The Slants founding member Simon Young stands in front of some rad looking military vehicles on a NATO base in Kosovo, Republica Srpska, Bosnia And Herzegovina.
Portland, Ore. (Jan. 18, 2012) — Hardened rock-n-roll veterans The Slants took their electrifying stage show all the way to Eastern Europe for a holiday tour of multinational military bases.
The Portland, Oregon-based rock group entertained troops over the New Years holiday at Camp Butmir NATO base in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and then in Kosovo at Camp Bondsteel U.S. Army base and Film City NATO base in Pristina.
The idea for playing for the troops first came when the band received emails from sailors serving in the U.S Navy, according to band co-founder and bassist Simon Young. They wanted the band to come and perform for them as part of the Operation Gratitude tour.
“We weren’t familiar with the process but their commander gave us some contacts to follow up,” said Young.
The applications were completed and a few months passed by and the band was filming a video when Young got a call from the Pentagon about touring Eastern Europe.
“We were all very excited and honored to be a part of this,” he added. “Everyone in the band went on the trip and our publicist, Alex Steininger, served as tour manager.”
Lead vocalist Aron Moxley, who was formerly with Evening at the Black House, was raised a Vietnamese American refugee kid in Astoria, Oregon, which is the focus of their most recent Slants CD “Pageantry” in 2010.
Moxley said that servicemen and women sacrifice by being far away from home and loved ones, living in foreign countries and sometimes getting shot at. Civilians often take for granted what they are going without.
“They don’t have a lot of entertainment,” said Moxley. “It was nice to bring something that I put a lot of myself into and share it with them.”
Thai Dao, a Seattle native, said he wanted a chance to see Eastern European countries that weren’t “on his original travel bucket list.”
“It was also an opportunity to give back to our brave soldiers who make the selfless choice to fight for our country,” Dao said. “It was quite the honor.”
Tyler Chen, a Chinese-American drummer, said he has tremendous respect for the men and women that serve in the armed forces. “I was overjoyed to be given the opportunity to show them my appreciation,” he said.
Johnny Fontanilla, the Filipino-Mexican lead guitarist, said the troops genuinely enjoyed the music and the simple fact that the band came such a long way to entertain them.
“Nothing but positive!” said Johnny, who feels the experience will be a source for new lyrics.
As individuals in previous bands and together, The Slants have performed thousands of shows. They have performed at anime conventions, Asian cultural events, even at a maximum-security prison. However, this was their first time to perform overseas for the troops.
“It was great,” said Dao. “Troops came up to us after the show and kept thanking us for coming all the way out there and entertaining them, asked for signatures, and just made us feel very welcome to be there.”
Moxley recalled that the New Years Eve show at Camp Bondsteel was a real challenge. It is a dry base (no alcohol) and the crowd was just sitting at their tables and watching them perform.
The band followed a Nashville cover group called the Andy Davis band. Before long they had the crowd clapping along.
For Young it was an honor to bring the troops a taste of home, and an experience of something beyond the everyday operations of a military base.
“Many of the American soldiers we performed for just came from Iraq and Afghanistan, so it was really interesting to hear stories about how things were going from their perspective as well,” he added.
At Camp Butmir there were only about 24 or U.S. troops on the base, and most of them showed up for the show, said Dap. “There were also multinational troops from Bulgaria, Bosnia, Germany, Turkey and Austria,” he added.
At Bulgarian mechanic learned that Moxley was a motorcyclist enthusiast and gave him a patch from his bike crew. American troops took the band to a local dance club where Chen said the Bosnian electronic music provided some inspiration.
At Film City, Dao said the American soldiers were joined by a few German and Austrian troops that were celebrating a birthday. At Camp Bondsteel it was nearly all American soldiers with a few Kosovarians.
The band is about American style rock-n-roll but its members and songs have an Asian American quality that was a new experience to many of the soldiers. The band didn’t even encounter any APIA troops but said the soldiers identified with the hard energy of their shows.
“We did get the occasional, ‘Don’t take this the wrong way, but I saw your poster and I did not expect the energy and the sound that came out of you guys,” Dao added. “They said, ‘You guys were awesome!”
The Slants are accustomed to that reaction from most new fans. It comes with the territory of breaking down cultural stereotypes and they enjoy the reaction.
“It not the first time we’ve heard that and it probably won’t be the last,” Dao added. “I’m just glad we can always blow those perceptions out of the water.”
The troops seemed to congregate by country rather than by race. Chen said racial lines become blurred in the fusion of the military environment. They were Americans as opposed to hyphen-Americans.
At the final show in Film City the band spent a few hours hanging out with soldiers from several different countries. Simon said they were appreciative and told them it meant a lot to talk about the band’s name and identity.
“It was very enlightening to talk about racial stereotypes, especially in the wake of Private Danny Chen’s suicide,” he added.
Young said one of the commanders expressed that he didn’t know what to expect from the band and stayed later than he had planned when troops told him The Slants were the best band they had seen from the States.
Troops liked that the band interacted so much and didn’t just play at them, according to Young. The commander told Young the troops were dancing and genuinely happy, and for that said his favorite band is now an Asian American band.
Despite the similar audiences Young said each show was different. The band is good at transporting a crowd into their world, and the troops were similar in that they like rock-n-roll and wanted to have a good time.
“I guess the major difference in playing for the military versus clubs or music festivals is the amount of artillery present,” he said. “It was normal to see people with assault rifles, pistols, and other weapons while dancing to our music.”
Dao said cultural differences were more obvious away from the stage as they visited nearby cities between shows. The military culture is different than the band’s familiar fan base that includes the anime conventions.
“For example, no cosplayers in the audience,” Dao said with a laugh. “However, one big thing that was common was that people wanted to dance and have a good time when we were performing, which is great!”
Chen said the military culture isn’t so different when they are receptive to getting a taste of back home. “Therefore, the outside culture doesn’t penetrate very much other than locals that work on base,” he added.
Other highlights were visiting Sarajevo, and witnessing the remnants of all the wars in that volatile region in the last century.
“We got to stand where Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, which triggered the First World War,” said Dao. “A few blocks down form there was where the Grand Library of Sarajevo stood, bombed out from the Bosnian War in the 90s.”
“The entire trip was exciting!” said Chen. “I really enjoyed experiencing what it is like to live on a military base. We also got an opportunity to explore downtown Sarajevo which is an amazing city with such a beautiful culture and sad history.”
The only bad experiences seemed to do with travel and logistics. Dao said they had a five-hour layover en route from Sarajevo to Croatia. It wouldn’t have been so bad but they said the airport seemed so disorganized.
“Flying Croatian Airlines was the worst experience of our trip,” said Chen. “They had completely different restrictions for our luggage than anywhere else and charged us huge fees to travel with our equipment.”
Moxley said he typically gets singled out in airports because of his tattoos and choice of hair colors. At one point on the trip he was escorted to a security room.
“They ripped through my luggage and actually broke a gift that I had gotten in my suitcase,” he said.
Traveling and new experiences can sometimes stir the creative process. They band introduced two new songs they had written for their new album, along with cover songs they prepared for the variety of fans they expected on the tour.
Now back in Portland, the band is wrapping up production on a new album to be released prior to a nationwide tour this summer. They are also performing in Canada and a music festival in Astoria.
The Slants founded in 2005 when Young departed “The Stivs” to pursue a synth-rock direction and to express his Asian American background with his love of 80s and 90s alternative rock influences.
Find out more about the band on Facebook and at www.theslants.com.