David "Suge" Heejoon Jun Interview
1. What is your name and your profession(s)?
My name is David Heejoon Jun, and I work in music / for bands and artists in almost every aspect "behind the scenes". My current position is as a Stage Manager / Production (with our Tour Manager) / and Backline (Guitar / Bass / Keys) Technician. The two current acts I work for are Taking Back Sunday (from Long Island, NY) and Miley Cyrus (from CA/TN).
2. What is your ethnic background and what is your citizenship?
I am Korean American. I'm first generation Korean American. My father was born in North Korea and immigrated to South Korea, where my mother is from (Seoul, Korea) and where my older sister was born. I didn't know my father was from the North until my Junior High School or even earlier High School years when I had to present an essay of our family tree. He didn't talk much about it, only that he was born there, and immigrated south with his family.
3. Are either/both of your parents musicians or somehow involved in the music industry?
Unfortunately not, hahahaha. Well, my mother played a little piano at home, never out. They both barely listen to music, but when they do, my father listens to opera and my mother listens to gospel. They were never really interested in music; they always saw it as a hobby.
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.
I was born in Cincinnati, OH. From OH, I moved up to Toronto, Ontario Canada where my mother, father and I (my sister stayed in Seoul with my grandparents) lived in an apartment above a liquor/convenience store my uncle (on my mother's side) owned. From there, we moved to Erie, PA (where I'm pretty sure my sister joined us; either here or later in Canada before Erie) and then when I was 6 years old we moved to Simi Valley, CA where I spent my formative years growing up until I moved to Orange County, CA in 1996 and have been here since (***We moved around a lot in those first 6 years because my father had finished his engineering degree and was transferring jobs and locations***), starting in Irvine, then to Santa Ana, from there to the city of Orange, and then to Newport Beach with a short year in Hollywood and back to Orange, currently in Garden Grove.
Simi Valley, CA is a place that is predominately white and conservative, where I began to realize who I was as an Asian American. When I lived there, it ranked as one of the top 5 safest cities in America to live. They had the trial for the police officers who beat Rodney King at the courthouse in Simi when I was in 12th Grade, which was two blocks from where I lived, also a really good spot for skateboarding. Back then skateboarding, punk rock, even surfing and partying (which was everything I/we loved) weren't "cool", which were the things I/we loved to do (minus the surfing because I was terrible at it, even going far as to get yelled at by a local in Oxnard, "Get out of the water, KOOK!"). I remember being about 9 years old driving with my dad, we were stopped at a stop sign. As two kids (a few years older than I was) were crossing, I recognized one as he was my friend's older brother. They both looked at my father and I, and one of them made the gesture slanting their eyes, while the other bowed and started laughing. I didn't exactly know what it was at that time, but I knew it wasn't good, as my father didn't even acknowledge it/what they were doing. He wasn't a confrontational person to begin with
As I got older I got very fortunate to have (and continue to have) a group of friends that were a pretty inclusive group: we were the punks and the skateboarders which at the time wasn't the "cool" thing. But when we all started understanding the meaning and politics and even social issues that a lot of punk rock music tried to convey, we started understanding the importance of awareness and standing up for what's right.
5. How connected do you feel to your heritage/culture(s)?
Early on, when I was in Junior High and High School, it just wasn't on my "radar", unfortunately. I didn't hate it or deny it, but at that time all I cared about was trying to be a professional skateboarder and play in a punk band. But of course, as I got older I started really opening up and taking everything in. I'd never gone to South Korea until 2015, believe it or not. My folks sent my sister back really early on (I think when she was in high school), so when I was older I kind of always wondered why they never sent me. I was supposed to go in 2007 on a tour, but the band decided to cancel that show while we were in Japan and fly home, which I was super bummed about because that would've really been my first time. Where I currently live (in Garden Grove, CA) is in the heart of the Korean Business District (aka Koreatown), so for now it's as close as I'll get until I get another chance to go back, which obviously doesn't even compare.
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)?
When I was in 5th or 6th Grade, my friend Noah Kelly (RIP) introduced me to Matt Flanagan. We were all little skater grommets. When I met Matt, he had the logo for the band DRI (The band Dirty Rotten Imbeciles) stenciled on his board and I thought that was the coolest thing so I started drawing them on my boards from memory of his (where none of them came close to what his looked like), still without ever hearing the band, until I saved my lunch money and bummed some more change to cover to cost of one of their cassette tapes ("Crossover"), which at the time honestly scared the crap out of me but I eventually loved it. Fast forward to 7th Grade when I met another friend Sean Robison, who I gave two 90 minute blank cassette tapes to and on them he recorded: 7 Seconds "Walk Together Rock Together", Minor Threat "Self Titled", Dead Kennedys "Bedtime for Democracy", Suicidal Tendencies "Self Titled" and Youth Brigade "Sound and Fury". Those two tapes changed my whole life and I gave him more tapes to put other records on. From there, when we were in 10th/11th Grade my friend Chris Stein (RIP) got a bass and we all started messing around on instruments and paying attention to every detail in the skateboard videos, especially what bands they would play. I then somehow talked my folks into getting me a guitar for Christmas (bribing them with good grades, which I wasn't able to deliver). Right out of high school I started making my own fanzine after seeing 'zines like Indecision, Tidbit, Anti Matter, Maximum Rock and Roll, and the like, as well as trying to join or start bands which never lasted past a few house parties or talent shows. Then, I moved to Irvine, CA to go to UC Irvine and I found the college radio station and had my own radio show. Other than playing all the punk/hardcore I listened to (as well as what was requested) I sometimes had bands play live. I was always trying to contribute where I could because I wanted to be a part of that community.
I should say here that my major wasn't even close to music related: History/Humanities. Hahahaha.
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?
It wasn't until 1999/2000 when I started taking weekend road trips with some friends of mine (the band Limbeck from Orange County). They weren't the touring machine back then that they later became known for, as we all worked our "full time" jobs so we would pick up the last person as they would leave work, then drive up north as far as Sacramento or east as Arizona or even New Mexico then drop the first person off on Monday morning with enough time for them to shower and head to work. Then in 2002, I started the real grinding touring with Home Grown, leaving in early March and not coming home until the second half of December (minus the month of May for me, so I could move out of the place I was living at the time).
It really just kind of happened. I never looked for it, or tried for it to be a career. With Limbeck, it was a "Hey, we're all taking the weekend off work..." and then with Home Grown, their singer/guitar player John Tran one day said, "Hey, I talked to the guys and if you can get the month off work, the guys would love to have you out..." which, ended up being a good nine months or so. Hehehe.
My folks HATED what I did. They don't see music as a way of making a living. They didn't understand that I was able to pay my bills/make my responsibilities working for musicians. In fact, the first few years of touring I couldn't tell them what I actually did. I told them I was on the travel team with the company I was working for at the time of their knowledge, opening stores across the country, then when I told them what I was actually doing, they weren't too stoked. Hahahahaha. I took a break for a short bit, which I know they were happy that I wasn't out on the road, but when I started touring again, they don't necessarily accept it, they just don't ask or overlook what I do. What's the saying, "What you don't know won't hurt you"? I guess in this case it works on both ends.
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.
More recently in 2017, I got to go out on Tegan and Sara's tour celebrating ten years of their record "The Con". I've been a huge fan of their music since 2007 so in that sense I was super excited to be a part, but also, their foundation (The Tegan and Sara Foundation) was a big part of the tour, raising funds and awareness benefiting and providing for LGBTQ+ community (such as scholarships and health benefits). I had just left a situation the year prior where that bad feeling was still lingering, so getting to be a part of this tour helped get me out of that funk, and really inspired me.
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?
I've definitely been overlooked for work, because I don't "network" like most people do. I'm sort of a quiet person, so a lot of times people think I don't take things seriously or am not professional enough or for whatever reason, which I think is completely false. But who I am I to say? Hahaha. I actually hate networking, because I just never got into the idea of "selling" myself. However, at the same time, it's helped me. Maybe not as much as it's been an obstacle, but it has helped me.
9. 9a.) Who are some AAPI musicians/composers/producers who have previously inspired and currently inspire you (if any)? Why?
Will Yip is one. He's produced some of the best hardcore/punk/rock records of the last 10+ years, and he did some really cool things raising awareness for asian communities these last couple of years. James Iha, because Smashing Pumpkins are one of my (many) favorite bands. George Takei has recently been one I've been following because I love how he just calls people on their bullshit.
9b.) What are your hopes for the AAPI music community and your hopes for AAPIs in general?
My hopes within the music world goes hand in hand with AAPIs in general, because based off my experience(s), especially in recent years (in music/behind the scenes) I'd just love to see some respect. To be taken seriously, and not walked on/taken advantage of. For our opinions to be taken into consideration and not overlooked. A lot of times, people will think I/we are passive and quiet and we'll just take whatever is put on us because we don't want any trouble. I just want to see respect given where it's deserved.
10. Name one or two non-music-related things/subjects about which you are also passionate.
Skateboarding. I LOVE skateboarding. Although I can't skate anymore, especially like I used to, I still try because it's what raised me. The culture, the ethic, everything. I wouldn't be where/who I am if I hadn't begged my folks to buy me that Vision Shredder from Surf and Style in Simi Valley when I was 11.
11. Any final thoughts? Alternatively, do you have any questions for me and/or the greater AAPI music community?
I'm just happy to be here and for you to include me in all of this. Thank you!
Summer: The pleasure is all mine :) Thank YOU for sharing, Suge!
Support Suge online :)
Images courtesy of Suge (David Heejoon Jun)