By David Lau
“Daddy always told me only doctors & some lawyers succeed
In what we call the present day
Momma always told me I would never stand a chance in this world
Singin’ my life away.“
Tim Be Told, “Ordinary,” from the album Getting By
Four years ago, Tim Ouyang was just another architecture student at the University of Virginia, feeling the pressure to succeed that many Asian Pacific Americans can relate to. But he put his worries into melodies, writing songs and jamming with classmates. By 2007 he and four friends had completed their debut album, Getting By, a genre-bending medley of soul, rock and pop.
Performing under the name Tim Be Told (a pun on the phrase “truth be told”), the five-man group dominated every scene in which they performed, from the mainstream club circuit (opening for OK Go and Parachute), to collegiate crowds along the East coast, to mostly APA audiences at Kollaboration New York. Now, Tim Be Told is traveling across the nation for its second West Coast tour, cementing its status as a well-loved band on both sides of the map.
On Jan. 20, Tim Be Told came to the University of California, Irvine, for an electrifying concert, one of four California colleges on their tour (the others being Berkeley, Stanford and Loyola Marymount). The venue was a lecture hall, lit with deep red floodlights that seemed out of place next to the wall-mounted periodic table.
But the audience forgot their surroundings the moment drummer Jim Barredo smashed into the first song, “Analyze.” Driven by distorted guitars and shimmering keys, the song’s chorus quickly soared and filled the room, reaching the vaulted ceiling just as Ouyang hit his highest falsetto.
Suddenly, the music quieted and Ouyang’s keyboard went solo, his now quiet voice holding his lyrics dearly, and each word heartfelt: “Hey you, could you analyze my state of mind/what did you recognize?”
Lead guitarist Andrew Chae slowly entered the mix, working his wah pedal with vocal-like soulfulness. With a gradual swell, the band came back in and ended with a crescendo of power chords, keyboard and bass that sounded more orchestral than indie rock.
As the room erupted in applause, my friend turned to me and said, “Man, I like that sound. It has that…that feeling…” He made some quick hand motions.
I smiled and replied, “That punchiness?”
“Yeah! But it’s not too much, y’know?” he said
Such is the magic of Tim Be Told: their ability to navigate highs and lows, driving anthems and poignant confessions while never sacrificing clarity. While some indie bands take shelter in their walls of noise and mumbled lyrics, these guys always keep their music accessible. The band knows how to balance its instruments without overpowering Ouyang’s voice, which has a transparent, R&B feel. Throughout the evening, the band morphed its way through Maroon 5-style funk, Ben Folds ballads, and John Mayer jams. Though the show was held in a lecture hall, the audience lost themselves in the music as they sang along to the rousing performance.
The unreleased song “The Lament” gave an insightful glimpse into want motivates these musicians. Ouyang prefaces the song by explaining how he had been struggling with a vocal cord infection for the last year. Despite the career-threatening illness, he maintained a “defiant hope” that he was meant to keep fighting on and living out his musical dreams.
Much of his songwriting comes out of such optimistic yet vulnerable circumstances, in the hope that audiences will take away more than just a good time. Ouyang and his crew have certainly come far since Ouyang’s days of singing in his dorm room. Tim Be Told is a band to watch in the coming year.
Check out Tim Be Told’s latest album, From the Inside, available on iTunes and MySpace.
Download TBT’s single “Analyze” for FREE here.
Bamboo Offshoot: What can someone expect when they come to a Tim Be Told concert?
Tim Be Told: Our live show is like a story with many movements. We try to take the audience on a ride, from rocking grooves to emotional power ballads. We hope to inspire the audience with spoken word, lyrics, and epic instrumental interludes. If the audience walks away with nothing else, we hope that they leave inspired.
BO: You’ve participated in Kollaboration NYC and many of your fans are Asian American. How does being Asian American influence what you do as a band?
TBT: We don’t really feel like we’re all that different. We all grew up in the US, and we are more familiar with American culture than any other culture. We make music, not Asian music, not Asian American music. It’s simply music. Being Asian American is a coincidence, not an intentional pursuit, and our hope is that music (regardless of who creates it) will cross the lines of ethnicity and social status. However, we are aware that there are some unique challenges in trying to break into an industry that has no significant Asian icons… That doesn’t deter us from our goal of reaching a diverse audience.
BO: You have connections with the Asian American Christian community but also play in
mainstream venues. How does your faith inform your music?
TBT: Our faith influences our music by causing our songs to be about issues that hopefully connect with people on a deep level… We feel that today, many songs don’t really address many of the issues people face and the problems that they deal with on a daily basis. Our hope is that the music we make will influence people in a positive way and bring even a small amount of hope to their lives.
BO: How have you guys grown and developed as a band and in what directions are you moving towards in your future?
TBT: When the band first started out, the songs were more singer-songwriter because Tim had basically written all the songs by himself. Since then, as new songs are written, everyone in the band develops their own parts, adding to the creativity and uniqueness of each song… For the future, we plan to continue writing new songs and touring even more.