Simon Tam, founder of The Slants and The Slants Foundation, has created his latest television series titled Asian PaCIVICS featuring ten artists from the Asian American and Pacific Islander community who have written a song specifically to drive social change. Each has partnered with a grassroots organization in unique ways to support their chosen causes. On the eve of the series’ premiere, I took the opportunity to catch up with Simon about Asian PaCIVICS and his recent artistic developments. All eleven episodes of Asian PaCIVICS stream now on AAM.tv!
How did Asian PaCIVICS come about and how did you get Sumi Krishna involved as the host?
ST: For several years, The Slants Foundation has been mentoring and funding Asian American artists who use their work when it is related to activism of some sort. However, I realized that many acts did that work in isolation, and not necessarily in partnership with organizations at the center of important issues. For many musicians, they simply write a song or perform a fundraising concert, but I knew so much more was possible. And, I also knew that many social impact organizations didn’t know how to leverage creative talent, so Asian PaCIVICS was created to bridge that gap.
We provided grants for artists to create songs, film videos, and to create partnerships with local organizations working on an issue that they were passionate about. And we wanted to document that journey through interviews to learn what worked and what could have been improved, as well as capture data on how art can be used to drive social change. Through it all, we wanted to lift up the artists that we believe in so more people could learn about their work. That’s how the radio and television show was born, directly out of this program.
What do you want to accomplish with this video podcast series Asian PaCIVICS?
ST: The goal of Asian PaCIVICS is to help show what is possible with art and activism. I want artists to see how the same creativity that goes into their music can be used in philanthropy or civic engagement work. And, I wanted grassroots organizations to learn how they could partner with passionate, connected artists in meaningful ways. It’s my hope that this inspires others out there to reimagine these kinds of partnerships.
What was the production process like as some you recorded in a studio in-person while others you shot on Zoom?
ST: Since we wanted representation from artists throughout the country, it wasn’t possible to bring everyone together in person. However, multiple acts were in the greater Los Angeles area, where Sumi X is also based out of, so it worked out that we could film in a studio setting. I’m hoping that in future iterations of this project we can actually visit the offices of the organizations, see the musicians’ working space, and interview some of the people directly impacted by the work.
What have The Slants been up to?
ST: We recently had the global premiere of a new opera that we composed and we’ve been recording a new album, which we hope to release this fall. It’s called The Band Plays On and it features 14 Asian American guest artists, most of whom we met through working at The Slants Foundation. Don’t get your hopes up though; we aren’t touring again anytime soon. Still, it was great to reconnect with almost every previous member of the band to work on this project.
What is the most significant goal you want to accomplish by making Asian PaCIVICS?
ST: I certainly want to raise awareness of important social issues that impact our community (like gun control and mental health), but more importantly, I hope it can increase voter engagement, especially for mid-term and local special elections. Our voices matter.
Why is music important to you?
Music is fundamentally about expression. Whether it is music, film, or dance, that expression tells a story and that’s what allows us to connect with other people, especially if we can tell that story in a way where others can see themselves in it. I believe that at its core, is a universal language that can transcend cultural divides.
What’s next for you and The Slants?
ST: The band is more or less retired; while we still compose music for projects like Comedy InvAsian, the Namba film, and our opera, the main focus has been running The Slants Foundation to help empower the next generation of artists. In fact, The Band Plays On will likely be our final record. If we do perform, it will only be on a very rare and special occasion. That being said, guitarist Joe X. Jiang and I do regular appearances at events as speakers and share some songs acoustically but I wouldn’t really say that it’s “The Slants.”