1. What is your name and your profession(s)? Fun quan Shih, San Ming Shih, Kevin Alexander Stea, That Rogue Romeo
2. What is your ethnic background and what is your citizenship (US native or naturalized etc.)? Half Chinese, half English descent. US native.
3. Are either/both of your parents musicians or somehow involved in the music industry? Neither parent is a musician, nor in the industry.
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 felt very alone as an AAPI growing up. I didn’t grow up with my Chinese father, and there were no Asians around me except one adopted girl in elementary school and eventually three friends in high schools (in different cities). I spent a few early years in remote Michigan farmland and then liberal, but also very white, Eugene, Oregon. I don’t recall ever seeing an Asian American on tv or a movie that wasn’t a stereotype or fighting in a martial arts movie. Thankfully my family was supportive enough to make my mixed heritage feel ‘special’ and not ‘out of place’. When I went to the United world college in Singapore that all changed, and I was surrounded by multiple Asian cultures, but also immersed in British schooling and expatriates.
5. How connected do you feel to your heritage/culture(s)? Up until my schooling in Singapore, my experiences with Asian culture were simply fantasies and make believe. I sought out my Chinese father when I turned 18, and It’s been a long journey to connect both to him, our family and their past in China, and what that all means to me. I realized I identified as Asian growing up, but had zero real life experience with the reality of my father’s culture. When I traveled to China with my father, I expected to really ‘feel Chinese’ on some level, but I never felt more Caucasian and American than during that trip. I was seen as a foreigner to the extent that, at one point, to get a taxi I had to hide behind a building until one stopped for my dad. Though I explore my culture extensively, the more I do, the more it feels observational and the more I realize my disconnect to the ‘old country’ culture of my father. Being a second generation Asian American, I do feel like a natural extension of my immigrant Chinese heritage, but I feel a greater divide than many of my cousins who grew up in my uncles and aunts households. My father was one of the rebellious ones who initially embraced American culture and it’s commercialism and showiness. Marrying my Caucasian mother, was too far for some of the family.
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 went to the University of Southern California, but dropped out to go on tour dancing with Madonna. I don’t play any instruments proficiently to even say I’m a musician on that level, but my first dip into the industry came when our group New World won star search as dance champions after Madonna’s tour, and danced to a ‘song’ we recorded for it. We worked on some demos with capitol records, which were awful, but it put music on my radar as a creative outlet. Shortly after, I was in the Disney movie Newsies, and sang on that soundtrack, which gave me more confidence on a professional level.
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 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 was a long journey to give myself permission to pursue music. On tour with Seiko Matsuda in Japan, I sang quite a bit, but also made one or two loud mistakes... ego-wise that was hard to handle. I didn’t have the experience under my belt to be solid with improvisation. Two years later (1995) I went to Italy and sang often on a live all day variety show (they let us record our vocals and lip sync), and from that I got a recording contract which let me write all the songs. Once I realized the joy of being the author of my own lyrics and concepts, that’s when it felt inspiring, andI wanted to do it professionally. The industry still wanted me to sing about girls specifically and fall into the boy and format, so being gay, I was in conflict about the lyrics I really wanted to share, and the image they wanted me to present versus what was authentic to me. My parents were still dealing with me dancing and choreographing as a profession, so the music part was one more element that wasn’t even on their radar until much much later in 2011, when they saw me perform my own music in the US for the first time.
7. What are a few of your (music) projects of which you are the proudest? What were your roles on those projects? I'm very proud of own album Machine and Magic under the name That Rogue Romeo. There was a lot of trauma for me around music after I was held hostage by a shady label and unable to release music for several years, and after the father of my producer died in my arms. It took many years to get back to the joy of creating songs, and realizing that I didn’t have to compromise who I was anymore to release my music. I did that on my terms, with my own imagery, styling, marketing, everything.
I love being creative director and vocalist for Perry Farrell. Being on stage with such a legendary influential visionary and the fluid ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ rock approach to music is invigorating.
Beyond those projects, please feel free to name some of your other credits as well as any brands/companies you officially endorse. My ‘music’ credits are pretty sparse honestly, though my history and experience with performance is not, with over 30 years of being on stage and film, singing, dancing and choreographing.
8. Describe to me your dream project. My dream music projects are really more about creating songs and music that are truly authentic to what I’m trying to express. I love working with pop and rock stars, but in music for me the value is in the art of it. I would have loved to have worked with Prince musically, though I’m very honored to have danced for him on many projects.
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? Honestly, I’ve had many more obstacles in the music world around my being LGBT over being AAPI. I think my experience being AAPI in the music industry has been more of being unique... which speaks to the lack of representation in many markets.
In general, I’ve been very fortunate, but have also been treated as a novelty at times, and sometimes not even given a chance because of how my being Asian isn’t appropriate for a particular market
10. 10a.) Who are some AAPI musicians/composers/producers who have previously inspired and currently inspire you (if any)? Why? Ryuichi Sakamoto.
10b.) What are your hopes for the AAPI music community and your hopes for AAPIs in general? Much greater representation in media of all kinds, and more celebration of the work, without the need to qualify us as AAPI. I want to see AAPI music superstars that are not just k-pop. After being desexualized decades ago, I want to see strong sexually potent AAPI men challenging traditional disempowering stereotypes. I want to see AAPI people of all backgrounds and genders filling roles traditionally monopolized by Caucasians. Often I don’t even realize I HAVENT seen AAPI people in some roles until I actually see them there... that is how deeply i have often been conditioned to assume ‘Caucasian first’. I want that to change.
11. If you could give advice now to your younger teenage self, what would you tell her/him/they? Every door is open to you NOW, there’s no need to wait, or listen or give to people who tell you ‘no’. You are not alone, share your dreams. Always express your gratitude, there’s joy in being generous of spirit and love.
12. Do you have any upcoming projects for which you are excited and about which you are allowed to share? Not that I can share just yet
Is there anything non-music-related on the horizon about which you would like to share? Currently working on a doc I shot several years ago with my father called ‘Great Walls’, committed to finishing it this year and excited to share it.
13. Name one or two non-music-related things/subjects about which you are also passionate. Fashion, photography, dogs, design, civil rights
14. Any final thoughts? Alternatively, do you have any questions for me and/or the greater AAPI music community? We’ve come a long way, but have so much further to go. I’m in arizona at the moment, and yesterday the AC tech at our Airbnb gave me a restaurant recommendation for a ‘Chinese’ place, then told me about the great sushi and teriyaki... and when I said that was Japanese, he said ‘well, Asian or whatever’. That’s kind of indicative of the sort of lack of caring or understanding of all our rich heritages, and complete apathy towards being corrected or learning there’s a difference.
Please support all AAPI projects and don’t be overly critical. Representation and visibility is more important than anything right now. We need to share our stories and cultures to the point that we are normalized, not ‘othered’. Experiences of Racism and discrimination may be more subtle with our community (though not lately), but on some level, that’s even more limiting and difficult to root out.
I’d like to ask if any particular AAPI communities are feeling more discrimination or limitations during this Covid crisis more than another?
Are there any areas of the country that are particularly closed minded?
Facebook: @kevinstea @kstea
Spotify: That Rogue Romeo
Bandcamp: That Rogue Romeo
Soundcloud: That Rogue Romeo
Photos provided by Kevin Stea