Photo by Walter Wlodarczyk
Out of all the Bay Area music projects I’ve found out about in 2015, South Bay’s Try The Pie has to be one of the most meaningful to me. Bean Tupou’s way of connecting their personal emotions and stories through music successfully allows anyone to listen and feel welcomed, but especially queer femme POC. Bean gives us all a home to rest, but opens this home with wide doors to all who feel homeless and underrepresented in indie music and society.
Bean is not new to the indie music or DIY scene. They have been involved in making it a better place for those that needed it for a while, from being a part of Think and Die Thinking to being in twee-punk bands like Sourpatch. With Try The Pie, we get a deeper more intimate connection and reflection, especially through the recently released compilation of early recordings Rest.
When Rickshaw Stop announced that Different Fur Studios were going to be hosting a show with not only PWR BTTM and Dude York, but also Try The Pie, I knew this would be one of those events that I couldn’t and would never stop talking about. So I decided to talk to the people making it a reality. First off: Try The Pie.
The Bay Bridged: This project tends to be a lot more of a solo effort, which is always a braver approach to music. What was the motivation to start Try The Pie and make it a reality?
Bean Tupou: Try the Pie was a place to put all the songs I wrote and wouldn’t use for other bands. I started this as a teenager and since it existed before any projects I’ve been in, the motivation was simply to start a structured thing and have a format for writing songs. I didn’t really imagine that it would evolve with me and eventually become a more serious musical effort.
It has become my primary source of writing recently, beyond poetry, prose or even instrumental music. The words and music go hand-in-hand with Try the Pie and it is something I like to express my truth through — I think that’s the main motivation.
TBB: Your music always had a lot to do with identity and the feelings we all tend to lock away. The music video for “Root To Branch” deals with these and cultural identity. How does culture fit into your music and what you want to do with it?
BT: I recently listened to this talk James Baldwin gave to teenagers at Castlemont High School in Oakland on June 23rd, 1963. In the speech he is asked by a student if Black folks in America should “learn African history and culture to gain pride, dignity and strength so that when
James Baldwin responded by saying, “Find out all, you can, but don’t find it out with the intention of proving a point. Understand this: there is no reason for you prove yourself to anybody but yourself. When the world talks about culture, understand this: it is not talking about culture, it is talking about power.”
Listening to his words gave me a broader perspective on what culture means to me. Culture is a kind of weapon, as my friends in the band Downtown Boys would say, you can use it to protect you. I also believe it is a torch to gain visibility, it is there to remind us of who were are in times we feel we have lost fortitude. It is a vehicle for sharing and maintaining a narrative that may not get told otherwise.
TBB: Lately, I was talking a friend about representation of women of color in the indie and DIY scene. How we both relate to musicians like Adult Mom and Frankie Cosmos but there was an obvious separation, they were white and we were not. Then you and Try the Pie came up and we both agreed that seeing you do what you love and write music we could relate to on multiple levels was something that gave us hope and inspiration. What do you think of the representation of WOC in DIY and indie?
BT: Representation and visibility are things I think about daily, being Tongan-American, being gender non-conforming, being assigned female at birth. There was a point in my life where I figured out I was navigating a multitude of spaces very postured and that takes a lot of energy.
I know talking about it helps, sharing my story and feeling at home in the fact that, even if my identity is somewhat unrelatable to people in my daily life, I can stay connected to those who empathize with and share my history. I really want to put to rest the idea that a space I inhabit defines who I am (i.e. spaces seemingly dominated by white folks or men) and I want to be empowered in knowing that, because I inhabit a space, it has now changed. A space changes when you inhabit it and that is what I think of people of color/WOC in indie music.
TBB: Are there any bands you want me and everyone reading to go check out?
BT: So many! I’ll limit it to, what I would consider, the “indie-punk” spectrum for the sake of space: Great Hart, Sorry Not Sorry, Soar, Downtown Boys (Providence), Aye Nako (NYC), Vagabon (NYC), Younger Lovers, Fleabite (Philly/NYC), Bascom, Tallcan.
TBB: What is next for you in 2016? What do you dream to achieve this year?
BT: I am planning to tour the East Coast in late April with Great Hart who is also from San Jose and then fly over to the UK for a thirteen day tour with Two White Cranes, I am so excited about this.
Try the Pie is in the process of writing another full length that we hope to record in late spring/early summer 2016. I am having a lot of fun visualizing that.
TBB: Tell us about the Think and Die Thinking collective and what DIY means to you.
BT: Think and Die Thinking is a collective and we put on a yearly music and culture fest in San Jose, CA. It’s all grassroots organized and funded by benefits we have, we volunteer our time to make it happen. All the proceeds from the fest go to touring bands and The Billy Defrank Center (where the fest is held).
Think and Die Thinking was born out of a need to manifest a reality that we did not see actualized yet and it worked. I suppose “doing it yourself” is aligned with the idea of cultural empowerment for me. It’s about knowing that if you do not have options presented to you that fit your identity, you have the power to create those options for yourself and others like you. Telling your own narrative and creating your own reality is vital to the survival of marginalized identities.
TBB: Finally, are you excited for the show with PWR BTTM?
BT: Yes! So excited to see both PWR BTTM and Dude York. Also, I love Different Fur Studios (who is hosting the show). An old band of mine, Sourpatch, recorded one of our full lengths there and it was a great experience.
PWR BTTM, Dude York, Try The Pie
January 25, 2016
8PM, $10 (All Ages)