1. What is your name and your profession(s)? My name is Karina DePiano and I am a keyboard player and music director.
2. What is your ethnic background and what is your citizenship (US native or naturalized etc.)? I am half Filipino and half Italian. My mom was born in the Philippines and my dad is of Italian descent. I am a US native.
3. Are either/both of your parents musicians or somehow involved in the music industry? Neither of my parents are involved in the music industry. They are both big fans of music, especially live shows, so I grew up going to concerts of all kinds. My dad loves classic rock and my mom is a big 80s dance and pop fan.
4. Please tell us a little bit about your experience, either growing up as an AAPI in America, or as a person of Asian descent who immigrated to America, whichever applies. I grew up in San Diego, and the Filipino side of my family (my Lola, aunties, and cousin) lives in Los Angeles, so I would see them often each year for holidays and other special occasions. Growing up, my mom and family spoke Tagalog (the most popular Filipino language dialect) to me all the time, so I can understand it very well (but speaking it is quite difficult still hahaha). I grew up eating all kinds of traditional Filipino foods like adobo, sinigang, menudo, chicken afritada, lumpia, pancit and more. Also, my best friend from childhood is Chinese/ Japanese/Italian, so we bonded over our mixed ethnicities.
5. How connected do you feel to your heritage/culture(s)? I feel extremely connected to my Filipino heritage. Living in Los Angeles provides me with such a rich connection to Filipino culture because of the big Filipino population here. I also feel so lucky that my immediate family lives here - I’ve grown up being able to hear their personal stories, learn more about my culture, and most importantly devour my Lola’s cooking.
I’ve been to the Philippines twice now, and have been able to meet even more extended family members that live in Manila. My second trip there was extra special because it was on the Asia leg of Troye Sivan’s Bloom tour, so I got to have some family at the show!
6. 6a.) How did you get into music? Did you major in music in college? Where did you attend college/university (and grad school(s), if applicable) and in what subjects did you get your degree(s)? I started taking piano lessons when I was 6. I performed in several recitals and participated in and won piano competitions in San Diego. While my focus was mostly on classical music, I began to incorporate more pop playing in high school. I went to a Catholic high school and played piano for all the church services. I graduated from the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music’s Popular Music Program with an emphasis in keyboard performance. I learned so much from the program, and most importantly I started building my music community there.
6b.) When and how did you decide you were going to pursue music professionally? What were your parents’ reactions to you deciding to pursue music? Do they support your music career now? Prior to attending USC, I planned on pursuing a career as a classical pianist. I loved playing piano, I had an incredibly supportive piano teacher, my parents were not afraid of me pursuing an art - all signs pointed to studying music at a university and hopefully chasing a career in music. When it came time to decide which college/program to attend, I made a shocking move to switch my emphasis entirely to pop. My parents were super supportive throughout my change in focus, but of course it came with lots of unknowns and moments of uneasiness. I am super grateful to my mentor, Patrice Rushen, as well as many of the other USC faculty members for helping me hone in my classical piano skills to be an asset to me in the pop world.
7. What are a few of your (music) projects of which you are the proudest? What were your roles on those projects? I am extremely proud of my work with Troye Sivan. I have toured the world with him since 2016 and experienced such deep growth on this gig. I started out on a smaller key bass/synth rig; eventually I took over the main keys rig and am now his bandleader under the incredible music direction of Stacy Jones. The Troye band and crew are some of the kindest people you could ever tour with, and I was proud to be able to evolve as a musician and as a leader among these humans. We’ve also played on countless TV shows, notably including SNL. One highlight live show was Lollapalooza South America in Argentina. “Plum" by Troye Sivan at Lollapalooza Argentina Another artist I am absolutely honored to work with is Malia Civetz. Not only does she possess one of the most powerful and unique voices in music right now, but she is the kindest soul and is also my best friend! We met at the USC Pop Program, and I started out playing piano for her at open mic nights. Now, as her music director, I help put together live arrangements, shows, and tours. “The High” by Malia Civetz at MelodyVR Studio I’ve done a few shows with the Indonesian pop artist Niki. She is the first AAPI artist I have played for professionally. It felt extremely powerful for the performance I’ve linked below to have her band consist of two AAPI women, myself and drummer India Pascucci (who is Filipino-Italian and also happens to be one of my best friends!). “La La Lost You” by Niki at GOMO x 88Rising
Beyond those projects, please feel free to name some of your other credits as well as any brands/companies you officially endorse.
Daya - music director and keyboardist Fifth Harmony - keyboardist Miley Cyrus - keyboard sub mxmtoon - music director Rita Ora - keyboardist WENS - music director Kesha, Julia Michaels, Alessia Cara, Joshua Bassett and more! I endorse Nord and Sequential (Dave Smith Instruments).
8. Describe to me your dream project. This is a great question; mostly because I feel like I haven’t revisited my musical “dream” for a while as I’ve been riding such an amazing wave of music projects/tours. I think my dream music project might look something like this: I’m the music director for several different artists and we decide to do a big show (maybe a TV special?) with my dream house band and there’s both classical and pop performances. I think I want to dig back to my classical roots soon; make classical piano more accessible to younger generations. I don’t know, I really feel like I’m living my dream right now, getting to work and travel the world with different artists as both a player and an MD.
9. What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) being an AAPI in the music world? What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) as an AAPI in general (non-music)? Conversely, has being an AAPI ever helped you in the music industry? I feel incredibly lucky and privileged to have had the positive experience I’ve had as an AAPI in music. I find that most of the obstacles I’ve faced have more to do with me being a woman in a male-dominated industry. However, there are definitely times where I wonder if I got a job only because I’m AAPI. Do they know my talent and what I bring to a room? Or am I just here because of how I look? Either way, it adds fuel to the fire of me wanting to do my best. When I’ve walked into rehearsal spaces and I see another AAPI person is working the same gig as me, my heart definitely flutters and invisibly reaches out to them as someone I can immediately connect with. When I’ve walked into rehearsal rooms or gigs and notice that I’m the only AAPI (and then usually the only woman) there is a deep part of me that feels alone, that I can’t connect with the group in ways that are really important to me. I’m really blessed to have grown up with and continue to keep a friend group that’s pretty diverse. I feel that most of the obstacles I encountered growing up were more so witnessing what my mom or her family experienced and not fully understanding right away how we were different. One time I was in the car with my Lola when she got pulled over and even though I was only 8 or so, I could tell the police officer was being incredibly rude and racist to her. My elementary school was predominantly white, so my mom always stood out among the other moms, and I found that she connected faster with the other AAPI moms, kind of like me with my friends. I feel that I can ride this weird line between presenting more Filipino or presenting more white. Physically my skin color can change drastically from super light tan to deep olive or brown. In my predominantly Latino neighborhood, I was excited that I’m half POC and my neighbors might connect with me in that way. But on the other hand, I wasn’t sure if they might see me more as white and therefore perpetuating gentrification of the east side of LA. A lot of Asians are told that they have a closer experience to that of white people than that of BIPOC. I truly feel of mixed race - I have started to get so giddy when I see “mixed” on an ethnicity multiple choice. My family’s Christmas buffet is both Filipino and Italian. Baked ziti spilling into menudo.
10. 10a.) Who are some AAPI musicians/composers/producers who have previously inspired and currently inspire you (if any)? Why? When I was a younger and obsessed with Mulan, my mom told me who Lea Salonga was, and I was SO excited to know that there was a Filipina singer on the only AAPI Disney princess movie. AAPI representation in movies, especially kids movies, is really important.
10b.) What are your hopes for the AAPI music community and your hopes for AAPIs in general? I think there is a big move right now to include more AAPIs in hired bands which is exciting. I hope to see more AAPIs working on touring crews. I hope that the general AAPI experience continues to be uplifted, in big and small ways. We have a long way to go to uproot systemic racism in America, but small moments of awareness, like from this AAPI blog, are small ways to start! Proud to be a part of this.
11. If you could give advice now to your younger teenage self, what would you tell her/him/they? I would tell myself to always prioritize being kind. It goes a long way, in music, in life.
12. Do you have any upcoming projects for which you are excited and about which you are allowed to share? Is there anything non-music-related on the horizon about which you would like to share? I will be accompanying Malia Civetz for a series of livestream performances on her TikTok from April 20 - May 14. I’ve also been working more on my production skills, so maybe we’ll see some of those tracks soon? In non-related music news, I will hopefully be replanning my twice-postponed wedding and getting married soon now that the vaccine is rolling out!
13. Name one or two non-music-related things/subjects about which you are also passionate. I am a FOODIE - I am super passionate about cooking, eating and exploring different cuisines (which I absolutely get from my Filipino and Italian cultures). A more recently acquired hobby of mine is gardening! I currently have strawberries that are popping up like crazy and my tomato plants are thriving.
14. Any final thoughts? Alternatively, do you have any questions for me and/or the greater AAPI music community? I feel really lucky to be a part of your AAPI blog and look forward to connecting with more and more AAPI musicians. Maybe a showcase sometime?
Photos provided by Karina DePiano