TaiwaneseAmerican.org’s Kristina Lin and Ho Chie Tsai ventured to Portland, Oregon to meet with musical artist Marie Hsiao, simply known as Mree. With over 80 thousand subscribers on her YouTube channel, she has carved a niche for herself showcasing her unique and ambient “folktronica” sound. Even if you haven’t heard her name before, there’s a good chance you have heard her voice. In recent years, her original song “Santa Catcher” was featured in a Target commercial, and her cover of the 80’s hit song “Fame” was featured on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy.” Other musical tracks have been played in several episodes of the WB’s “Beauty and the Beast,” FOX’s “Bones,” and Canadian teen drama series “Degrassi: The Next Generation.” Read on as Kristina recounts their meet-up with this emerging star.
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It was a chilly and brisk day in downtown Portland, just as one would expect from the weather in the Pacific Northwest. Ho Chie and I had just arrived in town on this last-minute trip with just enough time to pick up some Blue Star donuts and coffee before heading to city center. We shuffled through the scattered drizzle, stopping only briefly to appreciate the deliciously damp aromas emanating from the block-long row of Portland’s finest food trucks and stalls. It was time to meet up with singer-songwriter Marie at a nearby coffee shop, and we were late.
Upon our arrival, Marie quickly spotted us weaving our way across the cafe and greeted us with her warm smile as we approached. This would be our first in-person meeting, but I could already tell that she was someone we would enjoy getting to know. The three of us settled down with hot drinks in hand, and our polite “get-to-know-you” chatter quickly turned into thoughtful, inspiring conversation. Even though we had only planned for an hour-long meet-up and interview, our time with Marie would pass leisurely–quite unexpectedly different from the typical hectic hustle-and-bustle of our work schedules. Marie was so thoughtful and engaging, and our conversation so natural, that I felt as if we were already friends just taking the time to catch up with each others’ lives. One hour turned into two and two into four. Before I knew it, an entire afternoon had been spent chatting about life, identity, and aspirations.
Marie shared with us about her recent move from New Jersey (where she grew up) and New York (where she went to music school) to this city known for its fiercely vibrant and independent music scene. It was this transition, leaving home and becoming more independent, which inspired her latest album, Empty Nest. She described her musical style (“folktronica”), influences (Bon Iver, Imogen Heap), and vision for her work (so many projects in mind!). On her musical journey, she recollected playing piano since the age of 5 years old (and wanting to create her own songs, rather than read sheet music!) all the way to picking up a guitar and writing her own original music in high school. She has gained a loyal following on YouTube ever since she uploaded her first video in 2009, a cover of Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek.” For the next couple of years, she would cover several more of her favorite artists. (Most of those videos have reached over half a million views and continue to grow. “Hide and Seek” has reached nearly 1.5 million views—an amazing accomplishment for any young artist.)
As Marie recounted past performances and meet-ups with other YouTube celebrities such as David Choi, Kina Grannis, and Gabrielle Aplin, I found myself reflecting on her soft-spoken and appreciative words about her journey in life thus far. I was in awe of her profound passion for music and the arts, even traversing the country to pursue her dream as a self-producing artist. Her apparent talent, ambition, and creative vision culminated in the three albums she had released on her own: Empty Nest (2015), Winterwell (2013), and Grow (2011). Did you know that Winterwell was one of the Top 25 albums of 2013 by NPR’s nationally syndicated radio program, “Echoes”? With each album, her musical sound transformed and matured. But her music has always remained heartfelt, and the themes have been inspired by different aspects of her life. It was really an honor hearing about her experiences firsthand, and I couldn’t wait for her to autograph my copies of her CD’s!
The rain outside finally stopped. Ho Chie and Mree took some time to quickly film the “official” interview that was the original purpose for this meeting. But today, work would be secondary, as Ho Chie invited Marie to tour around the downtown with us so we could chat more. We gathered up our belongings, bundled up, and spent the remainder of our time strolling through and exploring the hipster-filled overcast city. We hit up the Portland essentials: making our way through Powell’s Bookstore on to music shops, and walking from Pioneer Courthouse Square to the Crystal Ballroom (where she opened for Gabrielle Aplin). Marie and I exchanged high school stories, laughed at our common experience at Chinese school back in the day (childhood, anyone?), and bonded over our love for baking sweet treats and cooking. She even confessed to playing video games in her leisure time (Marie enjoys Animal Crossing and Nancy Drew mystery computer games) and shared random fun facts about herself (she is awesome at DDR!).
What a wonderful afternoon it turned out to be. It was a pleasure getting to know this young artist off-screen in such a short period of time and really feeling like we could be the best of friends. Sweet, introspective, and thoughtful, Marie is sharing her story with the world through her angelic voice and her determined vision. I know she has a bright future ahead of her.
I also hope you’ll enjoy her work as much as we do.