As the first Asian-American group to earn a #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, Far East Movement has a lot to live up to.
Between 2003 and now, the boys e.g. Kevin Nishimura, Prohgress (James Roh), DJ Virman (Virman Coquia) have released several chart-topping singles such as “Like a G6” and “Rocketeer”; played at big international festivals; and their songs were even featured in major movies and TV series.
More recently, Far East Movement dropped their 5th studio album, titled “Identity”, which took them 4 years to make. Featuring international artistes such as Tinashe, marshmello, EXO’s Chanyeol, SNSD’s Tiffany, SISTAR’s Hyorin, Yoon Mi Rae, and Elijah Blake, the album fuses musical elements from both the east and the west.
We caught up with Kevin and Prohgress on the 3rd day of “It’s The Ship” 2016. Here’s what went down:
Congratulations on the release of “Identity”! It has been 4 years since your last album, what was your creative process like?
Kevin: It was slow (laughs). I think we really just needed to take a break and refocus because you go through a lot of ups and downs as an artiste. We would be in studio trying to make too much, trying to just try. And I think that that in itself is frustrating. It was like 24 hours, 2 days in a row with no sleep, months at a time just in the studio. You get your record labels and companies and different people saying things like “Ah, that’s not marketable,” “That’s too Asian,” and this and that, so we just needed to get all of that noise out of our heads. So that’s what we ended up doing, we took a break. We started taking trips to Shanghai, Seoul, Tokyo, Jakarta, and just everywhere in Asia to just soak in that far east. That’s what the Far East Movement was essentially all about, it was cultures that we were raised on in the States and needed to understand why we are the way we are and that kinda slowly inspired this album. We started gaining confidence and identity; we would write songs on the road and on the airplanes; and we just want to visualise and keep in touch with all the people we met until this album started taking shape.
Compared to collaborating with American artistes, what was it like working with K-Pop stars?
Kevin: We’ve been producing for artistes in Asia but it was a different process. There are always these collaborations between east and west artistes but it was always like a company thing or it’s like big companies with the money going, putting big people on big tracks and just release it. We kinda wanted to take a different approach. Though there’s a language barrier and a cultural barrier, we treated that process with respect in a sense. So we took a lot of trips out there to just vibe with the artistes and to write the songs together, to craft something that they liked but yet something that was different than what they’re used to doing in their groups or whatever they do. We wanted to slowly craft these songs to kinda reflect both artistes, and that’s what made it really fun and organic.
Most of your fans only see you guys from the crowd. Can you tell us what’s it like being onstage? Is it as magical and fun as we imagined?
Prohgress: Oh yeah! It’s just so much fun when the crowd goes crazy because dance music is all about the energy. When they’re all jumping with us and everything, it’s just the best feeling in the world.
Kevin: He’s (Prohgress) notorious for his stage diving at every show!
Prohgress: You know in Asia, I think they’ve been doing their bicep curls. The first couple times when we do it here, we would fall, every time! No matter how many times I call them to come in front of me. But these days, I’m lasting (during stage dives) a little bit longer.
What’s the one go-to song that gets everyone crazy?
Kevin: Well, we like to mash up EDM and hip hop. We always like to represent L.A. so we’ll throw in songs like “The Next Episode” or any old school Dr. Dre tracks. It’s crazy because you know we grew up in Downtown L.A., thinking that, “Oh, this is just for L.A. heads,” but when we drop that in a different part of the world, everyone goes, “West Coast!” And that’s a good feeling.
Most of your gigs are late at night. How do you keep up with that kind of lifestyle?
Kevin: Disco naps. You do a quick nap right after you eat and you’re good to go.
Do you guys have any guilty pleasures?
Kevin: Aww, man. What is this interview rated (laughs)? I have too many. I don’t know how deep we can go before we start losing people.
Prohgress: Gulity pleasures though? I don’t know. We definitely partake in a lot of fun (laughs).
You guys met in high school and have been making music together for the longest time. How do you resolve any creative arguments?
Prohgress: Rock, paper, scissors (laughs). After a while, you kinda just get the vibe. We just support each other with our ideas but we definitely have arguments though, that’s for certain.
Do you have any tips for aspiring young Asian artistes to get bigger recognition globally?
Kevin: You know what, we personally feel that they’re huge! We’re seeing K-Pop conventions in L.A. do 3 sold-out nights at the STAPLES Centre and that’s more than most L.A. acts. So many people ask us this question but from a L.A. perspective, they are already huge! The bridge that we wanted to make on this album was inspired by the fact that we’re seeing Asian music becoming global. A lot of it is because of YouTube and the Internet, so everyone is on an equal playing field right now. The only way they’re gonna get any bigger is by getting Grammys, I guess. But I’m sure they’re winning awards in their own language.
Is there any discrimination for Asian artistes in America?
Kevin: Yeah, absolutely. I think that it’s changing, for sure, and there are more dance producers that are Asians now. There’s no colour lines but that (discrimination) will always be there. At least from what we’ve seen when we first started until now and it’s weird. The world is getting so much more divided and something needs to change but I don’t know what’s it gonna be.
Do you have any new materials coming up?
Kevin: We spent so much time making our new album, so we really don’t really wanna put out a bunch of new music right now. But our next project that we’re working on is our own company that is called Transparent Music Asia. We’re putting out Dumbfounded, who is an amazing freestyle battle rapper. We’re expanding our own company and I think that’s the next step for us as entrepreneurs. Our love for music makes us wanna bring up the next generation.
Thank you so much for the chat, guys! We hope to see Far East Movement perform in Malaysia soon ;)
Special thanks to our friends from The Livescape Group for arranging this interview.
Featured image: Far East Movement’s Instagram.