Today is the start of something brand new. Change can sometimes be a good thing, and depending on the change, things have potential to turn out for the better. As you may know, I’ve spent a lot of time drinking my vice while reviewing and analyzing tea. However, tea isn’t just meant to hoard and drink by yourself. When you drink tea with others you have the opportunity to learn from and share with others — rather that be a viewpoint or new factual information. So for this change, I’m starting a new segment called ‘Tea Time With…’ where I drink tea and have a conversation with someone unique or notable to our society.
Notwithstanding, this journey is a journey that has an expiration date. When is that? I can’t tell you a specific date and time, but this journey of tea with others will end when I reach the goddess of my heart — the one and only Lana Del Rey. So until the day happens where Lana and I drink tea together, go with me on this journey to meet new people, gain new perspectives, and hopefully take something new away from joining us as we drink tea together.
A few Saturday’s ago I was fortunate enough to meet with Asa Graeff — an up and coming artist whose also doubles as a local Karaoke DJ legend. Asa pulled up to find a gong-fu session laid out on a table between two chairs. Unaware of the gong-fu process, he was quickly introduced to the options of oolong, sheng, shou, and white tea for him to choose from. After going over the description of each tea, Asa gravitated towards the white tea cake that laid out in front of him. For this session, he picked the 2018 Censers by White2Tea. After heating up the kettle, and measuring 6.5 grams of tea for the 100ml teapot, the first infusion went underway.
Asa grew up in the mid-west and breathed music from a very young age. To Asa, growing up with music included his sister’s talent for the piano and his father’s passion for the banjo. Besides playing the banjo, his father sang in their churches choir to which he quickly followed suit by singing his first solo to the congregation at the age of three. Besides being apart of a family that lived the art form, he grew up listening to music everywhere he went. This including being introduced to a wide-variety of artists while riding in the car with his parents at the radios controls. His parents kept him and the entire family engaged with each other, and connected through what they were listening to. And that engagement turned into him picking up a wide-variety of instruments, including being self-taught with the harmonica, learning percussion, and even mastering the guitar.
Upon the opening steeps of Censers, Asa continued to talk about growing up listening to classics like Rod Stewart, Simon and Garfunkel, and the Beetles. But with time, and with developing his own personal tastes, those early influencers turned his interests into Santana and The Moody Blues. While developing his sound, he found other connections through artists such as Breaking Benjamin, A Day to Remember, and Suicide Silence. While sipping on the first infusions of Censers, Asa confessed that his first introduction to loose-leaf tea was an earl grey at age seventeen. While recounting his first experience with loose-leaf tea, we trailed the conversation back to music. Besides writing and singing his own music, he became a Karaoke DJ along the way — which began with him winning a local singing contest that sent him to Nashville. While in Nashville, he got his first hands-on experience with recording his own music professionally.
Me: Being a karaoke DJ, I’m sure you’ve seen it all. And as far as seeing it all, there’s a lot of songs that people sing from all over the spectrum. So I must ask, what’s the worst possible song choice for people to sing?
Asa: Don’t sing Picture [Kid Rock feat. Sheryl Crow]. There’s not a Karaoke DJ in the US that has not hard that song every night they work, for however long they’ve worked.
So is that —
That is a terrible song. Kid Rock is a terrible artist, and nobody wants to hear you sing Picture with your third boo of the month. Nobody wants to hear it.
Don’t sing that song.
Besides Kid Rock, what kind of music do people choose that people absolutely shouldn’t choose, because they cant sing it but try it anyways?
It always comes down to the person with your abilities and your history. For example, there’s somebody that come’s into my bar that when they sing, it doesn't matter what it is because they’re phenomenal. She could walk in and sing ‘Creep’ by Radiohead and her very next song is an operatic-like number. And she nails both of them with ease. There’s some people that just needs to stick in their lane. But I’m not the one to tell you what your lane is.
Coming from a karaoke DJ, what songs would you recommend that people should sing/pick to get the whole atmosphere in a good mood?
Well there’s the classic karaoke songs like Bohemian Rhapsody [Queen] or Sweet Caroline [Neil Diamond], but they’re overdone. If you want to get people in to what you’re doing/what you’re singing, you need to read the crowd. If you’ve got a crowd of forty-to-one hundred college kids, you don’t need to go out there and sing Billy Joel. But sing stuff that’s appropriate for the age group that you’re seeing. If you got a big mix, throw something random in there such as Tennessee Whisky [Chris Stapleton]. It’s about engagement with the audience, not about singing the right song. Its about performance /capturing attention. There’s singers out there who can’t really sing their music but because they perform really well, they get away with it. Don’t just sing. Perform.
When it comes down to the song, according to Caleb [other local karaoke DJ], you should never sing The [US] National Anthem. I once chose a song called ‘National Anthem’ by Lana Del Rey and he had a moment where, “Is this the actual National Anthem? No one should sing The National Anthem.” Why is that?
The whole job of a karaoke DJ is to maintain. Maintain the crowd, maintain the energy, etc. If you sing The National Anthem everybody is going to stop what their doing, like stop drinking and stop their conversations. Because if you don’t give respect to it, you’re insulting people and you’re basically taking that energy and telling everybody to pause and stop what they’re doing. And you expect people to go back to what they’re doing. That’s not going to happen. You’re going to kill the crowd/energy, and that should never be the goal of singing karaoke.
[Photo credit: Matt Loveland Photography]
Asa and I were on infusion four of Censers, and according to him, he could see and taste the difference. Asa not only pointed out that tea was getting thicker with each infusion, he even pointed out that the flavor profile kept expanding in the mouth. Despite that the rinse/first infusion was week, we traded notes back and forth between what we were experiencing with this tea. Nonetheless, after losing our train of through to the liquid in hand, we found our conversation back towards the music industry…
So being an artist in the music industry my next question to you is going to be… Did Courtney Love do it?
[laughs] Ummm…. [laughs]. You know, to be completely honest, I don’t care. And there’s a couple of reasons why I don’t care. One, I have to stake in it. Two, does it really matter? Kurt Cobain is gone.
It’s a fun conspiracy theory.
But I hate Nirvana. They’re awful; they’re not a good group. I don’t understand the hype beyond Kurt Cobain being dead. But I do respect them for the band that they were. I respect them for doing their sound and doing it their way. And that’s awesome.
Speaking of artists who’ve died before their prime, and back to Nirvana, is there an artist who died before their prime whose more deserving of their fame?
Amy Winehouse is a phenomenal musician… Was a phenomenal musician. Was a phenomenal Vocalist. She had mental health issues. Drug issues, and addiction issues that inhibited her ability. Of course, we can talk about Jimi Hendrix — phenomenal guitar player. But he served his purpose. The thing you understand about music is that you get what you get. You could ask anyone for more music, but maybe they didn’t have it in them. Maybe the people who died so young like Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison of The Doors, etc… didn’t have it in them. You know, you got what you got and we love it. You may love it for the fact that they died. Or you may love it for the musicality, or you may love it because everybody else does. But that’s what you got.
So it seems now that with the rise of social media, there’s a line of ambiguity that seems to be crossing the mystery behind who an artist is with the rise of Facebook, Instagram, twitter, etc. Kanye West is a good example of someone who really crossed that line of being in the media where people saw past him being an artist. Do you think that the rise of social media is helping or hurting the music industry?
It hurts it.
In what way?
Well, actually it does both. It helps it in the fact that sharing music is a lot easier. You can get more of a crowd and you can get yourself out there better. Music sharing and promotion. You can hear bands you may have never heard of without the use of social media. Luke Combs got started online. Phenomenal. Phenomenal artist. But like you said, Kanye or Three Doors Down almost hurt theirselves musically with social media. And in my opinion, and in my personal approach, social media will not be for anything more than promotion. There’s a song that I wrote called ‘Dark Road’. If you sit down and read the lyrics, you’re going to realize that I wrote it when I wasn’t necessarily in a good place mentally. It can be a very scary song if you just read the words. But the way I deliver it with the emotion and with the music backing behind it, it gives it a different kind of delivery that enhances the reason why I wrote it. Instead of just being words that are locked to me forever.
Back to that song you you wrote whenever you were in a very dark place, whenever you listen to it or play it now, does it bring you back to that place? Or are you able to appreciate it for the time that you were in when you wrote it?
Um. Ohh [sigh]. That’s a really good question. Music has an affect on me that’s very strong. Preforming the song, I never go back to that place. I might visit it while singing it to get that emption out of it that I need, but it’s not about dragging me back there. It’s about me realizing that his is where I’ve been. The song is called ‘Dark Road’ because it’s about a decision at a fork in the road, and I made my decision so going backwards isn’t going to help anybody. It’s not a song for me to rewind and listen to and sing. It’s a song to remember why I was where I was. Or why I made the decisions that I made.
Censers was at a point where its strength was at its peak. And with the tea hitting its peak strength, Asa pointed out that he felt a sharpness on the tongue. It reminded him of what it felt like to notice the differences between levels of spicy food. Censers was not only helping create a calm atmosphere, it was creating the tone and the feeling of relaxation. After turning down an offer to part with this tea and dabble into trying shou, Asa and I continued sipping on Censers and carried on with our conversation…
Now that we’re in a time of ‘Me Too’ where more things are being shed to light, such as artists personal lives, where we see Kanye West’s political views or R. Kelley’s actions coming to light, do you think it’s still a good idea to support these artists and listen to them? Like when the accusations about R. Kelly came out, Lady Gaga pulled [Do What U Want] from every platform she had the song on. It’s no longer apart of her album.
This reverts back to the previous question about what social media is doing to music. I don’t think any song should be pulled. I don’t think anything that has been done and recorded should not be allowed to be listened to. And in my opinion, it’s a personal opinion if you’re still going to support someone after they’ve done something of the sort… And the whole problem with social media, the whole problem with pulling a song after it comes out, and the whole problem with Kanye becoming a political figure of sorts is the fact that people are judging everybody based off what is now the media — instead of what they actually stand by or what they want to talk about. Nobody actually knows the conversations that happened between Kanye and his close friends about what was happening. The only people who can really judge are those who actually understand everything and have taken the time to sit down and listen.
For all we know, Kanye being all political could have been a marketing tactic just to get his name back in the media and make him more relevant, but we’d never know if that’s what he really believes in or not.
Exactly. You and I are very different people and we probably have very different opinions on things because we come from different places. And if I were to share my opinions in a manner that was a definitive end, especially beyond any reasonable doubt, that’s going to change your opinion of me. That’s what social media is doing, and that’s what this all stems from. We don't have conversations anymore. Its always ‘this is it’. And this is what harms music at it’s core because now we have lost artists like Kanye. Or people have shunned Three Doors Down. Or a lot of people wont give Nickelback a second chance. A lot of people won’t listen to Lady Gaga, or Katy Perry, or whoever it is who has made a statement. Taylor Swift is now getting into the political side of things and that’s when we start losing the true meaning of music. If you want to listen to music that’s going to influence you, then listen to music that’s going to make you happy. You’ve got to find that you want to listen to, regardless of what people have done.
So when the Dixie Chicks made their comments about Bush, or when Sinead O’Connor ripped up the photo of the pope on SNL, do you think when artist’s make these kind of statements that it’s justified that their careers gone down? Or even if they lived in a time of social media, would their careers have even gone down?
Nobody’s career is going to end, unless it is ‘the final action’ like killing yourself. You can go to prison and still make music. You’re going to gain or lose fans based on everything you do. You’re going to be criticized on everything. Your career doesn’t hinge on one moment. Your career hinges on how you carry yourself beyond that moment. That’s the easiest way to put it. Nobodies careers has just completely shut down, because you’re still going to hear about them. And if you still hear about them, then they’re not shut down. They may change what they’re doing, but that doesn’t mean their career is over.
So ‘Cancel Culture’ isn’t really ‘cancel culture’.
Think about it — Elvis died and he still came out with an album. Johnny Cash is now having another album coming out of previous unreleased recordings. So even death isn’t necessarily the end of a music career. Michael Jackson for instance. When he died, his album sales jumped by forty-fifty percent, and look at all of the shit that he did. People still bought his stuff despite the allegations and the trials. It didn’t matter. You have to decide rather if you’re going to support or listen to someone based on how you feel about something. Because in the end, they don't necessarily need that one person to listen to them because of all of the other people they’re influencing already. It’s about what makes yourself feel good. That’s what music is all about. It’s about the listener. It’s all about the listener. If you want to keep listening to Kanye, then keep listening to Kanye and go for it. If you want to keep listening to The Dixie Chicks, even after the Bush comment, go for it. Or if you don’t want to listen to them, then don't. It’s your choice. A person’s career isn’t going to hinge on one flash of a moment. It’s not going to matter.
Nipplegate ended Janet Jackson’s career in a flash of a moment.
One final question about where you fit into the musical landscape. You write music, you perform music, and you are very talented. Now when you get larger, you realize that the name Asa isn’t going to work very well. Someone already took your name.
The actor Asa Butterfield. How do you feel about him making the name ‘Asa’ popular in the media? How do you compete with that.
…Never heard of him.
[Photo credit: Matt Loveland Photography]
It was evident by this point in the session that a caffeine rush was already put into place by Censers. The kettle went on for one last boil. Then the tea went on for one last infusion. And upon pouring the last infusion, my mis-targeted pouring made the tea tray overfill onto the table that it was placed on. After our mouths echoed with the floral and faint honey notes of Censers, and after dabbing off the overfilled tea liquor, we went in for our last impressions of this particular white tea and wrapped up our conversation.
So I took to social media to take in a few fan questions. The first question reads: Brendon Urie and Taylor Swift collaborated for the new hit song ME!. Do you think spelling is fun?
A viewer asks are there any pop artists that you should never sing at karaoke?
Don’t try and sing Mariah Carey. You’re not Mariah Carey. And don't sing Whitney [Houston]. Unless you know you can nail Whitney, don’t sing it. Everybody knows Whitney. Don’t sing her.
The next question asks: Is it better to sing karaoke when drunk or sober?
Are you more confident when drunk? Are you going to give a better performance when drunk, or are you a better singer when sober? Do what you want — it’s karaoke for a reason!
Next reader asks: What artist do you want to collaborate with?
In the music genre that I’m apart of right now, it would either be with Drake White or Chris Stapleton. The music genre I want to move to would be Mark Tremonti, or Miles Kennedy — Hands Down.
The next one asks: Whenever you get more big and famous, would you ever perform the Super Bowl Halftime Show?
Probably not. The reason why is that I feel like there’s too much conflict surrounds it. It doesn’t matter how good an artist is or how popular they are, there’s always going to be conflict around it. I would just rather not.
The last question of the day: How would you resolve the civil conflict in Yemen?
Asa stood up and stretched as he continued to comment about how he was pleasantly surprised by the overall setting of the gong-fu session. After a bit of small talk, he made his way back to the car. In fact, Asa’s journey as a Karaoke DJ was about to and end as that specific night was his last night to host. The next morning, Asa continued his music career in St. Louis; starting a new life altogether.
As I looked back and started cleaning our tea session, I began to reflect on what it means to sing karaoke, be an artist, and what it even means to drink tea. I even reflected on his journey along with my own. In his journey, he helped connect people with each other over karaoke along with connecting others with himself through his own art. Where as for tea, as it is for music, it allows us to bond over something that we share as a whole. People from all walks of life and all kinds of backgrounds can put everything aside to just let themselves connect, and just be with each-other. When I looked out the window and saw Asa drive away, I thought about how this was the best way to not only enjoy music — but tea as well.
Not alone. Together……
~ Blissfully Tea Drunk
You can listen to Asa’s music here:
Photos provided by Matt Loveland Photography:
Some parts of this interview were cut short for the length of the article. However, none of the dialogue presented has been altered or manipulated in any way.