Born Robert Choy, Big Phony is a singer/songwriter born and raised in New York City but based out in Los Angeles. His newest EP release, "Smoking Kills" is a stripped down and more focused version of his debut album "Fictions & Other Realities." Off stage Big Phony is simply known to his friends and family as "Bobby."
Hey Bobby, good seeing you at the show. Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into music?
Hi, my name is Bobby. Born and raised mostly in New York City. I'm Korean-American by heritage. Started pretty late when it comes to any thing musical. I first gave song-writing a shot in Junior High and High School. I was God awful at it but I found it more exciting than studying at the time so I just kept at it. About a thousand songs later I still have far far to go. I like beer.
Who would you say are your biggest influences? Who would you consider your current favorite artist?
My biggest influence would have to be my older brother Eddie. I remember him getting his first guitar when I was around 12 and he was 15. He made it clear to me then that if I ever touched his guitar I would forever regret it. Because of my competitive and rebellious nature at that age, I was determined to get a hold of it as often as possible and practice in secret. One day my mother noticed that I was getting better than Eddie so she took the guitar away from him and gave it to me.
Favorite artist at the moment is hard to say. I haven't really come across anyone I've been excessively fanatical about. I do like Sufjan Stevens. Jose Gonzalez is another one. Anthony Bourdain.
What were your inspirations behind the sound of your music?
My mother was very religious and took us kids to Church every weekend so earlier on I was learning and playing a lot of gospel songs. I listened to a lot of Keith Green's music, who I learned later before his passing was good friends with Bob Dylan. Unfortunately, the first time I listened to a Dylan album (Freewheelin' Bob Dylan) was in college. Better late than never I guess. Dylan has been influential as well of course.
It was in college that I was first introduced to the music that I consider to have influenced me most as a songwriter today. Like Bob Dylan, it was the first time I heard a Beatles album, Nick Drake album, and the list goes on. I like to consider myself a "late-bloomer" in many respects, especially as a musician because of these late encounters. NPR.
I know you're in LA right now, how is it over there. Is there a different vibe performing over there compared to New York?
New York generally is a tougher crowd. Not necessarily a bad thing but it takes a while longer to get comfortable on stage there than anywhere else. But, I'm completely attracted to the music scene in New York and can't keep away. What's the saying, "if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere?" I like to think I'm staying afloat in New York so I'll continue to go back as long as they let me. Honestly, I'm more myself here in Los Angeles though.
In New York, I can't help but think that I need to impress the kind of people who've "seen it all" living where they live so I better not waste their f-ing time. Sorry if that seems unfair to say. Maybe I say that because I'm from there as well. In Los Angeles, it's easier to recognize that people who come out to the shows are a more laid back crowd. More audience interaction occurs in LA as well. That can sometimes be fun.
Do you feel being Asian makes it harder to break into the American music industry?
I do think that the difficulty exists but it depends on where exactly you're trying to get to. It also depends on what genre of music we're talking about. Each has its own set of rules and obstacles I guess.
I think there are also valid points to discuss if you are actually talented at what you do, but if you aren't, the reason why it's hard for you to break through is not because you're Asian, it's because you suck or need to get better. Figure that out first and don't blame the color of your skin. Surround yourself with people that will be honest with you so you know what you have to work on, or if you're simply just wasting yours and others time. With that said, I still have lots to work on.
Personally, breaking through to the mainstream is not on the agenda for me at the moment. I think for most artists it shouldn't be. Being faithful to your craft should be paramount and remain a vital focus if you want to take yourself seriously. If it isn't you're setting yourself up for failure.
What are your thoughts on the future of Asian artists in the American music industry? Will we ever see one break into the mainstream?
The growing number of Asian artists out there is a sign that Asian-Americans are more comfortable with taking chances on different artistic paths such as music or acting, which normally aren't expected of them. The more people that try the better chance there is we'll see a greater Asian-American presence in the "mainstream". I think it's already happening.
I really like your promotional artwork. Who come up with the concepts, like the bag over the head? Is there anything symbolic about the images?
My good friend Brian Won is responsible for nearly all the Big Phony artwork. Chances are you've seen his work and that of his company's (National Television) somewhere on TV, in print, or in a music video. The bag over the head was actually a concept Leny Chun came up with who also is an artist we consult with. Nothing outright symbolic I guess about the images but I will say that I prefer having them over actual photos of myself.
So what can we except to see from you in the future? Any projects in the works?
I should be releasing a couple home recorded demos in the next few months. They're just songs that haven't been released that I recorded at home on a cheap mic in my room, or in the kitchen. I'm hoping it will promote a certain authenticity in imperfection. A new studio recorded album was recorded this past year as well which should also be released early 2008.
Where can people find out about your future performances and buy your music?