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Beyond the Motown sound: Asian Fred's musical evolution

When I first met up with Asian Fred, for now-defunct local publication the Tucson Edge, the band had one music video under their belts but no recordings and only a handful of live gigs to their credit. What they did have going for them was a stellar reputation among other local musicians and a distinct, retro Motown/Stax sound.

Flash forward two years and the band is stronger, tighter and more musically diverse than ever, though they still gig pretty rarely and have been slow to release recordings.

With their long-awaited EP on the horizon and one of their rare live shows coming up this weekend, I thought it was time to catch up. I recently checked in with singer/guitarist and band frontman Fred Huang to talk about the past, present and future of Asian Fred.

JJP: When I first met you guys, you were pretty new. How has the band changed since the early days?

FH: "I feel like we've become more cohesive as a group. We play better together and have a greater feel for each others' musical tenancies. I feel my songwriting has evolved. I've simplified some things and complicated others. I've been more willing to express things in an overt way ... trying to be less inhibited."

For those not in the know...introduce the cast of characters.

"Asian Fred is Fred Huang - lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Noah Horton - lead guitar and harmony vocals; Kyle Gutierrez - bass and harmony vocals; Nick Letson - keys, and Steven Romo - drums."

I know at the time you were taking a slow, and cautious approach to studio recordings Where are you now in terms of recording these days?

"Up until now, we've recorded primarily live and overdubbed vocals and other stuff. For (our upcoming 6-song) EP we're going about it in a different way. We're recording song by song, track by track, and really focusing on opening up the arrangements. I wanted the songs to breathe better, where everything has it's space, and allow certain things to be highlighted ... give things their place to shine. It's been a long process, but it's opened up opportunity for new ideas and taken us in a new direction. I'm really happy with what we've accomplished so far."

Do you feel like you all are gelling better as a band after two plus years? Has the songwriting process changed?

"I think we've tightened up as a band, though I feel like we've always been pretty tight. It's knowing when to do less, when to step back, that's making our band sound more cohesive. We haven't been playing live all that much. I've been more motivated to work on the EP. As we record, the songs evolve and become something else. We're still playing the songs the old way until we're ready to debut the new stuff."

At first you sounded very Motown in spirit. Would you say you've expanded in terms of genre or sound over time?

"I think the genre is always changing. I did start this project sort of mimicking '60s pop, but I have always wanted to create something new. That's the goal. I'm excited and nervous about the new stuff. I hope people either find it to be brilliant or awful. I don't want it to be a lukewarm response."

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What do you want audiences to get out of seeing Asian Fred show?

"Goosebumps, I hope."

What enduring motto or piece of wisdom would the band want us all to know?

"There's a special place in our hearts for the forest moon of Endor."

What lies ahead for Asian Fred?

"We're playing Che's Lounge on Oct 21st with our good friends Tom Heavy and the Partymakers. After that, we'll  go back to working on the forthcoming EP"

You can catch a rare sighting of Asian Fred wtih Tom Heavy and the Partymakers on Saturday at 10 p.m. at Che's Lounge, 350 N. 4th Ave. (Downtown)

Also happening this week

Once again, it's a stellar week for both local and touring acts in the Old Pueblo, starting with Friday's "special engagement" with singer/songwriter/piano genius Regina Spektor at the Rialto Theatre. The Russian-born indie darling is touring to promote her 2016 album "Remember Us To Life."

The English Beat (or "The Beat," as they call them in the U.K.) are the legendary, ska-influenced post-punkers responsible for such hits as "Save It For Later" and "Mirror In The Bathroom." While the band originally broke up in 1983, with about half the members going on to form Fine Young Cannibals, they've periodically reunited and its always been worth the wait. The reformed band heads to Tucson on Saturday at 191 Toole. 

Meanwhile, to the north of us, Lost Lake Festival takes over Steele Indian School Park in Central Phoenix from Friday through Saturday, including appearances by The Pixies, Haim, the Roots, the Dap Kings, the Killers and more.

On the home front, a ton of fantastic local shows are on deck for the next few days, including live appearances by Juju Fontaine, Lenguas Largas and The Mission Creeps, Austin Counts and Snackbirdy and a reunion of acclaimed local rock band Roll Acosta. On Saturday, the 30th annual Nam Jam music festival will take place at Reid Park.

Check your local listings...

Friday, October 20

  • Juju Fontaine - 9 p.m. at St. Charles Tavern 1632 S. 4th Ave. (S of Downtown)
  • Regina Spektor - 8 p.m. at Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. (Downtown)
  • Natty & Jamz - 7 p.m. at Johnny Gibson's Market, 11 S. 6th Ave. (Downtown)
  • Gipsy Pirate Octopi - 9 p.m. at The Dusty Monk, 201 N. Court Ave. (Downtown)
  • Sugar Stains w/ Surfbroads - 9 p.m. at The Quarry, 40 Brewery Ave., Bisbee
  • Lost Lake Festival Day #1 (Featuring The Pixies, The Dap Kings, Haim, Calexico and more) - 2 p.m. at Steele Indian School Park, 300 E Indian School Rd, Phoenix

Saturday, October 21

  • Brokedown Palace - 9 p.m. at Flycatcher, 340 E. 6th St. (Downtown)
  • The English Beat - 8 p.m. at Flycatcher, 191 E. Toole (Downtown)
  • Asian Fred w/ Tom Heavy and the Partymakers - 10 p.m. at Che's Lounge, 350 N 4th Ave (Downtown)
  • The Mission Creeps w/ Lenguas Largas - 9 p.m. at Sky Bar, 536 N. 4th Ave. (Downtown)
  • Wounded World Boys - 10 p.m. at Bar Passe, 415 N. 4th Ave. (Downtown)
  • 30th Annual Nam Jam - 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Reid Park Bandshell, 900 S. Randolph Way (Central)
  • Lost Lake Festival Day #2 (Featuring The Roots, The Killers, Huey Lewis, Little John and more) 12 p.m. at Steele Indian School Park, Phoenix

Sunday, October 22

  • Austin Counts - 8 p.m. at Flycatcher, 340 E 6th St (Downtown)
  • Sanctvs MRTVM, Needles Nest, Creative Needles - 9 p.m. at Flycatcher, 340 E. 6th St. (Downtown)
  • Lost Lake Festival Day #3 (Featuring Run The Jewels, Major Lazer, Odesza and more) - 12 p.m. at Steele Indian School Park, 300 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix

Monday, October 23

  • War Curse, Madrost, Napalm Strike - 9 p.m. at Flycatcher

Tuesday, October 24

  • Lounge Sounds w/ Cozy Shack - 7 p.m. at Flycatcher

Wedenesday, October 25

  • Halloween Horror - 9 p.m. at Flycatcher

Thursday, October 26

  • Roll Acosta Reuinon w/ Natalie Pohanic - 8 p.m. at Flycatcher
  • Saucy Yoda, Corporate Training Videos, Snackbirdy 8 p.m. at Pomoro, 933 N. Main Ave. (E of Downtown)
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