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Royce Hsu Interview



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

My name is Royce I-Ping Hsu (徐一平). My main artist name is roycifer, which originated as my college radio DJ name. I've had it for a long time, but I'm less attached to it nowadays. I still like it though so it’s sticking around until I think of something else or finally don’t care enough and just use my real name. :)

Professionally, I am a Web Developer/Designer. Musically, I am a musician and sometimes DJ. Guitar is my main, but I also play bass and electronics. I play guitar in the band Taleen Kali and make my own sounds under the name DZSTRKRFT. I also do session gigs with Polartropica, Kai Tak, and previously Foie Gras. Past bands have been Nightgown, Sanctus, and UByK.


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

I am Chinese-American, born and raised in San Gabriel Valley, near Los Angeles. My parents immigrated to the U.S. in the early 70's


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

My dad casually played acoustic guitar so we always had an acoustic lying around the house. My parents both loved music, but not to a fanatic’s degree. They loved oldies—the Beatles, Elvis, etc. They also loved to sing karaoke, but that’s as far as they went musically. I have a cousin who is an opera singer and does musical theater, but none of my parents' generation pursued music. That cousin recently told me that my dad taught her to how to play John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Road” on guitar.


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 mainly grew up in San Marino, which is a suburb of Los Angeles. San Marino in the 80's and 90's was predominantly white. The Chinese community was only starting to grow at that time. Since then, San Marino has predominantly become an AAPI/Chinese community.

I spent my adolescence trying to fit in and be "less Asian." My parents encouraged me to assimilate with American culture. As I got older, I wanted to be more unique and find my individual self. I grew my hair out, listened to death metal, and rejected the mainstream culture at that time—I didn’t listen to hip hop and R&B, or drive a fixed up Honda. My close friends were mostly Asian in high school, but less so after college. As I got into the music scene, I  only had a few Asian friends in my musical orbit.


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

I don’t feel very connected to China or Taiwan (I've never visited). I know very little about my parents’ life and journey to the U.S., partially (and regretfully) due to my lack of interest growing up, and partially because assimilation was important to my parents and the way they raised me. It was a key to their survival as immigrants. I do feel connected to the Asian-American experience and the 626 (the 818 back then) because that’s where I grew up. My grandparents immigrated here too, and I spent a lot of time with them as a kid. My grandfather on my mom’s side taught me how to play mahjong and my parents played all the time. The sound of mahjong tiles crashing together is part of my heritage. I connect to the culture through food and Chinese supermarkets. “Crying in 99 Ranch” if you will. 


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 was excited by music from an early age, but I really got into music when I started to discover bands on my own through MTV, KROQ, KNAC, magazines, used CD stores, etc. I guess I always wanted to rock and emulate my heroes. :) For school, I went to UC Irvine and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Sociology and minored in Computer Science.

My parents loved music and my dad’s acoustic guitar was around the house growing up, so I connected to music and the guitar early on. Before I actually learned guitar, I would pick up a  tennis racquet, turn it upside down, and do the pretend rock star thing. But like many Asian kids, my official start playing music was with piano lessons. My parents didn't exactly force it on me but I quickly realized I hated it—I loathed practicing, reading notation, and learning music that wasn’t the same music I was listening to. After a few years of piano, I told my mom I wanted to quit and my wish was granted,a decision I now regret.

When I became obsessed with music in high school, my parents gifted me a no-name electric guitar and amp and intro lessons, where I learned how to tune a guitar and play chords. I took private lessons where I learned to read guitar tab, and I quickly became a tab whiz through guitar magazines and started to hone my play-by-ear skills. I briefly played in a high school rock band with two fellow Asian classmates. We called ourselves Tone Deaf (ha) and were “influenced” by Guns ’N Roses, Metallica, and Pearl Jam.

In college, my music taste got heavier. I had internet access for the first time so I had access to all the guitar tabs I ever wanted. Death Metal is the most guitar music out there. I even transcribed Carcass tabs and contributed transcriptions to a Carcass fan site (http://www.goddamnbastard.org/carcass/tabs/index.html). My music discovery journey led me to college radio at KUCI, where I hosted an extreme metal show, and an electronic-leaning freeform show. I also worked at Tower Records (RIP).

During most of college, I was still just a music-obsessed fan playing guitar tabs off the internet in my dorm room. All that changed after I linked up with a Long Beach death/black metal band Sanctus through a flyer at the local record shop (Bionic Records in Huntington Beach). The band was looking for a guitarist, but when I got in touch with them, they had already found someone. Luckily, they also needed a bass player so they asked if I wanted to play bass. I jumped at the opportunity even though I had never touched a bass guitar in my life. Not more than a handful of practices after I joined, the guitarist quietly disappeared. He stopped showing up to practice and no one could get a hold of him. So I got promoted to guitar (yay). Quickly after that, we recorded a demo, submitted it to labels, and we caught the ear of Metal Blade Records. Next thing we knew, the band was signed, put out an album, and started playing shows. Sadly, the album didn’t have any reach despite being on a storied label with U.S. and Euro distribution. We were too young and naive to know how to navigate what to do as a band (and the label didn’t help). We got dropped and eventually put the band to rest. By this time, I had graduated college and was focusing on my work life. I quit the band and put my guitar away for 10 long years.

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?

Music was always a hobby first. It probably had to do with how my parents raised me to put school and work first, and everything else second. But my “hobby” persisted.

10 years after I put my guitar away, I finally had a reason to unearth my guitar when I was asked to fill in for the band UByK. The emergence of Twitter and Instagram allowed me to connect with the local music scene and gave me a second lease on life as a musician. Soon after, I joined the band Nightgown where we gigged a ton locally and even recorded an EP.

Meanwhile my parents had little idea of my nightlife in music. All they knew was that I was doing my thing as a Web Developer and going out at night. They either purposefully turned a blind eye to my musical going-ons or were unsure how to connect with me about music. To be honest, I didn’t know how to connect with them about my music life, which was death metal, drinking, and staying out late. I felt like I lived two separate lives. But I knew they always supported me pursuing music because they knew how much I loved it. They were happy I was pursuing my interests, as long as I still had my day job, of course. My one regret is never having them see me perform before they both passed away.

 

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.

My first proper recording was with Sanctus (whose drummer also happened to be Chinese-American). Our debut album “Aeon Sky” was a product of our youth. I had an equal hand in the writing and arranging amongst the six of us (I did art direction too). My favorite contribution is the brutal death metal riff at the 4:54 mark of “November”. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_mMnkFwFvN0sK_SMvWL_3OkU11YSNLYirg

Nightgown’s “The Longest Joke I Know” EP was our only official recording, which we quietly released after disbanding right at the start of the pandemic. Our singer and songwriter Laurel Noone is immensely talented and bringing her songs to life was a treat. I regret that we never got to give it a proper release and promote it. My time with the band was an important tentpole for me in that I got to officially shed my “metal” past. I played guitar and contributed to writing and arranging. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJCkp9WuFlg&list=OLAK5uy_mtNABaaK8xHI77zRBI_ZRPl6IeRqwjoXc

Taleen Kali’s “Flower of Life” is the project I am most proud of. The recording was a real team effort and I got to showcase a range of my playing. The final outcome could not have sounded any better, production-wise and songwriting-wise. I got to work with a friend and fellow AAPI, Jeff Schroeder, who produced two songs and contributed guitar throughout the recording. I also assumed bass duties because our bass player Miles injured his hand at the beginning of demoing. It was exciting getting to write bass lines and flex a different part of my musical brain. The record is polished and grown-up sounding. We have toured extensively in support of the album and it feels good to give it the proper love it deserves. The positive feedback we’ve received makes me smile. https://taleenkali.bandcamp.com/album/flower-of-life-lp

My last picks are my own two DZSTRKRFT solo releases, “Cut, Paste, Destroy” and “Apocalypse Horizon,” which are completely different. “Cut, Paste, Destroy” is a sample-based project that allowed me to make music with my "computer person" skills using Ableton. It's a self-produced bedroom collection of songs that I consider to be the first musical output that I was 110% happy with. It came together quickly, and the process was empowering knowing that I could pull off something dope-sounding all on my own. https://dzstrkrft.bandcamp.com/album/cut-paste-destroy

“Apocalypse Horizon” was a musical itch I had long wanted to scratch to pay homage to my favorite Scandinavian black metal bands. I wrote and performed all the material and recruited my Sanctus bandmate Jason “Spawn” McCrarey to scream on vocals. It was my first time mixing live recordings and I handled all the artwork and packaging too. It was written during a difficult winter in 2016—my mom had passed from cancer, the company I was working for got sold and I had to jump ship, and there was the post-election trauma. I’m proud of it because I felt I successfully captured the essence of my favorite black metal recordings. https://dzstrkrft.bandcamp.com/album/apocalypse-horizon


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?

Being a metalhead meant being an outsider. Being an Asian metalhead meant being an outsider of outsiders. I did what I could to fit in, which was grow my hair out, wear all black, and throw up the . Thankfully, there were people in the underground community that were out there for the music, just like me. While doing my show at KUCI, I befriended  two other long-haired Asian metalheads, Harold Park and Johnson Wang who also became DJs at the station. The three of us embedded ourselves in the metal scene in all the ways we could—running the metal department at KUCI, working for metal labels, playing in extreme metal bands, and driving all over Southern California to attend shows together. We even started a long-running metal blog called APESHIT after graduating. This was before blogs were common and before social media was even a thing.


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

I honestly never felt like I had AAPI role models growing up. Frankly, there weren’t that many Asians in the circles that I paid attention to at the time, aside from James Iha and John Myung. There was only mainstream media at the time, no Youtube or social media. Kim Thayil is the closest to Asian representation and influence I had because I was really into Soundgarden’s “Badmotorfinger” album, and his guitar playing was heavy and weird with the alternate tunings. He didn’t look like the other band members, but he also didn’t look like me so I didn't feel strongly connected in our identities. 

The internet has really leveled the playing field because now there are so many AAPI musicians/composers/producers that I see out there doing really cool stuff, like Jeff Schroeder, Tim Henson, Yvette Young, Patrick Shiroishi, Bobb Bruno, Victoria Shen (Evicshen), Andrew Huang. And there are those in the LA music scene who I’ve had the fortune to play with, like Ihui Wu (Polartropica) and Chris King (Kai Tak). I often wonder what it would have been like growing up with more AAPI musicians in the landscape like there is today.

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

My hopes are to see the continued visibility of AAPI artists, to see more of us making music and being taken seriously. So thank you for doing your part with this AAPI Musicians blog and letting us share our stories

 

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

I’m an “extremely online” web guy doing web stuff and it’s the thing besides music that makes my tail wag. It’s a powerful and immediate medium that has scale and reach, and is universally accessible. Learning HTML in college outside of my “studies” was what set me up for post-college success in the career I’ve been doing for the past 20 years. It has also helped provide me with the resources to pursue music.

I’m also into video/glitch art, which was an accidental discovery while exploring album art for the DZSTRKRFT “Cut, Paste, Destroy” release. One of my favorite pieces is the music video I did of a cover of Metallica’s “Disposable Heroes”. https://youtu.be/9lQaScSf_J4


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

When I play shows out on tour, it warms my heart to see other AAPI people all over the country making music and attending shows. I see my young self in them. I hope to see more and more, and that we continue to support each other and our fellow POCs. If any fellow AAPI ever sees me out at a show, don’t be afraid to say hi—I am shy just like you. :)


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Support Royce online :)

Instagram: @roycifer

Spotify: DZSTRKRFT

Bandcamp: DZSTRKRFT

Soundcloud: DZSTRKRFT

Official Website: roycifer.com



Image courtesy of Royce Hsu



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