I had butterflies in my stomach as I walked down the stairs into the lobby of the MPR building. Of course I was prepared for my first interview for The Current — but all that preparation may have led to extra butterflies, because the more I learned about FPA, the more I considered her an incredible artist, and I couldn’t believe I was going to hang out with her. In the lobby, Frances Priya Anczarski, aka FPA, was waiting in a chair for me, her oversized jacket and baseball cap cocooning her from the world. As I approached, she emerged, embracing me in a hug, and immediately the butterflies flew out of my stomach. She grabbed her guitar, which was almost the same size as her body, and swiftly threw it over her shoulder. It was time to get down to business.
We posted up in a cozy recording booth, and I started the interview by saying, “Welcome to my booth,” in an MTV Cribs sort of way, as though any of this was actually mine. FPA replied, “Thank you, it’s a lovely booth,” playing along with me, and we both started to giggle. It was easy to get to know her — she was kind and funny, and she had a humility about her, stating, “It’s funny doing interviews, I’m just a regular degular person!” That may be so; however, there is no denying her talents which come through eloquently on her debut album Yang Chen.One of my favorite things about FPA’s music is her ability to storytell, and not only with her poetry. On Yang Chen, she is able to create a conversation between instruments, where each one has a say. Piano keys respond to drawn-out chords, and the drums nod in agreement. Her track “4th” begins by slowly rocking you back and forth between guitar strings, taking you to simpler days in the sandbox and then to more complicated ones as fourth grade disappears into memory. During this track, FPA takes you through a one-sided childhood love story. The lines, “Shadowed you through the sandbox/ Playing Pokemon like we was both in love,” immediately took me back to my first crush.
Just when you feel comfortable with the beat, swaying to it, understanding it, that’s when FPA switches it up. In the chorus of “4th,” she uses a distant guitar lick to pull you away from a trance, one induced by the beautiful simplicity of every note played. The saying, “Less is more” comes to mind when I listen to Yang Chen. Because each instrument is heard in full, FPA’s vocals sound all the more powerful.
Yang Chen, named for the Hindu goddess of beauty and poetry, takes you through the complexities of the human condition while staying true to the goddess. FPA said she wrote this album during a year’s span while living in France. For me, this explained why the album felt like growth. On the range of emotions in Yang Chen, FPA said, “I feel like we always think about other people as just one thing, you know what I’m saying? So I like the fact that people can pick up that there is some funny ass songs like ‘Unicorns,’ but there is also really sad, depressing s*** as well.” Her track “Angels” is one of those more downbeat tracks, pulling you in with its long, drawn-out notes and breathy vocals that gradually form a controlled poetic rhythm. This ability to navigate the complexities of life without the need to necessarily define them shines through FPA’s personality and her music. She’s the type to admire the flowers, but never pick them.
Her pull towards all things beautiful is evident in “Yang Chen Ma” and “Yang Chen Ma 2,” two instrumental pieces that are heavily influenced by classical landscape music. The sound of crashing waves on the tracks invites you into a world of power and peace. I am entranced by FPA’s ability to create beautiful things; she opened up to me about that, saying, “I think it’s like super feminine energy, you know what I’m saying? I guess — I really like sensitive things, which is just totally who I am, I just love that kind of s***. I like period dramas and really romantic films…” There, in that cozy booth, we bonded over our shared idealism. Agreeing that it’s good to be in the moment, but there is beauty in the ability to take yourself elsewhere. Assuring each other that the fairytales in our heads are just nice to think about.
It is in her head where FPA first starts to create her sound, figuring out exactly what she wants. FPA wrote and produced the entirety of her debut album, revealing just how far her talents extend, and reminding us of the artistry in great arrangement. Yang Chen, this R&B-ish album with classically influenced pads, is one that I can listen to on repeat, losing myself in FPA’s poetic, unpredictable world.
FPA will play a Yang Chen release show at Icehouse in Minneapolis on Friday, Nov. 22. The show is 21+, and tickets are available for $10 advance/$15 door.