The Slants

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The Slants
The Slants performing in September 2016.
The Slants performing in September 2016.
Background information
Also known asSlants
OriginPortland, Oregon, U.S.
Genres
Years active2006–present
LabelsIndependent
Associated actsThe Stivs
Websitewww.theslants.com Edit this at Wikidata
Members

The Slants is an American dance rock band composed entirely of Asian-American musicians. The band also manages a nonprofit organization, and was founded by Simon Tam (also known as Simon Young) in 2006 in Portland, Oregon.[1] The current members are bassist Simon Tam, lead singer Ken Shima, and guitarist Joe X. Jiang.

Influenced by 1980s bands such as Depeche Mode and New Order, as well as modern acts such as The Killers and The Bravery, the band refers to their sound as "Chinatown Dance Rock".[2] The band is involved with Asian American community and racial justice work. This includes raising money for causes such as funding research into disparate rates of cancer for Asian American women,[3] bridging divides,[4] fighting bullying,[5] and building community centers.

In addition, the band has garnered a niche fan-base of otaku as a result of their appearances at anime conventions. The band has also been featured in the shōjo manga magazine Shojo Beat,[6] as well as partnering with the magazine, Fender guitars, and Sakura-Con for a Hello Kitty guitar contest.[7]

In late 2019, the band officially retired from live touring in order to better focus on their nonprofit organization, The Slants Foundation.[8] The band continues to compose music but no longer performs as a group.

Formation and name[edit]

The band was originally formed after posting ads to local classifieds, Craigslist and online ads. The process took two years to finalize the initial line-up.[9] Over the years, the lineup has evolved with different members stepping into the role, all with the common thread of identifying with Asian American culture.

The band name, The Slants, was derived from several sources. The first is the band members' perspective or 'slant' on life, the second, as a musical reference. The founder/bassist, Simon Tam, stated:

"It actually sounds like a fun, 80s, New Wave-kind of band. And it’s a play on words. We can share our personal experiences about what it’s like being people of color—our own slant on life, if you will. It’s also a musical reference. There are slant guitar chords that we use in our music."[10]

The third source of their band's name—a reference to their ethnic identity (see Epicanthic fold)—was the subject of a protracted legal debate.[11] After the band's request to register their trademark was denied in 2010, they unsuccessfully appealed to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. In December 2015, a federal appeals court overturned a previous ruling that upheld the United States Patent and Trademark Office's rejection of the band's application by striking down part of a law that allowed the government to reject trademarks it deemed offensive or disparaging to others.[12] The majority opinion stated, in part, that "[w]hatever our personal feelings about the mark at issue here, or other disparaging marks, the First Amendment forbids government regulators to deny registration because they find speech likely to offend others."[11] The band's frontman Simon Tam explained that while the First Amendment should protect the band's right to use the name regardless of their reasons, they had chosen the name in order "to undercut slurs about Asian-Americans that band members heard in childhood, not to promote them."[13]

In 2019, Washington University in St. Louis published an extensive study on reclaiming identities based on The Slants' name and found that "Reappropriation does seem to work in the sense of defusing insults, rendering them less disparaging and harmful".[14]

History[edit]

The Slants were founded in Portland, OR by Simon Tam in 2006. Within a few months of their first show, the band released their debut album, Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts. The album was listed in the top 5 Asian-American albums of 2007 by AsiaXpress[15] and has won accolades such as "Album of the Year" from the Portland Music Awards,[16] Willamette Week, RockWired, and others. The Slants were cited as the "Hardest Working Asian American Band"[17] The Slants were named the world's first Asian American Fender Music spotlight artist.[18]

In 2008, The Slants competed in Bodog Music Battle of the Bands for the opportunity to be featured on the Fuse TV reality show and win a $1 million recording contract.[19] The band consistently placed first in every round of the competition. However, when they learned that they would be required to sign a 73-page non-negotiable contract in order to continue the competition, they dropped out. The band reasoned: "This was just not the right fit for our band at this time – or any band, really." This was one of several recording contracts that the band rejected. That same year, founder Simon Tam rejected a $4 million recording contract who wanted to replace the lead singer with someone who was white.[20] The following year, The Slants were featured in a SXSW showcase and launched several more tours spanning North America.

In 2009, the band released a collection of Dance Dance Revolution-styled remixes of their debut album, "Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts" and donated 100% of the profits to cancer research for Asian women because they experience higher rates of cancer than any other ethnic group.[21] 2010 saw the release of The Slants' third album, "Pageantry." Pageantry featured a number of local icons including Cory Gray (The Decemberists), Krista Herring, Mic Crenshaw, and Gabe Kniffin (Silversafe). In 2011, The Slants were featured on the front page of the Oregonian for fighting the United States Patent and Trademark Office over the right to protect their name.[22] In that same year, The Slants were added to the Armed Forces Entertainment roster and invited to perform for active troops serving overseas.[23][24] In 2012, The Slants released The Yellow Album[25] and ended up sharing the stage with acts such as apl.de.ap (of The Black Eyed Peas), Vampire Weekend, Girl Talk, Girugamesh, M.O.V.E and Boom Boom Satellites.[26]

In 2014, Ken Shima joined the band as lead singer, replacing longtime vocalist Aron Moxley.[27] Shortly after, guitarist Joe X. Jiang joined The Slants. In 2015, the band embarked on their 22nd national tour, called "Slantsgiving," to promote their upcoming album release and a new smartphone designed by Neoix.[28] The band released Something Slanted This Way Comes, a compilation album of their previous hits re-recorded featuring the vocals of new lead singer Ken Shima. On 22 December 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled in favor of The Slants regarding the trademark case against the United States Trademark and Patent Office who had sought to prevent The Slants from trademarking their name considering it offensive towards people of Asian descent.[29] The case, known as Matal v. Tam, was appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.[30]

In 2016, the band worked with Rukus Avenue in collaboration with the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to release a song in support the #ActToChange anti-bullying movement.[31] The song, From the Heart, made headlines for speaking directly to the Trademark Office's oppressive actions that eventually led the band before the Supreme Court.[32] In 2017, the band released their record The Band Who Must Not Be Named. Later that month Simon Tam and the rest of the band appeared before the Supreme Court in an effort to gain the trademark over their band name, "bringing a seven-year Freedom of Speech battle closer to conclusion".[33] The case has been described as a fight for free speech, and countering a "submissive" stereotype of Asian Americans.[34] On 19 June 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously ruled in The Slants' favor.[35]

Since then, the band started a nonprofit organization that provides scholarship and mentoring to artists-activists of color[36] and released a self-titled album.

On 2 and 4 November 2019, the band performed their final shows in Seattle, WA and Portland, OR. The shows featured nearly ever former member of the band, including longtime vocalist, Aron Moxley. Shortly after, the Portland Monthly published a piece on the legacy of The Slants, saying "Yes, they’re the Trademark Band (sorry, guys). And yes, they’re Chinatown dance rock. But after the lights fade from the walls of the Doug Fir Lounge, they’re the band that hangs back to say hi. They’re the band that signs [things for longtime fans] 10 years later. "

Musical style[edit]

The Slants describe themselves as "Chinatown Dance Rock" and plays synth-pop music similar to groups such as CHVRCHES and I AM X while incorporating some rock sounds like Bleachers and The Killers. Their influences include 1980s groups such as Depeche Mode, Japan, The Cure, Duran Duran, The Cult, and Joy Division.[37]

The band has been grouped with various genres, including alternative rock, indie rock, new wave, synth-pop, and pop rock.

Discography[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

  • Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts (2007)
  • Slants! Slants! Revolution (2009)
  • Pageantry (2010)
  • The Yellow Album (2012)
  • Something Slanted This Way Comes (2016)

EPs[edit]

  • The Band Who Must Not Be Named (2017)
  • The Slants (2019)

Other Releases[edit]

  • Act to Change - Music to Inspire Series (2016)
  • 27: The Most Perfect Album (2018)

Activism and philanthropy[edit]

Since its origins, The Slants have been involved with social justice organizations across the country to bring more attention to issues pertaining to marginalized communities. On a local level, the band worked with groups like the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon to build a new community center, revitalize a neighborhood through economic prosperity initiatives, and voter registration campaigns.[38] Internationally, the band helped raise money to rescue North Korean refugees through Liberty in Korea.

In 2009, they released a special remix album where 100% of profits were donated to help fund research on the disparities faced by Asian women in cancer research.[39]

In 2011–2012, the band toured military bases for troops serving overseas to highlight diverse experiences shortly after the high-profile suicide of Danny Chen.[24] In addition, they were invited by the Oregon State Penitentiary's Asian Club to perform for inmates.[40][41] In 2017, they were invited to participate in President Barack Obama's Act to Change campaign by the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to aid in the campaign against bullying. The compilation album released as a result ironically included the band's single, From The Heart, which served as an "open letter to the Trademark Office",[31] released one month before the band appeared before the Supreme Court.

In 2019, the band released the single "Anthem" as to highlight issues of police brutality. The band gave the song free to anyone willing to donate to an organization working on issues of racial justice.[42] They have also produced other music videos to highlight issues around social justice and civic engagement.

The Slants started their own nonprofit organization, The Slants Foundation, to provide mentoring and scholarships to aspiring artist–activists of color.[43] It is a volunteer-driven organization that is working to create a community that is "dedicated to providing unique perspectives to social issues – their own "slant" on the world."[44]

During the COVID-19 crisis of 2020, The Slants Foundation responded to the rise in attacks on the Asian American community and impact on the artists by funding projects that sought to create meaningful connections rooted in empathy. The "Countering Hate with Art" campaign helped fund numerous works in music, poetry, and film.[45][46]

Supreme Court case[edit]

In a 2017 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Disparagement Clause in the Lanham Act was unconstitutional. The case came about because The Slants had been refused registration of their trademark.[43]

The Slants is well known in legal circles due to their battle with the United States Trademark Office, which went before the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Matal v. Tam in 2017, and was decided unanimously in their favor.[35] The case has opened the door for minorities to reclaim their identities through reappropration.

Trademark law expert, Elizabeth Squires, writes:

"Simon Tam’s successful attempt to infuse meaning into a term by trademarking it was brilliant. He and other newly minted trademark holders have been unleashed to kick-start a new era of free speech and cultural reclamation, where we as market participants have a voice. Now, more than ever, what we have to say and what the market thinks matters. Society should take note from The Slants® and we should be sure to speak loud enough and proud enough for the lexicographers to hear."[47]

Studies conducted after the court case have also affirmed that The Slants' efforts in reappropriation was helpful in neutralizing disparaging words.[48] Researchers have noted:

"When a group is seen as taking control of a historically disparaging term, it can indeed neutralize the insulting content of the term...and it does so among the group that is the target of the insult, as well as among members of the majority group. Reappropriation does seem to work in the sense of defusing insults, rendering them less disparaging and harmful".[49]

Members[edit]

The Slants is composed of Simon Tam, Ken Shima, and Joe X. Jiang. A rotating cast of performers who regularly join the band for tours and studio work includes Randy Bemrose of STRFKR and Radiation City, Cory Gray, Mic Crenshaw, and Krista Herring. Former band members Tyler Chen and Jonathan Fontanilla also often join the band on stage for special events.

Former band members:
Former members Years active Instruments Albums appeared on
Tyler Chen 2016–2017, 2018 Drums, guitar, vocals Pageantry; The Yellow Album; Something Slanted This Way Comes
Yuya Matsuda 2016–2017 Drums The Band Who Must Not Be Named
Thai Dao 2011–2015 Guitar, keyboards, vocals The Yellow Album
Will Moore 2012–2015 Lead guitar, vocals N/A
Aron Moxley 2007–2014 Lead vocals Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts; Slants! Slants! Revolution; Pageantry; The Yellow Album
Jonathan Fontanilla 2007–2013 Lead guitar, vocals Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts; Pageantry; The Yellow Album
Gaijin (Michael Pacheco) 2007–2009 Keyboards, vocals Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts; Slants! Slants! Revolution; Pageantry
Jen Cho 2007–2008 Keyboards, vocals Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts; Slants! Slants! Revolution
AC 2007–2008 Drums Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts

References[edit]

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External links[edit]