Once upon a time I lived in the Bay Area.
And I was dating a rockstar.
You know. ‘Cause that’s how I like to roll. 😉
One day at my rockstar’s gig in Union Square, we stumbled upon some more rockstars.
Of the indie variety.
I hadn’t heard of them before, so I sat down to listen.
And to my own surprise and delight, these rockstars were good.
Like REAL good.
Music has always been a part of my life.
I played the piano. The flute (yep). And guitar (sorta).
I tried my hand at singing. Let’s just say it’s better that I stick to solo’s alone in my car.
The soundtrack of my life includes everything from Michael Jackson to Cat Power. Outkast to Neko Case. Brian McKnight to Pink Floyd.
And pretty much everything in between!
And there’s no doubt that The Soonest has taken their rightful place in my life soundtrack.
I’m not gonna lie, their songs are often on repeat on my iPhone.
Hint :: they can also be heard on my vintage welcome + bonus videos circa 2012.
I love everything about their rich, complex sound and lyrical depth. It’s indie rock. At its’ best.
And, they’re about the coolest, most down-to-earth guys you’ll ever meet.
They’ve got the whole package.
Putting together this Q+A and video for you – was an extra special treat.
I got to shoot some photos + video at one of their San Francisco shows and sit in on band practice in Oakland. Plus I sat down with frontman Young Lee to talk inspiration, X-Ray vision and liquid courage.
Who is The Soonest?
We’ve been a band for about two years but Andrew (drummer) and I have been playing in various forms of the band for a very long time. We started in 2003 in a college band and from there it morphed in a lot of ways until we decided to do some serious writing and bring people on board. We’ve also gone through many names such as Broadcaster, Lion Riding Horses, and now The Soonest.
The band is me on guitar/lead vocals, Andrew Wales (drums), Alex Stack (bass), Mark Quitevis (guitar) and Jonathan Posadas (guitar).
We’re from Atlanta, Boston, St. Louis, Los Angeles, and San Jose (respectively).
Let’s start big, WHY do you play music?
That’s definitely a big question. I feel like individually we all have different reasons for why we play. However, for all of us, music and playing music has always been an important part of our lives.
We’ve all had those moments where we hear a great song and we’re like “wow, that is an amazing song. I wish I could write something like that” and as a result, it’s become this endless pursuit to write songs that impacts people in that way.
I think for some of us, it’s really the only thing that we’re doing in our lives where the process and the challenges are just as exciting as reaching our goals.
Also, it’s just freakin’ fun to be able to create something, record it, perform it live, and have people respond so positively to it.
I’ve always wondered this . . . do you ever get nervous playing in front of an audience?
It’s the minutes leading up to the performance that are the most nerve-wracking. I think we all get the same kind of jitteriness as we’re warming up. Once we start playing, the nerves go away for the most part. We all enjoy playing live, so being on stage is a great place for us, but sometimes a little liquid courage helps as well!
What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken in the last few years?
The biggest risk is probably actually deciding to do something with the music and not just have it be a hobby.
Putting careers on hold and putting more energy into the music has been exciting but also scary at the same time.
A second big risk we’ve taken is trying to incorporate our own special fusion of jazz dance and breakdance into our live shows.
We’re almost there. Just a few more tweaks before it’s ready. We call it BreakJazz. 🙂
BreakJazz. I’d pay to see that! Speaking of fusion, are there any collaborations (with other musicians or artists) that you’d like to happen?
We’ve been lucky to have worked already with several Bay Area musicians. Jonathan is from an awesome band called Case in Theory and we’ve also had the chance to work with Olivia Lee in the studio as well.
We dont have any specific collaborations in mind right now but we’d love to work with more musicians. It’s such a great way to learn and I feel like it pushes us to become better musicians.
Being a musician is like being an entrepreneur in many ways. What’s the most challenging and the most gratifying thing about it for you?
It’s definitely been challenging trying to stand out in a sea of thousands of bands. We’re constantly trying to push ourselves to do new things. we only wish we could work faster.
It’s always so gratifying when we create a song that we genuinely like and are then able to share it with people.
Ultimately, we write music because we love music and we want to share our music. When we’re able to do that and see how much people enjoy it, it’s awesome.
I’m always interested in culture and how it shapes us. I know you’re Taiwanese-American, how do you think that has shaped who you are (and/or your music)?
It’s a pretty huge part of me although it’s not something that is on the forefront of my mind a lot.
Growing up and even now, my parents made a huge effort to ensure that I never lost connection with my heritage so it’s deeply ingrained in who I am. There are certain ethics and values that I hold onto that are very specific to growing up in a Taiwanese-American household. It has help me decide how I should act, what is important to me, and what kind of impact I want to have on those around me.
With the music I feel like being Taiwanese-American has shaped the subject matter more than the actual sound.
When I write, I tend to describe images or scenes and I think it’s in some of those descriptions where you can get a sense of my background. Or maybe not….I try not to be too direct or blatant in the lyrics. But it’s in there somewhere.
What does your creative process (of conceiving of and writing new songs) look like?
It’s never really the same process but I guess it always starts with some kind of chord progress and then it goes from there.
There’s some kind of inspiration that sparks the whole thing and then each of us take it in different directions.
The sounds come first and lyrics always come last. However, while we’re writing the song, I’ll have images and words that I’ll throw around, along with a whole bunch of gibberish.
What keeps you inspired and motivated?
I think the most important thing that keeps me motivated is wanting to be able to look back and see that I was a part of something that I’m proud of. In the case of The Soonest, I want to step back one day and know that we were relentless in making music we feel is great regardless if we’re successful or a disastrous disaster.
You’re “a man about SF”, what are your top 3 favorite spots in the Bay Area?
It’s so hard to choose just 3. I’m going to freely interpret this question and add in some categories.
What’s something you’ve never told anyone before?
I have the ability to see through clothes. It’s a gift and a curse.
Hope you enjoyed getting to know Young Lee + The Soonest.
Big thanks to Young, Andrew, Alex, Mark and Jonathan for being a part of the blog + allowing me to stick my camera in their faces (on multiple occasions).
I have no doubt that these guys will blow up. Mark my words. It’s only a matter of time.
Also, big thanks to my trusted pals at Fistfull of Cake Films for assembling the video for me!
The Soonest would like to gift you with a super-secret link to download their most recent EP, “Lions At Your Door“.
For free. ‘Cause they rock.