jason & the Rex
So Here I Am
Putting out music. I want to say that makes me a musician. A producer. A recording artist. Songwriter. Rapper. I do those things. I do, therefore I am?
Identity has always been strange to me. I’m American but I was born in China. I’m a New Yorker but grew up in Chicago. I studied film, went to acting conservatory, and made money from acting. I’m a SAG-AFTRA member. But I also spend a lot of time in the service industry. If how we make money defines us, then I’m probably a caterer.
Recently, my therapist asked me to imagine and draw a room where all my different versions of “self” reside. I came up with a tea-house, and in it, there’s the thinker, the eccentric, the zealot, girl-crazed loverboy, Pomeranian papa, Asian grandma. There’s, of course, the artist. But then there are hordes of other “me’s” cramming into the doorway, like the door of a Bushwick warehouse party at 3AM on a Saturday night -- or, technically, Sunday morning. I’ve come to the understanding that maybe it’s less about the individual players of my identity but the community as a whole -- who I am is legion. And maybe there’s a certain civility where we give certain versions of ourselves a momentary platform and spotlight.
In this particular moment, music is my platform, and it only took a few detours and decades to get here.
Dutiful Asian boy that I was, I grew up playing the violin (shout-out Suzuki Method!), sat somewhere in the back of the violin section in my high school’s orchestra (at least it was the honor’s orchestra?), played clarinet in junior high band, and learned how to play the bass, so I could be one of the "cool" kids in the church band. My best friend and I wrote raps and tried to make beats on Fruity Loops, but there were no YouTube videos to teach us how. I gave all that up when I decided to get into filmmaking and acting. Somehow, I thought it’d be a more responsible route. Jury’s still out on that one.
Fast-forward to four years ago. I got myself an agent and started auditioning for commercials and small television roles. There it was. The culmination of years of hard work and training. I finally had the opportunity to express my truth, to step in front of a camera, stand up tall, and say things like:
Whew. And after that hard day’s work, I’d treat myself to a macaron and figure out how to score the next opportunity to say someone else’s word or two. Yeah, that didn’t quite do it. Actors, man. We need and love a good stage. Since I didn’t have one, I set out to create one through music.
Which brings us to this moment:
Bullets Are Flying. My first release. A platform to voice my concerns as a citizen. The track is about the gun violence debate. I began writing it shortly after Parkland happened. I was feeling very chaotic at the time, bursting at the seams angry at the gun violence crisis in our country while auditioning for trigger happy gangsters over and over again. It was hard to be convincingly “scary” when I was constantly questioning whether all the energy and disappointment was worth contributing to our collective taste for violence as the answer. Plus, I still kind of look like a bubbly teenager.
Through music, I can actually speak. I can participate. I can use my skill set to collaborate with others who care, to say, “hey, this is where I’m at with everything that is going on” and to ask “what now?” To connect. To imagine ways we can do better.
I hope you’ll listen. I hope you’ll watch. And I hope you’ll dream with me.