By Nicholas Jason Lopez
Upon a slew of other acts like Kitty Kat Fan Club and Skankin’ Pickle, Asian Man Records founder Mike Park also had a hand in the formation of The Chinkees, a trailblazing Asian-American outfit that tore up the California ska-punk scene between 1998 and 2002, with three albums and several globe-trotting tours.
Despite the band name, it was designed to look directly at the reality of racism’s presence. The band explored their Asian-American identities through upbeat anthems that revolved around themes like the pressures of Asian excellence and casual racism. Park continued to have success after their 2002 hiatus with other acts like Bruce Lee Band and Ogikubo Station, while Steve Choi joined punk-rock quartet Rx Bandits.
They’ve reunited and have since released the ‘K.A. Music’ four-track EP via Asian Man Records, their first new music in 18 years. They put out singles “Trace The Morning Time” and “Our Lips Are Coming Right Through.”
The Chinkees is currently vocalist Park, keyboardist/guitarist Choi, bassist/guitarist Roger Camero (No Motiv, Peace’s Out) and drummer Kevin Higuchi (Jeff Rosenstock).
The Music Bugle had the pleasure to chat with Choi about their new music and more.
Music Bugle – How would you say your music has influenced the Bay Area ska-punk “scene” through the years?
Steve Choi – Kind of hard to answer that, as I believe influence is not one-directional. Mike Park is influential as a figure and I think his time and work in Skankin’ Pickle and Asian Man Records came far before what I was doing with RX Bandits and certainly paved the way for younger musicians like us to do what we did with RX, both musically and politically.
Music Bugle – How do you differentiate your mindset when it comes to making music by The Chinkees and making music by RX Bandits?
Steve Choi – They are very different in approach and process. With RX, there is a lot more collaboration whereas this last EP for The Chinkees was written by myself with a different creative impetus. The music in RX is forged through a laborious process often battling overthinking for me. I wrote the music for The Chinkees just trying to excite a positive energy in music through vibes of fun, exuberance and something that would translate live to come across even better than it does recorded.
Music Bugle – Your band name takes a direct look at the reality of the presence of racism. Given the state of recent protests against police brutality and racism sparked by the controversial death of George Floyd, do you feel this was the perfect time for a new Chinkees release?
Steve Choi – I think it’s always a good time for music and arts in general to be released, as it’s a crucial piece of quantifying and resonating what’s going on in the world. That said, while our experience being Asian-American has its own hardships and struggles, experiencing Anti-Asian racism and stereotypes cannot be compared to fearing for my own life at the hands of those sworn to protect or being systematically oppressed while being told I have equal opportunities by my oppressors like the black community does.
Music Bugle – What was the creative process for putting together your latest EP like?
Steve Choi – I took a few weeks to sit and curate the bands I loved that informed this genre and do my thing where I like to go against conventions of genres that people come to expect, which was very much my signature in what we did with RX. I began writing with those ideas in mind and very much tried to keep it fun and light while giving it my full effort. I recorded all the music with bassist Roger Camero and once the music was all done, we brought it to Mike to start writing lyrics and working through the vocal melodies I had written and fit his ideas into them.
Music Bugle – What made you guys release “Trace The Morning Time” and “Our Lips Are Coming Right Through” as singles in particular?
Steve Choi – They just seemed like they were energetic tunes with lots of movement that would grab people’s attention and that’s what I view the spirit of ska-punk being about.
Music Bugle – How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you personally?
Steve Choi – Aside from losing a family member to it and supporting my partner, who is an ICU nurse treating COVID patients, it has really made me grateful for my position in life and this socio-economic structure, because there are so many people suffering from not only the virus, but the system that is failing them at the most extreme levels.
Music Bugle – If you had the chance to chat one-on-one with one of your musical influences, who would you choose?
Steve Choi – That’s tough because there’s so many, but right now, I’d have to choose Ian MacKaye.
Music Bugle – Given your extensive background, what frustrates you the most about the music industry today?
Steve Choi – The industry has taken the life out of the soil that music grows from. Now, it is trying to shift and adapt, but that requires further degradation of the ground that creativity grows in and is creating a mono-crop culture of performing for views/hits and online attention, which kills the landscape of creativity.