A few years ago, Zee Avi was all about racking up the hits -- web hits. With friends supporting her unique voice, she'd post songs on YouTube, and see if anyone would notice. After posting a bunch, she decided to she'd make one more and be done with it. Her would-be last video caught the eye of Patrick Keeler of The Raconteurs, and a career blossomed out of that connection. "It was supposed to be my last," she recalled. "I was praying for my calling. I was looking at the sky, asking 'what am I here to do?'"
Making music is clearly the Malaysian singer/songwriter's calling. After releasing her critically acclaimed self-titled debut album in 2009, she'll release a sophomore effort entitled ghostbird on Aug. 23. The pint-sized star with the retro-smooth voice will also kick off a tour -- ukulele fittingly in hand -- with her three-piece band in September. Not too shabby for a girl trying to find her way via a social networking juggernaut. "I'm pretty happy to be on this path," she acknowledged in a phone interview last week.
I caught up with the infectiously uplifting and modest Avi and asked her about album #2, touring, and what the future might bring. Oh, and she also allowed HuffPost to premiere the video for one dreamlike track, "The Book of Morris Johnson" on Vimeo's "In the Open" series. See below:
What was the process like making ghostbird -- at least in comparison to your debut?
It's a whole different perspective. There have been a lot of experiences I've had in between the three years after the first record. Being on tour and seeing different things and experiencing and feeling them, it's definitely a different mentality. The first record was written in my bedroom in Kuala Lumpur. This was in the middle of nowhere near the Florida Everglades in a friend's backyard. I'd like to think there's a little bit of growth. Like every evolving human being, we all find our voices eventually. It's another chapter and hopefully they'll be a lot more.
Was there any less pressure on you as an artist having had an album already under your belt?
Not really. Writing is something that should come naturally anyway. You shouldn't have any forces that put pressure on you. If you write from a safe place, the consistency will be there. At the end of the day, you're writing for your own and hope whoever you share it with, feels the same way you did when you first wrote it.
Do you pay attention to commercial sales? I mean... are you hoping for a hit single?
Well, it would be really nice. [Laughs]. You know if I don't get to [make music anymore] -- because nothing is ever a permanent thing -- I'll check this off my bucket list.
What else can you cross off?
Seeing two goats in the back of a truck by a Waffle Hut -- not a Waffle House -- on the way to Bonnaroo. I never thought I'd see that.
Speaking of being on the road -- not to mention appropriate segues -- are you psyched about the tour?
We played a few cool festivals, and we're playing bigger venues that I thought three years ago
'I'd loved to play that place.' Now I'm finally playing them. It's also nice to revisit some cities I've had the pleasure to play.
You got your break from YouTube -- are you comfortable making music in a social networking world?
Personally, I don't even have a Facebook profile largely because I'm a non-conformist but I do connect on Twitter. I'm a Twitteraholic. I just got a smartphone, and now I wish I didn't.
I don't know how to deal with it. It's like having a Chia Pet.
Whether it's Eddie Vedder releasing an album of tunes or its presence in a lot of performances lately, what do you make of the recent fascination with the ukulele?
I know, right? It's the new electric guitar. It's my weapon of choice and appropriate for my size. I picked it up and couldn't put it down. But, I do see a pattern. It's a growing thing, and I hope it stays and isn't just some passing trend.
I think in so many ways of applying the ukulele to different moods. Anyone automatically can connect it with being by the ocean, shore or by the beach, and sort of label it as mellow, but I put effects on it. I like to still try to consistently learn different moods and emotions through the ukulele.
Lastly, comparison is inevitable in this business. Have you found people tossing labels your way?
There will be comparison no matter what even if you don't try. When people say 'what kind of music do you do?' It's so hard to say one genre so I tell them I'm a mixed bag of crazy [or] it's just Tales from a Free Spirit with Anxiety Issues...
Sounds like a Judy Bloom book!
See... there's a comparison.