For Kenton Chen, growing up wasn’t a walk in the park. As a second-generation Asian immigrant (who also happened to be gay), he was put in the awkward, mildly (or maybe not so mild) terrifying situation that a lot of us teenagers deal with today: learning to drop the mask act and deal with who we really are.
Growing up with a predominantly jazz / a capella background, his style progressed naturally into the indie / neo-soul music he’s known for today. Bridesmen, the stage name for his newest project, is all about exploring human nature and embracing the values that Kenton wants to put forward into the world: the importance of being a good person despite the fact that the world might ostracize you (such as bridesmen at a wedding).
I was recently given the amazing opportunity to chat to him about Bridesmen.
“Overwhelm”, your newest single, has a very important and relatable concept about battling with our emotions. Do you have any advice for a teenager who might be reading this and is struggling to deal with their emotions?
I think the first thing I would say to them is, You are not alone. I know it seems super simple, but honestly, that’s all I really wanted to know back then. Growing up is complicated, confusing, and heartbreaking, but everyone goes through it in their own way. Talk about it with other people was the biggest relief – even if they don’t quite understand, getting those words out are therapeutic. I am a huge advocate of writing my thoughts down, especially to music :).
On the same wavelength, growing up as a gay, second-generation Chinese immigrant must have been quite the experience. Can you tell us a little bit about that part of your life?
Oh boy, was it isolating! I had great friends, really, I did; but there was always something that set me apart, whether it was my sexuality, ethnicity, gender, or whatever. I never realized it then, but it was exhausting to always have to explain the context of an experience I was relaying. I just wanted to tell someone about some “lightly racist” thing (like someone asking me what Asian I am) and just have them go “OH GOD ME TOO.” Even typing this out right now, I’m debating whether or not I need to provide more context for what I’m talking about.
Do you have any advice for teenagers who are confused and/or struggling to come to terms with their sexuality?
When we say it gets better, we mean it. Despite the craziness on the national level, we have come a long way as a society, and there are cities filled with people just WAITING for you to come find them. So, feel your feelings, take care of yourself, and start learning life skills as quickly as possible. Like, skills that will get you jobs so that you can be financially independent. There is nothing more empowering and freeing than being able to handle/make your own money.
You’ve had amazing success with your music career so far. Tell me, what was it like performing with Katy Perry and Mary J. Blige? How did all your star-studded performances come about?
They’ve all been really amazing experiences and I’m so grateful to be a part of their teams. People like Katy Perry and Mary J. Blige – they operate on a level that is so efficient that we need have everything performance-ready so that the artist can step in, do their thing, and then move onto the next project, which is probably the very next day. The singer community is relatively small; I sang with someone years ago that became a great friend of mine; she later became part of Katy’s team, and then when they needed more singers, my friend recommended me for the job. As another friend of mine puts it, everything leads to everything; I’ve gotten a lot of performance opportunities based on relationships I made when I was first starting out – I’m talking coffee shop, singing to five people gigs, where one of the people in attendance became a music producer years later.
How do you start writing your songs? Is there a particular process involved?
It depends on the song. Most of my songs start off as an idea, or a feeling. Sometimes it’s a hook, sometimes just a phrase. Then I obsess with it until I get something written out with chords. And then I forget about it. If it comes back to me, then I work on it again. To be real, I write a lot of crap stuff! But it’s a muscle – sometimes I land on something I love, and then it ties into something else I love, then something else, until it becomes a full song.
What is your favorite part of performing?
There are moments in each performance which I momentarily forget where I am – it’s like time stops still, and I can see every person’s energy as it reverberates into the room around them. It sounds crazy, I know! But it’s that incredible moment, when I’m being the most honest, raw, vulnerable, that I truly feel like I’m a vessel for something greater than me. That is why I perform.
Do you have any new music coming out soon?
I do! Just listened to the final mix today. I’m so excited to share it.
How did you transition from your background in jazz/a cappella to indie neo-soul?
It was a natural transition. Jazz/a cappella will always have a place in my heart – I still do it, though not as frequently, but in terms of what I wanted to say and who I wanted to reach, I realized that the music I listen to and connect with the most is indie and neo-soul – so I started working with producers that already exist in this realm and brought my songs to them.
If you could collaborate with one other musician, who would it be and why?
I only get one?! I’m getting all sweaty just thinking about it – I would LOVE to work with Janelle Monáe. I just respect her so much. I’ve loved her since Tightrope, Electric Lady, ArchAndroid – her art is SO important – subversive, powerful and visionary, and she’s had that since day one. I remember watching the music video to Cold War and feeling my heart drop. It would be a DREAM to work with her.
Featured image courtesy of Mora May Agency