Oregon Music News: Oregon’s all-genre music magazine since 2009

Photo by Anthony Pidgeon
Photo by Anthony Pidgeon

Slants play D.C. / Before the U.S. Supreme Court tomorrow.

By TOM D'ANTONI // Their day in court has finally come.

Ace publicist Alex Steininger announced today that Portland's Slants, is going to the Supreme Court tomorrow. They are pursuing a trademark for their name and the U.S. Goverment says they can't have it because it's offensive..:even though they're Asian.

Steininger says:

"Following the SCOTUS oral hearing, The Slants will release their new EP, The Band Who Must Not Be Named (In Music We Trust Records), featuring the album’s lead single, “From The Heart,” an open letter to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and those who would rather shut down the band’s social justice efforts without actually considering how things might affect their communities.  A music video for "From The Heart" will soon follow.  The band also has announced tour dates (below) in support of The Band Who Must Not Be Named."

Last winter, we featured them on the cover of our former print publication and did a Coffeeshop Conversation with Simon:

 Here is a condensed version:

The Slants’ Simon Tam: Taking on the U.S. Government while making “Chinatown Dance Rock”

It tells you a lot about Simon Tam (aka Simon Young), The Slants’ leader, that 1) he had a philosophy/business administration double major in college and earned an MBA in grad school; and 2) that the band he led before The Slants was named the Stivs, after Stiv Bators of the Dead Boys. Yes, the “Sonic Reducer (Ain’t no loser)” Dead Boys.

It was in the spirit of both aspects that he helped found an all-Asian band and named it The Slants. Clever fellow, Mr. Tam.

After finding success with The Slants he decided to trademark the name. The Feds said no. Why? Because it was derogatory to Asians. Meanwhile, everyone in the band is Asian.

We spoke with Tam as part of our Coffeeshop Conversations podcast on the OMN website. You can listen to the whole hour there,  here’s a chunk you’ll enjoy.

“There are seventeen million Asians in this country, how come we’re not on the charts? How come there’s nobody on the radio? I’ve never seen anyone who looked like me in the music magazines except maybe the random guy in Smashing Pumpkins. I thought, ‘Why is that?’

“So I decided I wanted to create that vibe. I wanted it to be that when I came on stage, other people would see us and think, ‘I can be like that too, one day.’

“We wanted to break the stereotypes that Asians are quiet, reserved; that we just played piano or violin. They can get loud and have a good time.”

The name of the band is not unlike “N.W.A.”

In a way, but it’s a little different. “Slant” is not an inherent racist slur. It can mean a lot of different things. I thought of the name two years before I had a lineup. I was talking to a friend and said, “What is it that all Asians have in common?” Of course, slanted eyes. I said, yes, the Slants.

Number one, it sounds like a band that Debbie Harry would front and I really like that idea. Number two, we could talk about our own perspective, our own slant on life about what it’s like to be an Asian-American while at the same time paying homage to activists who are trying to re-appropriate this term and use it in a self-empowerment kind of way.

And for total guitar geeks, there are slant guitar cabinets. I tell people that and they just stare at me blankly.

Like I am.

Only a few gear-heads catch that one.

I walked into this band with most of the songs for the first album already written. Within three months of our first show, we had our first album out and we were on tour. It was just what I had been planning for years and years.

And naturally, being that kind of person, you wanted to nail everything down and trademark the band.

Technically we have trademark, because you get it from using the name. We wanted to get a trademark registration. At that point, we had done a couple hundred shows across North America and our attorneys said we should get it. That was in late 2009, early 2010.

It’s been mind-boggling that that simple thing…the lawyers said it’ll only be a couple hundred bucks, it’s going to take you like three months, and then it’ll be over.

Five years later, tens of thousands of dollars later, countless hours and we’re still fighting it. In October, I’m going to Washington, D.C. before a full panel of judges at the Federal Circuit. We’re one step below the Supreme Court.

Ultimately, whether this law that the Trademark Office is using is Constitutional or not. Potentially, the First Amendment could be altered because of us.

What’s their argument?

They’re using this law from the 1940s which says that people can’t register a trademark if it’s considered disparaging, immoral or scandalous. Out of those three, they said our name is disparaging to persons of Asian descent.

Like, we are of Asian decent.

Should have ended it right there.

That wasn’t good enough for them. They said hold on. Urban Dictionary.com says it’s offensive.

Well, that’s expert opinion.

Yeah, because anyone can add a definition there. They had a photo of Mylie Cyrus pulling her eyes back in a slant-eyed gesture…A gesture is a lot different from a word…and there you go. And by the way, these white supremacists say it’s offensive too.

We hammered. We got a national survey done. We had one of the editors at the New American Oxford Dictionary write a huge report on the history of the term. We had testimony from internment camp survivors who said it wasn’t offensive. Thousands of pages of evidence and they still said no.

This is the only case in the history of the United States to have been denied “slants” on the basis of being disparaging. Why is this case different from the hundreds of others you said were fine?

And that’s where we stand.


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