Sunday, April 21, 2013

Interview with The SLANTS


1. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, to begin would each of you introduce yourselves.

ARON: Aron, frontman

TYLER:  Hi my name is Tyler Chen.  I play drums and sing backup vocals in The Slants.

SIMON: I’m Simon, I play bass. And actually, we all sing backup vocals in the band.

THAI: My name is Thai and I play guitars and keyboard for The Slants

WILLIAM: I'm William Moore and I play lead guitar for The Slants

2. Your band name is The Slants, and while we know what that refers to, could you tell us why you felt it was so important to push that message through the bands name.

ARON:  Celebration of our eyes

SIMON: The word slant can mean so many different things. For us, it’s about our “slant” or perspective on what it’s like as an Asian American or outsider of the dominant group. I originally picked the name, since it’s a reference to a broad stereotype that people have about Asians (that we all have slanted eyes). Often times, it’s a great conversation starter for deeper dialogue about race and culture.

TYLER:  No one should be ashamed of who they are, especially based on a physical trait that is tied to their racial identity.  Although our name, The Slants, represents so much more than this, it is important to me personally that we are able to empower Asian Americans of all ages to be proud of their slanted-eyes and their cultural background.

THAI: I look at it this way.  I have slanted eyes and I like them.  There's no reason it should be a badge of shame.  Plus it's bold and edgy.

3. You’ve mentioned the trouble that you’ve had while trying to trademark the band’s name - could you inform our readers about this issue, and tell us how they could help?

SIMON: A few years ago, we applied for a trademark on our band’s name. However, the U.S. Trademark Office denied it, claiming that “slant” was a racist term that is disparaging to Asians (they used as a source). As mentioned before, “slant” can mean a lot of when we asked why, in all of U.S history, they applied the racial definition to our band but not to anyone else who has ever applied for “slant” as a trademark, they said it was because we are Asian. In other words, we’re being denied because of our race and that’s just wrong. We just tell others about the issue. We’re getting ready to put together a petition, etc. and all of the news will be on our sites soon.

THAI: Keep spreading the word on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

4. You’ve described your musical style as “Chinatown Dance Rock” when and how did you come to coin this term?

ARON:  It's dancy throwback new wave

TYLER:  A "Chinatown" in North America, is an area of a city where a concentration of immigrants from different countries around Asia have established themselves.  To the surrounding culture, all of these people are lumped together as being "Asian", regardless of if they may have been enemies in their countries of origin.  Thus, a community is formed due to their commonalities.  Our band is very similar to a Chinatown.  We each come from very different racial and cultural backgrounds, but we are joined by our commonalities and strengthened by our differences.  "Dance Rock" is exactly what it sounds like - rock music that you can dance to!

SIMON: When we first started, I used to put “Asian Dance & Groove” or “Asian Dance Rock” on the flyers. One day after that, I was putting up posters in our Chinatown area and looking at the unity between the multiple Southeast Asian residents, cultures that traditionally have clashed, and knew at that moment it was the perfect metaphor for our work.

5. Which song would you suggest new fans listen to first? Which song best embodies your style of Chinatown Dance Rock?

ARON:  Sakura Sakura, its such a dancy tune!!

TYLER:  "Sakura Sakura" from our first album "Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts" encapsulates, both what the band stands for, and the sound of Asian-infused dance rock.

WILLIAM: The first Slants song that really stood out to me was "Love Within My Sins."  I'm really into vocal melodies and I particularly like the way that song was laid out.  As far as what embodies the Slants' Chinatown Dance Rock.  I'd say "Sakura Sakura."

SIMON: Right now, I’d say that the song to listen to would be “Love Letters From Andromeda.” It’s our newest single and has our musical signature all over it: high energy, plenty of electronics/keyboards, a little rock n’ roll.

THAI: I don't know if I can answer that.  It's like asking which of your children people meet first.

6. Was it hard to get your band started in Oregon as opposed to somewhere like California or New York where there are more people and a more diverse music scene?

ARON:  Not at first.  But we've been through a few line up changes that proved a little tricky

TYLER:  If we were looking to find a record label, being based in California or New York might have made things easier, but we are a fully independent band that at this point hasn't needed label backing to accomplish what we've done and being based in the northwest has been great for us!

THAI: Having lived in California for a majority of my life I can say that the music scene isn't more diverse.  There's just more people.

SIMON: I grew up playing and doing music in Southern CA as well. In many ways, I think it’s more difficult to get your foot in the door because so many other bands are around. The most difficult thing in getting this band started was actually finding Asians who were interested in doing this kind of music to begin with...but once we got the ball rolling, it took off.

7. What advantages would you say your location provided for your music?

WILLIAM: Living in Seattle has been an incredible training ground and a hub of musicians.   It was only natural that in my course of touring around Seattle that I'd come to meet The Slants in Portland (which is also another fine city for music!).

TYLER: These days, you can develop a music career from practically anywhere that has high-speed internet access.  The advantage of living in Portland is that it is a great place to live!  Also, we are all foodies and are deeply inspired by food-what better reason to live in Portland?!

THAI: Portland and Seattle have an advantage that they're major cities with lots of venues and lots of quality bands.

SIMON: The nice thing about Portland is that the city is really supportive of the arts, employers are usually pretty flexible when it comes to going on tour, etc. It’s also pretty affordable to live here, which is nice for broke musicians.

8. You currently have four releases available, how do you feel your music has progressed and changed over the course of these albums?

ARON: The first was very electro.  We wanted to go more rock on Pageantry with synth.  And the Yellow Album was a fine mix of both rock and electro!

TYLER:  Our first album was heavy on the electronica end of the spectrum, our second release was a dance remix version of the first album - which is even further down the spectrum.  Then our second album (third release), fell much heavier into the rock end of the spectrum.  The Yellow Album is really a perfect balance of electronica and rock, and we have finally achieved the level of songwriting and production that we have strived for since the beginning.  I am very proud of it!

THAI: Our songwriting and production has improved with each album.  I also feel that this current lineup is the strongest one the band has ever had in terms of musicianship and showmanship.

SIMON: We’ve had so many people come and go over the years, but for a while, we had a solid core of four people (Me, Aron, Tyler, Johnny) that were able to grow the music. It’s changed a little since then, but we were finally able to steer the music and live show where we originally intended: a balance between a heavy 80’s synthpop sound and modern rock n’ roll. I’m quite happy with it now.

9. If you had to summarize your latest album, “The Yellow Album” in five words – how would you describe it?

ARON:  Very fucking awesome dance music

TYLER:  Powerful, Fun, Energetic, Slanted, and Yellow!

THAI:  The Album Is F*cking Awesome!

SIMON: Face-melting Chinatown Dance Rock.

10. Are there any stories you can share with us during the making of this album – what was the process like?

ARON: The process was kind of new school.  Didn’t write a single song at band practice.  All by email and dropbox.

TYLER: Our process is quite a bit different than a majority of the bands out there in that, at the completion of an album, through the songwriting and recording processes, we have had very little face to face interaction.  In the songwriting stage, we each record ideas and demos at our home recording studios, share them with each other online, and then we all contribute by adding on to those original ideas and demos.  For the Yellow Album, we also did all of the final recordings at our home recording studios.  My recording studio is in a vacant house that I own that is near a train station.  Since we recorded the drums and vocals there, if you listen to Aron's vocal tracks soloed, you can hear trains banging together.  Now that I think about it, there is probably cat meows on the tracks as well because my cat was super excited to sing along with Aron.

SIMON: Aside from our songwriting and production process, the years we lived while making the record were some of the toughest we faced in this band. We were fighting the Trademark Office, several band members had to endure some severe heartbreak and the passing of several family members, the world seemed to be going through crisis after crisis. However, we also found strengths in the arts and poured it into our music. We were able to play brand new songs for Oregon prisoners and soldiers stationed overseas; we helped raised money for the Japanese Tsunami relief fund; we decided to start a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting bullying in schools. Some of us also fell in love. So, it was a mix of good times and bad.

11.  Can you talk about The Slants partnership with Fender and the importance of being the first Asian band to be a Fender Music artist?

SIMON: Fender has been great to us. We’ve launched a few giveaways, like a Hello Kitty guitar and a custom bass guitar that I designed, they made some custom gear for us, and they’ve introduced us to other music instrument companies too. It’s been a great partnership. There aren’t many bands out there with people of color so I think it’s important to show some diversity in the music industry, to show that our communities should be represented too. I’m thrilled that they agree!

12.  I love how you listed Ken Simon as a member of your band. When people think of bands, not everyone thinks of more than what they see on stage.  What made you decide to list him?

ARON:  He is as important to the slants family as each of us.  Ken does so much stuff on the road, during a show, building our bus bed bunks, changing flat tires, etc.  He's awesome!

TYLER:  Ken is an integral and equal member of the band.  Really, the only difference between Ken and any other member of the band is that he doesn't play an instrument or sing on stage.  Ken has been my drum tech for almost 10 years now, way before I ever joined The Slants, and I can count on one hand the number of shows that he has not been at.  Honestly, I'm not sure what I would do without him!

WILLIAM: Ken is as much a member of the band as any of us.

THAI: because this band is a family and Ken is family.  He helps us run a very tight ship and lets us concentrate on being the best band we could be.

SIMON: It’s good to highlight some of work behind-the-scenes as well. He works hard. In fact, The Murder City Devils used to list their permanent roadie, Gabe, has a band member too. I wish more bands would do it.

13.  You're very well traveled within the United States. Could you tell us more about your history of overseas performance?

ARON: Playing for the troops in Europe on New Year's Eve was awesome!  They really appreciated us volunteering our time to entertain them!

TYLER: A year ago, we traveled to Bosnia and Kosovo to perform for US and NATO troops during the holidays.  It was an amazing experience!  During our stay in Bosnia we got to explore Sarajevo, a gorgeous city struggling to overcome its tragic past.  A few of the troops even took us out to experience the Sarajevo nightlife!

SIMON: The trip playing for the troops was definitely one of the coolest experience I’ve ever had from playing music. We hope to visit again...and hopefully not when in deep winter!

14.  The SLANTS has done charity work before, with cancer research for Asian American women and tsunami relief. Could you tell us more about that?

SIMON: Giving back to the community has always been something that is important to this band. To this date, we’ve been a part of raising a little over $1 million for charitable organizations. We’ve partnered up with a number of causes. For our second record, Slants! Slants! Revolution, we gave 100% of the profits to supporting cancer research for Asian women because they have some of the highest rates in the world. When the tsunami hit Japan, we traveled coast to coast in order to collect money for the Red Cross Society. Recently, we helped bring awareness and raise money for Liberty in North Korea, which aids the rescue and relocation of North Korean refugees. I just got a report saying that we helped 12 people get rescued. It was amazing.

15.  For Will: You are the new lead guitarist, could you tell us how you came to join the band?

WILLIAM: Thai and I used to be in band together from Los Angeles.  It was on tour in Portland where we met The Slants.  From there we all kept in touch, Thai joined not too longer after and I followed a couple of years later.

16.  For Will: You’re also the lead vocalist in The Adarna. What is it like juggling multiple projects?

WILLIAM: In a word... Taxing.  But it's so worth it!  I get to play music 24/7!  The hard part is that I don't believe in doing anything half-assed.   The Adarna is my baby and it allows me to truly express myself as an artist/performer/musician.  Though The Slants isn't my baby, I feel right at home.  The music, the message, and the band itself is something I can get behind.  We put on a great show and we all have a great time doing it!

17.  Since you have been to so many conventions, what is your favorite part?

ARON:  The live show!  The kids are so genuine and fun

WILLIAM: My favorite part of conventions is meeting the fans.  I'm the new guy!  After all, who doesn't want to meet the new guy?

THAI: playing the shows and meeting the fans.  We get a lot of time during conventions to chat with fans and get to know them.  It's great!

TYLER: The attendees.  At anime and sci-fi conventions, the attendees have an amazing energy that is amplified at our concerts.  It is really fun performing for such energetic audiences.  Our song "Con Kids" is an homage to them!

SIMON: For me, it’s the time that we have off stage with the fans. Don’t get me wrong, playing the show is highlight for me, but I love meeting attendees and talking to them. I really enjoy talking about our experiences in panels as well. For example, I have one called “How Being Asian Got Me Into Trouble” and we have frank discussions about race/racism. It’s powerful, fun, and seems to inspire many people.

18.  You’ve gained a strong following within the anime-fandom, why do you think your music appeals to them so much?

ARON: Cause we're Asian

THAI: because it's that damn good!

SIMON: I think our fans really connect with us because the messages about being an outsider, misjudged, or misunderstood resonate with them. I think they also love dancing as well as rocking out.

19.  Because of this following, have you considered doing theme songs for anime?

THAI: Sure!  That would be a perfect fit!  That or Kung fu movies.

TYLER:  If we were approached to write and record a theme song, we would totally do it!

SIMON: Definitely. We want to create our own anime (maybe one day).

20.  Have you ever altered your show to accommodate the difference between a convention and a normal live venue?

ARON: Nope

THAI: Somewhat, in that convention stages are generally bigger so we can run around more.

TYLER:  When we play dive bars in the middle of nowhere to small audiences, we put on the same show that you see when we play at convention centers for thousands of fans. The only difference is that, on bigger stages, we are less likely to injure each other accidentally with our onstage acrobatics!

SIMON: We try and over-deliver with every show that we play, no matter the size or location. When we’re on tour, we bring plenty of extra things for the stage show that we can’t bring on the plane so it makes it even more special for our fans, both in clubs as well as conventions.

21.  What would you say the benefits are to performing at smaller conventions versus larger ones and vice-versa?

ARON:  Smaller one's we're usually the only band at the Con.

WILLIAM:  I personally prefer smaller conventions (so far) because they seem easier to manage.   I think it really comes down to the organizer of the event.  If it's well organized, managed, and promoted then it tends to work out favorably for all parties.

TYLER:  At smaller conventions we get to spend a lot more quality time interacting with each attendee, which we love!  With larger conventions, the budgets for sound equipment, stages, and lights are usually bigger - so our concerts end up sounding better and are more spectacular.  It is really a toss-up because we enjoy both small and large conventions.

SIMON: With smaller conventions, we tend to see the same attendees throughout the weekend so it gives us a chance to get to know them better. We do love the bigger show and experience that a larger con often provides, but it really depends on how the events are managers and what the conventions do to make the show special. We’ve had great experiences at both, each one is just a little different.

22.  In the early days of your band, did you envision the success that you’re experiencing today?

ARON:  Yes, and the sky is the limit!

SIMON: It was something I was always hoping for and preparing for, but I never could have imagined things happening the way that they did. I never would have imagined that we’d be starting our own non-profit organization, playing for troops overseas, or even in state prisons. It’s been an amazing experience.

TYLER: I have the unique perspective of seeing the band in the early days as an outsider.  It was easy to see the potential of the band, even back then, and it is honestly why I decided that I wanted to join the band!

23.  Was it always your intent to fight against racists stereotypes and stand up for the Asian American community through your music?

ARON:  Just being Asian we faced that nearly everyday. So this is our vehicle to spread the good word of celebration of diversity.  That’s why the PC movement is so stupid.  Love sees no color?  That’s dumb.  Love should see color and the beautiful things that makes us different.  It makes us a better community for it

SIMON: It’s always been our intent to fight racism, though perhaps not in the ways that we would have thought. We wanted to bring more diversity to the music industry and share about Asian American cultural experiences, but the stuff like fighting the U.S. government on a law that unfairly targets minorities, starting a non-profit, and doing workshops on racism/bullying were all things that happened along the way.

24.  What advice would you give to artists who you have inspired to promote a powerful message through their work?

TYLER:  Stay true to yourself and your original message.  You will inspire others more with your passion than anything else.

WILLIAM: My advice is to always remember why you're doing what you're doing.  You have something worth saying and sharing...if you're doing it to look cool, you're wasting everyone's time.

THAI: Work hard and never surrender your principles!  Also, love what you do!

SIMON: Always be hungry for more, don’t be satisfied with the status quo. Learn more about your passions, about your music, and your goals. Give as much to others as you can, generosity is never a bad thing. Learn a little about the music business, to know how to navigate through it so you realize that you don’t need to depend on anyone else except for your fans.

25.  Where do you think The Slants will be 10 years from now?

ARON:  Full swing with the PACE foundation, still rocking!

TYLER:  At the rate that we're at, 10 years from now "The Slants" will be a worldwide household name.  Hopefully we will have developed our success in a way that doesn't make us bottom out prematurely so that we can build a legacy that allows us to continue playing music for our entire lives!

THAI: Playing worldwide in huge arenas!  Haha!

SIMON: We’ll continue doing what we love to do.

26. Thank you again for your time, do you have any closing comments for our readers?

ARON: Keep making Art!  Keep being creative.  And love as much as you can!

TYLER:  Thanks for reading and we hope to see you all on tour!

WILLIAM:  Make sure you say hi when you come to a show!  We want to meet you!

THAI: Stay well, love one another!

SIMON: Thank you

Want to see photos of The SLANTS from MTAC? Check them out in our Photo Gallery [HERE]

To find out more about this amazing band, head on over to find them here:

Official Homepage / YouTube / Facebook / Twitter

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This interview with The Slants was written and conducted by Kaitlin Maginnis (Rain)



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