Today The Slants went before SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) in regards to In re Tam (Lee V. Tam), the band’s case fighting to trademark their name.
The band’s founder and bassist, Simon “Young” Tam has released a statement pertaining to the oral hearing today and his hopes for the outcome of the case:
“I’m confident that the Supreme Court will stand by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit’s decision in finding viewpoint discrimination through trademark registration unconstitutional.
What many people forget is that this process all started with the government denying me rights based on my race: even in court, the government agreed that our racial identities provided the context for ‘The Slants’ to be a racial slur rather than any other possible definition for the word. In other words, the government alluded that anyone could register ‘The Slants’ if they had the right context – or in this instance, if they were of the right race. That’s simply wrong. It perpetuates institutional racism.
I’ve spent almost 8 years in court – almost a quarter of my life – so that I could fight for marginalized communities to have their voices protected. Voices that are often silenced in fear of a football team regaining their trademark registrations. Our obsession to punish villainous characters should not justify the collateral damage that the undeserved experience. Part of taking up the cost was possibly being forever associated with a team who I find disagreeable, but it was for the greater good of justice. Being the target of both white supremacist groups and even a few organizations that normally support my work will all be worth it if it means a more equitable society.
I hope that our case encourages others towards having robust conversations of racial justice in order to create better law.” — Simon Tam, The Slants
The band also released a music video for their song, “From The Heart,” an open letter to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and those who would rather shut down the band’s social justice efforts without actually considering how things might affect their communities. “From The Heart” is the first single off the band’s forthcoming EP, The Band That Must Not Be Named (In Music We Trust Records).
The Slants – consisting of vocalist Ken Shima, guitarist Joe X. Jiang, drummer Yuya Matsuda, and founder/bassist Simon Tam (whose stage name is Simon Young) – are an all Asian-American rock band, located in Portland, Oregon, who formally applied for a trademark in 2010, but a trademark examiner rejected the application, stating that “The Slants” was a disparaging term, using sources like UrbanDictionary.com as evidence. In 2011, Tam filed a second application, but was rejected again under Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act. After numerous appeals and arguments in court, the band finally prevailed on December 22, 2015, with the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruling that The Slants have the right to register their trademark. In a decision with national implications on free speech, the appeals court ruled that the U.S Patent and Trademark Office and Department of Justice violated the band’s First Amendment rights. In a 9-3 vote, the appeals court struck down the “disparagement” portion of the Lanham Act, a 1946 law that allowed the Trademark Office to deny marks that could be considered “scandalous, immoral, or disparaging.” Writing for the opinion, Judge Kimberly Moore stated, “Courts have been slow to appreciate the expressive power of trademarks… Words – even a single word – can be powerful. Mr. Simon Tam named his band The Slants to make a statement about racial and cultural issues in this country. With his band name, Mr. Tam conveys more about our society than many volumes of undisputedly protected speech.”
Michelle K. Lee’s, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) responded by petitioning the Supreme Court on Wednesday, April 19, 2016. Then, on Thursday, September 29, 2016, The Supreme Court agreed to hear The Slants’ (In Re Tam) trademark case. The justices announced on October 3, 2016 that they were declining to hear the Blackhorse v Pro Football trademark dispute, rejecting an appeal from the Washington Redskins.
Of The Band Who Must Not Be Named EP, Tam states, “Working on this release has been an extraordinary process – not only did it involve a new lineup, but we were writing and recording as we were taking the final steps to go the Supreme Court. The songs are extremely timely and appropriate for our trademark case being argued. The EP also reflects our sound evolving, moving from a heavier/dark vibe to one that has much more pop.”
The EP also features “Sutures,” the first acoustic release from The Slants.
“It’s a deeply personal song with the lyrics about losing a close loved one, something that each band member has had to confront in our lives,” says Tam.
On naming the EP, vocalist Ken Shima states, “It’s as if the name was completely taboo while people said, ‘we can still use the name without the registered trademark’,” commenting on the Trademark Office’s assertion that, even if the name is not trademarked, they may still use it. “If we can’t have our name then what else can we do? Just be hushed and pushed away? So even if we censored it, chances are you still know what we’re talking about.”
Of the EP, Shima also comments, “These songs started from an idea and have grown into worlds and moments and memories. Working together with the guys was great, we all came together and we’re proud of this project.”
Guitarist Joe X. Jiang says of the album’s single, “From The Heart,” that “[it’s] about standing up for our voice, speaking from our hearts as rock musicians and calling out a system that resorts to censorship in order to avoid bigger and sometimes uncomfortable conversations. The song wants to say that we are positive in our messages, working hard to represent marginalized communities we come from, and that empowering free speech is the most important thing for the greater dialogue.
“This song should make people feel empowered. And rather than a rebellious way, I feel ‘From The Heart’ is written from a position of responsibility and action. I wanted the words to remind people that there is something oppressive about the system we are living in, but we can do something about it. If what we do is honest and heartfelt, then the results of our actions will only be positive.”
Drummer Yuya Matsuda feels The Slants, the new EP, and especially “From The Heart” can help empower people as well.
“Our name and our message is positive, and not racially disparaging. We all are passionate about social change/justice/equality in this country, and all speak from the heart when writing our music,” he says. “I believe this song gives a voice to the voiceless communities of our country, it’s our anthem for change.”
The Band Who Must Not Be Named contains three other songs beyond album opener “From The Heart” and closer “Sutures (acoustic),” rounding out with “Fight Back,” “Endlessly Falling,” and “Level Up.”
As stated by Tam, the album is a departure from their previously heavier/dark vibe, dropping the synth-driven and punk-attitude of prior release with a more pop focus.
“I love the final mix of ‘Endlessly Falling,’ says Jiang. “It’s so big sounding and very beautiful. Ken’s voice sounds fantastic. It was one of the first piece of music I wrote for The Slants and I think it signaled how our sound could change. Now, hearing it fully realized, it’s amazing! I think The Slants were always a pop band but due to the previous lineups, it had a much heavier sound. With Ken’s style of singing, we are definitely now a pop band and that’s influenced how I write for this band.”
Jiang – and the entire band – are quick to point out that they hope people take notice of the music, and they’re not just the band that is going to the Supreme Court.
“I’m hoping the EP reminds people that we are more than just that band that’s going to court,” he says. “Speaking for myself, I feel much more connected to being a musician than an activist. At the end of the day, after the Supreme Court hearing, I’m going to come home and continue writing songs.”
“As we release this record, we’ll be standing before the Supreme Court,” says Tam. “It’s been an incredible journey – both in terms of our music as well as our legal battle. But soon, we’ll be able to focus entirely on our arts and activism work without the shadow of the Trademark Office looming over us.”
Look for The Slants to be touring and focusing on their music and activism work across the U.S. in support of The Band Who Must Not Be Named this spring, hitting venues from coast to coast, all the while working on finishing up a full-length slated for release this summer.
1/18/17 – Supreme Court (oral hearing at 10am) – Washington, D.C.
1/18/17 – Electric Maid (presentation/concert) – – Washington, D.C.
1/21/17 – Rinku Con at Portland State University – Portland, OR
1/29/17 – Mochitsuki – Portland, OR
3/4/17 – 4th Ave Tavern – Olympia, WA
3/31/17 – Analog Cafe – Portland, OR
4/1/17 – Black Forrest – Eugene, OR
4/2/17 – The New Parish – Oakland, CA
4/3/17 – Fresno City College – Fresno, CA
4/5/17 – Soda Bar – San Diego, CA
4/6/17 – University of Arizona – Tucson, AZ
4/9/17 – The Prophet Bar – Dallas, TX
4/10/17 – Texas A&M University – Dallas, TX
4/12/17 – Siberia – New Orleans, LA
4/13/17 – Swayze’s – Atlanta, GA
4/14/17 – TIPLA event – Nashville, TN
4/17/17 – DC Bar Association – Washington, DC
4/18/17 – Kung Fu Necktie – Philadelphia, PA
4/19/17 – Cafe Wha? – New York, NY
4/20/17 – Union Hall w/Dez Cadena (Black Flag, Misfits) – Brooklynn, NY
4/22/17 – Race + IP Conference at BU – Boston, MA
4/23/17 – O’Briens Pub – Boston, MA
4/24/17 – True Brew – Durham, NH
4/26/17 – Ironworks (PM) – Buffalo, NY
4/27/17- Duquesne University School of Law – Pittsburgh, PA
4/28/17 – Zenkaikon – Lancaster, PA
4/29/17 – Zenkaikon – Lancaster, PA
4/30/17 -Zenkaikon – Lancaster, PA
5/1/17 – CincyIP event – Cincinnati, OH
5/2/17 – CIPLA event – Cleveland, OH
5/5/17 – Walnut Room – Denver, CO
5/6/17 – Why Sound – Logan, UT
5/7/17 – WavePOP House – Boise, ID
5/10/17 – High Dive – Seattle, WA
5/13/17 – Ash Street Saloon – Portland, OR
5/26/17 – Anime Oasis at Centurylink Arena – Boise, ID
5/27/17 – Anime Oasis at Centurylink Arena – Boise, ID
5/28/17 – Anime Oasis at Centurylink Arena – Boise, ID
7/14/17 – Tokyo in Tulsa – Tulsa, OK
7/15/17 – Tokyo in Tulsa – Tulsa, OK