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Band News (more headlines) 04-03-2016

Asian-American Rock Band The Slants Win Historic Trademark Case In Federal Appeals Court

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On their new album, Something Slanted This Way Comes, Portland, Oregon-based Chinatown dance-rock band The Slants are celebrating more than a collection of seventeen songs. The band is celebrating their name and their victory of the U.S. Government.

On Tuesday, December 22, 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled that the Asian-American band The Slants have the right to register their trademark. In a decision with national implications on free speech, the appeals court ruled that the U.S Patent and Trademark Office and Department of Justice violated the band's First Amendment rights. In a 9-3 vote, the appeals court struck down the "disparagement" portion of the Lanham Act, a 1946 law that allowed the Trademark Office to deny marks that could be considered "scandalous, immoral, or disparaging." Writing for the opinion, Judge Kimberly Moore stated, "Courts have been slow to appreciate the expressive power of trademarks...Words -- even a single word -- can be powerful. Mr. Simon Tam named his band The Slants to make a statement about racial and cultural issues in this country. With his band name, Mr. Tam conveys more about our society than many volumes of undisputedly protected speech." This victory comes after six years of fighting against the Trademark Office.

Band founder and bassist Simon Tam (whose stage name is Simon Young) formally applied for a trademark in 2010, but a trademark examiner rejected the application, stating that "The Slants" was a disparaging term and using sources like UrbanDictionary.com as evidence. In 2011, Tam filed a second application, but was rejected again under Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act. After numerous appeals and arguments in court, the band finally prevailed using Free Speech arguments.

Though the legal issues were a setback, forcing the band to focus their attention on court appearances and legal filings instead of writing and recording, the band likes to look at the diversion as time they also used to ultimately re-focus on the band and execute some long dreamed of plans.

"While the legal fight was extremely important for our band, it was also a distraction. We often had to put the recording on hiatus so that we could focus on pressing legal matters. In all reality, this record probably should have been released much earlier, but we were busy in Washington, D.C taking on the Department of Justice," admits Tam. "At the same time, it really allowed us to reflect on our priorities and what we wanted to accomplish with our music. It redoubled our focus and drive to tour Asia, something that we've been planning to do since 2008 - and now we're finally doing it."

Besides Tam, The Slants are comprised of Tyler Chen (drums), Ken Shima (vocals), and Joe X. Jiang (guitar). The quartet has re-imaged and re-recorded cuts from The Slants' previous three studio full-lengths - 2007's Slanted Eyes, Slants Hearts, 2010's Pageantry, and 2012's The Yellow Album, to deliver Something Slanted This Way Comes, a seventeen track collection (including one new, previously unreleased song) that features new vocalist Ken Shima and marks the first album with Jiang on guitar.

"Rather than just being a typical 'best of' album, we went back to re-record and re-imgaine the songs. It gave us a chance to reflect the musical growth of our band as well as reflect our actual lineup," says Tam of the making of Something Slanted This Way Comes. "It also allowed us to work with producer Stephan Hawkes who helped make our music sound bigger than ever."

With the help of Hawkes, and with Shima and Jiang, The Slants expand on their 80s keyboard-driven Chinatown dance-rock, reworking songs as they have done them live, and adding even more depth to the already meaty melodies.

"Ken's vocals and Joe's guitar playing have definitely bring out new aspects of our music. Tyler wasn't on our first record, so it was incredible to hear those old songs brought to life with his playing," comments Tam on the new album. "In addition to helping re-imagine our discography, the band is more committed than ever to tour and to creating new music. The band has been a dream of mine since 2004 and it is so exciting to see how it's finally evolving to become what I always hoped it would be."

Shima sings in "Capture Me Burning," "from dusk to dawn, outcasts rule this town," which Tam says, "In many ways, it reflects the incredible journey that we've had in this band. No one expected this all-AsianAmerican dance rock band who was playing anime conventions to embark on a six-year legal battle against the U.S government - and win. Yet, through our persistence and the tenacity of our communities, we were able to help revoke an outdated racist law by being victorious in our trademark case."

Recorded as previous The Slants albums have been recorded - at various home studios, culling the tracks, and sending them off to be mixed and mastered at a professional studio - Something Slanted This Way Comes, hot off the heals of The Slants' trademark victory, seems that much more personal, that much more immediate, and that much more powerful. Maybe it's their renewed energy, their re-found focus, or their fans and supporters that have stuck with them through all these years, but the album will speak to any fans of the previous material - and most definitely turn more people on to the band.

"We were all extremely proud of the outcome. Some of the songs sounded completely different than we imagined them to be and sounded even better than we thought possible," says Tam. "For most of the record, I played all new keyboard
parts and used new sounds, but did it in isolation of everything else going on so I didn't know how it would actually sound until it was done."

When asked what is different about the songs on the rerecording, Tam points out that they truly did re-image the songs, not just re-record them.

"As we were going back through some of our older material, we started uncovering ideas that we couldn't hear before or ended up taking out. For example, the guitar lead during the bridge of 'You Make Me Alive.' At the time, it made sense. But when we started writing and recording the songs over again, we got to revisit those ideas to see if we could make them work in a new, fresh way."

Summing up the record, Tam says that it is "a reflection of our band's musical journey over the past nine years. Many of the songs reflect our own lives: relationships, life on the road, heartbreak and loss, and finding new ways to reappropriate tired stereotypes about oppressed communities."

Tam's goals for the records, he says, include, "paying tribute to the work of the band over the past decade - for the members who have come and gone, for the countless fans across multiple continents who have been supporting us, and for our loved ones for encouraging us to keep going. It helps set the stage with our new lineup to begin writing a new body of music."

The band is getting ready to tour Asia, following a return to the states where they'll release Something Slanted This Way Comes - and then hit the road this summer supporting the album.

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