“Pageantry” is the third release by Portland dance rock outfit, The Slants, and the follow up to their highly acclaimed debut album Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts. The harder-hitting, guitar fueled album is a slight deviation from their synthesizer-driven earlier work and the majority of the songs were written in the small gaps between their endless touring schedule of rock clubs and anime conventions. Often known as one of the only, if not only, all-Asian dance rock bands in the country, The Slants’ catchy hooks, meaningful lyrics that resonate with all outsiders, and dance beats are at the epicenter of the band’s appeal.
Unlike its predecessor, “Pageantry” had more time to completely develop the songs that better represented the band. Tyler Chen (drums), the newest member of the band says that “The new album is more rock n’ roll and more organic, with less reliance on electronic elements…the songwriting has matured a lot since the first record.”
Songwriting on this album started out as demo collaborations between Simon Young (bass) and Johnny Fontanilla (guitar). Young mentions that the songs “Šalways started out with something that we thought was catchy. We’d trade emails and send files to each of the band members to get their thoughts, almost a la Postal Service.” It was in these times that the songs began to take shape: Aron Moxley (vocals) would begin listening to the music throughout the day and sing along in the car, shower, or jogging; Tyler offered other elements such as changing the beat or adding guitar parts. The keyboards were almost an afterthought. Young continues: “The first album had a lot of ear candy, which we definitely enjoyedŠbut for “Pageantry”, we wanted to strip everything down to the core of the song, to make sure that the basic structure and harmonies were striking, before adding the ornamentation of synthesizers and sound effects.”
As the band set out to record the album in Simon’s garage again (nicknamed “House of the Rising Sun”), an offer came by way of studio owner Tom Van Riper: to record at Lost Studios. As the band continued to work and record tracks, other friends came aboard. Chen explains that “My longtime friend Gabe, who plays in the hard rock band Silversafe with me, came into the studio and nailed some sweet guitar solos; Lance, a good friend from high school who lives in Boston tracked synth parts for a bunch of songs and emailed them to me; and Krista, a friend who is an accomplished local singer/songwriter, came to my studio to lay down some background vocal parts.” The album was also mixed and engineered by Brandon Eggleston (The Mountain Goats, Josh Ritter). Other guest appearances included synth work by Cory Gray, who has also done session work for The Decemberists and Desert City Soundtrack, and rapping by local artist Mic Crenshaw.
“I believe what stands out the most is the songwriting,” says Young. “The first album was fun and it connected with a lot of people, but I think that the songs are much deeper now and the themes resonate more soundly.”
“Like the first album, a lot of the lyrics are about being in love or being the underdog,” says Moxley. “I like to write about dark stuff; about unity; about being a young, cocky punk rocker.”
The Slants is a group comprised of Asian Americans who all grew up in different parts of the country: Aron Moxley (vocals), a Vietnamese refugee who grew up in Astoria, Oregon; Simon Young (bass), Chinese-Taiwanese from San Diego, CA; Johnny Fontanilla (guitar), Filipino-Mexican also from San Diego, CA; Tyler Chen (drums), Chinese-German, who lived throughout the Northwest; and Thai Dao (guitar/keyboards), Vietnamese born in Japan and raised in San Diego, CA.
This line up, playing together since October 2008, has spent the majority of their time touring North America. Critics usually compare their music to 80’s synthpop: Depeche Mode, New Order, The Cure but with the swagger of late 70’s punk rock. Fans of the band know it as “Chinatown Dance Rock.”