Far East Movement: Everybody Dance
Donning stylish shades, skinny ties, shiny blazers and fresh kicks, Los Angeles, California-based quartet Far East Movement - comprising Kev Nish, Prohgress, J-Splif, and DJ Virman - have unquestionably bridged the gap between underground party records and mainstream hip hop, dance and electro to create their own original sound they call ‘Free Wired’ - which in turn also happens to be the title of their new album! A 10-track set which - already pioneered by the hypnotically-bass-driven breakthrough global smash ‘Like A G6’ - also features the more melodic, soulful pop-rap of the foursome’s radio-ready current hit ‘Rocketeer’ featuring the haunting vocals of OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder.
Indeed, influenced by the thriving downtown LA scene and a wide range of music - ranging from fellow West Coasters like The Pharcyde and Dr. Dre to the dance music of DJ Tiesto and Daft Punk - ‘Free Wired’ additionally boasts collaborations with the likes of iconic Long Beach rhymesmith Snoop Dogg (the robust, electro-rap of ‘If I Was You’); R&B songstress Keri Hilson (the catchy, pulsating ‘Don’t Look Now’); up-and-coming “Afro-Viking” pop-dance star Mohombi (the sexually pounding ‘She Owns The Night’); plus the set’s main producers, Stereotypes (the energetic, bass-heavy party monster ‘Girls On The Dancefloor’).
Interestingly, the origins of Far East Movement can be traced back to when original members Kevin Nishimura (Kev Nish), James Roh (Prohgress) and Jae Choung (J-Splif) were growing up together in Koreatown, Los Angeles. Being close companions in school who shared a passion for music together, in 2001 the trio started out by putting their music online and performing at local clubs and events as Emcee’s Anonymous - a name they would soon change to Far East Movement after the title of a song they produced.
Releasing their first album ‘Folk Music’ in 2006, the then-threesome’s first claim to fame arrived when their song ‘Round Round’ became featured in the Hollywood movie ‘The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift’. Meanwhile, with LA radio’s DJ Virman joining the line-up as the group’s official DJ in 2008, a second album ‘Animal’ was released later the same year, following which the now-quartet’s profile was considerably raised with several of its songs receiving multiple placements on television and film. All of which (in addition to the massive online success of the hi-energy 2009 track ‘Girls On The Dancefloor’) would ultimately lead to Far East Movement being invited to perform at Power 106’s Powerhouse 2009 - one of the biggest hip hop concerts on the West Coast - alongside the likes of Jay-Z, The Black Eyed Peas and Sean Paul.
With Far East Movement then going on to sign their first major-label deal with Interscope’s subsidiary Cherrytree Records in February 2010, the quartet have indeed since gone from strength to strength. Having supported both label-mate Lady GaGa plus pop/R&B superstar Rihanna on arena tours overseas, as well as seeing their international Top 10 smash ‘Like A G6’ hitting the US Number One spot - in turn making them the first-ever American/Asian group to hit the US mainstream Top 10 and selling over two million copies along the way.
… All of which brings us to Universal Music’s buzzing Kensington HQ, where a charmingly professional (if decidedly tired-after-partying-the-night-before!) Far East Movement meet up with ‘Blues & Soul’ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis. As main group spokesman Kev Nish articulately discusses the foursome’s groundbreaking new album plus their interesting Asian/American background.
PETE: Let’s start by discussing ‘Free Wired’ - your debut major-label album release
KEV; “We like to almost consider ‘Free Wired’ our first album, in that anything we did before it was really just us learning about our sound and learning to be artists. Because what we were doing back then was basically just early attempts at us trying to make rock songs that we loved, hip hop songs that we loved, dance songs that we loved... Whereas with ‘Free Wired’ we’ve finally been able to fuse all the different seeds of music that have influenced us through the years into ONE SOUND.”
PETE: And the title ‘Free Wired’ itself?
KEV: “’Free Wired’ was basically a slang-word we came up with back in the day, that we’d use whenever we’d do something that was outside the box, that was original, that was fresh, and that mashed-up things that maybe SHOULDN’T be mashed-up! Which is why, when it came to titling this album, it made so much SENSE! Because it really represented our lifestyle, represented what we listen to... You know, we’d basically go in the studio and take hip hop-style drums, electronic synths, alternative-style hooks and just - as I say - mash it all UP! Which in turn became the inspiration behind a track like ‘Rocketeer’, or songs like ‘Like A G6’ and ‘Girls On The Dancefloor’, where we mixed electronic-style beats and drums with old skool flavours… So yeah, with ‘Free Wired’ you definitely get exactly what it says in the TITLE! There’s no boundaries, and in that way it is the first defining album for the Far East Movement.”
PETE: How did you go about choosing some of the big-name artists who feature on the album?
KEV: “Well, we chose each individual collaboration really to represent the specific genre that we wanted to showcase within the album. And with it being - like we said - a mash-up of all the different styles, it was really important that each artist represented their particular genre CREDIBLY. Like by featuring Snoop Dogg on the song ‘If I Was You’, we wanted to bridge kind of what we feel is a new electronic sound that’s coming out of LA today with the classic West Coast hip hop sound which Snoop represents, and that we grew UP on. So that track was basically a bridge between both worlds… Then by bringing on board Keri Hilson, who’s an accomplished pop/dance/R&B songwriter and singer, for ‘Don’t Look Now’ we were able cover over THAT base. While by featuring Ryan Tedder on ‘Rocketeer’, we were the also able to cover that credible, alternative ROCK base... So yeah, we did end up bringing on board a very eclectic group of people, while at the same time showing that it is possible to bring all these different genres together onto one album to create one sound.”
PETE: With the group hailing from downtown LA, to what extent has the local neighbourhood itself influenced Far East Movement’s musical outlook?
KEV: “Oh, downtown LA has definitely influenced this album HEAVILY. Because, when you’re growing up on the LA scene - whether it be a Pharcyde concert, a Kanye concert, or a rave where you’d watch Tiesto or whoever was in town on the electronic side - there were always so many different music scenes flourishing within the city! Plus, in downtown LA you have so many different CULTURES! Like we all grew up in the same neighbourhood, yet within this group itself we’ve got Korean-American, Filipino-American, Japanese, Chinese... And so the ethnic diversity has played a huge part in how we approach music, and what we’ve always felt we can DO! Which in turn led to a lot of off-the-bat experimentation very early on in our careers, in terms of trying to make up these different sounds that represented the different cultures, different lifestyles… So yeah, I guess that’s where the whole ‘Free Wired’ concept did first originate FROM - the diversity of Downtown LA! Because, when it came to our music and our influences, race was never really the ISSUE! It’s always been about the lifestyle, the scene, the parties we all hit together, the food we all grub-out on, and the LADIES we love!”
PETE: Can you fill me in on the early days of the group, and how you came to change your name from Emcee’s Anonymous to Far East Movement?
KEV: “Me, Prohgress and J-Splif were all friends in High School. So, after school and after work, we’d meet UP! You know, we’d lug this big computer up to our attic in downtown LA and try to teach ourselves how to do MUSIC. ‘Cause there was no classes we could take, and no-one to teach it TO us! So we’d just try to figure out on our own how to record, how to write... And one of the first songs we ever did was a song called ‘The Far East Movement’! Which was basically about multicultural crews kickin’ it, rockin’ the street-wear, the fashion, and listening to all types of music. But, though we never let anyone hear the song itself - ’cause musically it was terrible! - it did actually end up becoming our NAME! Because it really did represent everything ABOUT us!... And from then on we basically took Far East Movement as more than just MUSIC! We took it as a lifestyle, and as our own personal BUSINESS!”
PETE: So what role has each member played in getting Far East Movement to where it is today?
KEV: “Back in the early days, J-Splif was the one who’d always go online and find out how to get CDs and T-shirts printed, so we could all go and sell them out of the back of our trunk! Then Prohgress would be the one constantly on the phone creating BUSINESS opportunities for us - you know, he was kinda like the manager and CEO, where he’d set up meetings with music publishers, producers, directors... Meanwhile, DJ Virman would be out there in the clubs every night, figuring out what songs people were reacting to, what sounds would work for us, and where we should take the music next - while I was the one who was always online dealing with the social media and creative marketing side... And then that same approach we took our BUSINESS, we also took to our MUSIC! In that, when it comes to writing our songs, line-for-line/bar-for-bar/hook-for-hook it’s always been a TEAM effort!... And so, now that we’re blessed to have a label like Cherrytree/Interscope behind us - who don’t try to dictate what we do - it basically means that that same chemistry is now being AMPLIFIED! To where we can now reach heads across the entire WORLD - just by doing what we’ve ALWAYS done!”
The album ‘Free Wired’ and single ‘Rocketeer ft. Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic’ are both out now through Cherrytree/Interscope Records
Words PETE LEWIS