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ARE YOU READY (for Kevin So)?!
Written by John-Takashi Suzuki

 
 
INFO ON THE WRITER
 

He is a first generation Japanese American and graduate of Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY. He is from Forest Hills, Queens--which was a mostly-white enclave in the most culturally diverse county in the US and now resides in New Jersey.

This contrast gives John a unique perspective on both white and Asian America. John has lived his whole life floating back and forth between Japanese and American cultures, never really feeling at home in either. This has given him a keen sense of observation.

The subject matter he writes about range from music, the arts and life in general- things that touch his heart. He writes about things which cross the cultural divide, bring people together, in turn bringing harmony to John's world.

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.


THE REACTIONS HE GETS are universal; people are attracted to the music like moths to a flame. The raw honesty, the naked emotion and the orchestration (all written, recorded and performed by Kevin) blend harmoniously like the dream of a modern day America. Did I mention Kevin So is an Asian American? Should I need to? The audiences he plays to are predominantly white; the sounds of his latest release are predominantly black-Afro-Asian as he dubs it. White Kids raised on Run-DMC, Chicago, and Styx attend the shows and buy the CDs. They are hearing the music and not seeing the musician, Kevin So is winning. Or is he?

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.

AS 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.

PUBLICITY, production 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.”

KEVIN SO - singer * pianist * guitarist * songwriter * producer
 
Photo by JohnMazlish.com
 
"Riveting...impeccable…." That's what the Boston Globe says about Kevin So, one of the most exciting and powerful singer/songwriters to emerge from the Boston music scene. Making a name for himself as a boundary-stretching singer/songwriter, So's original blend of pop, rhythm & blues, and hip hop has garnered the attention and praise from Billy Bragg, Martin Sexton, Mary Lou Lord, Richie Havens, David Wilcox, and most recently Keb’ Mo’.

Kevin is one of the most recognized artists in the Asian American community. He, too admits that “there aren’t enough of us.” Fans all over the world have caught on to So's lyrical truths and his knack for engaging people through his music, intense storytelling, and foot stomping performances. He has been nominated 8 times for the Boston Music Awards and has opened for some of the industry's best known acts including Joe Cocker, Randy Newman, Richie Havens, Billy Bragg, Mary Lou Lord, Livingston Taylor, Martin Sexton, Robben Ford, Chris Smither, and Dar Williams.

Kevin was invited last year to perform at MY AMERICA – a tribute at The World in Times Square in commemoration of the tragic events of September 11. He has also played the main stage at the world-renowned Kerrville Music Festival in Texas as well as such famed clubs as The Fillmore West in San Francisco, Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago, The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and The Beacon Theater and The Bottom Line in New York City.

Kevin's love of people and community are not only illustrated in his music, but also in his sense of civic obligation. In addition to a rigorous tour schedule, Kevin has performed at many charity fundraising benefits for organizations such as The New England Home for Little Wanderers, the American Heart Association, ANYTOWN New England, and the Judge Baker Children's Center.

 
 
Photo by JohnMazlish.com

Kevin has just released his 8th CD – Leaving The Lights On - what he describes as “my Asian American Songs in The Key of Rice … my Kwandrophenia …” combining such diverse influences as Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye “with a little bit of Richard Pryor thrown in.” Confronting identity, sexuality, history, family, and yes - racism, this recording is one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year.

“so here it is, i’m just a’ leaving the lights on singing about a family and the struggle to stay strong dealing with all my demons, something that i believe in i guess to know where you’re goin’ you must remember where you come from…” from Flashback to 1982

Now with a rigorous touring schedule, and sold out shows at local clubs like The Middle East, The Lizard Lounge, and Club Passim, Kevin So is quickly becoming one of the most sought after artists on the national music scene. More significant, he is an important voice for our generation and for generations to come.

KEVIN TAKES PRIDE 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."

"Kevin is an original talent and a tremendous performer” – BILLY BRAGG

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.

YOU WERE THERE, 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.

 
Photo by Cheng-Hui Hsu
 

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.


For more info about KEVIN SO, please visit www.KevinSo.Com

 

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