hsien when we wrote our first album (he wrote Millennium Mambo, Three Times, and a bunch of other great movies)–something about his themes of dislocation and longing really resonates with us. It’s probably not unusual, especially in New York, and among 1st generation Americans. [Ed. My beau totes loves his films, too. He is a fave.]

Any bands/musicians? Whenever we’re stuck, we definitely “recharge” by going back to our favourites, like Neil Finn, Richard Thompson, Sam Phillips, Ron Sexsmith, Joe Henry, and Los Lobos–but also Billy Strayhorn, Gil Evans, Caetano Veloso, Baaba Maal, R D Burman, Saint Saens, Aaron Copland, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, the Mavericks, and Dwight Yoakum.

What are you currently listening to? The great thing about having digital music is that you can listen to so much at once! And there’s always so much great music–we’ve noticed a chance in what we listen to as we’re writing this next album. Here are the artists on my most played list from the mp3 playa–John Adams (Nixon In China,) Fleetwood Mac, the Kills’ new album, Hugo Wolf, Eluvium, Big Star, Debussy, Pink Floyd, 5th Dimension, and George Van Eps.

You guys are totally styling. Favorite places to shop? Any in your neighborhood? Awwww, thanks! Well, I’m not so styling–but Ash is She says given the current economic crisis, she’s saving money for the apartment she eventually wants to buy. However, she definitely has access to some great designers and fashionistas. Also, she goes to Barney’s Warehouse sale and various sample sales with her sister, who is a designer. Near our neighborhood, Ash likes Tokio 7 in the East Village.

Will all or part of Misha be playing live sometime soon? We are all over the place even more so than before! Our bassist, Ed, went to Wisconsin. Alisha, our other singer, is moving to the islands to start a spa with her beau. So we want to play live, but for now, we are putting together our next album in our apt. Mostly recording in different rooms, like the bathroom for the echo effect, a la Jimmy Page. Or the closet for a makeshift soundbooth. Alisha, I think, continues to play live. Her stuff is AMAZING. So y’all be sure and check it out on

New project(s) on the horizon? We’re always tinkering with different people’s stuff. We just did a remix for Boy In Static’s new album, which should be dropping soon in Japan. We took a rather melancholy song and made it more upbeat. Alex (the Boy in Static) says he likes it… but perhaps he’s just being nice! 🙂 It should be on the Japanese single.

Favorite place to eat in the neighborhood: Well, for the most part near us there are quite a few good, affordable to medium priced eating places, which we, as well-raised frugal Chinois, find as quite appealing. Sobaya is great for non-sushi Japanese food, particular for winter, while Grand Sechuan in East Village has pretty good Chinese food, (but make sure you order in, as delivery is hit-or-miss.) Frank’s on 2nd ave has really delicious pasta. Congee Village on Bowery is great fun for cold days and rice porridge, further down in Chinatown. And Nicky’s vietnamese sandwiches and Ess-a-bagel’s bagels are fantastic for faster food. On the more expensive tip, there’s always the Momofuku and spin-off’s (Ssam, etc.)

Now if we were to expand beyond Gramercy/East Village, we have a bunch of favorite restaurants. Omen, Indian Bread Company, and Hiroko’s Place in Soho. Vattan/Dimples for Indian food near Murray Hill. Sushi of Gari on Upper East for simply the most amazing sushi. And Dinastia China on 72nd and Columbus for the best Cuban-Chinese fried chicken breast ever.

Don’t get us started on food… 🙂 [Ed. Mmmm… We love to eat over here, too!]

Little known fact about your neighborhood: We were told Gramercy used to be a swamp! Which a quick look through Wiki-pedia confirms. There are two great parks near us, one next to the other. But more interestingly, there are at least 3 hospitals in a 5 block radius, with a huge police academy right up the street. We always see cadets running down East Side Highway in the summer, hanging out in the pizza parlour near our apt. Also, at one point, John Leguizamo parked his Volvo in a garage near us where we sometimes get our Zipcar. He is cool. [Ed. We think so, too!]

Favorite watering hole: This is a tough one–we actually don’t go out as much as we used to, now that winter’s coming. Ash goes to subMercer with her fashion friends sometimes, but we don’t have a frequent watering hole near us, because our friends live all over the city.

Best pizza in your hood: Posto is pretty great for thin-crust pizza–their truffle-oiled Shroomtown pizza is one of Ash’s favorites! We’ve totally overdone them though, and so we’re now alternating between the good old NY slice, Papa John’s, and Posto!

If there was a movie of your life, what neighborhood would grace the opening scene? It might have to be Hong Kong, near the Causeway, where I grew up when I was a little kid or maybe the apartment complex we lived in Houston. And for Ash, downtown Taipei! There’s something very temporary and melancholy about these cities; so much is immediate, new, and impermanent, which is definitely part of the charm. But peeking behind is a far richer and older belief system and set of cultural signals that are fading away. If you look hard enough, though, you can sometimes see it, whether it’s China or Texas.

Alright, what is your all time favorite monster and/or horror movie? Well, there are so many classics–less gore, more scary. The Birds, for sure, Devil’s Backbone, and, of course, The Shining! SO SCARY! (Was this for Halloween?) [Ed. Nope, we actually always ask this question! Gore/horror fans here…]

Listen to their music or stay in the loop on when they’re playing on their MySpace page. Order their album, Teardrop Sweetheart, or if you’re impatient, download here.

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