Kevin So is definitely a force to be reckoned with. Not only does he write, sing, and play his own songs, he also records his work under his own record label of WingBone. Originally from Boston, this singer/songwriter currently resides in the New York City area. For the past 15 years, So has accrued quite a fan base with his honest style and amazing talents, performing at shows all across the U.S. Earlier this week, So was nice enough to sit down with AsianLoop to talk about his career.
So was born in Boston to first generation Chinese immigrants. As the youngest of three kids, So saw his brother and sister take piano lessons and wanted to do the same. So recalls, "I really got into it. I loved the execution, athleticism of it, and I loved the music." From there, music was always part of his life. "There was never a day when I said 'I choose Music.' I think Music chose me."
Although it may seem unlikely for an artist, but Bruce Lee was an inspiration for So growing up. "Bruce Lee was my childhood hero. He's a guy who fought back," elaborates So. "And then of course later on, as I got older, I started to understand more what he was about. And I've come to love him even more, about self expression and being honest with yourself." And today, from his songs as well as his perspective on life, it is obvious that So firmly believes in honest self expression as well.
Even though Kevin So is not a household word (yet), his work has gained him respect and recognition among the Asian American community as well as the music world. He has played in major venues such as the Beacon Theatre and Town Hall. He has also been nominated eight times for the Boston Music Awards, and his performances have been showcased all over the country. "I feel like I have left my mark", says So. The successful artist has already released eight albums, and he even has two music videos to his credit, one for his song "A Brighter Day" and one for his song "The System". Both videos can be viewed on So's myspace page at http://www.myspace.com/kevinsoandmidnightsnack.
The artist's work is so influential that it has inspired the musical Victor Woo: The Average Asian American (http://theaverageasianamerican.com/). Loosely based on So's own life, this musical revolves around Victor Woo, a singer trying to make it while facing pressures from his family, cultural expectations, and media stereotypes. The show has even caught the eye of David Henry Hwang, the playwright of M. ButterFly. Currently, So is working with Hwang and the rest of the show's creative team to evolve this musical to the next level.
So's musical style is not confined to one specific genre. Although he graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in Jazz Studies, his work spans pop, rock, R&B, folk, and country. Growing up, he was heavily influenced by artists such as Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder and Keith Jarrett. So is also getting more into gospel. So comments, "I've been immersed in the music of Ray Charles, so I kind of wanted to go more into the gospel roots of American music."
In addition to his music, So is also known for his powerful lyrics, many of which are inspired by his personal experiences. He gives the example, "New Day Begun is written in the father's eyes, my dad's eyes, and what it was like when he was waking me up for school". His Asian heritage plays a factor as well. Many of his songs are told from the Asian American point of view.
Kevin So is practical about the realities of being an Asian American artist. There are notably few Asian Americans in his field, but he doesn't let that hold him back. "I could never know what it's like to be African American. I can never know what it is like to be white. All I can know is that I am Asian American," according to So. "Whether or not it has held me back, I can say I am too white for Asians and too Asian for whites. But where does that leave you? You got to just get away from that, and just write from the heart." So believes it is just a matter of believing in yourself, and he encourages others to do the same. "The problem is, being Asian, you immediately think no one is going to invest in you. Well, that's self defeating," explains So.
Although So doesn't see himself as a trailblazer, he has definitely played a major role in paving the way for other Asian American artists. In recent years, more and more Asian American artists have emerged. So admires the work of artists like Jin tha MC, Heather Park, Far East Movement, and Chan/Snackie Chan. So recalls working with other younger artists, and he really enjoys helping them reach their potential. "I think there are so many Asian American artists who are not against learning, they just don't know where to go. And I think it is important for somebody to step in and be that bridge," says So. "I think that's definitely in my future, to try to produce some other artists."
So considers himself to be a perfectionist, and he is proud of all of his albums. But he has a special fondness for Leaving the Lights On. "I put my heart, soul, everything into it," says So, "It came out at a time when my father passed away. That was a turning point in my life. I really immersed myself into this album, and made something that meant something to me personally." So's alter ego of Victor Woo stemmed from this album, the character on which the aforementioned musical is based.
Kevin So has a major performance coming up in the Asian Cultural Festival, to be held from April 23 to April 27. There, he plans on playing an eight-song medley from his work in the musical Victor Woo - The Average Asian American. For more information on the Festival and So's performance there, please go to http://queenstheatre.org/7AsianMenu.htm.
In addition to his major performances, So also enjoys playing at smaller, local venues. The way he sees it, "It's loose and relaxed. I've had friends come up to join me for a song or two. Everyone's having a good time."
For more information about Kevin So, his music, and his upcoming performances, please visit his official site at http://www.kevinso.com or his myspace page at http://www.myspace.com/kevinsoandmidnightsnack.