Sunday, January 3, 2010

Q&A: Simon of The Slants

I've known Simon for many years now, but it wasn't until recent years that we got to know each other as friends and not just music biz acquaintances. He's been in a few bands, but his new band, The Slants, has really gained momentum and both their sound and image stand apart from the crowd. Simon's a talented musician but also has many other talents and he's one of the most interesting people I know. He's also one of the most stand-up people I know and I think he's pretty cool. Read on and you will also.

Q: I first met you in 2000 during the Huntingtons tour when you were booking. Do you still do booking for bands?

Simon: Yep, I run a company called Last Stop Booking. Whenever I have extra time, I try help people out on tour - either completely booking them or filling in holes. I know what its like to be an artist struggling to find shows, let alone to depend on someone else to do it. Sometimes you just end up in the weirdest places - an elk's lodge, a bowling alley, a bookstore, etc. when you're really expecting a venue. I hate it when that happens so I try and get bands places that I know and have actually been to or played at myself. In reality though, I hate booking shows...but I love helping bands.

Q: You've been in other bands before the Slants. Will you tell us about those bands, your role in those bands, and what happened?

Simon: Like most musicians, I've been in more bands than I can even remember, but I think the two most important ones before The Slants would be Rockaway Teens and The Stivs. The Rockaway Teens was a pop punk band that I played guitar and sang in for four years. That's where I got most of my band firsts - first tour, first time on stage, and first time I started learning how to manage a band - from booking to merchandising. The other band members slowly lost interest and I just moved on to other things. A few years later, I joined The Stivs - a straight up, AC/DC meets The Stooges punk band. Originally, they asked me to play the drums but when I stepped into the band, it was as their bassist. Eventually, I started taking on more - booking shows for the band, some input into songwriting/production, and some of the business behind the scenes. That's where I really learned how to move on stage! Cliffy (founder/guitarist) and I left at the same time when we both felt like we needed to be doing something else.

Q: I've read that the Slants were formed after ads were placed on Craigslist and even in Asian-American supermarkets. Can you elaborate on this process?

Simon: I knew that I wanted to start an Asian band, I just didn't know how. In fact, I didn't really know any Asian musicians into electro rock, so I started plastering the town with flyers in Asian hangouts and hitting every online classified I could find. It took almost two years, but eventually things fell into place.

Q: You've been quoted as saying that you're proud of your Asian heritage so taking the name the Slants and making it your own was sort of destroying it as a racial slur- I'm paraphrasing you there, but was that the intent behind it? How has the reception been to that and do you encounter resistance from the Asian community?

Simon: Originally, I just thought that the name sounded cool because it was funny and that people wouldn't really get the double meaning behind it initially. I never thought that the term "slant" was offensive at all but when I learned that people were using it as a word of hate, I wanted to make people realize that having slanted eyes can be a beautiful thing. It's kind of like how the gay and lesbian community took and transformed the word "queer" into the proper way to address them. The Asian community has been extremely supportive. The Asian press has been helping promote us and it is really cool to get messages from kids saying that they now have an Asian role model or that they feel better about themselves because of what we've done.

Q: The Slants have been described as a dance/rock band. What does that mean? What does electroclash mean?

Simon: It means what it says - it's rock n roll that makes you want to dance. We like to call it "Chinatown Dance Rock." It's the same with electroclash, just another description for rock music infused with electronics.

Q: What's the music scene like in Portland as compared to the other places you've toured?

Simon: There's a definite "Portland sound": that most people describe as indie/folk with a lot of other movements behind it. Portland is great in that there's a thriving music scene here but the crowds definitely seem divided...and a little jaded too. It seems that way with most major cities because they're used to a few hundred bands playing every night.

Q: Tell us about the controversy the Slants generated during the Bodog battle of the bands competition.

Simon: We p*****d them off because we told them to shove their million dollar contract. First of all, I normally hate Battle of the Bands competitions - they're usually cheesy, have horrible bands, and only offer a little studio time or pizza as a prize. This one seemed different so we decided to enter to get some extra publicity and would drop out anytime we felt uneasy about it. Well, we started flying through each round (took first every time) and they started talking to us outside of the competition, eventually offering us the actual prize - a million dollar contract. But the contract was so bad and non-negotiable that we decided to turn it down with the option of going on their reality tv show. I'm glad we did because they went out of business anyway.

Q: How did you get hooked up with performing at Anime conventions and how has that helped the Slants?

Simon: I originally went to an anime convention to try and recruit Asians for The Slants. That was a huge mistake because there were almost no Asians there - but they were obsessed with the culture. I thought it would be a perfect fit once the band started going so I started contacting a few and the whole thing just exploded. In the last year, we made appearances at over 30 of them! It's been great for us because the fans are so into it. There's nothing like playing for thousands of kids dancing to the music and singing the songs.

Q: what has the response been to your album "Slanted eyes, slanted hearts"?

Simon: The response has been overwhelming! A lot of great reviews, a few not so-great ones. Overall, I'm really proud of it - we did everything ourselves from recording to the artwork to promoting it...and now, we're working on the follow-up release.

Q: tell us a little about the writing and recording process between the band members.

Simon: In the beginning, I'd work with Gaijin (our former keyboardist) to develop song ideas or riffs that I had. Then we'd take the project to the rest of the band where the song would come alive - drums, vocals, guitars. For this record, Johnny (guitar) and I have been recording demo versions of songs to the show the band and Aron has been taking care of all the vocals. It's much easier for us now because we can make CDs of these demo songs and listen to them over and over again to come up with new ideas or find ways better ways to make the songs flow.

Q: do you have any special or meaningful songs that you like the best and why?

Simon: All of our songs are special and meaningful.

Q: What sort of Bass and amplifier do you play through? Do you use any effects? Why do you play the gear you play and what do you like about it?

Simon: I have a two customized versions of a Jaguar bass that Fender made for me last year, I use those through a Mesa Boogie bass amp and a Mark Bass 8x10 cabinet. I don't really use any effects on stage other than the natural overdrive I get from cranking up the gain. I love the gear I have now because its light, sounds great, and dependable. I've used a few other bass heads before while in The Stivs, but ended up overheating and melting parts on a few of them but have never had that problem with the Mesa. As for the bass, I love it - the way it looks, plays, feels.

Q: Do you have any crazy tour stories you can legally share with us?

Simon: On our summer 2008 tour, we got detained at the Canadian border for a few hours because none of us had our passports. When searching the van, they found a jar of herbs and dried plums that my mom gave me to help with my sore throat but the officers thought they were drugs. I tried to convince them that it was just stuff any Chinese mother would give their kid and they didn't believe me until they actually tried one. Also, when we were in Boston last Winter, Tyler, Gaijin, and I broke into Aron and Johnny's room while they were asleep. We froze their underwear and socks to the balcony outside, smeared toothpaste on their pillows, soaked their toilet paper in water, taped ketchup packets under the toilet seat, and all kinds of other mayhem. Aron was so out of it when we woke up in the middle of the night that he shaved his head because he thought it there was glue in his hair!

Q: What does the future hold for the Slants? What's next?

Simon: Right now, we're writing and recording our second album. That will be followed by some light touring and then world domination.

Follow the Slants online at