The following post was guest written by Wesley Woo from Trace Repeat.
Trace Repeat is an Oakland based seven-piece funk and soul band. Get down on it! We believe in reviving the aesthetics of our Motown forefathers: Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and the tempting Temptations. We love vintage pocket watches, postcards, and a well-tailored three-piece suit. We are also a predominantly Asian American band.
Filipino American, Chinese American, Malaysian, a little bit Jewish American, (what kind of Caucasian is Dan, again?), and so on. To be absolutely honest, it’s never really been something that we’ve talked about explicitly, until folks started asking us about it.
See, the reality is, we’re just here to make some damn good music. Zach and I originally started this band as a two-piece acoustic act. We were two solo singer-songwriters banging on their acoustic guitars as hard as we could, not quite captivating audiences in the ways that we really wanted to do. The “Asian-ness” of Trace Repeat happened purely out of circumstance. We sought each other out for a community in music simply because there aren’t that many of us doing it. By the time we had put together an “Asian funk band,” it was certainly not by intention, but really just a matter of Asian Americans scrambling for a community in music, in an industry that is truly starved for diversity.
Here in the Bay (and anywhere you look, really), there is a shortage of Asian Americans making music. Everywhere we look on TV, on the radio, and in film, we don’t see much of ourselves in mass media. As a child of Motown and basketball, I grew up with David Ruffin, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jackson. At 13 or so, I remember telling my parents that “I look Asian, but I’m really not, though.” I don’t act or feel Asian. I don’t do karate, my Mandarin tutor can’t stand me, and I like burgers and hash browns more than rice and tofu.
I was truly not much of a Chinese stereotype at 13, all things considered. So you can imagine my surprise when we started Trace Repeat, and the most frequent comment when we got on stage would be “this is an Asian funk band?” *queue the shock and awe*
Why the qualifier all of a sudden? I’m still the same bad Chinese kid who flunked out of karate class, and had more iconic black childhood heroes than Asian ones. But now suddenly I’m identified by my Asian-ness, simply because our band breaks a mold.
You can imagine my surprise when we started Trace Repeat, and the most frequent comment when we got on stage would be “this is an Asian funk band?”
I think there’s an expectation set in from the start when folks see the slant in our eyes, or the good Chinese boy getting up on stage at a rowdy Irish dive bar, screaming at the top of his lungs with his best James Brown impersonation. It’s the kind of music that’s bold and unapologetic, coming from the passive, submissive Asian kids that stereotype has told us will behave, quietly.
The truth is though, we don’t actively solicit opportunities to talk about our “Asian-ness” as a band because we don’t really have to. We don’t start every show with a monologue about Asian American empowerment and we don’t exclusively collaborate with Asian bands. We don’t want to be an Asian American band at all, really. We just want to be a funk band. We love Motown soul and R&B. We love vintage polaroids and postcards, antique thrift shops, and a well-fitting french cuff. And that’s it. No qualifying “Asian” prefixes to our name, no need to mention our race in describing our particular brand of funk. This is simply what it looks like when two Asian guys start a funk band. Get used to it.
WRITTEN BY WESLEY WOO
Trace Repeat is a 6-piece Oakland based funk and soul band (think: Bruno Mars) who are not only bringing you music that’ll get you up and moving (it is seriously catchy), but that brings attention to a much larger issue—Asian American stereotypes. It’s a cause that has gained them attention on NBC News, The Huffington Post, and Mother Jones, and led to the funding (and then some) of their IndieGoGo campaign within the first week of launching, resulting in their campaign being featured on IndieGoGo’s trending page. Their new album, The Oaktown Sound, sees them reviving the aesthetics of their Motown forefathers: Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and the tempting Temptations, to create a throwback album packed with James Brown references, Al Green harmonies, and Prince vocal runs. It’s also an album that pays homage to their roots—Oakland. Grab The Oaktown Sound out now.
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Oakland’s Trace Repeat on Breaking Down Stereotypes and Writing Damn Good Music: Photograph courtesy of Trace Repeat