Interview: Simon Young from The Slants

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

If you've been following this blog since its inception (and who hasn't?) you'll know that one of the bands I've tried to push is The Slants, even doing a CD giveaway with them early on. I figured since I hadn't done a post on them in a bit I should check in, see how they were doing, and decided to throw some random questions the way of bassist Simon Young.

Here's what he had to say.

It's been about two months since you withdrew from the Bodog Battle of the Bands contest where you were in the semi-final round and on your way to the finals where you could have been competing for a million dollar contract. For those who aren't familiar with the situation, can you talk a little bit about why the band withdrew, lessons learned, and what - if anything - you gained from the experience, or was it all a wash in the end?

We originally joined an international Battle of the Bands competition last year in order to get some face time on national tv as well as a chance to win a million dollar recording contract. We made it through several rounds fairly quickly, placing in first each time. However, we dropped out during the semi-finals because they wanted us to sign a huge non-negotiable contract that would have nullified any rights that we had as artists. Our legal help told us to stay away…not only did it seem risky, but the company itself was revealing its true colors and we didn’t feel comfortable working with them. We’ve always wanted to stay independent for as long as possible and this experience just supported that decision. I think its safe to say that The Slants won’t be joining anymore “battle of the bands” type competitions again.

How's the summer tour shaping up?

The tour plans are going well, just trying to fill in as many dates as possible! It’s a quite a bit of emailing, following up, and phone calls…but it’ll be worth it once we’re on the road. There are some great shows coming up and we look forward to playing new places that we haven’t been yet!

You took out a second mortgage on your house to produce Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts. Are you feeling the pressure yet? Have the sales been what you've expected?

The other day, I was joking with our publicist, Alex, and I told him that “I don’t need a girlfriend, I have The Slants…it’s enough to make me go broke on it’s own” The pressure is always there, especially since I’ve just been laid off of my day job. But I strongly believe in this band and I know that everything will work out. Sales have been pretty strong and the album is going to be available in stores nationwide starting this July, so there’s definitely a lot of excitement going on! I’m very proud of the album, so even if we didn’t sell a single copy, I’d say it was still worth doing.

I noticed the band isn't selling individual tracks via your MySpace page. Any plans in the future to do so, or was this a conscious effort on the band's part? The reason I ask is because more and more you're seeing bands and artists sell their tracks individually as well as one complete CD.

Our publicist advised us to stop selling our music through Snowcap (the company that links music sales to bands’ MySpace sites) but we’re still selling strong through iTunes and other companies. Fans can still buy individual tracks, though I always think its best to get the whole album so that you can get the whole feel of what we’re doing.

Recently you teamed up with clothing designer Tina Richard for a custom line of clothes. How has it been working with her?

It’s been great! Tina’s very innovative and has brought a lot of unique, creative merchandise pieces to our lineup. She’s also designed some personal stage wear for Aron and Jen Cho. We’re all looking forward to what she comes up with next!

Almost immediately the band started getting a lot of attention, playing a lot of shows, and also finding a niche in anime conventions. What do you credit that success too?

I think it’s a combination of things….there aren’t many synth-pop bands out there right now, certainly not many that are inherently Asian, so I think that’s been getting us some attention. The Asian community has been especially supportive, writing about our band and encouraging us to continue what we do. We also have an amazing publicist helping us get press, as well as a very enthusiastic fan base willing to share our music with others.

I was reading on your blog about a write-up you got in Music Spectator magazine which said (sic) "The Slants are a self parody, a tongue-in-cheek mocking finger pointing at themselves. This is an American band using their ethnicity as fodder for their own brand of humor, which carries over to their marketing and even their sound to a degree". When I think of a "self parody" I think The Notorious MSG, not really The Slants. What do you think of the description, and then how do you think fans see you?

I don’t really see ourselves as a self parody, but we do take on Asian stereotypes with a certain sense of humor. We don’t wear wigs of awkward “Asian” hairstyles and we certainly don’t speak with fake Asian accents or anything. However, we do incorporate a lot Asian themes in our merchandise, image, and songs. It isn’t necessarily aimed to be humorous, most of the time its because its something we enjoy (such as Asian artwork, cinematic themes, or food). I think our fans understand that we maintain this theme because of we’re proud of who we are (just look at the name of our band). They understand that we do have a certain sense of humor, but we’re certainly not mocking ourselves nor the cultures that we stand for.

Right now you're doing a lot of touring and promoting the album which also just got re-mastered. How long do you plan on promoting this album before starting on your second album? Is there a timetable for a release?

We’ve already started writing songs for the next album, which should be released in early 2009. In the meantime, we’ll probably continue touring and promoting Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts into late fall. It will always be our debut album so I’m sure it will always have a special place in our hearts.

So I gotta ask - what's up with Gaijin only getting to show his belt buckle and having to wear shades? Is there no love for the white guys?

It’s his personal preference; maybe he’s a bit camera shy. We don’t force him to wear a mask on stage or anything : )

I had talked with April Baer about a NPR story she was looking to do on The Slants and one of the things I had mentioned was that while I think in the world of hip hop and spoken word there's more talk about race and racism and ethnicity - there's an awareness there - in the genre of techno/synth/dance there isn't that awareness out there, and that's where I think The Slants are different - you bring that awareness about race and ethnicity and being Asian American to a genre that hasn't typically had that. While I know it's about the music, it's also about the message too and I was wondering about the reaction so far from your fans about that message and being Asian American.

We’ve had some mixed responses to our ethnic theme, though for the most part it has been positive. We’ve had a lot of fans tell us that its refreshing to find an Asian artist playing dance rock, that they kind of sing certain songs like “Sakura, Sakura” as an anthem (“We sing for the Japanese and the Chinese and all of the dirty knees…”). It’s an amazing feeling to be playing these songs and watching kids sing along to every word.

We had one review recently that took some jabs at us for being Asian; saying that we had self-confidence issues and because of our Asian themes. Rather than reviewing our music at all, the entire article focused on this – which resulted in a substantial amount of hate mail sent to the publication for their “racist” remarks.

Last question. Five things you really miss when you're touring on the road.

1. Seeing my friends in my hometown or having any semblance of a “normal” relationship.
2. Home cooked meals.
3. Sleeping in my own bed
4. Time to myself (not that I don’t love my band…but think about being in a 15 passenger van everyday for a few months with the same 5 people and you’ll understand).
5. Sitting down in something that isn’t moving (the van).

Actually this is the last question. Where are you and what are you wearing right now (because I'm sure someone wants to know)?

I am sitting in the airport wearing a black D&G jacket, some kind of rising sun t-shirt, jeans, and some rock n’ roll boots.

And underwear too.

For more on The Slants check out their site and their MySpace page.