1. What is your name and your profession(s)? Ben Pham, Professional Drummer
2. What is your ethnic background and what is your citizenship (US native or naturalized etc.)? Vietnamese American - US Native
3. Are either/both of your parents musicians or somehow involved in the music industry? None of my parents. My dad did play acoustic guitar when I was growing up, just at home for fun.
4. Please tell us a little bit about your experience, either growing up as an AAPI in America, or as a person of Asian descent who immigrated to America, whichever applies. My experience growing up as an AAPI in America: I was born in Virginia but me and my family moved to Arlington, TX when I was 9 so I mostly grew up in there. For the most part, my experience growing up in Texas was a positive one. I think as an AAPI I didn't really understand and notice how my race affected me until I was in college. Sometimes people say racist things towards me but I often overlooked it. I think as you grow older and you experience more subtle and more obvious racism you start to recognize it more. Some of that was in the way I never quite fit in to any group but I fit into many different places. Like I had my hispanic friends, my black friends, my white friends and my asian friends. But in each group, I was an outsider; I was always the minority in those groups. Even among my Asian friend group, I didn't speak Vietnamese so I wasn't Asian enough. They would say I was "white-washed" or a "twinkie". Sometimes the racism is more subtle. Like I know for sure some people won't hire me because of the color of my skin and the way I look. Or they assume because I'm Asian, I fit a certain stereotype.
Now that I'm older it doesn't bother me as much. When people don't want to associate with you or judge you because the color of your skin - I wouldn't want to work with or be around those kinds of people anyways. The older you get the more you really know who has your back; you find out who the real folks are and who your real friends are.
5. How connected do you feel to your heritage/culture(s)? To be honest, I don’t really feel connected at all. My home is here, my experience is here in America.
6. 6a.) How did you get into music? Did you major in music in college? Where did you attend college/university (and grad school(s), if applicable) and in what subjects did you get your degree(s)? I first got into music in elementary school where I played in the school orchestra. I played cello for 2 years. Once they told me I could join band and learn drums I immediately signed up for band in middle school.
Yes, I majored in Music Ed and got my B.S. in Music Education at the University of Texas at Arlington
6b.) When and how did you decide you were going to pursue music professionally? What were your parents’ reactions to you deciding to pursue music? Do they support your music career now? I decided to pursue music professionally towards the end of my time at the University. I decided to do it after consulting with several music professionals in the area.
My dad was supportive. My mom was not supportive of my decision. She’s come around now.
7. What are a few of your (music) projects of which you are the proudest? What were your roles on those projects?
Some projects I am most proud of:
1. Getting the call to be the drummer for Scott Bradlee’s “Postmodern Jukebox on Deck”. This was one of my first major gigs. We performed in Iceland, Norway and northern Europe for 4 months.
2. Getting to tour the U.S. with “The Nightowls” funk band from Austin, TX. My role was the drummer. This was my first touring gig.
Beyond those projects, please feel free to name some of your other credits as well as any brands/companies you officially endorse. Other Music Credits (as a drummer): Jaron Marshall (Black Pumas Keyboardist), Cassandra Elese
8. Describe to me your dream project. My dream music project is performing on a major tour with a major artist. I think my dream gig would be performing with Tom Misch. Ultimately, the ideal gig would be performing music that I love and am passionate about. Something that I not only enjoy playing but also enjoy listening to. And something that the audience enjoys too.
9. What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) being an AAPI in the music world? What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) as an AAPI in general (non-music)? Conversely, has being an AAPI ever helped you in the music industry? Some obstacles I have encountered being an AAPI in the music world, particularly performing drumset - I feel like I fit in everywhere and nowhere. Honestly there are not many AAPI in the music industry - Out of most of the different racial groups we are definitely the minority in terms of the current popular music industry. But I’ve never really been apart of a professional AAPI music group except just recently - again it’s been 20 years performing music to get there.
Also most ethnic groups have their own style of music on the drumset - Samba (Brazilian), Afro-Cuban, Salsa (Cuban), Reggae (Jamaican), etc. However I’ve never really opened up a book or learned from a teacher that talked about an asian style that was translated to the drumset. Just feels like we don’t really have our own musical identity in the world.
10. 10a.) Who are some AAPI musicians/composers/producers who have previously inspired and currently inspire you (if any)? Why? Shinya Fukimora - he was a drumset performance student in school with me at UTA. Aside from being amazing at drumset he really inspired me because I’ve never had an older AAPI role model to look up to until then.
10b.) What are your hopes for the AAPI music community and your hopes for AAPIs in general? My hope is that more AAPI decide to study music and get into the music industry. That we have and create our own music and identity and make a statement in terms of musical style. That more AAPI parents are open to music as a career or just really any other non-traditional creative career paths.
11. If you could give advice now to your younger teenage self, what would you tell her/him/they? I would tell my teenage self to be more confident in who I am and not to compare myself to others.
12. Do you have any upcoming projects for which you are excited and about which you are allowed to share? Is there anything non-music-related on the horizon about which you would like to share? I am really excited about the music project I just finished with Christopher in our AAPI music group. And really excited to perform with more AAPI musicians/composers/producers now that we are all connected! It would be a first for me since starting my career in music.
13. Name one or two non-music-related things/subjects about which you are also passionate. Lately, I've been really getting into cooking. Because of the pandemic I’ve been eating in more so I’ve been wanting to add more variety into my meals. I also started watching ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ for the first time and it’s been very entertaining and inspiring as well haha. My specialty so far seems to be New Orleans dishes, like gumbo and jambalaya.
14. Any final thoughts? (non-self-promotional). Alternatively, do you have any questions for me and/or the greater AAPI music community? Hmm, I guess my question for you would be the same as question #9. What are some obstacles you’ve faced as an AAPI in the music world? Were your parents supportive of your decision to do music?
My question for the AAPI music community is how can we forge and create our own musical style and identity that is uniquely us as a community? What would that sound like?