Q&A with Dan aka Dan of afterschoolspecial

March 2, 2010

Dan aka Dan, Dan Matthews, is the emcee for San Diego-based hip-hop/rock band, afterschoolspecial.

The band embarks on their first major national tour this week, starting in Philidelphia. They will be joining up with Cynthia Lin, Magnetic North and Taiyo Na in their East Coast shows.

Can you give us some background on afterschoolspecial? How did you guys come together?

We're all from different parts of California, except for our guitarist, Keane. We met because we all went to San Diego State -- everyone was a friend of a friend. We got together in 2007.

I have always been interested in hip hop. I have a pretty diverse musical background: I got into hip hop in college, but listened to a lot of punk rock back in high school. I really enjoy the rock-hip hop fusion.

We had a really badass keyboard player. He was jamming one day. When he started playing, I had some things I had written down before, and I started to put it together, and it worked out really well.  From there, we started adding members. Everything happened really organically, and we fit really well together.

How did you come up with the name afterschoolspecial?

It took us a long time to find out that perfect name that captured the vibe of our group, what we were trying to do and convey. The name afterschoolspecial just came to me and kind of stuck.
It's really based off of the early 90s, late 80s After School Specials on ABC, and the name derives from that.
They've got this grainy look to them, and they're kind of eerie and vintage. I felt like this was kind of the feel that I want as well -- particularly vintage. It's not completely polished, but it has a kind of heavy subject matter.
Also, another big theme with [the show] After School Special is that they tell a story and teach, though in a rather corny way.
But we feel that our big thing is that we're trying to teach something through our music now -- that's the main similarity between our band name and After School Special.

What are you trying to teach?

We're trying to teach about the different stories and backgrounds that we all come from. Also, our music is very upbeat, and we're trying to show that there are positive musical influences out there in the world.

Another thing is storytelling. A lot of my favorite emcees are storytelling emcees. One of our songs, Forever pt. 2 is a story about this guy who wants to find a way to live forever after he dies, and the way to live forever is by creating some sort of legacy for people to remember him by.

I'm kind of obsessed with death and what happens after death, and how people remember you after death. That's one of the things that we're trying to teach and convey through our music, that music is the way that we want to be remembered after we're dead. How we do that is by telling stories through our music.

How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it before?

We call it rock-infused hip hop. That's the easiest way to put it.

Can you walk us through how you come up with a typical song?

A lot of the songs are written differently. Sometimes our bassist or our keyboardist will have an idea, and we'll simply go with the hook or what they think would sound good, and then we go from that. Our guitarist will add something, then the keyboard will jump in on top of that, and so forth.

We're really into layered music, and writing really awesome layers upon layers of sound that comes together to create amazing music.

That's how about half of our songs are written. The other half are either ideas myself or our singer Jaimie come up with. I'll have a certain topic that I want to talk about. I'll have some lyrics that I come up with, or our singer will do the same thing. Then we'll have a certain mood that we want our lyrics to convey and we'll describe that to the band.
Then the band will come up with some sort of riff and melody, and we'll work off of each other.

You're based in San Diego, right?

Yes, very happily.

What kinds of venues do you usually perform at?

We've been playing at a lot of cultural and college shows. I think the college shows are really great. Not only are college kids really receptive to new kinds of music, but it's also where a lot of people discover what kinds of music they're really into. That's where I learned it.

We try to hit up a lot of colleges in the southern California area.

We've also played at some really cool venues in San Diego. We've played in House of Blues, a lot of bars.

I think that a lot of Asian American acts tend to focus on only Asian Americans, so that is part of our target demographic, but we also fit really well with a diverse audience.

Our band is pretty diverse; half of us are Asian and the other half is not, so we're able to get into a lot more different shows because of that.

We also do a lot of cultural shows, which we love and get a lot of love from. But I feel like we've been able to get into a lot of different events because we are so diverse.

I notice that you are also involved with the Asian community in other ways, like with the San Diego Asian Film Festival. Can you tell me a little more about that?

I currently work as the marketing and PR coordinator for the San Diego Asian Film Festival.
I discovered a lot of Asian American issues back in college. There's a really huge Asian community down there, and I felt empowered by my community to do something.
I'm really interested in entertainment, specifically Asian American entertainment.
There is no better way for me to not only help out with my challenge, but also do something that I'm really interested in.
I'm really interested in what people are doing and helping out other people who are trying to pursue arts as a career. It's very exciting.

It seems to be difficult for Asian Americans to get into the entertainment industry, whether it's music or film. Do you feel like that's still a barrier, or do you feel that it's not a major issue these days?

I think that it's still obviously a barrier, and there's no better time than now to get into the entertainment industry. I would actually argue against what a lot of Asian Americans who feel that it's very difficult to do it right now because this is the best time to get into entertainment. Right now, everything is building, especially with YouTube and different media outlets out there.

We also have more and more Asian Americans on television and in movies now, and I think that this is the best time to get involved in this scene.
The biggest thing that Hollywood and the entertainment industry want to see is money, and the younger people and people my age, or people in their 30s right now, they have the income to be able to support Asian American entertainment.

Once they have the income, we can back our own artists that we find to be interesting. If there is money involved, anyone who is in the industry, no matter if they're Asian or not, money is what they see.

I think a lot more Asian American artists are going to start to get picked up within the next five years.

 Does this Asian American identity carry over much into your music?

We did have a song called Angry Asian Man. It's a pretty sentimental song for myself because I wrote it from my own background.  But as a band, because we come from different backgrounds, it's been important for me to not write from my own specific stance so that it does apply to the entire band. We've kind of ducked away from writing about specific Asian American issues.
Those issues are things that I do talk about at some shows or when we get invited to speak at universities, but we don't necessarily write, and I don't necessarily let my Asian American background influence the type of lyrics that I write. However, obviously, because I am Asian American, and the kind of setting that I grew up in has influenced me as a person. Subconsciously it has influenced the kinds of things that I write, and my own experiences that then have led me to write the particular lyrics that I do.
Offhandedly, yes, being Asian influences the things that I do, but I don't do anything specifically because I'm Asian American.

I might add that I am adopted. I'm Korean American.

I think everyone who is adopted, growing up, they have their own unique story. I've been rather fortunate with the way I've been raised. It hasn't been too weird. My identity is Asian American, but also having white parents.

I think it has also given me an outlook on life that is very unique compared to many other Asian Americans because I've been able to grow up in a different way. Because of that, and my experience as being an adopted Korean American has definitely influenced the music I listened to growing up.

Ultimately, because of the way that I am and the freedom that my parents gave me, I feel that I've had more freedom to express myself growing up. That freedom eventually led me to be in this band.

Where are most of your fans based?

Most of them are in southern California. The big base is in San Diego because that's where we're located. If we were based in Los Angeles, that would help a lot but we've chosen to stay in San Diego. It's given us the advantage of being a bigger fish in a smaller pot.
This year is going to be a crucial year for us as a group. I'm really excited and looking forward to what happens because I want to make sure our base is strong. We have a good foundation as a band, and now that it's set, we can start putting ourselves out more out in the public so more people can pick up on our music.

We have our professional EP done, we've got t-shirts made, we've got our music down to a T, as far as our live performance goes, and we've established an online presence. Now that we've got everything set up, we're ready to go out there and share what we've got.

Do you have any tours planned?

We're doing a big Spring Tour that starts in Santa Barbara, on March 27th. We're going to be doing an East Coast Asian American student conference, and then we're doing a show in New York.

Then we're coming back to southern California, then northern California: SF state, Davis, and hopefully Berkeley.

Is this your first tour?

Yes, it's our first time doing a major tour.
We've done small shows here and there in LA and Ventura County, but this is the big thing.

Who would you say are major musical influences on you and the band?

I look at Mike Shinoda, especially his rock-rap, and he's also a Japanese American emcee. I kind of style myself after the type of music Linkin Park does, and I listen to a lot of other rock-infused hip hop. The Flobots are a big influence on us. Above all else, the Beastie Boys are one of my favorites and are definitely one of those groups who were really trendsetters at combining rock and rap. I also like how they do their music and lyrics, how they flow.
Our singer really loves Incubus, she loves the way the lead singer Brandon Boyd sings. Her style is built after a more free, love-everybody kind of vibe.
Red Hot Chili Peppers also combines a lot of funk and rock, so they're a big influence on us.
Another interesting influence is Hot Hot Heat. I used to listen to a lot of them back in high school and early college. I've been to a lot of their concerts and I watched their stage presence. And I try to emulate what their lead singer does.

Aside from the tour, what do you have planned for the future?

We're currently working on several projects right now. We should have an LP recorded by the end of summer.

If people want to listen to your music, where would they find it?

At our website, www.afterschoolspecial.com. You can email me at dan [at] afterschoolspecial.com, I'll send you a free MP3.

Is there anything else you'd like to add for our readers?

They can find us on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.


Some tour dates:

Magnetic North+Taiyo Na

East Coast Asian American Student Union Conference
March 5, 2010
7:00pm- Opening Night Showcase
University of Pennsylvania

Info:Daniel [at] sdaff.org

Magnetic North+Taiyo Na
Cynthia Lin Band

Parkside Lounge
 Saturday, March 6
Doors at 8:30pm
$5 Cover
Info/guestlist: Daniel [at] sdaff.org