Leo Xia's '384' sophomore album inspired by special bond with grandmother, 'laolao'
Updated: Apr 2
Musician Leo Xia plays the guitar, which he taught himself since he was 12 years old. (Source: Leo Xia)
Leo Xia released his second album "384" last month, inspired by a special woman in his life -- his grandmother who he calls "laolao."
The title refers to the musician's birthplace in Beijing, which he said holds "a special place in my heart."
#AmyLieuPresents finds out more on Xia's close bond with his "laolao," new album, songwriting process and background.
Congratulations on your sophomore album "384"! How and why did you name it that?
Thank you Amy! I named the album “384” because that was my house number growing up in Beijing. It represents home to me in a strange way because my family doesn’t live in Beijing anymore but I spent my entire childhood there so it will always hold a special place in my heart.
Leo Xia's sophomore album is titled "384," named after his house number in Beijing. (Source: Leo Xia)
I know your grandmother, who you call "laolao" as a term of endearment, had recently passed away. How has she inspired your music and affected your life?
My laolao was a teacher. When she came over on weekends to teach me Chinese she melded the affection of a grandmother with the professionalism of a educator to make sure I did not lose my connection to my culture as I attended an international school where English was the primary language. I am inspired by how she saw that education was worth investing her life in. She believed in planting seeds for trees that she would never see. Similarly, I believe that I can plant seeds of empathy in people’s minds and hearts through my music. She showed me that my culture is beautiful and important not through her words but through her actions. I want to be a person of action just like she was.
Leo Xia as a child with his "laolao." (Source: Leo Xia)
Your bio says that you write songs about self-love, Asian-American identity and social issues. Could you tell us in more detail about that? (what kinds of issues? can refer to specific songs in album)
Yes! When I first started songwriting it was all about romantic love. There’s nothing wrong with that but I began feeling like it wasn’t enough to describe the ways I was growing and learning. I participated in a program at USC called CIRCLE (Critical Issues in Race, Class and Leadership Education) which opened my eyes to all the aspects of being Asian-American that I had never thought more deeply about. It opened my eyes to many of the social issues that are going in America like race, sexuality and gender. I wanted to engage with these issues and songwriting was my natural inclination. For my previous album “Hyphenated” I wrote about growing up bicultural in “Split Down the Middle” and the Chinese Massacre of 1871 in “Yellow”. In “384” I take a more personal approach to the music as it is all about my family and our evolving connection following the passing of my grandmother.
What would you like everyone to know about the songs in your album? (or in general)?
I would like everyone to know that even though I write very specifically about my feelings of loss and guilt following the passing of my grandmother, I want to create a space for us all to reexamine the important human connections we have in our lives and to treasure them. The past cannot be changed but the future is a blank canvas. Call your mom today. Go play frisbee with your sibling. Play chess with your grandpa. I wish I had learned that earlier.
I felt guilty following my grandmother's passing because I could have called her more. I could have listened to her more. I could have been more responsive on the family WeChat. It was a scary downward spiral that really did a number on my mental health. It has taken a lot of reflection to realize that I can't change the past and the best I can do right now is to focus on my family and the people around me to make sure they feel heard and cared for.
"Aching" off the album deals with this sense of guilt and loss specifically. "Bedtime" is about how we see our parents and grandparents as these invincible beings when we are children and how we can't even begin to imagine their mortality. There's a line in "Bedtime" that goes "I'll call you back when I'm on my feet". This refers to my mental process at the time of "oh I have to focus on my own things right now but when my life has stabilized I will be a great grandson/son to my family". This internal delaying of valuing family became the main source of my guilt after my laolao passed.
Leo Xia's "laolao" giving him Chinese lessons on the weekends in Beijing. (Source: Leo Xia)
What's your songwriting process like?
My songwriting process usually begins with sitting in my room with my guitar in hand and an idea. Many of the songs on the album have specific concepts like my grandfather writing to my grandmother in “Tether” or me writing to a future grandchild in “Before I Leave”. Then in terms of melody it becomes a process of finding the right way to express the concept that I had chosen. Is it going to be a sad song? A happy one? An angry one? I keep asking myself these questions along the way to make sure I’m always advancing towards an artistic vision that I had set for myself.
Also, what instrument(s) do you play? and at what age did you learn to sing and play instrument(s)?
I played piano and violin since I was about six years old! The violin I have completely forgotten but I wish I had not because it is such a beautiful instrument. I am a self-taught guitarist since the age of 12. This was the same time I started singing because I learned guitar so I could accompany myself in comforts of my room without having to expose my voice to the entire house in the living room where our upright piano was.
How can we find your music?