Profile: The Slants

The Slants made national headlines earlier this year with their lawsuit against the United States Trademark and Patent Office. The government denied the band’s trademark registration because the Trademark Office considered the term “slant” to be a disparaging term for Asian. But for those who live in Portland, OR this all-Asian American band is nothing new.

In fact, the band, which is heavily influenced by music from the 1980s, boasts a strong core following and produces a live show that is “not to be missed.” The five members describe their sound as “Chinatown Dance Rock” and they’ve toured with Girl Talk, Men Without Hats, Vampire Weekend and local favorites The Decemberists. Considered the world’s first and only all-Asian American dance rock band, The Slants have three studio albums and one album of remixes – the most recent being 2012’s The Yellow Album.

Check their Events page for tour dates.

Founders: Simon Young

Year Founded: 2006

Hometown: Portland, OR

Influences: Depeche Mode, The Cure, Duran Duran, The Cult, Joy Division

Current line-up:

  • Aron Moxley – Lead Vocals
  • Simon Young – Bass
  • Will Moore – Lead Guitar
  • Thai Dao – Keyboards & Guitar
  • Tyler Chen – Drums

1. How did The Slants get started and where did you come up with the name?

Simon: I usually tell people that the idea for the band began on April 13, 2004. That was the day that the Tarintino film “Kill Bill” was released on DVD. While watching it, I distinctly remember thinking about the lack of strong Asian American representation in the entertainment industry, especially in rock n’ roll. At the time, I was really connecting back to my 80’s roots so I wanted to start something that reflected the two.

Fast forward a few years: I began auditioning people for the band and was thinking about band names. While talking to someone, I asked, “What’s something that people think all Asians have in common?” When they mentioned ‘slanted eyes,’ I thought it was interesting because the word ‘slant’ could mean many different things. For us, it was a reference to our ‘slant’ our perspective on life as people of color. It was also a reference to the kind of guitar cabinets often used in rock music (slant cabs). Plus, it sounded like a cool 80’s new wave band.

2. You describe your music as “Chinatown Dance Rock” – what does this mean?

Tyler: A “Chinatown” in North America, is an area of a city where a concentration of immigrants from different countries around Asia have established themselves.  To the surrounding culture, all of these people are lumped together as being “Asian”, regardless of if they may have been enemies in their countries of origin.  Thus, a community is formed due to their commonalities.  Our band is very similar to a Chinatown.  We each come from very different racial and cultural backgrounds, but we are joined by our commonalities and strengthened by our differences.  “Dance Rock” is exactly what it sounds like – rock music that you can dance to!

3. Are you guys looking to start a new genre of music?

Thai: No, our goal is to make music that we like to write and perform.  If a new genre comes about, then great!  But that’s not the goal of this band.  At our core, we’re a rock band.

Simon: I think it depends on what you think of when it comes to a genre. We definitely have artists that you can compare us to, some common roots and sound, but I think we’re also doing something different and special as well. But it just depends on how poeple like to think of genres in general.

4. I hear a lot of straight-up rock in your songs not only in the vocals but some serious guitar work – do my ears deceive me?

Thai:  Nope!  Our guitar work is quite serious!

Will: You think that’s something?  You should see the live show.

Tyler:  Your ears are not deceived.  In the progression of our albums, the first album was heavily on the electronica/dance side of the spectrum, our second album leaned towards rock, and our third found the balance that we were looking for.  Some of the flashier guitar solos on our albums were actually not performed by Johny, the band’s lead guitarist at the time.  Gabe Kniffin, who plays in the bands Redshift and Silversafe with me played the blazing solo on “Astoria,” and I played the solo on songs such as Lucky Strike, Who Shot the Radio, Fight for Future and Sew Hearts.

Simon: Many of our songs, even the ones from our first album, begin on the guitar so it’s no surprise that it’s a big part of what we do. Whether it’s an actual guitar solo or harmonies riffs that help drive the song, it’s certainly an instrument that we use to help bring out some of those melodies in the music.

5. OK, so what’s with your bombastic live show – why is it not to be missed?

Thai:  You’re going to have to come to the show to find out.  All I can say is that it is fun fun fun.

Will:  Many bands stare at their feet when they perform.  Music is supposed to be an expression and extension of one’s self.  It’s really obvious that’s what’s happen at a Slants show.

Tyler:  When we play dive bars in the middle of nowhere to small audiences, we put on the same show that you see when we play at convention centers for thousands of fans.  Our live shows are packed with intense energy and fun, but you really need to experience it for yourself to understand!

6. You made headlines with your lawsuit against the United States Patent and Trademark Office – what’s the latest?

Simon: Right now, the case is pending before a Federal appeals court. We’ve submitted the paperwork, are getting some community organizations as allies, and are just waiting. That’s the thing with the law – long periods of time of waiting for something to happen.

7. You’re pretty involved with social issues – do you see this activism as more on a personal level or an extension of The Slants music?

Thai:  A lot of it is personal, but so is The Slants music itself, so you can say it’s both.

Tyler: Our activism is more than personal and an extension of our music, the band itself has grown to be a symbol of our group battle for social justice, and it has developed exponentially as we have realized the positive impact that we can actually make in the world.  I honestly never anticipated reaching this level of activism with the band, but now I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Simon: I think the band is really just an extension of our personalities and our passions. It’s ingrained in our music, which just happens to be our creative outlet to express these things. So whether we’re writing songs about social issues or we’re directly participating in the conversation around them, it’s something that definitely reflects something very personal.

8. Describe how the band approaches the writing process.

Tyler: Our process is quite a bit different than a majority of the bands out there in that, at the completion of an album, through the songwriting and recording processes, we have had very little face to face interaction.  In the songwriting stage, we each record ideas and demos at our home recording studios, share them with each other online, and then we all contribute by adding on to those original ideas and demos.  Upon completion of an album, we then have to “learn to play” the songs together for the first time!

Thai:  Because we live in different parts of town, we do a lot of the writing individually, and then send them to the rest of the band for critiques and fleshing out.  Most of The Yellow Album was put together by e-mail.

Will:  I look at myself as the person who refines the ideas. The Portlanders (3) share ideas with we Seattlies (2) via dropbox and we refine the ideas.

Simon: On a band level, it’s definitely different since we do so much of it remotely. We tend to fall into seasons where we spend more time songwriting than others (usually in between tours). Sometimes, it’s also when inspiration strikes. For example, the songs “Lucky Strike” and “How the Wicked Live” were both written in the parking lots of different Asian restaurants.

9. “Astoria” is a great track off of Pageantry – is it tongue-in-cheek or is there a real love affair with the city?

Thai:  Our singer, Aron was raised in Astoria, OR.  It’s very much a love letter to his hometown.

Simon: Most of the lyrics in the song about working fishing nets were reflections of the odd jobs and experiences Aron had growing up there.

10. The Slants have three solid albums yet it still feels like an uphill battle for you guys – what’s it take to get recognized in today’s music industry?

Will:  We have to figure out how to twerk. I’m working on it but I’ve sprained my ankle twice in the process.  I think I’m untwerkable.

Thai:  Talent, determination, luck, and having a strong fan base.

Simon: Even for established artists, it’s a battle. I’m quite proud of what we’ve done over the years though. To me, it’s less about getting recognition than about getting a support network to support our art. We’ve received plenty of press over the years, we just need to continue to find ways to sustain making music.

11. Where do you see the band heading in the future?

Thai:  We’re looking to continue to play bigger shows in more cities to more people, with our hardcore fans along for the ride.

Simon: More tours, music, videos…and hopefully, a trademark registration.