By now, you’ve probably read about the battle between The Slants and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office after the Trademark Office refused to register “The Slants,” calling the name “disparaging.” Guess what? I got to chat with Simon Young, founding member and bassist of the Asian American Portland-based rock band. Find out his take on the controversy, what he feels about their large otaku fan-base, and what his fobbiest trait is!
While most bands on tour are eating pizza or at McDonalds, when we’re on tour, we can’t get away from not eating Asian food. We can be in the middle of no where and we’ll crave Asian noodles or food. It’s almost like comfort food.
How did you get started with The Slants?
It’s funny because the band really started because I was inspired by a movie. I was watching Kill Bill. There’s a scene where they’re walking into a restaurant and I remember seeing the slow motion walking of all the Asian gangsters. That was pretty bad ass. You never see Asians depicted that way in movies, the entertainment world, or the rock and roll world.
I began [the band] by posting on Craigslist, weekly classifies, and making posters and posting them in Asian supermarkets. It took almost two years. I eventually started off with a prolific group. I wanted to do something that would be a bold trail of Asian American cultures. We’re not going to hide behind who we are at all. I wanted to go around breaking the stereotypes of Asians—like how we grow up just playing piano or wanting to be black. I wanted to show that Asians can put on an energetic and dynamic show and be something that is cool.
You describe your sound as “Chinatown Dance Rock.” Can you elaborate?
It’s a term that we kind of coined. I love what it represents. Chinatowns tend to take on stereotypes and most people think all the Asians in Chinatown are the same, but oftentimes it’s an entry for a diverse population of Asian immigrants. My parents were immigrants and oftentimes, the Chinatown areas were the only places that the families felt at home. It was paying homage to that aspect of it. The genre can be described as dance rock with an 80’s kind of sound.
You’ve gone through a number of different members. How do you know if someone is “Slant” material?
Spending time with people and making sure they have right type of attitude. Ability is something someone can learn and improve upon, but personality is something you can’t really change.
I’m the first member of my family to graduate with a college degree. I started out as a religious studies and philosophy double major but right before I graduated, I moved to Portland to try doing music for a career. At first, my parents discouraged me. They didn’t think it was a viable career option, but when they saw what I was doing with The Slants and how we were making a positive impact on the Asian American community, it was the first time my dad said he was proud of me.
Is playing in the band your main focus now? Or do you have another job on the side?
My heart is devoted to the band but I do have a day job. I’m a marketing manager for a small non-profit in Oregon. On nights and weekends, I play rock and roll. It’s kinda funny, I’m not the typical rock star. I go to bed at 9 o’clock at night. Right before we play shows, I’m usually really sleepy. But a different part of my personality comes out on stage and I find myself to be full of energy.
There’s been a lot of media coverage about your battle with the US Trademark Office, what is your view on the controversy?
It’s presumptuous for people to assume what other people may be feeling. With the Trademark Office, they are making a basic assumption that the Asian American community at large doesn’t accept our name. I think that’s kind of insulting. We provide an ample amount of evidence and broad support for the name and they continue to reject it. We have been a part of America and they still treat us like we’re foreigners and that we don’t understand how rights work. It’s really silly. They should give us more credit than that. We should figure out what’s good for us. But because there’s so much press about the whole case and issue, we’re able to bring discrimination to the forefront and to really challenge people’s notions about what it means to be racist and discriminating.
The Slants have garnered a niche base of otaku/anime fans. What is it about your music that really attracts this particular fan base?
They love how we incorporate the electronic and dance flavor. The original way we got into all this is that we’re Asian and most of these kids are obsessed with the Asian culture. They put Asians and the Japanese on pedestal. Being majority Asian members, it makes it easy to have access to that community. Because we don’t play anime theme songs, we stand out more. We can also kind of relate to them because we’re dorky people.
What’s the craziest thing a fan has done?
People sign the weirdest things, such as sweat drenched sneakers after our shows, iPods, cell phones.
What are your future plans? Any plans on touring Asia?
If we were ever to do a tour abroad, it would be in Europe. We sell the most albums in Germany. We’ve also talked about touring Asia numerous times and if we do go, we’d go to Japan or Taiwan.