By Samantha Test
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Slants, a Portland-based crew of five Asian Americans, put on an energetic, sweaty, and intense head-nodding-to-the-beat rock show last Saturday night, Oct. 20 at the Columbia City Theater. The band played songs off of their latest project, third album “The Yellow Album,” which won’t be released until Nov. 6.
Lead singer Aron Moxley claims that they “put on one of the best live shows ever.” Based on the reaction of the 75-plus person crowd Saturday night, he might be right.
“The energy’s there, the heart is there, all you have to do is bring a pair of ears and a pair of great dancing shoes!” Moxley continued. “Really, we put our heart and soul into it and love to have fun with everyone there.”
They call their sound “Chinatown Dance Rock.” It’s a blend of 80s-style synth pop and more modern rock and dance music.
“Modern new wave with a hard rock and punk influence,” said Thai Dao (guitar/keyboards). “The Bravery with more balls. Depeche Mode meets The Ramones meets The Faint.”
The band has been compared to The Killers, Neon Tree, She Wants Revenge and Depeche Mode.
The title track off the new album is “Yellow,” a name that has roots in the band members’ heritage — all are of Asian Pacific Islander descent.
“This is my favorite work of music I’ve done by far. I’m really proud of it,” said Simon Young (bass). “I think we’ve come a long way in terms of songwriting. It’s still fun for me to listen to and I’ve heard it endlessly on repeat while we were working on it – that’s always a great sign.”
Drummer Tyler Chen said all the songs reflect the lives of the band members “in brutal honesty.”
Young agreed, “I think all of the songs present a picture of real life experiences, from feeling like an outsider to finding love. We’re real people with real feelings that everyone can relate to. We just try and package it in a way that’s fun, meaningful, and danceable.”
The song “Adopted” is an example of how front man Moxley lays out his personal qualms to share with fans.
“I was one of the babies born in Saigon during the Vietnam War. I’ll never know my real
birthday, let alone find out who my mother is or know if she’s still alive,” he said.
While the band uses their heritage, and common stereotypes about that heritage, to stand out, they hope an Asian American rock band one day is conventional.
“The benefit of being an all Asian-American band is that we stand out as being unique,” said Chen.
“However, the challenge is that many people have preconceived notions of what we’re going to sound like when they hear about us, and sometime don’t even make the effort to listen to our music for the first time.”
It normally takes only one listen for people to change their minds.
“We get a lot of people who say ‘I didn’t expect for this band to rock the way it does! I hope that doesn’t sound bad, and I’m not saying you sound good for Asians, you guys just sound good!’” said Dao. “I like that we shatter someone’s preconceived notion of how good a band of all Asian guys can be. On the other hand, I’d love to be in a world one day where those preconceptions are gone.”
The Slants do things their own way. Like when it turned down a sure million-dollar contract.
The band competed in the Bodog Music Battle of the Bands in 2008. They placed first in every round of the competition, winning the chance to be on a Fuse TV reality show in addition to a one million dollar recording contract. However, when the band learned that the contract was non-negotiable and that they had to sign to even finish the competition, they walked away.
Since then, they’ve carved their own path for themselves.
“We’re the only band that tours anime/geek conventions, plays in prisons, do shows for troops serving overseas, play cultural festivals, and perform at rock clubs…sometimes in the same month. We’ve created our own niche and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Young.
A more recent battle the band has faced was against the United States Patent and Trademark Office. A government attorney claimed the band’s name was disparaging to Asians.
“It was like banging our head against the wall, trying to convince someone that we were not offensive to ourselves, that the community was in overwhelming support of our band,” said Young.
The case is currently ongoing.
“I remember that we received some criticism early on for putting our pan-Asian heritage on our sleeve but that certainly anything that we’re ashamed of. Like anything else in life, people will make assumptions about you and what you’re doing. Our band is a testament to the idea that it’s possible to overcome those kinds of challenges. I like to say that the best kind of revenge is to do well, to prove the naysayers that they were wrong.”
The Slants new album, The Yellow Album, will be released Nov. 6. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/theslants.
Samantha Test can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: We had originally said that the Slants have won their case against the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It has not.