Interview: Jenny Choi on Asians in Rock

posted August 11, 2004

by Corinne

Jenny Choi on Asians in RockHow are you?

Reh! Stressed!

This is the second year for the Asians in Rock tour. What did you learn from last year’s tour?

I learned that having a headliner like Mike Park for all the dates certainly makes life much easier! That guy rocks! I also learned to have shorter shows, and that each show should feature a local act so that it is relevant to that particular venue's community.

Was there anything you learned from last year’s tour that you would never do again?

I would say five band bills, but our SF show has five acts. I don't know if I would NEVER do this, but I would probably stay away from cities that barely had any Asian population...or a population that was all interested in what we were trying to do. That's why you barely see any Midwest dates on our roster this time, for example! ha ha ha -- I'm from the Midwest so I can "jab" a little, can't I?

What kind of reaction and feedback did you get from fans on last year’s tour?

I'm hoping that people realize that most of the feedback I got from fans were totally positive in that I am doing this tour again at all! I loved meeting the bands and being enveloped in such a warm and positive artistic atmosphere...without all the petty drama, snobbery and competition.

As far as a backlash, whenever I put myself out there like this, I can expect some sort of "hating"....the most common sort of "hating" I experience is from Asians and non-Asians alike who don't buy the idea and think that it's cheesy...which is too bad because this is exactly what the tour aims to counteract. It's not about Asians "rocking," it's about finding a voice and validating that voice. Being true to one's unique cultural identity. The audience may not like every single artist on our roster, but it's about applauding and supporting the effort. I had all of these artists on our roster to hear what they have to say, and to give them a safe space where they could articulate what they had to say.

Have you experienced any discrimination within music because of your race (or gender)?

I kind of addressed that in the previous question...basically I have experienced discrimination from Asians and non-Asians alike who can't get over themselves and their own safe paradigms to open their minds enough to see what these artists have to say. Now, I can tell you specifically that I have most experienced discrimination and even hatred targeted towards me by a very specific community of the opposite gender...and I figure that I must threaten them because I have an opinion and a voice and am actually constructively doing something about it. I won't get into specifics, but there is definitely a very small but specific demographic out there who has shown the most misogynistic hostility towards me. The racial discrimination can generally be encapsulated by experiences of dismissal or not being taken seriously...I think these are the most prevalent in terms of race.

Do you think music was different for you, growing up in an Asian household, than for other kids? And do you think that brings something extra to your music?

Well, I don't know if I can speak for everyone, but I sure do remember being envious of my musician or artist friends who had parents pay for all of their expensive instruments and recording equipment, and when I would run into these parents at all of my friends' shows I was envious too. But as I grew older, I realized that it was unfair of me to be bitter towards my parents about it. They are not the Huxtables or the Beavers...it wasn't a part of their cultural paradigm to have a rockstar (wannabe) little daughter. They just didn't know what that was about...so I had to carve out my own niche for myself. It definitely made me work harder and preserver through a whole lot. Looking back, I appreciate the way my parents taught me resiliency and sticking to my guns. Even if we didn't always see eye to eye, they always challenged me every step of the way, and it just makes my convictions and the passion for what I do even stronger.

How did you get involved in playing music?

My mom's a piano teacher and my dad loved Elvis!

Mike Park is on the tour this year and, aside from his own music and Asian Man Records, he’s known for organizing the Plea for Peace tour. How did he get involved with the Asians in Rock tour? Has he offered any advice?

Well, basically I totally bugged him about it, but because I had already planned this last year and I had time to really think about what the tour was supposed to be about, I was very prepared in talking to him about it. I didn't just randomly attack him with a barrage of e-mails soliciting for help. That guy gets A CRAPLOAD because he makes himself so readily available. But he has worked so hard for so long and continues to do so...I think he just realized that I was the real thing and a lot of my beliefs were congruent with his own. He took a leap of faith in me!

I noticed there are also supposed to be some film screenings at some of the shows. Tell me more about that.

There are a few cities out there with Asian American film festival organizations -- this is a community that it particularly thriving now with the success of BETTER LUCK TOMORROW and even to some extent the hype of HAROLD AND KUMAR... I myself am a HUGE film geek, and already have close ties with the Chicago Asian American Film Festival organization (FAAIM -- that Sooyoung Park of SEAM founded actually)... so I thought this would be a great way to mobilize the community and continue to support the Asian American voice in art. Film is such a powerful way to make a statement. So with a few cities, DC, LA, SD, and SF, I worked out a co-sponsorship with all the festival orgs and we are hosting some screenings of shorts and music videos never seen before.

Is there any band on the tour this year you are really looking forward to touring with?

IDA!!!!!! I can't believe they agreed to play our NY date...Ida was one of those bands I couldn't stop listening to throughout high school and college (and now, but don't tell them because I don't want them to think I'm an uber stalker, even though I totally am), ADEN from Teenbeat, Whysall Lane (Richard Baluyut from Versus and Adam from Jawbreaker!!!), and the Beatnik Termites (Pat Kim fronts this band...old school punk rawk). Lots of quality, stellar acts.

Can we expect an Asians in Rock 3?

Argh...well, I'm thinking about taking AIR to Asia. We'll see if we can manage that in conjunction with a tour through the States. It's just one of those things that I wanted to try to see where it would go.... maybe after the tour I'll have a better idea.

Have you ever considered putting out an Asians in Rock compilation album?

YES! I just haven't gotten that far yet, but thank you for busting my butt.

Name an underrated band you think deserves more attention.

I can't stop pimping this band called FROM MONUMENT TO MASSES (monument- masses.com)....they are a political instrumental postcore band that I think are amazing and brilliant. They are based out in SF. They toured Japan and Europe this year and of course won everyone's hearts. Now if they could just hurry up on putting out their next record....

What have you been listening to recently?

The latest from Blonde Redhead, Sufjan Stevens, TONS of Iron and Wine, Ida, Dismemberment Plan and the ubiquitous Radiohead. I'm revisiting some Bjork too.

Anything you'd like to add?

Come to our AIR shows, busta! Or I'll break your kneecaps. xo