Tim Henson (W6RST)
Updated: Jun 1, 2021
(Unlike the majority of interviews which were conducted via e-mail, this interview was conducted in person, so below is a transcription of our more conversational approach to this interview).
1. What is your name and your profession(s)? My name is Tim Henson and I am an artist, guitar player, and producer. [Tim mentioned his Chinese name as well, but I told him I’d omit typing it out since neither of us knew how to write the characters or the proper pinyin].
2. What is your ethnic background and what is your citizenship (US native or naturalized etc.)? My dad’s white and my mom’s Chinese; I am an American citizen.
3. Are either/both of your parents musicians or somehow involved in the music industry? My dad has played in bands his whole life, but I don’t think they ever made it far in the industry; it was more like garage-band-type stuff. My mom plays violin and piano, but not well enough that she would call herself a musician. I think she just kind of picked it up when we [her kids] picked it up as children to try and help us out as we were learning.
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 remember when I was really young, my mom put us in Chinese school. My brother, sister, and I were the only half-white kids there and the other kids made it very apparent… so much so, that by the third day, we all came home crying and my dad pulled us out. I remember really wanting to be more Asian when I was in elementary school because my best friend in second grade—his name is Kevin Fu—he was smart as fuck… and I wanted to be really fucking smart, so I very much wanted to be more Asian, more Chinese, than I was.
By the time I got to middle school, most of my friends were white, and I was always “the Asian kid” among them. It was then when I felt like “Shit, I want to be white.” Once I got to middle school, I didn’t want to bring my violin around, because if you do, you go to orchestra and that’s fucking lame. All of my friends were carrying skateboards to school and I was carrying a violin. So, I dropped out of orchestra in 6th grade—though I was in a different orchestra starting when I was 7 and I ended up staying in that one until I was 18 years old, but that was a non-school one; I dropped out of the school orchestra so that I could skate and then pick up guitar, all in an attempt to fit in more with my white friends. Yeah, that was growing up.
5. How connected do you feel to your heritage/culture(s)? I really don’t feel connected. Due to that incident at the Chinese school, I never learned Mandarin. There was a bit of conflict between my parents when I was growing up, so at that point, I think my mom just turned her focus to, “Oh are they learning music?”… which, in hindsight, I’m very grateful for, because now I’m doing music.
In middle school, my friends were mostly white… but now I also have a ton of Asian friends, too. I think the only time I feel connected is when I discuss with some of my Asian friends about how our Asian moms were nuts.
Outside of that, a lot of people just don’t know I’m Asian probably because I’m very white-passing. You’re the only one who’s asked me about anything Asian/AAPI-related during this month. [I then mentioned to him that I'd learned that there were a lot of mixed AAPIs (many hapas), including myself, who also had never been asked about their lives as AAPIs or about anything AAPI/Asian related; a handful of the interviewees this month thanked me for allowing them to also share their stories and perspectives in regards to telling their story from an AAPI lens, since they had never been able to do so.]
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)? My mom started me on violin when I was three because that’s some Chinese mom shit to do. I had some Russian teachers—they were the sickest—they’re crazy good—but they were very strict and disciplinary, but that’s what got me good... it was just the way the Russian teachers taught. Then at 10 years old, that’s when my dad brought out his guitar and I picked up guitar. I hated violin so much by then because I had been forced to play it since I was 3. I was thinking, “FUCK this, I want to play guitar” and that was my escape from violin.
No, I did not go to music school. I tried out for Berklee and got denied ...and now the Berklee professors are now fans and shit (laughs). I attended UNT for a semester, but I was undeclared (no major); I knew I didn’t want to be in school and wanted to do music which is why I didn’t pick a major. I went for a semester and then I just lied to my parents that I was in college and just did the local band grind to eventually make it on tour and start doing real band shit.
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 think at the end of high school there was a lot of pressure in regards to what college are you going to attend, and I obviously wanted to go to Berklee, but I didn’t get in, so, I thought, "I guess I’m going to UNT". It was the nearest university that wasn’t community college. I went through a semester there and then I transferred to community college and just lied to my parents about going the whole time—for a year or two—while we did the local band grind. Then one day I told my dad, “Yeah, I’m not in school and we’re actually about to ask the internet for $30,000 from an Indiegogo”, and he got so fucking pissed. We launched the Indiegogo a month later and met the goal, and that’s when my dad said, “Okay, maybe you could do this”. After that, we had the budget to record a record, so we went and recorded the record—that was my first time in the studio. After that, my dad started supporting me. Then when we started touring full-time, my mom was very skeptical and was asking about how I was going to make money and how I was going to make it work. I didn’t start making money until about five years into it. Maybe now that I’ve just built a house—and my mom goes to check on it weekly—maybe now she’s a little more supportive… but my dad’s been supportive for much longer. My mom was obviously really worried about the financial aspect of it, but I think she’s more supportive now.
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. Obviously Polyphia because, you know, it’s my bread and butter and my soul goes into it—I’m proud of that first and foremost.
The other stuff I’m proud of is my hip-hop work with different random hip-hop and other artists here and there, and just collecting plaques that really do not have much to with me except that I played some stuff on those tracks.
8. Describe to me your dream project. I’d love to work with Kanye or Drake.
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? In the music world, I think that most people don’t know that I’m Asian, so there’s probably none [obstacles I’ve had to encounter].
In general, what I was saying earlier about growing up, it was always like you’re not white enough, or you’re not Asian enough—that was my struggle.
When I’m touring in China the crowd always gets stoked when they learn I'm Chinese. When I'm in Taiwan, my whole family will come to the show and the promoters will shout them out and the crowd always likes that too. Otherwise, most people think I’m white, so I probably haven’t dealt with any obstacles because I’m Asian. I think that people think that Polyphia is just a bunch of white boys—which it mostly really is aside from one-half of one member, you know?
I have quite a few Asian friends in music, and maybe we bond well because we’re Asian, so maybe that’s something positive that’s come about from being Asian in the music industry; obviously, we bond because like each other and we’re cool with each other, but maybe the first thing that happened was recognizing we have a common denominator because we’re Asian.
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? When I was really young and playing Guitar Hero, I saw Herman from Dragon Force, and it was the boss song… and I’d like to think that in this day and age, if we had Guitar Hero, I [Polyphia] would be the boss song… or maybe at least one of boss songs. So, probably Herman. Otherwise, when I was growing up and I was in orchestra, my mother loved Yo-Yo Ma… and maybe that’s just a classic trope of Asians being “sick at music”, you know.
I loved to skate when I was younger, but I don’t remember seeing too many Asian skaters. My favorite skater was Rodney Mullen and I remember seeing a couple Korean skaters, not many—there are definitely a lot more now. So yeah, at the time, there weren’t many Asian skaters though… and definitely in rock, I didn’t see many Asians or AAPIs, besides in Dragon Force. When I picked up guitar, I don’t remember seeing any Asians at all.
[We then discussed how AAPI/Asian representation is important in the music industry].
11. If you could give advice now to your younger teenage self, what would you tell her/him/they?
*“In 11th grade, all the money you made from selling oxy—that you stole from your dad— to your friends? Yeah, use that to buy bitcoin” (laughs)
*“Also, I guess, practice harder”. (pauses) I’d love to tell myself “Don’t do this and don’t do that”… but if I had told myself that, then I wouldn’t be where I am now—it would fuck up my trajectory… and I’m very grateful for my trajectory. Even though maybe I could have done things sooner and better, I just don’t think it would’ve happened this way had I not had the learning experiences I did. I definitely have gone through enormous metamorphoses in so many areas of my life. So, it's hard to say.... maybe I'd say, “Play without distortion and make it sound dope” ...that’s kind of vague, but if you adapt your style to one that sounds dope without distortion, it’s a lot more versatile. I might have found what I’m doing now maybe sooner. It probably would’ve been ahead of its time—way ahead of its time. I feel like in 2017 The Most Hated was way fucking ahead of its time... which was essentially intricate guitar with beats which followed the guitars; now in 2021, four years later, that’s what all the kids are doing now. Maybe it’s good that it happened at that time, I don’t know. It’s hard to say, “Get good faster” because then it [The Most Hated, etc.] might have gotten overlooked. All the people I wanted validation from back then, I never got it; I have it now though… I have it more than enough now, but I don’t want it now. I want validation from other people now, and I think that’s life… you grow and your interests change.
*Lastly, “Focus on the process and less about the outcome”.
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? Well, I am getting a house built and furnishing it, and, of course, I’m excited about the new album; I can’t really talk about it, but we’re working on it. We’re also going on tour later this year.
13. Name one or two non-music-related things/subjects about which you are also passionate. Interior design, I’m good at it and really enjoy it; Ari’s really good at it and he’s been helping us a little bit with our house too.
I definitely pride myself in learning what I like. It’s a discovery process that I think everybody should go through…discovering what style you like when it comes to anything—interior design, clothes, music…. anything. It takes a lot of research and it takes a lot of back and forth with yourself. [I interjected here, “I think a lot of people are just ok with being ambivalent about so many things in their lives—they don’t actually really wrestle with themselves to figure things out. It’s crazy”]. Absolutely, that’s what I’m saying… “wrestling” is a good term for it; I do wrestle with things—so many things—about myself, in discovering who I am and what I like… and those change over time, too. It’s so important to do—discovering new things about yourself. I’d like to say I’m very passionate at discovering who I am; I think figuring out who the fuck you are is a lifelong process.
14. Any final thoughts? Alternatively, do you have any questions for me and/or the greater AAPI music community? I’m very curious about what you’re going to say in your interview. I think it’s really cool that you set a month aside to figure yourself out while you talked to and interviewed so many other people. Have you learned much about yourself and/or other people through this?
[Haha, I answered his question in person but won’t post it all here. In short, yes, I learned a ton, both about myself and about the greater AAPI collective story and perspectives. I will elaborate on my answer to Tim’s question more in my own interview which will be posted on this blog tomorrow, May 31st, 2021].
Jammcard: Tim Henson
Bandcamp: Polyphia (only partial catalogue)
Soundcloud: Polyphia (only partial catalogue)
Photos provided by Tim Henson (@thew6rst)