Philly’s Asian pop-rock musicians to gather for a slice of Asian American Pie

A concert of local Asian American–fronted rock bands opens AAPI month.

John Faye and Judah Kim

John Faye (left), formerly of the band the Caulfields and the John Faye Power Trip, poses with musician Judah Kim at the H Mart in Cheltenham, a mall chain specializing in Korean shops and food. They are co-organizers of Asian American Pie, a concert featuring local Asian-fronted bands. (Peter Crimmins/WHYY)

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John Faye lives about an eight-minute drive from the H Mart in Cheltenham, a shopping mall and food court chain specializing in Korean goods. He goes all the time.

He says the bibimbap beef rice bowl (No. 37A pictured in the overhead menu) is pretty good. It’s not great, but it’s not bad, which makes it just right.

“I think about the food my mom made when I was growing up. It’s not super fancy,” said Faye, 57. “There’s a restaurant on the other side of this parking lot that’s a little more high-quality, culinarily speaking. A little fancier. But this feels very much like home to me.”

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It was at the H Mart about a year ago, over sizzling stone bowls of rice and beef, surrounded by side plates of various kimchees, where Faye and fellow musician Judah Kim hatched the idea for Asian American Pie, a concert of local bands fronted by Asian Americans at World Cafe Live in West Philadelphia this Saturday.

The concert is pegged to the start of Asian American Pacific Islander Month, which Faye believes could use a little rock and roll energy.

John Faye will perform in Asian American Pie, a concert featuring local Asian-fronted bands, which he co-organized. (Photo by Randi Anderson)

“They tend to be very, I’ll say it: boringly cultural,” Faye said. “We wanted to have something fun that’s attached to that heritage month.”

“It’s usually very academic with lots of tradition and history,” Kim said. “And that’s all important and it has its place. But what I love about this is that it’s the marriage of us being here and our interpretation of an American-slash-European art, which is rock and roll music.”

Faye is almost famous. In the 1990s he fronted a pop-rock band from Newark, Delaware, the Caulfields, which signed to A&M Records and had a minor hit with “Devil’s Diary,” a song that got widespread radio play and was seen on MTV.

Shortly after the band’s second album “L” was released in 1997, the Caulfields broke up. Since then Faye has stayed in the game with bands the John Faye Power Trip and IKE, various solo incarnations and as a producer-for-hire.

Last year he published a memoir, “The Yin and Yang of It All,” about growing up a mixed-heritage, Korean-Irish kid in Delaware, and navigating a rock and roll scene where he was often the only one who looked Asian. He did not want to flaunt it.

“I had grown up in an atmosphere where you’re either invisible or you’re a target,” he said. “When I got the opportunity to have my music heard on a national stage, all I wanted was to be accepted and to fit in.”

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“Over the years I’ve been very inspired to see greater representation by Asian American people, more so in film and TV, but obviously artists like Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast,” Faye said. “But when we were thinking about what it’s like here in Philadelphia, it’s still pretty scarce.”

The Beau Frères, fronted by Joseph Kim (right) will perform in Asian American Pie. (Photo by Sal Armetta)

Zauner, who started Japanese Breakfast in Philadelphia, wrote the bestselling memoir “Crying in the H Mart” in 2021, in part about the death of her Korean mother. The title references the same H Mart in Cheltenham.

Throughout Faye’s musical career, the emergence of K-Pop out of Korea has become a global phenomenon, but he doesn’t care for it. The beat-driven dance music is light-years away from his Beatles-infused power pop. But Faye appreciates what K-Pop has done for Asian visibility in pop culture.

“I might not like every Korean show on Netflix,” he said. “But I do know that it’s a good thing they exist.”

The lineup for this weekend’s Asian American Pie will be Faye and his four-piece band, Kim with his moody pop, the band Beau Frères led by Kim’s brother Joseph and Filipino-American singer-songwriter Alyssa Garcia, who was once a student of Faye’s.

The lineup also includes Moonroof, a Philly band Faye stumbled upon by chance at Underground Arts in Callowhill. He knew nothing about the band beforehand and was taken aback by the stage presence and voice of Dave Kim.

“They are a very high-energy, modern kind of band,” he said. “You could picture them playing stadiums very easily.”

“Every time I meet an Asian artist it’s, like, ‘Wow, that guy’s Asian.’ It’s so cool,” Kim said. “But we operate like islands. I love to bring us together more, see who else is out there.”

The Asian American Pie concert will be performed at World Cafe Live in West Philadelphia on Saturday, May 11 at 7:30 p.m.

Saturdays just got more interesting.

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