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Roommate wanted - an interview with Roommate's Kento-chan Lambert

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 22, 2010 01:00pm | Post a Comment
For this Asian Pacific American Heritage Month I asked Asian-Americans involved in the arts to get at me. The first to do so was Kent Lambert, an experimental pop guy who lives in Chicago and is the front man for Roommate.

Roommate

Eric: How is your Asian Pacific American Heritage Month going?

Kent Lambert: It's going swimmingly, thank you.

 Banh Mi Lady

Eric: Have you done anything to honor or celebrate APA Month?

KL: I consider this interview the official kick-off to my APA Month festivities. Next week I just might whip up an old-fashioned Japanese meal of miso soup with brown rice and "tofu steaks," and I'll be posting some labels of old Enka 45s I swiped from my mom to Collector Not Completist. Perhaps some bi bim bop and bánh mì before the month is through. Sake and/or sh?ch?.

 Sumos and babies

Your name doesn’t sound terribly Asian. I actually did a little research and "Kent" is Olde English for “edge” and "Lambert" is a Germanic name meaning “bright land.” If you’re really Japanese-American, how come your parents chose to not give you a traditional name like "George" or "Harry?"

My mother was born and raised on ChiChi Jima, a tiny island far off the coast of Japan. After WWII, the island was controlled by the U.S. Navy until 1968. She spoke Japanese at home and learned English at the island's school, which ended at 8th grade. She was the first person from her island to graduate from high school and college, on Guam. She met my dad there -- he was in the Army. He was the son of an Iowa farmer with Swedish ancestry (apparently, before some Lambert or other hijacked the family name it was Anderson).

My parents originally named me Nathan but after two days they decided they preferred Kent... I doubt that George or Harry were ever considered. I have a feeling that Nathan and Kent were somewhat trendy names in 1976. Fortunately, Kent could be easily modified to a Japanese variation, Kento. Sometimes my mom calls me Kento-Chan.

 Jan Brewer is an Idiot hat

Do you have any papers or some means of proving your Asian American status?

Whoa, Jan Brewer! If the biographical background information above isn't good enough for you, google my mom's name (Irene Savory Lambert) and in the 3rd and 4th listings you'll see her name mentioned in a scholarly article on mixed language in the chain of islands (Ogasawara) that include ChiChi Jima. Is that good enough????

 Picture Brides

Was your mom a picture bride or something?

Ha! Well, she was set up on a blind date with my dad by her adoptive American mother on Guam, so there was some kind of familial matchmaking going on... but um, no.   

Now for a question you’ve probably never been asked before -- who are Roommate's influences?

I often look to Robert Pollard and Vic Chesnutt for lyrical inspiration (although if I were to actually compare myself to them I would feel pretty lame), and I strive to sing with the honesty of someone like Vic C. or Nina Simone or Neil Young, with a bit of the croon of Scott Walker and/or Willie Nelson in there too. In terms of our overall sound... it's evolved into a highly collaborative band since the early days when I would make beats on a Gameboy and ask people I liked to play whatever they played (banjo, bassoon, etc.) over them. We're more or less a four-piece now, all of us coming from disparate musical backgrounds... If I had to name one band in which we all at least share an interest, it would be The Pink Floyd. A couple of us might embrace the Floyd as a direct influence, and a couple of us might fight those urges, but it would be dishonest of me to leave them out of a discussion of our influences. And I might dare say that The Cure are as important as The Beatles in our little rock world. Morricone and Broadcast are two names that come up frequently too. I've got a soft spot for stoned-out electronic music (stoned-out music in general, come to think of it), so bands like Boards of Canada, Flying Lotus, Bola, and The Knife surely have had some sort of influence on some of the beats and synth textures I use.

We're heavily influenced by our friends as well, including Cody Hennesy aka The Rhombus, The Judy Green, and Califone. I love The Judy Green so much that I recruited its lead dude Reid Coker to play in Roommate. He has some great songs in 3/4 time and I recently noticed that I've written a lot more songs in three since I've known his music, so there you go.


I like Roommate a lot but I don’t really have an easy comparisons. Last.fm says you’re like zapper, antiserum & ripple, D Program and MBZ… who the heck are they?

The "sounds like" tagging on the Last.fm Roommate page has been dominated by fans of the Bay Area Roommate. So I would imagine that zapper, antiserum & ripple, etc. are artists working in strains of dubstep similar to that of the (cough) Other Roommate.

 Tampa Bay

Have you ever listened to the Bay Area Roommate? If so, how do you rate them?

Well, I did mention above that I dig stoned out music, particularly of the electronic variety, so when I realized that another Roommate was out there making tracks with names such as "Sensimillia (Gimme Ganja Remix)," I couldn't really resist. I can't say that it's my favorite music, but I'm definitely not against it. I'd probably put on deeper, darker dubstep music or just straight-up dub before I put on dubstep Roommate, but if was hanging out with some college kids in Iowa City or something and they wanted to rock that shit, I wouldn't protest.

 

Who would you compare Roommate to?

I always have a terrible time with this question. I feel like we do quite a bit of shapeshifting and incorporate so many disparate influences (see above) that there aren't any easy or remotely obvious comparisons. Perhaps I should list a few of the bands that were listed on the Roommate Last.fm page before the dubstep-heads took over: Yo La Tengo, Skeletons, The Notwist, Phosphorescent...

I hear that Phosphorescent is a full-on country band now and I'm not sure if we were ever very similar to him/them, but I'll definitely take Yo La Tengo, especially now that male/female harmonies and jammy outros are a bigger part of what we do.

 Roommate

I tend to think of all current indie music as falling into one of three camps. "Myspace hair and guyliner," "beards ‘n’ western shirts," or "infantalist in a Breton sailor’s shirt." Where does Roommate fall?

Definitely beards 'n' western shirts, although we're probably more likely to wear moth-eaten cardigans than western shirts.

 Roommate sketch

Who are you listening to right now?

Lately I've been spinning the new Flying Lotus album a lot as well as The Flaming Lips version of Dark Side of The Moon and Radio Galaxia, this awesome Finders Keepers comp I bought on Record Store Day. Dorothy Ashby's Afro-Harping has been on the turntable frequently in recent weeks, and I'm planning to put on the The Sandals' Eternal Summer tonight, maybe Asa-Chang & Junray's Jun Ray Song Chang too -- that record is never too far from my rotation. (Thought I'd bring things back to an Asian tip!)

 Justin Long  Kent Lambert

 

One last question, have you ever been mistaken for Justin Long?

Well, not exactly, but apparently my brother and his wife shout my name at the screen whenever he appears.


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Hapa (1), Kent Lambert (1), Japanese-americans (14), Roommate (1), Asian-americans (40), Interview (284), Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (57)