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Darro Interview



1. What is your name and your profession(s)?

My name is Darro (pronounced “dare-oh”) which is also my artist name, and I’m an artist, musician, producer and songwriter.


2. What is your ethnic background and what is your citizenship?

I’m first-generation Cambodian-American, born and raised in the USA.


3. Are either/both of your parents musicians or somehow involved in the music industry?

When I was growing up, my dad used to play and sing in Cambodian wedding bands. They used to rehearse in our basement and I remember sitting at the top of the basement stairs just listening to them play. After they finished up, I would sneak down to the basement and bang on the drums as loud as I could. My mom would sing with them sometimes and I used to think that my mom had a really good voice, but later on in life I heard my mom sing karaoke and my opinion of her singing voice drastically changed, hahaha (maybe it had something to do with going to music school and being surrounded by world class musicians).


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.

Ugh, I remember being bullied heavily in elementary and middle school for being asian. I grew up in York, PA and attended the public city school. It was hella ghetto and the demographic was something like 98% black/latino, 1.9% white, and 0.1% asian. Kids were mean as fuck, so I was bullied so much for looking chinese (kids don’t know the difference). I remember wishing I was black so I could fit in with everyone else and like rap and hip hop music. Kids on the playground would literally look at me and immediately start spouting racist fake Chinese words at me like “ching-chong-chai” and so on.


My family moved to the suburbs for about two years of middle school and I remember it being a COMPLETELY different world. 90% white demographic, but still probably only 1% asian. I remember then wishing that I was white so I could fit in. One time I remember sitting on the bus to school and the “cool” kids of the bus made everyone rearrange their seats in order from least cool to coolest kids, where the coolest kids got to sit all the way in the back. There was only one other asian kid on the bus and he had a distinct chinese accent, whereas I was fluent in english because I was born and raised here. This made me “the cool asian,” all because I didn’t have an accent. I’m ashamed to say that I felt so validated in that moment, even at the expense of the other asian kid on my bus (who is and has been a friend of mine through the years). We were literally rivals fighting for the “token asian” spot. Looking back as an adult it’s so incredibly cringe to think about, and those “cool white kids” are doing nothing noteworthy nowadays.


Eventually, my family went through some pretty traumatic shit that I won’t get into, but my parents divorced when I was 12, and my family essentially split up. From that moment on I never really lived with my siblings ever again, we got split up and divided between my aunts’ houses, basically anywhere we could sleep because we no longer had a house or a place to live. (Reading this back it sounds like I was homeless, and in a sense we were, but we had family to take us in).


That was when my life started to change and I got into music. I basically shut everyone out of my life except for my friends and I kind of went tunnel vision into music and guitar.


5. How connected do you feel to your heritage/culture(s)?

I feel a lot more connected to it now than I did growing up. After mending some relationships with my parents, I learned the truth about their immigration to the US and learned that they were refugees from the Khmer Rouge genocide in the 70s. When I was about 18 years old, my dad told me about how he was enslaved and worked the rice fields as a teenager and how the Vietnamese stormed the borders and set them free. He described seeing his parents murdered in front of him in the rice fields, and later, running through the jungle with his 2 year old niece in his arms when trying to escape into Thailand for refuge. It was really intense stuff.


This changed my entire perspective about my own situation. Up until then, I felt very resentful towards my parents about the way my life turned out. But now that I’m older and more emotionally mature, I can totally understand the struggles they went through just trying to get here in the first place. My parents were shipped to this country without any American education and very little English. Sometimes I still get a little upset because of how far behind I feel in comparison to other artists of my stature. I feel like I have to work so much harder than others because of my lack of family connections or generational wealth. I’ve literally had to claw and fight for every connection I’ve made and every inch of progress I’ve gained.


I’ve yet to visit Asia, let alone Cambodia, but it’s something I’m saving up for and I just know it’s going to be a life changing experience for me.


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)?

After my parents split, I was looking for anything to latch on to. I made a friend in middle school that was a sick guitar player. I had never really dived into the world of rock music yet because at this point, I was still a ghetto urban kid from York, PA, so my exposure to american rock and punk music was non-existent. But I loved the guitar, I fell in love with it immediately. I became obsessed with music, and it became my dream to attend music school. Of course, my parents were not supportive of this decision. I remember receiving a full scholarship to York College of PA and turned it down because they didn’t have a guitar program at the time. My dad was livid, hahaha.


I tried to mend things by going to Temple University in Philly where I was undeclared. My dad convinced me to go for computer science but that was a major failure. I flunked pre-calc three semesters in a row because I would skip class just to practice guitar. I'm terrible at math, especially for an asian, hahaha.


At this point I was lying to parents about my major, I told them I was doing computer science, but in reality I was literally failing college. I remember receiving my tuition reimbursement money and using it to pay for guitar lessons instead of books. We could never afford any music lessons growing up so my first ever guitar lesson wasn’t until I was already in college. After realizing just how far behind I was and how little I knew about music, I was discouraged. I remember having a HUGE ego about my guitar playing and then having it SHATTERED when my guitar teacher asked me to play a simple major scale (which I didn’t even know what that was at the time).


The self-humiliation forced me to either double down or call it quits. Being the obsessive person that I am, I doubled-down. I started practicing anywhere from 6-9 hours a day trying my best to catch up. I remember the guitar majors at Temple walking around with a Reunion Blues gig bag and I used to think “wow, I want to be good enough to have one of those cool guitar cases because then it’ll mean that I’m a real guitar player.” That’s such a silly thought looking back, especially considering that I’m now endorsed by Reunion Blues haha.


That year I auditioned for Temple’s Jazz Guitar program and for Berklee’s Guitar program. Somehow I managed to get accepted at both places, but I ultimately chose to move to Boston and go to Berklee because I didn’t really want to play jazz (even though Berklee is a jazz school through and through).


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?

When I got accepted into Berklee I knew it was time to come clean to my parents. They were very upset with me for lying to them that entire time, but also I was probably 19 at the time, so they were kind of like “whatever dude, it’s your life now just don’t become homeless” (still working on that part).


At this point I think I have my parents’ blessings, but probably because they realized that I was going to do this regardless if I had their blessing or not. Especially after I dealt with my brain tumor situation when I was 24, they’re just happy that I’m alive at this point. Everything that happens to me is all icing on the cake after that situation.


My parents are STILL pretty oblivious to what I do, haha. They’re not really interested in my music or my projects, they couldn’t even tell you the genre of music I write. They’ll just tell you that I live in California and that I do music, and that's fine with me. I guess it keeps me grounded and humble no matter how successful or unsuccessful I am, to them I’ll always be the sick-prone middle child.

 

7. What are a few of your (music) projects of which you are the proudest? What were your roles on those projects? Beyond those projects, please feel free to name some of your other credits as well as any brands/companies you officially endorse.

Right now, my solo artist career is the most important thing to me. It’s the “I’m going to do this even if it costs me my life” mentality, and I honestly stand by it. After dealing with my brain tumor situation in 2018, I feel like I was given a second chance and that it was meant to make music, but that’s just my romanticization of it.


There are a few bands that I’ve had the pleasure of working with in my time such as HOAX, Kat Cunning, Take Your Shoes off others as well! As for companies I officially endorse, I’ve been super lucky to endorse and work with Fender, Gibson, Seymour Duncan, Reunion Blues, Pig Hog Cables, Westone Audio, and Gravity Picks to name a few.


8. 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 or in general?

Honestly, one of the biggest obstacles I’ve experienced is due to the fact that I’m first generation asian-american. Having to navigate growing up Asian in the USA without any generational knowledge or experience passed down from my parents like other families. I remember my friends growing up and receiving lessons from their parents, getting connected with “dad’s friend from college who owns a recording studio,” and this person’s “mom that works at this record label and got them a job,” etc.


One time in junior year of college, I remember my parents each telling me how important it was that I go to college. So I said, “Okay, yeah I want to go to college. How do I do that?” And I was met with blank stares and an “i don’t know, figure it out.” I remember having to do extensive research and studying just to even understand the college application and SAT process. I remember feeling so incompetent when my friends who went through SAT Prep courses and programs scored really high while I just had to gorilla the test on my own. Little things like that really add up.


Conversely, NOW it’s cool to be asian, to be different. One of the benefits of being an AAPI is the community that I’ve become a part of. I connected with Simon Tam of the Slants a few years ago and he has mentored me and really made me feel like I could be a successful asian american artist. All of a sudden there’s dialogue and opportunities for asian artists and it’s the most progress I’ve ever seen on that front, so I’m really happy that it’s finally cool to be asian.


9. 9a.) Who are some AAPI musicians/composers/producers who have previously inspired and currently inspire you (if any)? Why?

I really wish there were more AAPI rock stars. The only ones I can think of are ones that I didn’t realize were asian (Tim Henson, Mike Shinoda, Olivia Rodrigo, HER etc). That’s something I think needs to change in the industry. Now there are more AAPI artists popping up and making waves because diversity sells nowadays.


Of course, I wouldn’t be where I am without Simon Tam and The Slants. They’ve paved the way to allow asian american artists to BE asian, rather than try to ignore that part of their identity to fit in with whatever the stereotype of the genre is.


9b.) What are your hopes for the AAPI music community and your hopes for AAPIs in general?

I really hope that it can be normal for an asian-american to be an breakout star in any genre and not be labeled as the “token asian” in their genre. It feels like there’s only room for one asian famous person per genre or something.

 

10. Name one or two non-music-related things/subjects about which you are also passionate.

Snowboarding and tennis!!! I snowboard as much as I can during the winter months, and I play tennis as much as I can during the warmer months.


11. Any final thoughts? Alternatively, do you have any questions for me and/or the greater AAPI music community?

We JUST launched an Inidegogo campaign to try to raise funds for our West Coast Tour! Would love some AAPI support/shares!!



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Support Darro online :)

Instagram: @darro_c

TikTok: @darro_c


Image courtesy of Darro



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