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Far East Movement’s Kev Nish on ‘Identity,’ Embracing Asian Culture and Snoop Dogg

Cherrytree Records 10th Anniversary
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Far East Movement is back.

It’s been quite a journey for the trio of Kevin Nishimura (Kev Nish), James Roh (Prohgress) and Virman Coquia (DJ Virman) as they’ve moved away from the spotlight. They went behind-the-scenes with an intention to stay there.

It’s been four years since the trio took over the world with their massive hits “Like a G6″ and “Rocketeer” off of their 2010 album, Free Wired. But after gaining a sense of self-discovery through a trip to Asia, they’re back with Identity as well as their own label, Transparent Agency. The label is set to promote Asian and Asian-American artists. And their new album is proving to be a success for their mission already. The project features stellar and popular South Korean rappers, pop and R&B artists including Yoon Mi-rae (aka the “Lauryn Hill of South Korea”), Jay Park, Loco, Tiffany (of Girls Generation), Marshmello and Chanyeol (of EXO). The album also highlights a mix of black artists including Tinashe, Souljah Boy, Big K.R.I.T. and Macy Gray.

Far East Movement’s Kev Nish spoke with The Boombox about their journey to rediscovery, getting their single, “Freal Luv,” on New York radio and why Snoop Dogg is the true O.G.

Check it out below.

The Boombox: It’s been four years since your last album, how have you been? What have you been up to?

Kev Nish: A few things actually. I think we just needed to take a little break from music and really re-focus. We’re spending a lot more time behind the scenes in the music industry, just managing artists. We started a record label in Asia, centralized in Seoul, called Transparent Agency. The concept is a global label representing Asian artists and Asian-American artists to really just pushing worldwide. And we’ve been producing in the studio, writing a lot. And at the same time, being out in Asia, really feeling and learning and living and breathing with the culture really opened our eyes to want to make a new record. So, we started a new album in the process.

Which countries were you in?
We spend a lot of time in China, Japan, Seoul [South Korea], Thailand, Philippines, that was the majority.

What was it about the culture that spoke to you?

Before we did music, before we were artists, we never visited Asia really. We’re all Asian-American. Growing up Asian-American, there’s one thing where the way you see yourself is not necessarily how you’re viewed here in a sense where we just feel like we’re everyday born and raised American. That’s not really how society may see it because physically how we look and culturally where our backgrounds are. Then, when you look at Asia, it’s kind of…you’re not really viewed as Asian either, you know, you’re a foreigner. So, you know, I think through the process of being an artist in the United States and traveling, there’s issues that rise up where “Is that marketable?” “That’s not American” “That’s not gonna connect.” You know, things like that where it just kind of sits with you in a sense like your perspective of thinking.

So, all that really kind of pushed us to want to discover why the name Far East Movement even exists. Why we kept that name, why all the customs and all the different things that we were taught when we were young by our grandparents and our parents, we never really know where it came from. So, I think the Asia trip and just being out there really helped connect the dots to our own personalities and just us growing up and everything just clicked. It really put a lot of perspective into what our purpose is, why we kept the name Far East Movement and maybe a global identity. It just really inspired us, gave us an understanding of who we are.

Why did you keep the name Far East Movement?

In the beginning, it was because we loved it, because it represented a piece of identity that didn’t exist with us? People were like that name is not an artist name, it doesn’t make sense, it’s too Asian, whatever it may be. But, we just always kept it and I think that it’s because we didn’t have that growing up or it was a void that…it’s not necessarily a need now. What’s dope is that I think for the newer generation, there’s a lot more role models. It’s accessing, you maybe get a little bit of anime, there wasn’t free YouTube videos all the time to really just shape us culturally so Far East Movement I think was…keeping the name was our way of having that kind of connection.

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You mentioned “identity,” which is also the name of the album. Is that why you named it that? What led you to that name?

It’s definitely why we named the album Identity because I think over the span of four years of wanting to just stop making music thinking that we were maybe better off behind the scenes, I think, being out in Asia and really discovering, you know, making friends out in Asia and learning about the culture and the business and the music scene, all that stuff really clicked that that’s our identity. I think making music out in Asia really inspired us to keep going, gave us a new sense of inspiration that we definitely didn’t have when we first started making music.

You spoke about finding your identity and a lot of record companies or other people telling you that you have to make it “less Asian.” Now you have this new album out and it’s full of Korean rappers, R&B artists and pop artists. Was it like a big f*** you to those companies?

Yeah, it’s a bit different because when we first started the mission was always like…there was always a mission. It was absolutely always just because the time or how we were raised there was always this need to prove something culturally. The first need was how can we make a song where people hear it and don’t even realize that you’re Asian and when they do it’s like “Whoa, I didn’t know that Asian-Americans can make music that can be played at a bar in Middle America.” That was like I guess our first kind of like, if we can do that, that’s something that’s never been done for at least us. And then I think the second after we did that, after being told consistently that yes, it’s too Asian… it wasn’t really like a f*** you to everyone, it was more just like a sense of discovery like self discovery. It wasn’t from a negative stance more just like we were very grateful to open our eyes.

Asian culture is becoming a sense of style and sexiness internationally which we’re proud of… to see and go to underground L.A. parties and seeing Asian-ness and anime designs and you know, seeing channels rise up in fashion. Just a bunch of a stuff that to us, before it was stuff that was frowned upon and we couldn’t embrace. So, we’re really excited. If more than anything, we’re just really excited that times are changing and we can fully embrace what we didn’t have before.

Also, you have the collaborations with Tinashe, Big K.R.I.T., Souljah Boy, just curious how did those collaborations come about?

I think that represents us as musicians from when we started. We were always about collaborations with people we’re fans of and it was always a mission of ours to work with Western artists just so that people would see us on the same playing field in a sense that it’s just…it’s pop music. We didn’t want people to think “ah, well it’s Asians making music. It’s not just musicians making music.” I think everyone in every culture goes through that. In the African-American community, the artists are just like it’s just music. And same with like Mexican-American rappers. They don’t want to be Mexican-American rappers, they just want to be rappers. And so, I think that has always been an agenda of ours.

At the beginning it was that mentality and then it was really just a way to get our message across. It’s like we’ve always been collaborative. I think because we’re a group with essentially different personalities, we kind of embrace working with people and just having completely different perspectives and talents so that the song or the ideas go somewhere that it could have never gone before. So yeah, like Macy Gray and all those people accentuate something and bring out something in us that if it was just us, we wouldn’t have gotten, I think.

You mentioned different personalities. I’m curious, it feels like every one of the featured artists are so different. Who was the funnest to work with in the studio?

Damn, that’s a tough question. Overall, just career wise I think Snoop Dogg will always be top, top just because his accomplishments and how like relatable and grounded he always maintains. Just if anything, he’s a true O.G. in the essence of generosity and the way that he’ll make you feel real comfortable and teach you something at the same time where sometimes it’s just to relax. I remember stressing out like during an American Music Awards, everyone’s stressing out and he gets up on stage and with like one sentence just makes everyone realize this is a dream, like we’re all here to have fun, there’s no reason that everyone needs to be all stressed. So it’s just that kind of charisma that I think is unforgettable that we definitely don’t have within us.

But for this project, it was a true journey. I would like to say it’s like an Indiana Jones map in one of the movies where you just see red dots lined all across the map. That’s like what it took to make this album just back and forth. Every artist, we had to treat with respect because culturally to make this work culturally was truly a journey.

Did you come across any issues? What do you mean by making it work culturally?

We definitely came across some language barriers. I think that overall, the artists in Asia… there’s this stigma that Western artists just want to utilize them to get localized and it’s usually like a company just wanting to pair up two artists and put together a collab for localizing and so there’s not a sense of relationship or they don’t feel the song necessarily fits both brands. It’s just purely for company’s sake. It’s kind of what you gage when you hear about Korean artists working with Western artists or wherever it may be.

So for us, we were out in Asia producing for other artists and hearing that “Yeah, you know they come out here and it’s just there’s not connection, there’s no bond.” And so what we wanted to do was really make sure that when we were collaborating with artists in Korea, they didn’t feel that way. So we spent a lot flying out, booking sessions and just creating a song, writing it with the artist and creating a song that they were comfortable with, that fits their brand and our brand and at the same time that’s something completely different than anything they’ve ever done. We wanted that to be a point of difference for sure.

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Do you have a favorite collaboration on the album or a favorite song?

I think personally, the song “Fighter” because one, we’ve been wanting to collaborate with Yoonmirae. She’s like, people would say like that’s like the Lauryn Hill of Korea. She represents just longevity and class and skill and dynamic-ness as far as that she came from being a rapper to the first really credible female rapper in Korea and a singer as well and had success in both lanes. So, like working with her, we’ve known her forever, but never just wanted to jump in to collab-ing. It had to be the right song and I think the song we wrote together was a special song in a sense that it inspired us to keep going. We wrote the song at a time when we really just wanted to give up, we didn’t want to make music anymore. So the song, while making it, and then just listening to it for the months ahead really inspired us to just keep finishing the album.

Yeah, I’m a big fan of Yoonmirae so I was happy to see her on the track list.

Yeah! And everyone’s like why isn’t she rapping? And I think that that was once again something we wanted to do to just really try something completely different, a different style of song than maybe she’s done before. What was cool is how open artistically she was to try something different.

That’s real cool. So aside from the features, how do you think you approached this album differently than previous albums with Prohgress and DJ Virman?

With this album, we really wanted to showcase really more the production and writing side for the Far East. It’s always been a backbone to us. Like, when we started, we started as writers and producers. At the time, you couldn’t really just put out a song without you rapping on it because it’d just be considered a producer [track] where fortunately the producers have been given a real platform and opportunity to shine now where they are now the artists within the last five years in a sense. So, we jumped on that right away. We’re like “Wow, we can finally put out songs where we can produce and we can write and not have to rap on it.” So, we love rap, hip-hop has been a backbone to us as people, it’s nice to be able to not be boxed in by that because it’s limiting in a sense. Sometimes when you’re composing it’s that if you have to rap on a song, it changes the context. Automatically your formula, it’s like “aw this rap and there’s a singing hook” is now, a formulaic pop song. It’s…in a sense we were very relieved to not having any limits genre-wise and just compose.

What’s next for you? Are you planning on going on tour?

We just got news that the third song is being added on New York radio which for us is it’s a complete shock because we made this whole album not ever thinking radio at all. We just wanted to make something that felt like it was bridging cultures. We thought we made a completely inaccessible radio record, just that no radio station is even gonna understand this. So to hear, a few days ago, that the major pop New York radio station is going to be playing the song and that the pop stations in Seattle and Hawaii and Amsterdam, all these radio stations are just starting to play it, it’s just mind boggling. At the same time, we just thank God that people are really open.

So yeah, we’ll be, especially because there’s an artist like Chanyeol, a K-pop star, we didn’t think that American radio would even consider that. So, that in a sense… there’s a sense of pride too where we’re really happy that it doesn’t matter. So, I think through that, this is actually, this record, is a proud moment for us because it’s our first record as independent artists. This whole project is independent through our own company that we spent the last four years making so when things happen, it’s that much more…it’s blood and sweat. When the radio station plays it, you’re playing an independent record that we just had to self-fund and everything is from the beginning to the end, we did it ourselves with our team of course. Just this label is our next endeavor, as businessmen, as artists.

We have new artists coming out like Dumbfoundead and Yultron. New generation acts that we’re going to be pushing globally. So, definitely look for us really more concentrating on our record label. That’ll be the next step. The next movement.

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