1. What is your name and your profession(s)? My name is Jett Kwong, and I’m a vocalist, guzheng player, songwriter, and actor.
2. What is your ethnic background and what is your citizenship (US native or naturalized etc.)? I’m half Cantonese and half English/Irish/Welsh/Norwegian/Swiss German, and an American citizen.
3. Are either/both of your parents musicians or somehow involved in the music industry? Many members of my family enjoy music and play piano or guitar or sing for fun, but only my sister and I decided to pursue it.
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 grew up in a mostly white neighborhood and went to mostly white schools. Even though I don't think I look particularly Asian, I was always one of the “other” kids. As an adult I see how based on the way I look, I did experience more privileges based off my whiteness. But as a mixed person, there are lots of categories you don’t fit into (something I am so glad about now) and I always felt different than my peers. I think a lot of times people felt “safe” saying racist, prejudiced, or stereotypical things around me because I wasn’t “fully” Asian. Something that surprised me when I first went to Asia was how no one could tell I was Asian. People are so taken aback.. I’ve actually been accused of lying a few times, which is so crazy to me. It’s interesting that Asian people perceive me as white, White people perceive me as Asian or “other”, and mixed people can usually spot me a mile away..!
5. How connected do you feel to your heritage/culture(s)? I feel very connected to my heritage, on both sides. My dad’s family were ranchers in South Dakota, and I spent a lot of formative years in the American west around nature and spaciousness. I grew up closer to my mom’s side of the family (a block away from my grandparents!), so I feel more steeped in Cantonese culture though my immediate family is rather small. I’m very interested in family stories and have studied a lot of history surrounding my heritage.
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 started taking voice lessons at age 5, singing in choir throughout school. I went to a performing arts high school, majoring in vocal, and went to CalArts for my undergrad in music and humanities.
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 pretty much decided I would pursue music when I was 11. My parents were supportive of me during middle and high school, and to some extent in college, in the ways they could be. They just don’t “get” it... and that desire to create can be difficult to describe to non-artists. I'm appreciative for the support they are capable of giving... but it’s taken a lot of effort to maintain our relationship and of course occasionally we re-hash the typical arguments against/for pursuing a career in the arts.
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. I’ve had so many opportunities to work on amazing projects in different capacities, but producing my own work has so far been the most fulfilling. Producing the music video for my song Tokyo Bath was the most work I’ve put into any one project - organizing the cast, costuming, hair/makeup, props, food, transportation, and set building.. then performing, of course... we had nearly 40 incredible people on set and shot until 4am and it was so rewarding! The second thing that comes to mind is winning the Kollaboration Kollabstar award in 2019. Kollaboration is an organization and event company highlighting AAPI artists, entertainers, and businesses. I’m not a competitive person and have rarely won anything... but to be recognized by such a high caliber AAPI community was so special, and I’m grateful to have shared the stage with such awesome people.
8. Describe to me your dream project. I have so, so many ideas I’m afraid describing my dream projects would take up the space of a novel! Broadly speaking, my dream is to continue creating with unique, dynamic people and travel the world.
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? I think the obstacles I encounter in and out of the music industry are typically gender based. I’ve experienced racist and rude comments and treatment, but nothing compared to my family and friends who look more Asian than I do. I’m always trying to resist being labeled or categorized, which can be tricky
in a more commercial setting. But I think now more than ever there is room for everybody, whether or not they fit neatly in antiquated categories.
10. 10a.) Who are some AAPI musicians/composers/producers who have previously inspired and currently inspire you (if any)? Why? 10b.) What are your hopes for the AAPI music community and your hopes for AAPIs in general? This is a bit nerdy, but honestly when I was a kid Yo Yo Ma was my hero. I even tried to learn cello (which didn’t exactly stick). Even as a child I was so moved by the music, and I felt I shared something in common with him in a world where most people didn’t resemble me. I hope that we continue learning about the diversity of the AAPI community, in music and far beyond. The Asian diaspora in the US is so varied and rich in culture, and the more we can ask questions and acknowledge diversity, the less the AAPI community will be treated as a one-size-fits-all, “pan-Asian” group. I already see way more representation in the last few years than there ever has been, and I hope labels and studios become convinced that there IS a market for AAPI art, and there IS room for many at the table.
11. If you could give advice now to your younger teenage self, what would you tell her/him/they? I would tell her to lighten up! Obstacles, hardships, and the unknown can all be experienced with a sense of lightness, ease, and even joy. I would also recommend she start meditating pronto and stay active...!
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’m really looking forward to restarting my Asian American Heritage Month event, hopefully by 2022. It’s a mix of some my favorite things: film, music, and food, highlighting local AAPI artists and business owners. I do have music in the pipeline, as well as some credits in upcoming music and film releases.. and I’m so ready to go on tour. As of now of course, dates are TBD and will be announced on my IG!
13. Name one or two non-music-related things/subjects about which you are also passionate. I love reading all kinds of things, writing, cooking (and eating), traveling, learning about nutrition, learning languages, drawing... I’ve always thought of myself as a person with many interests and skills, and music and performing is just one piece of the whole being. I really just love being alive, as corny as that sounds.
14. Any final thoughts? (non-self-promotional). Alternatively, do you have any questions for me and/or the greater AAPI music community? I hope we continue listening to one another and lifting each other up. If 2020 reinforced anything, it was how little actual listening we do. If we’re constantly inflamed, impulsive, and self-centered in our thinking, we can’t connect on a deeper level to other’s and their experiences. Social media is a tough space to navigate. I’m grateful for it, in some way, but also dream of the day when we do more reaching out and connecting to others instead of just posting images and words of “solidarity”.
Photo provided by Jett Kwong