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Touring takes back seat to nonprofit helping artists of color; the Portland band will forever be known for its name and Supreme Court fight

COURTESY PHOTO: JADY BATES - Popular club band The Slants are calling it a career, as far as making albums and touring. Current members are: (from left) Joe X. Jiang, Ken Shima, Simon Tam. Simon Tam remembers the joy of beating the federal government in court, and then the aftermath, which now includes plans for his band's final show.

An eight-year fight for his Asian American band from Portland to retain and trademark its name — The Slants — came to an end in June 2017 when the Supreme Court ruled that Tam could legally protect the name, although some saw it as racially disparaging.

Afterward, The Slants went on tour for the rest of 2017, Tam moved to Nashville for a fresh start and the band put out a new album and toured more this year. But the past decade's work had taken its toll.

The Slants have announced that their Nov. 4 show at the Doug Fir Lounge will be their final live performance.

Tam cites the grind of the court case as being one of the reasons. And, The Slants have started a nonprofit, The Slants Foundation, to help Asian American and other artists of color and their activism.

"That kind of took a huge chunk of my life, money, resources and energy that we could have invested in our music career," Tam said of the legal fight. "I remember thinking, 'I'm just tired.'"

Tam (bass), Joe X. Jiang (guitar) and Ken Shima (vocals) are the current members of The Slants, and original drummer Tyler Chen and other former band members will join them at the Doug Fir.

Added Tam, 38: "If your heart's not into it, I don't want to do it for the wrong reasons. Maybe we'll come back at a different time."

The Slants and Tam have other things going on, and it's no longer the time to tour.

Tam has published a memoir, "Slanted: How an Asian American Troublemaker Took on the Supreme Court." He'll speak at Powell's City of Books at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3, the day before the final show.

COURTESY PHOTO: JADY BATES - Simon Tam has been front and center in the band's success and legal fight over its name.His story is being turned into a musical, hopefully for Broadway or Off-Broadway, Tam said. He and Jiang are composing music for it.

And, The Slants Foundation has been launched and received 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. Tam said the nonprofit will work with artists of all kinds to help them implement activism into their profile. The Slants Foundation's board of directors includes the three members of the band, and it'll be working with artists in several states.

"We'll be announcing our first scholarship at the (Doug Fir) show," Tam said. "(The nonprofit) became a much bigger priority rather than touring and that sort of thing. I've been doing that for 13 years, and I was ready to let that go and bring in another generation of artists."

Activism is basically what The Slants have been doing for the past decade, accentuated by the legal showdown with the federal government.

Tam twice put in applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for the band name; twice the government turned him down, citing Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act of 1946, which prohibited the use of disparaging names for entities such as his band.

It became a fight for principle and First Amendment rights, and Tam and The Slants, who see nothing disparaging about the name, finally found victory in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuits — only for the case to be sent to the U.S. Supreme Court after the USPTO petition.

Tam, before the Supreme Court heard the case, said, "I'm fighting racism and you wanted to deny me rights based on my race?"

The Supreme Court ruled in the band's favor on June 19, 2017.

The band released a statement after the ruling, saying, "This journey has always been much bigger than our band: it's been for the rights of all marginalized communities to determine what's best for ourselves. ... The Supreme Court has vindicated First Amendment rights not only for The Slants, but all Americans who are fighting against paternal government policies that ultimately lead to viewpoint discrimination."

Tam was relieved to be done with the case. He now does speaking engagements — just last week at the UCLA School of Law — about The Slants and their legal fight.

"The response has been overwhelmingly positive," Tam said. "What I have found is people are still engaged with the case."

In the meantime, Tam said he enjoys living in Nashville, adding that it's more of a well-rounded music community now, and not just about country. He still spends a lot of time in Portland.

Tam has found success with his memoir — "I wanted to get the story of The Slants out there, that we're more than just a court case." And, he looks forward to the musical. But, it's a bittersweet end for The Slants, a dance/pop rock 'n' roll band in the mold of Depeche Mode, New Order and The Cure — and with the swagger of late 1970s punk rock.

"My best memories come from this band and touring," Tam said.

For more on The Slants Foundation, see www.theslants.org. For Nov. 4 show tickets, see www.dougfirlounge.com.


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