- Rob Cullivan
- Portland Tribune - Features
The Slants have stadium rocker hearts, punk souls with a Northwest touch
Some bands can only go over the top live after getting wasted backstage.
Other groups never even try and just lay back and let the music do the talking.
But truth be told, most bands really don't have a clue how to win over an audience. Too often, they act as if the world owes them an ovation. Or maybe secretly they're afraid it doesn't.
However, a handful of bands realize tonight's show might be their one and only chance to win you over. Such groups play as if their very lives are at stake. These bands are actually worth the price of admission; they're groups that take you beyond simply good music into a realm that touches true theater.
One such Portland band is synth-pop-dance-rockers The Slants, who combine James-Brown-like commitment with glam-rock sheen and work harder than 99 percent of the groups out there.
'For the most part, we want to make people move and get up and have a good time,' says Simon Young, the band's skinny bassist. 'We don't slow it down.'
The Slants dress smart, play tough and leap, jump and gyrate on stage in a surprisingly graceful manner guaranteed to make even the most 'I've seen-it/heard-it-all' bartender crack a smile.
The Slants rock out in a foggy realm where kitsch battles high art, cold techno argues with hot punk and graphic novels vie with books-without-pictures for critical legitimacy. In other words, they're fun without being annoying, proud without being defensive, witty without being smarmy.
Offstage, The Slants play it cool, sipping water, quickly and smartly answering questions, yet seeming to be genuinely excited they're going to rock 'n' roll. Drummer Tyler Chen notes The Slants once played for a whopping two people, one of whom told them, 'You guys acted like there were 10,000 people here.'
Singer Aron Moxley - who says he used to routinely perform naked in a punk band but is now clothes-minded - sums it up: 'We want people to walk away sweating.'
It's Saturday night, March 27, and The Slants are getting ready to take the stage to celebrate the release of 'Pageantry,' their third record since they formed in 2007. It's a little more guitarish than their previous outings and echoes such bands as Depeche Mode, Smashing Pumpkins and all groups in between.
Rapper Mic Crenshaw and rockers Kleveland are warming up the crowd, which is mostly white, but includes a few African-Americans and Hispanics and a smattering of Asians, including some elegantly dressed women whose formal attire contrasts sharply with the typical casual look most Portland clubbers sport. In other words, these lovely ladies look like - dare we say it - stereotypical Asians?
The Slants were formed, in part, because they wanted to be typecast just as such Asians and then smash your expectations in the process. They're fiercely proud to represent their Asian brethren - Moxley was born in Vietnam, guitarist Johnny Fontanilla is half Filipino, half Mexican, Young is Chinese-Taiwanese, and Chen is half Chinese. The band members are all in their late 20s or early 30s, and Johnny and Simon originally hail from San Diego, Aron is from Astoria and Tyler grew up in Vancouver, Wash.
They know what you're thinking: How dare they slur Asians with their name?
COURTESY OF ELLE HARRIS • Synth-pop-dance-rockers The Slants dress smart, play tough and leap, jump and gyrate on stage in a surprisingly graceful manner - and guaranteed to have fans dancing the entire show.
'For the most part, I would say, the Asian-Americans know we're taking on stereotypes,' Young says. 'It's generally people of non-Asian descent who find the name offensive.'
They add that SuperChink, a seminal 1990s Asian-American punk-rock-rap group, also took on a potentially offensive name, as did N.W.A. for African-Americans.
At the end of the day, however, The Slants' name seems to have less to do with their ethnicity and more to do with the economy of their music. Like other bands tersely named - take The Ramones or The Jam - The Slants' name tells you: We're here, you're there, let's rock!
By flying their Asian colors, The Slants have gained rapid entrée to a world that originated in Japan, but is more and more popular in the West, namely anime conventions celebrating the Asian animation form. While the band digs playing the clubs, they note they make their real money playing such affairs.
'It's a great market for people interested in Asian culture,' Young says.
His bandmates agree that the younger crowds found at anime conventions have often never seen a live rock band and since 'they're loaded with money from their parents,' the kids are willing to buy the group's merchandise.
'They're not jaded,' Moxley says. 'They're young, and they're happy that you're performing.'
Who wants to be a millionaire?
Interestingly, however, The Slants didn't necessarily have to work so hard if they'd only taken the easy way out. After placing high in a nationwide battle of the bands in 2008, they were offered a million-dollar contract, but the price was too high for the band to pay.
'It was 73 pages and non-negotiable,' Young says. 'Sure, we would've gotten a million dollars, but they would've controlled us the rest of our lives.'
'There's no reason to do art that way,' Moxley adds.
That doesn't mean the band averts its eyes from corporate sponsorship - indeed, its Web site lists a score of sponsors, including Sake One, which makes G Sake.
'It's actually really good sake,' Fontanilla says as the band laughs realizing it doesn't have to fake its endorsement.
They all begin effusing about the wonders of G Sake, the particular brand with which they're paired.
'In fact, I cooked some shrimp with that,' Chen adds.