The Opera Theatre of St. Louis and Asian American Dance-Rock Band The Slants Team Up For A Rock Opera

Performances run March 16-18.

By: Mar. 01, 2023

In 2017, with Matal v. Tam, Portland, Oregon-based all Asian American dance-rock band The Slants took on the U.S. Supreme Court to trademark their name. In an unanimous ruling, 8-0, the Supreme Court decided that a federal law prohibiting trademark names that disparage others was unconstitutional because "speech may not be banned on the grounds that it expresses ideas that offend."

Now, through the New Works Collective program at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Slants' members Simon Tam and Joe X. Jiang are bringing their Supreme Court story to the theater with the opera, Slanted: An American Rock Opera, premiering March 16-18. Stage directed by Rajendra Moharaj (Factotum), the rock opera will be presented alongside two other groundbreaking operas: Cook Shack and Madison Lodge. These stories will whisk audiences from 1920s Harlem to the modern-day Supreme Court, and from the exuberance of drag ball culture to the empowerment of a young female inventor. Get ready for a night full of boundary-breaking surprises and joyful voices as we celebrate diverse cultures, stories, and the power of the human spirit!

"In the Summer of 2022, we were invited to apply for the New Works Collective program at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Even though we had no experience with opera itself, we thought that it could be an interesting concept to share our Supreme Court story while bringing elements of synth-pop and rock n' roll," recalls Tam. "Evidently, the opera agreed and we began writing very quickly, incorporating actual quotes from Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the government, and me. Like our album, Joe and I mostly focused on behind-the-scenes work in writing and composing. Staying behind the curtain allowed us to leverage our strength of sharing ideas while allowing others to take center stage. Bass players are usually not considered the frontman but it was different with The Slants - I was often thrust into that position to talk about our activism, our legal case, or because I was the de facto original band member left. But whether it is the opera or our album, I'm finally doing what I've always wanted to for our community: create new roles that allow others to do what they do best. That's my favorite kind of art."

Adds Jiang, "The opera is definitely taking our band evolution to an extreme and it's been as intense, challenging and exhilarating of a music experience I've ever had. Like the album, it's telling very personal stories through collaboration, and it's elevated by some of the best performers in the world. Just hearing my melodies sung by opera singers has been overwhelmingly exciting, and soon we'll be seeing a fully staged production!"

The world premiere for the opera will take place March 16th through the 18th at Catherine B. Berges Theatre at the Center of Creative Arts in St. Louis. Tickets are $35-$55 and available at https://opera-stl.org/whats-on/nwc/

The Slants are also working on their final full-length album, the aptly titled The Band Plays On, a fourteen track collection of the band's melodic, highly-danceable synth-pop, which will be released in the fall of 2023. Unlike prior The Slants' albums, The Band Plays On will feature a guest performer on each track, including a guest vocalist on almost every song. These guests are comprised of prominent, as well as up-and-coming, artists from the Asian American community:

"The Band Plays On" - Feat. BAO (and nearly all former members of The Slants)
"This is Who We Are" - Feat. Joe Kye
"Crystal Lake" - Feat. Othertones/Iman Nadeem
"Family" - Feat. Aron Moxley (and nearly all former members of The Slants)
"Just Say Goodbye" - Feat. The Complements
"What Will People Say" - Feat. Mikara
"Will You Let Me Know" - Feat. Surrija
"Drifting Pages" - Feat. Lola Menthol
"Credits Roll" - Feat. Joe Kye
"One Last Summer" - Feat. Katherine Ho
"Strangest Sound" - Feat. Alex Kade
"Ideas of You" - Feat. Darro
"Advocate" - Feat. Edson Choi (Talk Time)
"Life Goes On" - Feat. Johnny Hi-Fi

"The Band Plays On is a logical evolution for The Slants. There's a mixture of old and new songs, many reflective of Simon's and my own personal journeys into music and activism, but presented through collaborations with extremely talented Asian American singers, musicians and producers from across the country," says Jiang on the new album. "When the band retired from touring in 2019, our focus was on our foundation and supporting/connecting marginalized artists. It made perfect sense to do the same with this album."

"Even though we were exhausted from over thirteen years on the road, our timing of stepping down from touring as a band right before the pandemic was serendipitous; that down time allowed us to really focus on what mattered for the band. For me, it was focusing on telling our stories, both literally through publishing my memoir, as well creatively through our music," recalls Tam on how the album came about. "For the first few years, we connected with hundreds of other Asian American artists through the work of our nonprofit, The Slants Foundation, and it really helped us rethink what was possible with our art."

With the opera set for release this month, and the album in the works, 2023 promises to be a very busy year for The Slants. And while it may seem they've been dormant, if you know Jiang and Tam, dormant is not a word they know.

"Through weekly Zoom calls and trading hundreds of emails, Joe and I began writing as much music as we could, without any real limits in mind. At first, we started seeing how it could become the basis of a new album. But with the many transitions and folks stepping down in The Slants, we knew we didn't want to put together a new band in the middle of the pandemic. So, we started reaching out to other artists that we enjoyed working with, We brought Bao Vo (of Ming and Ping) on as a co-producer who really helped us shape the sound and we decided to feature different vocalists and performers on every track," informs Tam. "It made me realize that in some ways, the idea of The Slants mattered more than the actual band itself - we could redefine what a band could be. For me, The Band Plays On is a literal title in that the work of our band continues because of this big community of artists finding expression through song."

For a self-proclaimed troublemaker who took on the Supreme Court with his dance-rock band, The Slants' Tam and bandmate Joe X. Jiang are ready to prove that yes, the band was about politics and reclaiming a racial term for empowerment, but that it was also always about the music.




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