2005_1_KevinS.jpgVITALS
Musician.
Born and grew up in Boston, MA.
Live in Brooklyn, NY.
Have lived in NY one and a 1/2 years.
Single.
No children.
Drive a Honda Civic.

THE INTERVIEW

For those that aren’t familiar, please describe your music.
It's everything Stevie Wonder would sing and write about if he was a Chinese American. It's everything Bruce Springsteen would write about if he grew up the way I did. If I lived in Greenwich Village in 1961, I believe Bob Dylan and I would have become good friends. Richard Pryor owns a few of my chord progressions. Keith Jarrett's piano playing lives inside my melodies and delivers my endings.

Who are your influences?
Those mentioned above plus Miles Davis, Bruce Lee, Tupac Shakur, my Dad and Mom, and The Who.

What did your family think of your decision to pursue music?
My mother used to tell me all the time that my voice wasn't good enough. She always encouraged me to take lessons though. She still thinks that it's really hard to make it big as a musician here in the US simply coz there aren't any Chinese American pop stars - certainly not at the level of someone like Michael Jackson or Madonna.

My father never tried to stop me from doing anything though. I left a cover band to pursue my dream and as soon as he saw that I was working really hard at it everyday - making flyers, booking gigs, touring, selling CDs, etc. - he stopped worrying about me. He was a gambler at heart and I think he got a kick out of me coming home at 3am from Kinko's. He would just say to me from time to time "Don't hustle too much."

My brother is a doctor and my sister worked at Fleet Bank for years and now has 3 kids. My parents owned a Chinese restaurant for 24 years. And I'm a musician, the youngest of the family, and perhaps I did have things easier. I didn't bear the burden of having to set the example for my younger siblings - like my brother. We're such the classic American family aren't we? I think that their definition of success was different from mine at the time. If I measured success by the amount of money I make every year, I guess I'd consider myself pretty unsuccessful. But I struggle with that dilemma all the time. Still trying to define and re-define what success means to me. Sure I'd like to make a lot of money though. I can take out my friends for dinner more often, and travel to some beautiful places in the world like Hawaii.

You’ve done a fair amount of touring, opening for musicians like Joe Cocker, Billy Bragg and Mary Lou Lord. Any interesting stories from the road?
I was in Columbia, MD staying with David Wilcox and his family for a few days in the summer of 2000. David Wilcox is a huge name in the folk/acoustic world. He and I became friends at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas a couple months prior and he invited me to come out and hang with him. One night, I got a call from Mary Lou Lord who was performing at the 8x10 Club in Baltimore that same night. So I went down to meet her there and she invited me up to play a few songs. After she was done, she didn't have a place to crash so I invited her to crash where I was staying. Turns out she was also a big Dave Wilcox fan. You see - Mary Lou Lord is like a rock star in my eyes, too. Anyways, the next morning everyone got up and before you know it, here I was in the kitchen with Mary Lou Lord on my right and David Wilcox to my left and they're swapping tunes on the acoustic guitar for about 30 minutes or so. I was just thinking to myself "Wow - glad I didn't become an architect or lawyer" - not that being an architect or lawyer is bad or anything.

As an Asian American, how does your cultural identity effect your life and/or your music?
Just having a traditional Chinese dinner at a nice restaurant with my family once in a while reminds me of where I come from. I'm proud to be Chinese. I can be 100% of either. I can eat steak and eggs but that doesn't make me less Chinese or any more American. I get a lot of ideas from the Asian Americans I meet day to day. Most Asian Americans living here in America have had to take on the role of being an underdog of some sort - simply because they don't look "American" - when really they do. They talk about this struggle often. How come we aren't fully accepted as being 100% American?

I was born and raised in Boston, MA. I know how to get around with a car in over 15 cities in this country. But I also know many Asian Americans who are totally oblivious when it comes to our history and the many events that have shaped our community as Asian Americans. Like "Who's Vincent Chin?" I see both sides of it - the yuppies who don't give a fuck, the yuppies who actually care - and the hippies who actually care, and the hippies who say they care, but when it comes to actions, they don't really give a fuck. Just lip service.

What kind of support have you gotten from the Asian American community?
Lots of support. My father actually told me that it's the people who take money out of their own pockets and put it in yours - those are the ones who truly support me. I'm not saying that money is everything. But people do value their own money over most things, even over family for some people. So when they're willing to give some of it up to help you out, that's real support. I've been asked to perform at dozens of Asian American related (and non-related) events at colleges throughout the US over the past 5-6 years. It's the gig money and the CD sales that I'm living on - straight up. So the more CDs people buy, the more comfortable I can be. I'm not about to buy any bling bling anytime soon. I just need enough to keep on going and produce another CD within the next year or so.

Why do you think there has been a dearth of Asian American rock stars?
The struggle is two fold. A catch 22 of sorts. One belief is that the music industry just does not see it happening. They don't believe there's any talent out there maybe. But I think it's more like no one in the music industry today has the balls or authority to take me and my music to the forefront of a mainstream audience. I guess I need to still work on my music and my blemishes and figure out just what it is that I want to say to the mainstream - should that opportunity ever arise. The other side of it is that most Asian Americans do not go out to hear live music. So how do I build an audience that is mostly Asian American and build it so big that the music industry believes that more money can be made here? How do I do this if hundreds of Asian Americans living here in NYC aren't coming out to see me without the stamp of approval of a major label? I have a feeling that if I was suddenly signed to Columbia Records HERE in the USA, Asian Americans would say something like - "Oh! Then he must be good." Then they'd start showing up and paying $25 per ticket. I think that kind of sucks coz you wish they would believe in you whether you're signed to a major label or not. But I guess it's not an Asian American issue after all right? The last thing I want to say about this is something I've probably known all along. If I have to be 10 times better than the black guy or the white guy just to get noticed, then that's what I have to do. For now at least. I don't know. Maybe, just maybe, we don't have what it takes. But you see - then there's William Hung. So obviously it's pretty fucked up right now. You see - sex is one of the main things that is driving the music industry. Some of the biggest American rock stars are very sexy - Britney Spears, Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, LL Cool J, J-Lo - at least they're marketed this way. Maybe William Hung secretly has a 14-inch dick. Problem is that they're not marketing him the right way. I have a 7-inch dick so I guess I have a long way to go still. I'm willing to take those pills though as long as I don't get the shits.

Someone from the Boston Globe was quoted as saying you are doing “for young Asian Americans what Woody Guthrie did for Dust Bowl refugees and Bob Dylan for the '60s generation.” That’s a lot of pressure. How do you feel about that?
It's flattering for sure. I'm proud to even have my name in the same sentence as Bob Dylan. He continues to be a huge influence on my music and writing. I don't feel some sort of major responsibility to keep on writing songs for the Asian American movement though. I just feel like my main responsibility is to pay attention to what's going on around me and reflect it back in music and words.

You have a song called “Porn Star.” Do you want to be a porn star? And if so, what would the movie be like?
The movie would start out as me being the innocent, yet sex starved Asian dude... getting ready to make his delivery to a house on the beach. There would be people of all colors having sex with each other. Of course there would be a white guy having sex with an Asian woman - as the 1st scene, too - so that people who rent it won't think "This movie is lame." Then the 2 black guys with the blond woman with implants. So that some boys won't be thinking "does this movie have any white women?" The main character, the Asian guy, played by me, wouldn't appear ‘til the middle of the movie. I'd be that delivery guy I guess. There are always about 4-5 sex scenes in a porn flick. I guess I'd have my scene 3rd - just to shock everyone immediately. I'd deliver pizzas and not Chinese food. That's a pretty good shock. Then a sexy black woman would answer the door. I'd come into the apartment and there would be a couple of white ladies, another Asian woman with a white dude. I'd high five the white guy immediately after entering the apartment. Then I'd follow the black woman up to her room and personally deliver her order of "sum yung guy" (sorry - bad joke) But the sex would be hot. All kinds of Aikido positions. With Bruce Lee DVDs playing on the big screen tv in her bedroom.

I guess the last 2 scenes would be the 2 white bi-sexual ladies, then the final scene being me, the Asian woman, the white dude, and the black woman back downstairs in the living room for an orgy finale. This would of course be the 1st of this series. I would call it something like "Asian Guys Have Big Chopsticks, Too" I don't know. Just something that came off the top of my head. Sorry if I offend.

You recently made the move from Boston to New York. What are some of the differences you’ve found between the music scenes in each city?
Things are real slick here, even the websites. Great photographers here. Most people aim for the stars in NYC and think internationally. Boston is great in its own way, too. Most people in Boston are real down to earth. But I hate to generalize. There are a lot of cool musicians and a lot of phony jerks - both in Boston and NYC. The songs written here in NYC - well a lot of them are about struggling to make ends meet. That's heavy when the songs are coming from your friends. Heavy when they're coming from yourself. It's tough living here as a musician in NYC. It's more expensive to live here - period. Plus, I don't get my mom's home cookin' as often. That's a huge difference. My mom isn't a musician though - so never mind.

You created your own label and have produced and released eight CDs independently. Something like 15,000 copies of your CDs have sold. How do you get the word out about your music? Any advice for struggling musicians?
Tour nonstop. You've got to bring the music to the people. The CDs are just a token, a memory, reminding them of the time you kicked ass at the gig. Play every gig, every song, and every note as if it's your last. And drink lots of orange juice in the morning. Don't do heroin.

We hear you’re a great cook. If you were trying to impress a girl, what would you make her for dinner?
I'd cook a ziti dish I think. It would be basically a stir fry of chopped garlic, spinach, diced orange peppers, sundried tomatoes, a little balsamic vinegar, cilantro and either tofu or chicken - depending on whether she's vegan or not.

Give an example of something you witnessed or experienced that had you think "only in New York” or "God damn, I'm glad I live in this city."
Just kickin' it with my friends many nights either in the West Village or East Village - like on St. Marks at around 3am eating really good food. There just aren't many cities out there in the US where you have such a variety of choices after 2am.

Since this is the "city that never sleeps", tell us a good 3am story.
New Year's Eve, I'm about to drive over the Manhattan Bridge back to Brooklyn. I get a call from some of my friends. I turn around and pick them up in the East Village. We head to a bar in Chinatown and hang there ‘til about 7am eating a nice stir-fry noodle and a couple sodas. Good times only in NYC.

Who is your favorite New Yorker (dead or alive) and why?
Billy Joel. He's a huge reason why I became a musician. He's proud of being a New Yorker, but not in an obnoxious or snobbish way. I don't know him personally though.

You're in a time machine that can take you back in time. What day in NYC history would you go back to?
Probably the day John Lennon was shot. I would stop him myself earlier that evening and give him my acoustic guitar and ask him to play me a few of his newer songs. I'd take him out for a beer or 2. Yoko would later join us. No one gets hurt on that day.

Billy's Topless is now a bagel shop, no more smoking in bars or restaurants, Times Square has been Disneyfied, what's next?
Topless dancers serving bagels on Mickey Mouse ashtray dishes in Starbucks on the lower east side? maybe in the Luna Lounge?

If you could change just one thing about New York City, what would it be?
Everyone would stop being so afraid of each other. Stop being racist, judgmental - they would stop trying to push their power trips over people. Less superficiality.

You've got $5.00 in your pocket, an unlimited metro card and a day to kill. What do you do?
Eat a good breakfast at home, grab my acoustic guitar, and play Dylan and Marley tunes up and down the train. Maybe grab some bubble tea after I'm done.

What source(s) do you turn to for news?
NY1. I secretly have a crush on Sandra Endo. Don't tell a soul.

What advice would you give Bush as he embarks on his second term?
Only if he's willing to take my advice seriously...

Bloomberg, 4 more years?
No. Someone more liberal. Someone who has a mixed group of friends racially.

What are your New Year's resolutions?
Learn to speak Mandarin, quit smoking, get my piano chops back, and get some health insurance.

It's the year 2024, what do you think will be the hot topic of discussion at the water cooler?
It could be about what to expect going into The Swan’s 20th season. It might be about the latest cure of cancer or AIDS. Hopefully. It will most likely be about sex and where are we going for happy hour?

If you could ask God one question, what would you ask?
Why me? And is the capitalization of names just a subtle subconscious power trip? Why do I feel more guilty if I don't capitalize your name as opposed to the word "mom"? Why don't we spell it "doG"?

photo credit: www.MarkReay.net

Editor note: Kevin So has the following upcoming shows:
Jan 8, 9:30pm Liberty Heights Tap Room (34 Van Dyke St, Bklyn) w/Bryan Dunn, Johnny Hi-Fi, and The Lanny Isis Band
Jan 13, 9pm Nightingale Lounge (213 2nd Avenue, NYC) w/TBD
Jan 27, 8pm-1am BB Kings Lucille Bar & Grille (237 W 42nd Street, NYC) CD RELEASE PARTY !!! playing with his band Midnight Snack

Interview by Mindy Bond