Photo caption: The Slants. Photo courtesy of The Slants.
When Simon Tam saw Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill,” one particular scene captured his heart and left a lasting impression. This scene introduced a yakuza group known as The Crazy 88’s — a group of Asian Americans with a swagger and confidence rarely seen onscreen.
“It was in that moment that I thought of starting an Asian-American band that could capture that feeling of excitement and cultural pride, the decisive action of breaking down stereotypes,” says Tam.
In 2006, Tam became the founder and bass player of the band became known as The Slants, birthed in Portand, Ore.
The Slants didn’t form overnight, however. Tam searched through different avenues — seeking band members that are not only musically talented, but as passionate as he is with his Asian-American identity and culture.
“I began searching high and low for band members. I posted ads online and hung posters in shops throughout Portland,” Tam remembers. “I even went to an anime convention, hoping to meet Asian-American musicians.”
Tam eventually met them. Through the years, he continues to meet like-minded people that would later become part of the band as members left. Thai Dao, the band’s keyboard and guitarist, who was in the Seattle group Veritas he first met The Slants. It wasn’t the right timing then, but when the band broke up in 2010, Dao joined The Slants, and has been part of the band ever since.
Today, The Slants are fives Asian-American band members. Each band member shares a personal and unique life story that fits into the vision of The Slants and play music together to break the one-dimensional and monolithic labels and stereotypes of Asian Americans.
“As a child, I grew up with the idea that Asian Americans weren’t supposed to like rock n’ roll and that we especially weren’t supposed to play it,” says Dao. “I feel that it’s great that we get to turn this idea on its head, both to Asian Americans and everyone else.”
Their band name comes from its members’ cultural pride.
“The name, The Slants, represents this value among other things and 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,” says Tyler Chen, the drummer for The Slants.
Culturally-rooted lyrics join their culturally-influenced version of new wave and punk rock.
“I grew up playing piano and l’ve had a lot of riffs start from there,” says Dao. “I’ve even written riffs that are based on old Vietnamese pop and folk melodies I’ve heard growing up.”
As for Chen, who has been playing music his whole life, his experience with The Slants has made him find something deeper in life.
“The Slants helped me connect with my cultural history and roots, and I love how that influence has established itself in the center of who we are,” says Chen.
The Slants’ own genre has formed as a result.
“We call our music ‘Chinatown Dance Rock’ for a reason,” says Tam.
“Historically, Chinatowns actually represented a safe haven for pan-Asian communities, a melting pot of cultures that started with the Chinese but came to include many other cultures as wel. That rich cultural history is part of our own identities and our music, our artwork and even the food that we eat on tour helps reflect the pan-Asian American experiences that we share.”
A crowd pleaser amongst many Asian-American cultural festivals, events and anime conventions, The Slants hope their music will continue to thrive, send positive messages and turn into a household name across the country. Their latest album titled, “The Yellow Album,” was inspired by other iconic releases: The Beatles with the White Album and Jay Z with the Black Album.
“We’re very clear about not being ashamed of who we are,” says Tam. “Not only is it rare for Asian-Americans to be making dance rock music, it’s rare for a band to play at anime conventions and start an anti-bullying nonprofit organization, too. But that’s why we are who we are: our values are a central part of our band’s story.”
The Slants would want to see you dance on Thursday July 18th. Watch them perform and get your Chinatown dance on at 7 p.m. in Canton Alley that night as part of JamFest, put on by The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. More information: www.wingluke.org/jamfest.