By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Carly Ann Calbero knows artists have to make sacrifices to get where they’re going. But she also knows it’s okay to ask a parent or guardian for help.
“So my dad gives me this guitar for my birthday, he teaches me a couple chords, my little sister snaps the strings,” remembered the singer, who’s holding a record release party at the Royal Room in Columbia City on Nov. 12.
“[Dad] told me to figure it out. I think he did eventually change out the strings for me, but like most things, I learned how to play by watching and listening. I’d watch bands play live on YouTube and squint at their hands. A couple of books, and a lot of pressing play, pause, and rewind on my CD player. It wasn’t until college that I took my first proper guitar class.”
Calbero was born in Hawaii, but arrived in Marysville, north of Seattle, circa 1996, with her Filipino father and Japanese mother. The guitar she got for her birthday was a three-fourths normal size Ibanez, which she still owns and plays.
School took her to Liberty Elementary School, Marysville Pilchuck High School, and the Running Start program at Edmonds Community College. She sang in choir, formed a high school band, and was touring nationally by 2016.
“I don’t know if my Asian identity influences my songwriting,” Calbero reflected, “but being considered ‘other’ does. ‘Into the Fray’ is a song I wrote about feeling lost and alone, but jumping into the fray anyway.
“Watching the news about the attacks on our elders and hearing about the treatment of Asian people during the pandemic made me and a lot of other people feel helpless in an already fraught situation. I like to think that when we get to those moments, we have two choices—retreat or reach out and try to overcome this together.”
She recorded her debut album, “Science of Pride,” at a home studio shared with her fiancé. She learned how to build sound panels, and meticulously upgraded most of her gear along the way.
Busking in public also helped her hone her technique.
“The most interesting comment I get is that I don’t sound like I look. A slightly intoxicated man once came up to me and said that I sounded like a Chinese hillbilly. As cringy as that comment was, he really meant it as a compliment. He didn’t have the vocabulary or exposure to someone who looked like me and sounded like him.
“I have a big voice and I can belt with a little twang, courtesy of growing up in Marysville. It always makes me laugh a little when people turn a corner and are surprised to see a 5’2” Asian woman, when they were expecting someone else.”
Asked her favorite songs on the album, she singled out the title track and one other.
“‘Science of Pride’ and ‘Hazel Eyes’ are the two songs I’m most proud of because they really summarize the album. There’s so much grit and frustration in ‘Science of Pride’ and I think it came out in my voice, how painful and dangerous pride can be.
“‘Hazel Eyes’ is a love song through-and-through. It’s the other side of the coin, where pride is an asset. It’s confidence, and it fuels our determination. It gives us the ability to be ourselves and do crazy things like declaring our love for someone else.”
Her plans for the future combine romance and pragmatics.
“I’m getting married a month after the show, so that’s really exciting. After a couple years of being homebound, I’m looking forward to touring again and playing with other musicians as much as I can.”
Andrew can be reached at email@example.com.