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ARE YOU READY (for Kevin So)?!
A COLD MISTY RAIN falls from the ashen, gray New England sky. It feels more like November than the June that it is. Kevin So is fresh off the road, back from the warmer climes of Austin, Texas. Back to the cold realties of being an independent singer-songwriter in America today. As gray as the skies are, so is his mood. Personal responsibilities, running the successful business of being Kevin So and this never-ending winter are weighing heavily on him. But warm breezes, friendly people and a happy vibe are all fresh in his memory, as he has just completed the major leg of the “Leaving The Lights On” tour. It’s been a rewarding journey. With over a thousand copies of the latest release (a double CD available at www.kevinso.com) sold on tour, Kevin’s network of fans and listeners continues to grow exponentially. Hitting colleges as well as some of the country’s most heralded halls; Kevin So has taken his unique sound to the people.
WE SIT IN DAVIS SQUARE over plates of grilled chicken, vegetables and rice and homemade Baklava (the boy knows how to take care of himself and it shows) at the Savannah Grill - run by Omar Mhiehden the culinary star formerly of the Legendary Club Passim. Deep in the heart of Boston’s folk scene, we pass Johnny D’s and The Somerville Theater, stages where Kevin has cut his teeth. Gaining notoriety for being “that Oriental Guy” who happened to speak his mind while strumming his guitar. Carving out his niche in the Bay State, Kevin set his sights higher and is well on his way towards fulfilling the successes, which were lauded on him early on in his career.
NEARLY 20 YEARS
have passed since Kevin started climbing, the music has changed, matured
and become more polished- like the man himself. A self proclaimed “High
School Nerd who couldn’t get laid,” Kevin
So is on the verge of “blowin’ up”. Mysteriously
keeping his age to himself, and being blessed with age defying Asian
genes, he looks no older than 30. He has put in his time; he has paid
his dues, Kevin So
is coming whether America is ready or not - Are You Ready?
IS AMERICA READY for an Asian American star outside of the Hollywood scene? Movie stars have made the transition from background eye candy or laundry/restaurant workers to the forefront. Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Kelly Hu (what happened to the “s”) and even "The Rock." You know the names and faces; they’ve stepped it up and raised the stakes. This is a HUGE step from behind the anchor desk on the local news. But, is America ready to welcome us into their living rooms on the screens of MTV or into the bedroom on the stereo, or even into the car on the radio? Kevin So thinks so. It’s been a war and there are new battles everyday.
costs, marketing and performing are all parts of the business, and Kevin
has been doing it all alone for so long. The market is clearly there
- people go to the shows and buy the CDs. The music speaks for itself
- 8 independent releases and going strong. What’s holding him
down? We all know the story of the music industry becoming a Monster
Corporate Machine, churning out inoffensive, cookie cutter, bubblegum
pop music. It’s happened in NYC, LA, and even in Nashville where
the Dixie Chicks bred SheDaisy, which in turn churns out the next Country
Girl Band (sounds an awful lot like Britney-Christina-Jessica Simpson,
doesn't it?). Publicity and marketing are not two areas where Kevin
thought he’d have to earn his stripes. The music alone should
do the talking. Unfortunately, in modern day America (particularly in
the folk scene) it doesn’t. Kevin has been paying publicists to
do work and has been marketing himself tirelessly. He feels as though
he is on the brink; “I hope to blow up…sh*t is happening.”
in having “done my own thing, and stayed true to myself”
and people are starting to really respond. However, in order to really
drive the point home to the Music Industry, and other entertainment
outlets, “we (Asian Americans) need to create our own scene.
We need to come together and create a sphere where others are going
to WANT to be included, where it is THE
happening spot- be it a nightclub or a music scene. Where WE
write the rules and invite whom WE want. And if anyone
cares to be admitted, well that will cost you $10. Without creating
this, we will continue to be on the outside looking in. We have a lot
to offer, and we have a lot that others want to be included in. Unless
we organize this and make it happen, we’ll be stuck where we are.”
The man has a great deal of faith in the community, which has not completely
embraced him. Part of the problem is that the Asian American doesn’t
really understand the folk scene.
WHICH LEADS TO KEVIN'S LATEST RELEASE “Leaving the Lights On”, a tribute to his past and the “masterpiece” he has worked so hard to create. To say the tracks are folk would be a disservice; the music is, to quote Michael Bivins, “Hip-hop, smoothed out on the R&B tip, with a pop feel appeal, to it”. Staying true to his folk roots, the messages within the songs are still strong, laced with stories of love, disappointment, longing and hope. Kevin bares his soul for all to see, and it is this brutal honesty and raw emotion, which draws the listener in. There are many layers to the music, and the fact that he not only performs, but produces, composes and writes practically all the material is what makes this even more of a feat. Kevin says, “My favorite track to listen to is ‘Short End of the Stick’, because it is truly a composition of where I wanted the music to be. It captures the fusion of Jazz, R&B, Soul and more, it is truly Afro-Asian music."
AS FAR AS WHAT I LOVE TO PLAY, ‘Call it a Day’ is currently on the top of my list. It just makes me feel good, and the vibe that the song conveys comes across great when it’s live.” Neither can be considered “folk” pieces. “Statement songs will live forever, or at least as long as the struggle continues.” Kevin says, and he has plenty of these songs, songs that verbalize the difficulty of inclusion. Whether it be the schoolyard, or society in general, “yellow is a perfect blend, its half white and half black.” The Asianity of Kevin So is an important part of who he is, and how he sees himself. Deep-rooted family values are evident throughout the music and it balances well with the identity of the modern day American family as well. In songs such as “One Big, Happy Family” it is clear that this man has grown up in the 70’s and 80’s watching Little House on the Prairie and CHiPs.
I was there and Kevin was there, too. Traditions, values and pieces
of his past, all of which were important to him, now are admittedly
looked down upon in the music (“don’t know a thing about
Feng-shui or Tai-chi” - Average Asian American). He “grew
up ashamed of (my) culture you see…” and while this may
not speak to the Anglo listener, it resonates deep within the Asian
American listener. It is this sort of insight, which is winning Kevin
more and more fans. While It is not his job or goal to speak for the
masses, Kevin does feel a sort of elder statesman's responsibility to
spread the word and raise awareness.
What we do with this is up to us.
THE C.D.'S ARE A TESTAMENT of his history and he is writing the story of his life through the music. It has evolved, grown, and had its ups and downs. Through the music he expresses joy and pain, hope and tragedy all the while remaining open and willing to take the listener along for the ride. He blazed the path so that others can follow. Kevin So, much like the young Asian Americans who listen to his music, has come a long way. Nowhere near the Xanadu of the American dream, but well on his way. The sun peeks out from behind the clouds, and it looks like there might be a nice end to the day.
KEVIN SO, full of ideas, has finished his meal now and has spoken on many topics ranging from racism in America as well as within the Asian American community, to the music. The music brings light to his eyes and pushes the grey mood away. Hearing himself on the speakers of the small café make him humble, shy almost. But it is clear that this is his calling, the muse is beside him and he knows it. Living his life, growing as a man, a son an uncle and a person he strides on. Kevin So, a man with a guitar who has seen good times and bad, leading the way, like a modern day pied piper.