The Definitive Patrick Lew Band Biography

PATRICK LEW BAND - Artist Profile

GENRE: Garage Punk / Electronic / Rock
AUDIENCE: Punk, Fans of non-formulaic music
LOCATION: San Francisco, California, USA
YEARS ACTIVE: 2001 - present
STATUS: Home recording / Occasional live shows
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To describe Patrick Lew Band is to describe a phenomenon in the unsigned music world that many musicians have experienced but that this one artist exemplifies. It is the world of the underground celebrity. The presentation of a musical vision to a smaller audience, but with no less heart then that of a rock legend on a world wide stadium tour.
We spoke to the titular front man, and today we'll be taking a closer look at a singer/songwriter with an online following, lots to say, dedicated musical collaborators and a somewhat relatable story. There may not be paparazzi hiding in the bushes, but Patrick Lew Band has found it's very own brand of celebrity along the way.
The sound of “PLB”, as it is more easily referred to, is immediately and obviously routed in Californian garage rock. From the jangling, frantic guitars that seem to channel the Beach Boys and Grunge in unison, all the way to the punk era vocals that swoon with more heart and feeling then concern for the stricter rules of melody.
On the musical side PLB has some interesting features which we will delve in to more later, but firstly let's look at the “who” behind the “what”.
Patrick, himself, is an Asian American living in San Francisco and recently put out both the album “Oakland”, the latest in a considerable discography, as well as an EP “Cold Sirens” and a compilation of 16 years of studio room floor cuttings and demos titled “HiStory”. The only thing as prolific as his musical output is his social media statements, usually talking about both his feelings on music and about his ethnic heritage, an important part of the “Patrick Lew story”. As he has even gone as far as DNA testing to demonstrate, he is proudly 100% east Asian, breaking down to 66% Chinese, 25% South East Asian and some other assorted elements. This being said, it's more of a social thing than a musical one as there is no doubt that his style is very American, and very Californian.
Veering heavily away from the sharp precision and possible over-efficiency of many Asian groups (even the punk ones), Patrick approaches from a more chaotic stand point that avoids the rules as much as possible in favour of experimentation. This both gives him a unique sound and possibly an alienating quality to many listeners who are hit with waves of experimental reverb production and a flavour for chaotic pacing over strict tempo adherence.
We asked: You have been quite outspoken about being a self made musician and not steering towards any formal training. I do agree that often the "university student" school of music writing is rather formulaic, but you seem to have gone for the antithesis, a very rough and ready sound. Do you feel that's an important part of what Patrick Lew Band is? I didn’t really have formal training as a musician. Just a few guitar lessons from a guitar teacher when I was 14 and that’s about it. I mostly taught myself how to do everything in regards to music. I’ve read books, magazines and watched YouTube to learn how to do the things I do. Whether it was intentional or not, that’s a good question. But I wasn’t intending the way the things sounded generally speaking. It all came by trial and error. It just so happens some time during the mid 2010s, things caught on for Patrick Lew Band. I started playing more shows and some people began putting the music out there online. And that’s how I’ve managed to achieve the small things I did. Blood, sweat, tears and hard work I’m assuming?
It's a modest answer but one that speaks to most unsigned musicians. Learning is something any musician does in there own way and with the intention of getting them to a place that they are happy with. As Patrick said, PLB also perform a slow but steady list of performances at bars and clubs to average size crowds. Despite having backing members in PLB previously, the band now operates either as Patrick alone on guitar and vocals and with the song backings, or him playing with his collaborating members from sister band “The Verse”. Still, there is always a feel that when Patrick is on stage, it is the Patrick Lew Show.
PLB obviously carries your name at the helm. Do you feel a pressure in being very much underground but also trying to be a stand out front man? No, not at all! I try to blend a perfect marriage between the two for sure.
So, many of us have passed that dreamy age of wanting to be TV friendly 20 something celeb rockers, so what do you think the priorities are when you find your place instead as a solid member of the underground scene? I’m basically at that age where I’m like fuck it! I’m doing what’s good for me and I define success as something totally different from what the traditional music industry portrays it as. The Internet definitely made it easier for many bands to sustain a music career outside of the traditional music industry that’s always been cliche so to speak.....I just ask for the simple things when it comes to accomplishing my goals in music. These days in the age of streaming, digital and the internet, you can be your own rock star online and locally on your own terms. It all boils down to how much drive and determination you guys have!
In a world where the traditional music shop and the record companies of old have, all but, faded in to the background, Patrick makes a very good point. Everyone is a celebrity on their own level if they want to embrace it.
So we had a look at some of the albums which brought Patrick on this journey
Digging through the myriad of recordings by Patrick and his various affiliated artists, the oldest full recording I could find was 2010's bizarrely named “Let It Rise And Against”. The sound is pure garage punk experimentation but with that new generation feel that, rather than a tape deck, this was recorded on a basic computer set up. The album is peppered with samples and loops that sit between Patrick's central contribution of thrashing riffs and unrestrained vocals. Like with much of Patrick's work, the parts of the music sit together in the loosest of ways and what you really get is more of a wall of sound than individual songs. It's not the easiest listen, but the lyrics remain consistently heartfelt, leading to something of a problem. On the less effective side of the album there are tracks like “Free My Soul” where the message in the lyrics is somewhat overshadowed by the music being disjointed and never really setting out a clear melody. On the better side though, songs like “Little Miss Preppy” have a feeling a chaos but also direction. Honestly, for an album in which Patrick is trying to work out his direction, it's just simply a bit too long and a bit too low on consistency despite some highlights.
When most artists start, it's that experimental phase that often yields some of the best and the worst work, and that seems to be a phase Patrick Lew was still passing through with this album.
2011 sees the PLB experiment move on to their “Murder Bay” record. The front man explained this is the most favourable with many of his listeners and I can kind of see why. The sound is still the chaos which I suspect provides much of the enjoyment for his listeners, but there is more of a solid backbone to the songs now. The drum sampling is solidly used, the vocal melodies make more sense with the rhythm guitars and the PLB signature solos are as often in time as they are avant garde. The experimentation becomes more productive with dabbling such as pitting his free spirited vocals against an autotune filter to interesting affect on “The Social Network”, shifting tones mid song on “Let This Change Ignite” and going for jangly 60's guitars on “Compromiser”.
Once again, the PLB taste for non-conformity and chaos will alienate some, but this is a much more palatable album even if you skip through some tracks and favour others.
Continuing the one-a-year album cycle, 2012 saw “The Fall And Rise Of An Anti-Hero”, which Patrick recorded with his backing arrangement The Steel Lions. Patrick explained to me that this project was a reaction to something of a fracture in his usual circle of contributing musicians.
It certainly was a great chance to get back to experimenting in new sonic directions and has that exuberant unrestrained air about it all over again. Presented as a single 26 minute track washed full of samples, heavy atmospheric production and total non-formula, it's something you would never expect to see on a record store shelf. That said, you can imagine being urged to put it on by a friend in a smoke filled room, if you know what I mean.
Along with the rock vibes that underpin your sound, you do often incorporate elements of electronic music and heavy production as well. Are you a fan of any electronic music and do you want to experiment more with this in future? I think the future is in digital music. And electronic instruments definitely made up for the lack of a live band putting parts together in the home studio. I do listen to electronic music, especially video game composers from the Chiptunes era and Jim Johnston. You know who Jim Johnston is right? No actually, can you tell me? He composes all the theme music for WWE wrestlers. I think electronics definitely did help augment and polished up my sound as a musician. I use Logic Pro X to compose on an old iMac. I am pretty sure, I might experiment more with it. Not too long ago around 2012, I was in a one-off band called The Steel Lions and me and David from the band put together an avant-garde dubstep/prog-rock sound collage called Taiwanese Rebels. I believe David from PLB had something to do with the direction into using electronic instruments considering the absence of a live band of good players. He was into the whole EDM and rave thing, so that definitely did help too!
Patrick explained that this album was constructed partly from original recording, partly from googling license free samples and partly from picking at songs he knows and loves. This totally home made approach leads to what is probably the best of his works in my mind. It may not necessarily by a “PLB” album so to speak, but what it instead does, is cut through to who he is as a person, and shows all home studio musicians that one thing that is often forgotten in their attempts to make a commercially viable “product”. Patrick is showing here, simply, how to enjoy making sound. No songs to make in to singles, samples that probably make it uncopyrightable, a total disregard for genre. It's a refreshing listen, if, as ever with PLB, you can stomach this much chaos.
So we jump forward to early 2017 and the “Oakland” album. By this point we see him comfortable as the sole member of the band which carries his name.
A totally instrumental guitar number starts us off, it's notably rather unexperimental in nature, pushing ahead with simple strumming and pounding drums but no lead or vocals. When the second track hits we're in a totally synthesiser arranged electronic piece however. It's already clear that each songs has been given it's own very separate identity. “Oakland” is a more designed and deliberate album then the ones before it. There are punk songs like “Fuck Boy”, there are interludes like “Autumn Shade!” there are electronic numbers like “Little Seoulja”.
“Oakland” shows Patrick hitting that phase many musicians do when they become aware of the formula they have made for themselves and start to use it more mechanically. This is not to say it is a bad thing. It is refreshing that this album has several instrumentals and a tighter sound overall, but it certainly serves up less big surprises.
So it seemed like a good idea to get to know a little about how Patrick felt about his position in the music scene.
You've committed a lot in to being a long standing member of the underground music community. What first made you feel this was what you wanted to do with your life? I came from a nurturing yet slightly difficult upbringing. Growing up in the 90’s, I was mostly interested in professional wrestling and TV as a source of comfort. I was always into rock music growing up, my mom grew up in the 1960s as a teenager listening to The Beatles, Rolling Stones and all that. Since I was a huge TV person as a kid. Keep in mind, I didn’t have very many friends growing up and I was always indoors on my days off school because my parents were often working on the weekends to support me and my brother. I often watched MTV and VH1 on cable, back in the days where they actually played music related things. That’s how I got into rock music pretty much. I grew up listening to a lot of the 80’s and 90’s hard rock and alternative such as Nirvana, Guns N Roses, Metallica, Pearl Jam, U2, Green Day, Oasis, Van Halen and many many more. I also grew up listening to Vinyl records from my mom’s favorite rock bands from the 60’s and 70’s as well. When I was in middle school and 11 years old, I met a fellow punk kid in my class named Spencer and he turned me onto the punk thing. I was a dedicated athlete up until I was 12 or 13 years old. Injuries kept me away from playing sports. One day, my mom began taking me to rock concerts like Limp Bizkit and Silverchair. Watching those bands play onstage was like the coolest thing ever! I’ve read the success stories of all my favorite bands growing up. And when I was in 8th grade or beginning of high school, I got a guitar for my birthday and music became what I wanted to ever since!
In your writing online, you've shown your love and understanding of the rock music scene and your musical inspirations. What do you think sets you apart from the artists you admire and gives you your own identity? I try to blend all the things I was inspired by. In the old Patrick Lew Band records, I was mostly playing a lo-fi brand of punk rock and indie music. As I got older, I’ve grew to appreciate more of the music from my youth because I was so jaded about what was going on at the time. My goal for the Patrick Lew Band was to blend the 80’s and 90’s rock music that I grew up loving with the lyrical themes and attitude of punk rock. But I get a little versatile when it comes to playing and making music. I invested my money from college into home recording gear and basically taught myself how to do everything! That’s how I experimented the way I did on the recordings. I think how The Beatles concentrated on studio recording inspired me to do the same. In the age of social-media, I felt whenever I didn’t need to play a show or go on tour, records and putting myself out there would be the key to keeping my fans updated.
If you could have played in any of those acts which you admire, which one would it have been? That’s a tough question. I would have loved to played as a side man for Guns N Roses or even contributed to grunge bands like Nirvana or Pearl Jam. A tough question to answer indeed!
Now, you speak a lot on social media about your complicated ethnic background. Do you think that this is something that exists in you to the point that it styles the music you make, or do you feel it is more of a social barrier which may stop people taking your music the way that you intend it to be taken? It’s hard to say. I’m second generation Asian-American of Japanese and Chinese-Taiwanese descent and some of my struggles ethnically and socially does interplay with the music I make. There’s not really a lot of Asian-Americans in mainstream music in the United States, unless you mean Steve Aoki. Being both Japanese and Taiwanese had its ups and downs growing up for sure. And there’s also a lot of society pressure in Asian-Americans to fulfill the status quo and what is expected of us. A lot of the lyrics I write deal with the pressure and struggles of being this Asian kid from San Francisco but it could also mean more in a universal level. My intentions was to make music that anyone who has ever felt awkward and out of place can relate to supposedly. The music industry is pretty cut throat, but sometimes you just gotta make the best of it and do what makes you happy and rest on your laurels once you’ve start accomplishing something!
After all this time, what is your proudest achievement as a musician and a songwriter? Well. I won the 2016 award for best Experimental Rock song with the Akademia Music Awards for the Patrick Lew Band song Game Changer. I’ve never won anything before prior to that in regards to music. Around this same time, I was starting to play shows again as a member of my band TheVerse and with Patrick Lew Band of course. Good thing was around that same time as well, I was able consign a few Patrick Lew Band CDs to get sold at Amoeba. Which is considered one of the best indie record stores here in California. I think 2016 was a turning point for my indie music career where things started working well for me in a small way. I was playing guitar, doing home recording and pursuing my passion for 15 years up to that point but 2016 and 2017 was really when things started looking up for me! I mean, during the early years of PLB’s run. I did sign with Statue Records when they emailed me about distributing my music through my old Soundclick page back in 2004 or 2005. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a legit thing. But yeah man, 2016 was considered the first time when Patrick Lew Band started getting out there and becoming sustainable. While that’s not MTV worthy or mainstream success in regards to the music industry, that type of indie success still sounds good to me! I’ve also recorded close to 300 tracks during my music career, most of which came from Patrick Lew Band. I’m just that productive when I’m in the home studio. Whenever I have an idea for new music, I just jump right on it! Like plug my guitars and microphone into my laptop and start making shit, you know! I think another big success as a musician was working with Janny and David in the band TheVerse. That was probably like the first stable and steady band I was a part of, and we played a couple shows so far. You can probably find the videos on YouTube! Speaking of TV, I was made an Ambassador for Antennas Direct some time during the mid 2010s. They make digital TV antennas and home theater stuff for America and Canada. I did one of their events in San Francisco Chinatown and made a few televised appearances in regards to my contributions to humanity! Giving free TV to the underprivileged Asian-American community where I’m from away from the cable companies. Hahahaha.
Well, you've made your mark, made your sound, released several recordings, where do you want to go next? What is the future that you want for yourself and your music? I’m pretty sure I will keep Patrick Lew Band going for sure. Until the day I die, that is. I still want to record and play shows with PLB but also continue working on music with Janny in my other band TheVerse as well. I just want to become more successful with what I do, make a sustainable living with what I love doing and make my mark in rock music once it’s all said and done. So I don’t have to work a day job from 9 to 5 again. Hahaha. I want to expand Patrick Lew Band globally and make sure it becomes one of those things that made an impact. Whether it’s rock music or with other people. I am not asking to become as famous as Green Day or Metallica were. But I can certainly be happy if I made some sort of impact with my music so to speak on a global level. I think despite what other people think or have said about me in the past, I’ve certainly done something with my life and with my music that accomplished something at least. Even if that’s a niche thing or on a smaller level. Hahahaha. Because of my mixed Asian background, maybe I can be a Goodwill Ambassador between foreign relations regarding Japan and China perhaps? I also probably want to act in a film or TV show as well maybe. But we’ll see what’s up!
This is where Patrick Lew is, and always will be, a positive sign of the condition of the unsigned musician. It's fair to say that he may never become a super star, as his sound is simply too personal and too far from the popular music formula, but he will always enjoy it. Patrick always shows signs of hope, and when hope fails he relies on ambition. Patrick is an outsider, but it is what gives him his purpose as well. I think those who listen to his music sees this above all else. The maddening passion for being a rocker, speaking his words, or just simply being the Patrick Lew he has created. This is one of the underground acts I feel most confident in saying, will always be around in some capacity and will have passion for it all the way.
Howard Billington
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