This post was updated Feb. 12 at 6:25 p.m.
Samantha Shen learned to add R&B and jazz influences to her pop repertoire after graduating from UCLA’s ethnomusicology program.
Shen will perform at the next installment of the Fowler Out Loud concert series Wednesday. She plans to sing new music as well as songs from her extended play, “Rose Colored Glasses.” While in the past her music style has been radio-friendly, Shen said her music has become more fluid and diverse. Majoring in ethnomusicology opened her mind to what music means and how different cultures can influence her, she said.
Shen said she has felt a lot more pressure after graduating in 2018. On Wednesday, she will perform her upcoming song “Daze,” which is about her postgraduate struggle. Being labeled as just an artist and not a student is tough for her, she said, since she has carried the student label her whole life. However, she said newfound freedom and her changing musical influences – from Ariana Grande to Cardi B – have been growing experiences for her.
Jordan Avesar, a UCLA alumnus and drummer who will be performing with Shen, said he and Shen began playing together after meeting in a jazz history class at UCLA. He said Shen’s original songs display her songwriting talent. Although they have experimented together in the past, Wednesday will be the group’s first time performing in front of an audience, as Shen does not usually perform with a live band.
“I’m excited about the order of the set because that can make a big difference,” he said. “Some of the songs are just piano and vocals, low-key, but some are large scale and have a huge drum set.”
While her first EP was more lighthearted, Shen said her new music will be more soulful, since she wants to create music that will make her audience feel something. After exploring different cultural genres, such as Indian music, at UCLA, she said she wanted to incorporate those into her music.
Additionally, Shen said she wants to use her musical career to support and uplift other Asian-American artists. While she has found some Asian-American communities in Los Angeles, the recent UCLA alumna said she’s still sometimes the only person of color in the room.
“I’ve definitely felt alienated, like people (in the music industry) are almost thinking ‘What do we do with her?’” she said. “(They were) basically making my race an angle.”
Laura Jane Yee, the coordinator for Fowler Out Loud and a fourth-year ethnomusicology student, said she appreciates Shen’s intentions when it comes to social justice and supporting other Asian-American artists. Yee also said Shen’s changing sonic style is a reason her application to perform was accepted. Her initial, happy-go-lucky pop EP reflected her mindset during her last year of college, Yee said, but since graduating, she has become more pensive with R&B and jazz influences.
“(Fowler Out Loud) really motivated (Shen) to find a band to perform with. She used to work with producers and sing to a track, but now she gets to be more creatively flexible,” she said. “I’ve always supported her as a solo act, but musicians can inspire each other.”