Asian Am Musicians

Up Close and Personal with The Slants

The Slants Chinatown Rock Dance Fusion band JadeLuckClub Jade Luck Club

The Slants Chinatown Rock Dance Fusion band JadeLuckClub Jade Luck Club

I asked Simon a bunch of questions about the members of The Slants (Aron Moxley | Vocals, Simon Young | Bass, Johnny Fontanilla | Guitar, Tyler Chen | Drums) and I was a little nosy but they gracefully complied. Let’s get up close and person with The Slants … I think they are going to be the Next Big Thing!

p.s. Here are other reviews:

Anrgy Asian Man: “Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts kicks some serious ass. They’ve got this throbbing synth-pop/ dance-rock sound with a badass Asian twist. Their vibe recalls bands like Depeche Mode, New Order, Joy Division… and more recently, The Killers… This band knows what it’s doing”

AsiaXpress: “While most new bands require a grace period before being able to produce a cohesive sound, The Slants ‘who formulated their lineup in early 2007’ sound like they’ve been playing together for years. Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts is a rich collection of head-nodding, feet-stomping dance tracks that will attract old and new synthpop fans alike.”

 

1) Tell me about your background (family, ethnicity, where you grew up). Where did you go to college? When did you start learning an instrument? Which one? When did you decide to pursue music as a career? Did anyone of you actually grow up in Chinatown?

Simon (bass): I grew up in San Diego, CA with my Chinese father and Taiwanese mother. Although we didn’t have a formal “Chinatown,” it was certainly in the part of town more multiple Southeast Asian families and businesses congregated. I began studying music at the age of five and started taking formal bass guitar lessons at 10. I knew I wanted to do music before I even learned to talk – my parents have home videos of me jumping on the coffee table with my dad’s guitar and pretending to play/sing. I went to college at University of California, Riverside as a music major but eventually graduated with a degree in business management.

Thai (guitar/keyboards):  I’m Vietnamese, born in Japan, raised in America, grew up in San Diego, CA.  I went to college at UCLA (Go Bruins!).  I started playing piano when I was 5 and playing bass when I was 20.  I never really learned to play the guitar, but don’t tell the Slants that, lol!   I told my mom when I was 5 years old I wanted to be a musician.

Johnny (lead guitar):  My name is Johnny, and I grew up in Southern California. I’m Hispanic on my mothers side and Filipino on my fathers side. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 12. It’s always been a dream to be able to make music a career.

Tyler (drums): I was born in Salem, Oregon, to a multi-racial family (Chinese, German, Swedish, and Irish) and was strongly drawn to music from an early age.  As a child I loved to play my parent’s piano and impressed my parents so much, that they had me start piano lessons at age 4.  I hated the lessons, and would often disappear in the music store, only to be found sitting dreamily in front of a drum set.  I would construct small drum kits at home using oatmeal boxes and chairs, and play them with chopsticks while pretending to perform on stage. Finally, in 5th grade, I got my chance when I was selected to play drums in the school band.  By 7th grade, I was the drummer in the school jazz band and had saved up enough money to buy my own drum set.  I don’t know exactly when I realized that I wanted to pursue a career in music, but it was probably before I knew what “having a career” meant!  I attended an arts magnet high school where I got the opportunity to play with many famous local musicians, and I gained a lot of studio experience recording in the school’s exceptional recording studio.  Due to my interest in recording, I went on to The Evergreen State College to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Audio Engineering.

 

2) How do your parents feel about you being in a rock band? Do you get pressure to get a “real job?” (Can you each please answer this question).

Tyler: My parents have always been really supportive of my “rock star aspirations”!  They know how important it is to me!

Thai: My parents are proud that I’m playing music, and they’re my biggest fans.  I do have a “real job” so there’s no pressure.

Johnny: My parents have always been supportive in the decisions I make. Besides working with The Slants I also work full time managing a Drywall material supply house.

Simon: Unlike the other guys, my parents always hated the idea of me playing in a band. They always wanted me to become a doctor or lawyer so that I would have a secure living and not struggle like they did as an immigrant family. However, after seeing what we’ve done for the Asian American community in this band – delivering workshops on racism, raising money for charity, and advocating for Asian American issues, it was the first time my parents ever said that they were proud of me.

 

3) Is your band a full time job or do you need to do other stuff for $? If so, what do you do? What other jobs have you held?

Thai:  Being in The Slants is a full time job, but I have a day job to help pay the bills and buy fancy suits.  I’m a adjudicator for Social Security Disability.  I’ve also been in advertising sales, computer sales, I’ve worked at a video game store, at a department store, a Baskin Robbins, and I was a DJ at a strip club for a short time.

Johnny: The band feels like a full time job. Unfortunately the gig doesn’t pay all that well.

Tyler: I have a full-time day job for the State of Washington, but I do a lot of freelance web development, graphic design, audio engineering, video production and other media work in addition to being a musician!

Simon: I all of the behind the scenes work for the band so it ends up being a full time job for me (spend about 30-50 hours per week on it), even though none of us are drawing a salary from it. The band basically runs itself and we use the money to continue to tour or record. However, I recently started a company with a friend called En Sinergia Media, a print marketing firm that specifically helps non-profit organizations and communities of color.

 

4) What are your musical influences? Why did you decide to start/join an “Asian Rock Dance Band?”

Simon: My personal musical influences don’t necessarily reflect the kind of music that I wanted to create with The Slants: Ramones, Elvis Costello, Guns n’ Roses, etc. but that’s something that each of us brings to the table. I wanted to start this band to change preconceptions about Asian American culture, to present a bold portrayal of the API experience, and to experience more pan-Asian culture. I wanted to make the music distinctly 80’s influences because the time period reflects what I and others experienced as first generation born Asian Americans…not to mention that the music itself is catchy and has great hooks!

Johnny: I grew up listening to old 70’s punk. I also love David Bowie, T Rex, The Stone Roses, Jesus and The Mary Chain, etc.

Thai:  The Clash, Metallica, Guns N Roses, U2, New Order.   I joined an “Asian Rock Dance Band” because I’d never done something like this before, the tunes are fun to play, and the guys in the band are fun to perform with.

Tyler: Some of my biggest musical influences are bands like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Tool, Dream Theater, Pantera, The Deftones, Sepultura…I joined The Slants because I loved the music and the energy of the band!  It is contagious!

 

5) Do you feel that your music gets pigeon-holed or is more difficult to discover because you are an “Asian” band?

Thai:  Yes and no.  I think a lot of people aren’t used to the idea of Asians rocking out, but they are receptive to it.   I think sometimes it makes it easier for people to remember us, but I still think that has a lot more to do with us putting on a kick-ass live show and having fun catchy songs than just us being Asian.

Johnny: The music speaks for itself. We may be Asians in a band, but we still play Rock n Roll…

Tyler: I feel that The Slants get pigeon-holed by people until they see us play live.  After seeing a live show, it doesn’t matter who they think we sound like or look like, the live show makes people fall in love with us at a completely different level!

Simon: I think it is more difficult because people automatically have assumptions about the group when they learn we’re an Asian American band. While it more be more difficult to break at an industry level (the general assumption about API’s in the entertainment industry is that we don’t sell and therefore are left in very typecast roles), it is easier for others to remember us simply because there are so few majority or all-Asian acts out there playing this kind of music.

 

6) How will your band “break out” into a bigger demographic? Do you think about this?

Thai:  We’d be silly not to think about this.  You always have to think about how you get more people to hear your music if you want to succeed in this business.  As far as how our band will “break out”, by continuing to put on one of the best live rock shows you’ll ever see, and by having out awesome fans (The Slants Army!) continuing to spread the word.

Johnny: We just need to keep doing what we love. Write good music and go on tour.

Tyler: I’m guessing that a sex tape of one of our band mates and a Kardashian will go viral on the internet and everyone across the country will know about us over night…no, I’m just kidding…honestly, with the music industry in its current state, The Slants are doing a great job of breaking out: gradually with a few fans at a time.  Every time we visit different cities there are more fans at our shows…and we have awesome fans!

Simon: Managing the business affairs, I think about this stuff all the time but I couldn’t be more proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in just four years. Things like being featured on NPR to getting the front page of the Oregonian or hearing our music on the radio when driving around town…it’s very exciting. As far as breaking out into a bigger demographic, our focus has always been to just stay true to what we have: fans of Asian or Asian American culture and people who like to dance. It just naturally spreads from there. Like the other guys have mentioned, we just need to continue to do what we do and be true to ourselves. We don’t plan publicity stunts or try and be like anyone else because that would simply be disingenuous.

 

7) What is next for The Slants?

Thai:  Recording our next album this fall/winter, finding true love and the perfect sandwich.

Johnny: Writing another album, touring, and recording a unplugged album

Simon: All of the above plus fighting for the right to trademark our name, continuing to perform at anime conventions, and to share the Asian American experience with others.

 

8) How is your trademark going? I understand the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is denying your trademark because your name “The Slants” was a historically term used to insult Asians. How about using the dictionary term for your trademark?

Johnny: We’re still fighting the US Government, but it’s not stopping us from doing what we love.

Simon: Without going into it too much, the U.S Patent and Trademark Office rejected our trademark because they said it is currently offending the majority of Asian Americans. However, that line of thinking ridiculous, especially when one considers the overwhelming support that we’ve had from the Asian American community all across the board. Several third party studies were conducted about the term “Slant” and in every case, the overwhelming majority of Asian Americans supported our use of the name. We sent in a 400+ page report with legal and historical evidence, expert reports from one of the editors at the New American Oxford Dictionary, life-long API activists, and more but they still continue to deny us the right to protect our brand. However, we’ll continue fighting for what is right.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Add your response