Run River North rocks St. Louis and Kollaboration

Most independent bands only brush through the Midwest on tour, usually stopping in Chicago before moving onto bigger cities, so I couldn’t believe when Run River North decided to stop in St. Louis.

Run River North came to my neck of the woods last August as part of their headline tour around sixteen U.S. cities. In between New York City and Madison, Wisconsin, came their show in the ‘Lou. They played at a venue called Off Broadway; one of many, many concert dives in the city. Off Broadway features a full bar (where I ran into singer Alex Hwang before the show and took a selfie), a tiny stage about a foot and a half off the floor, and a small balcony for people to sit with their drinks while escaping the raging mosh pit of thirty rocking out on the floor. These tiny rock clubs make St. Louis one of the best cities for local concerts because people can stand two feet away from the band. And standing two feet away from Run River North was awesome.


The six band members —  Alex Hwang, Joe Chun, Daniel Chae, Sally Kang, Jennifer Rim, and John Chong — came out on stage and immediately launched into “Monsters Calling Home,” kicking off an amazing show. They had solid vocals and harmonized with each other and the instruments to sound just as great live as on their album; a rare feat in today’s auto-tuned world. They jumped around the stage, talked to the audience, shared the stories that inspired songs, and looked like they genuinely had a good time. Some of them weren’t wearing shoes, which entertained me, though at Off Broadway they probably should have kept them on. Run River North played their entire album, a cover, and an exclusive song off the vinyl edition, full of energy despite their jet lag after flying into STL earlier that morning after playing a concert in LA.


Run River North joined Kollaboration Star 2014 at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre on November 15. Not only does Run River North consider LA home, but they also know their way around a Kollaboration show. They performed at Kollaboration LA in 2011 under their previous name, Monsters Calling Home. The band met in their church after Hwang wrote the song “Monsters Calling Home” and passed it around to the others members to perform with him. Once Kollaboration LA came up, they auditioned and became the city finalists for Kollaboration Los Angeles 2011.

Though the band did not win that year, they didn’t let the loss get to them, and Monsters Calling Home continued on. In 2012 they caught Honda’s attention for a “Fight to Keep” music video shot entirely in the band’s Hondas, and gained over 200,000 views. The car company called the band in September 2012 to perform for Honda executives, but on arrival at the venue, the band was told the concert was cancelled.


Instead, the band was booked to play on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” Cameras captured the band’s surprised and touching reaction, and on Oct. 26, 2012, Monsters Calling Home made their television debut. Unfortunately, after “Jimmy Kimmel,” the major record labels previously interested in the band decided to move on. Not letting another letdown defeat the group, they decided to focus on songwriting and building a local fan base in between part-time jobs and continuing school. They sold out the famous LA concert club the Troubadour by the time CEO Terry McBride of the Canadian label Nettwerk, who also signed the band fun., called and offered to sign Monsters Calling Home.

Just before releasing their debut album, Monsters Calling Home announced a name change partly in response to indie band Of Monsters and Men’s recent success with “Little Talks.” Then on February 25, 2014, Run River North debuted their first album of the same name, “Run River North.”

“[The new name] describes the different ranges of our music,” Kang, the keyboardist, explained in a June 2014 interview with Audrey Magazine. “From being laid-back and letting our harmonies shine through, like in ‘Growing Up,’ which represents the steady flow of a river, to being as crazy and loud and thrashing as some of our other tracks that are a little more rock-ish, which portrays a rushing river.”

Wishing the best to an incredible band, and thanking them for visiting many smaller and often overlooked cities including my hometown St. Louis, where I was able to catch one of my favorite live performances ever.

Photos courtesy of Run River North and John Xiaomeng Zhang.

Interview with AJ Rafael: on YouTube, new collaborations, and audience chemistry

AJ Rafael is a popular singer-songwriter, with over 550,000 subscribers on YouTube. He was one of the guest judges at Kollaboration Star 2014. He has released two EPs, “Juicebox” in 2010 and “Beautiful Escape” in 2013, as well as an album, “Red Roses,” in 2011. In June, he announced in a letter published on New Media Rock Stars that he would take a hiatus from live performance in order to reassess his path in music.

Kollaboration recently caught up with him about his hiatus, current projects, and strategy for judging the contestants of Kollaboration Star.


It’s been about six months since you announced on New Media Rock Stars that you were going to take a hiatus from live performance. How has that been for you so far?

I took my very first “vacation.” It was the first time that I got to travel not for a show or any kind of other business, like no meet and greets or anything. That was in New York.

Since taking a step back from live performance, have you learned anything new about yourself that you didn’t know before?

I think right now, I’m still at the beginning of it, but it’s given me a lot of time to reflect and appreciate what I’ve done so far, but also explore other things that I haven’t been able to do in music – like theater, specifically musical theater, and collaborating with other artists that I didn’t really have time for because they lived out of state. I’m planning a lot more trips and collaboration with other YouTubers.

Also, hopefully I’ll audition for shows in New York or LA. I’m going with the flow instead of having a schedule for my next show. I’m always worrying about the next show and I’m tired of doing all that stuff for now. I’m not sure if I’ll get back to that anytime soon, but I gave myself a year from when I started the hiatus. I announced it six months ago, but I officially started it September 6th. I gave myself a year from that to figure it out and hopefully come back with maybe a new sound or maybe not come back until after that and try something really different. There are so many possibilities that I can discover during my hiatus.

When performing live, it’s important to have that chemistry with the audience.

In your letter, you talked about how maintaining your status as an independent artist has gotten increasingly difficult over the past few years; with YouTube becoming more mainstream, cover artists becoming more of a trend, and the pressure to meet expectations like getting a certain number of views or filling up venues. Do you have any thoughts on how this will change over the course of the next few years?

I talked a lot to people at YouTube and I have expressed my concerns on where it’s going – specifically the YouTube Music Awards; how last year it was very mainstream. I think that YouTube audiences knew that they were trying to enter into a mainstream audience, when YouTube’s audience is not a mainstream audience. I think that YouTube now is doing a better job at showcasing and highlighting creators who use YouTube as a platform for their art and for their skills, and not just people who happen to have covers of mainstream artists.

YouTube is doing a lot for creators. I know that intention is in the right place, but I do also realize that they need to adhere to or basically listen to the money that’s being spent on them. I know that they’re probably caught up in a vine. My hope is that we will see a lot more independent creators being featured. I’m not sure if that’s going to be anytime soon, but hopefully, in the next few years, it does.


Have you been working on any projects recently? You and Dante Basco were collaborating to make a musical based off of your “Red Roses” album prior to Typhoon Haiyan hitting the Philippines last year. Are you two planning to take up that project again?

It’s kind of tough to say with “Red Roses” because a movie requires so much money – it’s a lot of money to me. I guess in the movie world, what we were asking for was $75,000 – it’s not even a lot. It was tough to know that we didn’t get enough funding for that so unfortunately, that won’t be happening anytime soon. But I’m still working on other stuff. We’ve been working on this thing called We Own The 8th (#The8th or #WeOwnThe8th) which is a collective movement for Asians to release their content and collaborate with each other. We meet every 8th of the month in downtown LA. There are other movements that I’m working on currently. There are other projects – really collaborations with some people that I’ve never got to collaborate with. I’m collaborating with my friends the Gardiner Sisters and just making some music.

Kollaboration’s goal is to not only highlight up-and-coming performers from the AAPI community, but encourage people to pursue their goals and dreams. What was your perspective on being a guest judge at Kollaboration Star?

I haven’t judged before. I have been part of Kollaboration as a guest performer and contestant. One of the biggest things that I was afraid of was getting the judges to like me and trying to impress those judges. For me, what I watched out for was how they connected with the audience. It’s not about the judges at all; it’s about the artists and their connection and their ability to show their art to an audience. I just want them to be themselves. Everyone can sing nowadays and everyone can put a cool YouTube video up. But when performing live, it’s important to have that chemistry with the audience.

Photos courtesy of Chasz Everet, Melly Lee, and Felicia Tolentino.

Jenny Yang, Kollaboration Star 2014 co-host, talks Asian American activism, comedy, sexuality, and more

Jenny Yang is a comic, writer, and the producer of the Disoriented Comedy tour. She shared with Kollaboration her thoughts on being an Asian American woman in comedy, sexuality, how Asian Americans can pair arts and entertainment with activism, and more.

On audience reception to the Disoriented Comedy tour, and why she decided to start the tour:

“Honestly, how often do you get to see a bunch of Asian American comics on stage, right? …Old institutions just don’t handle us anymore. If we want to do things our way, we have to create our own thing. …Most of the people who come to our shows, who are mostly Asian American and younger, they wouldn’t typically go to a mainstream comedy club.”

“People who are down to be on stage or do visual arts or write plays: we are trying to create a forum for ourselves.”

On roadblocks Asian Americans face to being more involved advocates about sexuality and gender:

“When you’re an Asian American kid, and maybe you’re an immigrant or a kid of immigrants, sex doesn’t exist, much less sexuality. We have to fend for ourselves as young people to figure out what anything is.”

On how Asian Americans can use their art to challenge stereotypes:

“To me, it’s completely subversive just to exist as a woman or an Asian American in stand-up comedy with a microphone in a position of power. …People who are down to be on stage or do visual arts or write plays: we are trying to create a forum for ourselves. 

Whenever you see mainstream media or entertainment news try to cover us, they don’t know what to do. When America’s Best Dance Crew happened, all of a sudden they’re like, ‘Who are all these Asians who know how to dance?’ People freak the f*ck out. When Jeremy Lin showed up, they’re like, ‘How do we talk about him?’ 

America just needs to be educated about how to talk about us with respect and dignity. We are the ones as creatives who are going to tell our story.”

Photo courtesy of Jenny Yang.

Join the Movement – Kollaboration 2015 Global Staff Recruitment

What does it take to put on a Kollaboration? It takes a team of special individuals who come together to create something truly amazing. From producing exciting live events, to creating dazzling pieces of digital media, Kollaboration Staff members are constantly working on something impressive, and ultimately important.

After all, Kollaboration teams are on the ground supporting Asian American communities all across the continent, highlighting the diverse talents of our community while empowering our youth to pursue their passions! Now in our 16th year, Kollaboration is poised to grow again in 2015, and we’re looking for new team members to grow with us!

If you currently live in one of our recruiting cities, now is your chance to become an official part of Kollaboration! We’re looking for students and professionals experienced in (or interested in) production, marketing, public relations, graphic design, video, and even web development to help bring Kollaboration into the next level.


Here’s what current Staff have to say about their experiences:

“The profound and humbling feeling of fulfillment knowing you made a meaningful impact in the community, whether it’s through artist empowerment or staff mentorship. That is the Kollaboration experience to me.”
Eunice Jang, Kollaboration Chicago

“Kollaboration truly opened my eyes to Asian American culture and allowed me to explore my identity as an Asian American… I’m amazed by the powerful network Kollaboration represents, including successful and famous entertainers who are at the forefront of this electrifying movement. I truly feel a part of the Kollaboration family.”
Ted Yu, Kollaboration Dallas

“Prior to joining Kollaboration I was taking a year off from school and working a job in order to find out what I wanted to do. After joining Kollaboration I was surrounded by business professionals and college students that wanted to make a difference. Because of Kollaboration’s network I was able to gain an internship at one of the best media companies. My experience as a Programming Associate has really put me [on] the front line when running events and promoting. I am happy to be with this family for my 3rd year.”
Jonathan Saquisili, Kollaboration New York


Ready to join the Movement? Find your city below and fill out a staff application!
Kollaboration Atlanta
Kollaboration Chicago –
Kollaboration Detroit
Kollaboration D.C.
Kollaboration Honolulu
Kollaboration Houston –
Kollaboration Los Angeles
Kollaboration New York –
Kollaboration San Francisco
Kollaboration Toronto

There will be an official announcement later, but we are currently seeking founding members for a new team in Austin, Texas
Kollaboration Austin

The following cities are not actively recruiting, but you can inquire about volunteer opportunities
Kollaboration Boston –
Kollaboration Dallas –

Don’t have a local Kollaboration team in your city but still want to get involved with the Movement? Email us at!

Photos Courtesy of Kollaboration New York, Kollaboration DC, Kollaboration Boston, and Kollabortion STAR

From Coast to Coast: Capturing the Journey of Alfa

Vincent Van Gogh once said, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”

If my memory serves me right, the first time I saw Alfa perform was at an open mic in our native New Jersey. The Garden State lived up to its moniker, cultivating a diverse lineage of musicians: home to R&B legends The Fugees and Whitney Houston, to rock royalty the likes of Bruce Springsteen and (my all-time karaoke favorite) Bon Jovi.

It was 2004, my sophomore year of high school. I recall walking down the steps to a local church basement. While the room was cold and damp, the energy was warm and exciting. Christmas lights adorned the ceilings. The aroma of burnt coffee and Philippine baked goods permeated the room. Albeit my first open mic, oddly enough, it felt like a homecoming.

True affirmation would take hold as I eagerly awaited the show. A pleasant surprise to say the least, these were people that looked just like me, creating the music I wanted to listen to (and ultimately create myself). Among those performers was John-Flor Sisante, with shades of Ben Gibbard’s lyricism. He was indie before indie was in fact… indie. Jay Legaspi, with the musicality of Mraz and Mayer. Matt Sia, whose folk and classic rock stylings invoked a timeless sound. And among these standouts, stood the only girl on the lineup. With short, almost pixie-like hair. Acoustic guitar in tow. She surely held her own, and then some. Truly memorable to say the least.


Alfa began her musical journey at a young age, with an unbridled passion for classical. She would soon find solace through the piano and violin, influences that can be heard throughout her discography. Upon reaching high school, her grandfather would give her the guitar which would shape her very first songs. (Some of these songs are still my favorites tracks; Meaningless Conversation and Footnote bring me back to my college days in an instant!)

This new venture would continue to grow throughout school and beyond. After earning a degree from NYU, multiple musical releases, and countless performances, Alfa would soon take her trajectory westward: Los Angeles, to be exact. While some may see this as a drastic change or cultural stretch, she embraced the similarities wholeheartedly. The big move for her was a means to step back, reflect, and reassess: something she claims all artists must do. “[Artists] understand the importance of processing experiences,” she said. “Not just living life, but having that takeaway. And building something from there.”

Like many of today’s top Asian American performers, Kollaboration has held a near and dear part of her history. One of her first performances in Los Angeles was at Kollaboration 10, which featured the acclaimed win by fellow singer/songwriter Clara C. Years later, Alfa sees Kollaboration as a central hub for Asian American entertainment. “It’s become more of a support system, but with national reach. The alumni have become more like a fraternity of artists, with new friends and talent every year!”

“You don’t find success if you’re trying to fit into a very specific mold. Success is beyond what’s monetary. It comes from your own personal reward and fulfillment.”

As our conversation came to a close, Alfa offered these wise words of advice for aspiring artists. Coming from a small scope and even smaller town, she described the importance of paving your own path and developing your art forward. “You don’t find success if you’re trying to fit into a very specific mold,” she said. “Success is beyond what’s monetary. It comes from your own personal reward and fulfillment.”

Alfa and I have had the pleasure of sharing a musical friendship, spanning almost 10 years in the making. Her musical journey has been a patient one. A big undertaking. A gradual chipping away. Taking her from coast to coast. From The Highline Ballroom in New York City to The Troubadour in West Hollywood. And it’s sure been a beautiful thing.

FOR FANS OF: Ingrid Michaelson, Sara Bareilles… and all things Indie, Pop, Folk

PERFECT FOR: Early morning flights to LA, people-watching as you pass terminals

Tune in to Alfa on Matt Pana’s LIKEWISE Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher Radio and!

Photos courtesy of Wonho Frank Lee and Rosana Liang.

Break it down: DANakaDAN

Editor’s note: This post was written before Kollaboration Star 2014 and has not been edited for time continuity.

Dan Matthews, also known as the rapper DANakaDAN, is a very busy man. He was only available for an interview at 10 pm, so of course I stayed up until 1am EST to interview him over the phone.

“Lately it’s been pretty busy,” he said on his way home from the San Diego Asian American Film Festival. “We’re in the middle of a big campaign for my job and my schedule is really unpredictable.”


Aside from his usual daily schedule, the alternative rapper is performing this Saturday at the Los Angeles Wilshire Ebell Theater as part of Kollaboration Star 2014 for its 15th anniversary. Kollaboration Star features six different performances from winners all over the U.S. who won their city’s individual Kollaboration Showcase. For their wins at home, the six finalists then go to Star to compete for $10,000 and be judged by singers Marie Digby and AJ Rafael, along with actresses Samantha Futerman and Ally Maki. Actor Jimmy O. Yang and comedienne Jenny Yang are hosting the show and many Kollaboration alum will join Matthews, including indie band Run River North and singer-songwriter Alfa.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun being able to play with a full band, and it’s not just me [performing],” he said. “It’s really important [that] when I did this show it wasn’t just going to be my performance, it’s going to be myself collaborating with a bunch of other amazing artists.”

Those other artists include Chucky Kim, Sam Kang, Travis Graham and Matthews’ friend Victor Velasquez. Matthews considers them amazing musicians on their own, and after collaborating with them in the past on some songs he looks forward to doing a show together at Kollaboration.

“If I didn’t have this way to express myself, I don’t know I’d be able to express it any other way…”

Off stage, Dan Matthews is the director of productions at ISAtv, meaning he produces all content on the channel. But to him “you just do whatever you need to do in order to make the company survive.” At ISA Matthews develops content, builds connections with the Asian American community and tries to find stories people want to hear and see brought to life.

“I really love working at ISA,” Matthews said. “I think that we’ve been able to develop a really amazing platform to really [be] able to create a place where people can come and find content that they can relate to and stories that are special to our community. And because of our connection to the community, we’re able to find really interesting, really cool people that support us and collaborate with us. So it’s provided a lot of really interesting experiences.”

His co-workers at ISA also support and empower DANakaDAN, giving him the chance to stay creative on the side. He’s met a lot of people, both as DANakaDAN and Dan Matthews who help both ISA and his rapping. There’s a bit of conflict of interest between focusing on his talent in front of the camera, and behind the scenes.

“It’s challenging sometimes, but for the most part what I’m doing at ISA makes me a more creative person,” he said. “It helps the passion that I’ve got for being Dan aka Dan, and vice versa.”


His passion for being DANakaDAN and hip-hop began in his junior year of high school. It provided a creative outlet for a bored teenager, and “bored teenagers need ways to get their emotions out and find ways to be able to express themselves.” Writing, rapping and performing became Matthews’ outlet because he found it an interesting and unique way for people to express themselves and became drawn in.

“There’s something special about people that are able that are able to express themselves through rap and lyricism that I just think is really special,” he said. “I think that the stories you can tell with rap are, at least to me, a little bit different stories you can maybe tell through other forms of music. I’m a better storyteller through rap than I would ever be through any other forms of music.”

Hip-hop isn’t the only musical influence to Matthews’ sound, evident on his debut album “Stuntman” released earlier this year. Matthews had already been writing the songs the year before, after his trip to South Korea and meeting his birth family inspired the album. They began recording in November 2013, then finished the mixing and mastering four months later. Listening to “Stuntman” from start to finish, he includes many different genres to tell his story.

“I’m a big fan of rock, or alternative-infused hip-hop, and so it definitely started off just being alternative rock, really, really dark type of direction,” he explains. “[Then] I realized that, especially after I came back from Korea, I didn’t have a lot to complain about. I had a lot to really celebrate so I found ways to work with a lot of different people to produce a lot happier type of music.”

He also became a fan of electronic music and it helped inspire him and include a combination of both genres to create a more positive feel in the second half of the album. Through the album, Matthews talks about a lot of personal topics, saying he finds it easier to explain himself about embarrassing or personal topics through his music and writing.

“If I didn’t have this way to express myself, I don’t know I’d be able to express it any other way, so it became a very important part of me,” he said.


He also takes comfort in knowing listeners relate to him and his experiences through his music, especially the inspiration for “Stuntman” and “aka Dan”, the ISA documentary series: Matthews’ then-recent trip to South Korea, where he was adopted from as a baby, to meet his birth family. A very personal topic, Matthews originally didn’t want to film it, but decided to in the end because he knew if he didn’t he would regret it.

“It was something that was worth filming and taking that risk to be able to capture,” he decided. “It was definitely a big risk, but I’m really happy that it paid off.”

Since its March release, “aka Dan” has reached over 40,000 views on YouTube. The music videos for “Stuntman” and “Is There Anybody out There?” have reached 78,000 and 15,000 respectively. [Editor’s note: these numbers have significantly changed since the writing of this article.] Matthews has been featured on the November 2013 cover of KoreAm magazine and invited to perform around the country, including Kollaboration D.C.’s city showcase. He hopes to get conversations about adoption going, and encourages adoptees to find ways to talk about their experiences.

“I think that it’s important to find ways to be able to express yourself,” is his advice. “I think that the issues are different, between different people, depending on how they were raised or how they grew up, or what the environment is. But there’s a lot of things that we think about that other people don’t have to think about, and that having a way to express yourself is very, very important. Whether it be sports, art, teaching, just finding a way that you can find a way to be able to feel like you’re being heard about whatever issue it is that you might have.”

Photos Courtesy of Dan MatthewsDavid Kong, Wonho Frank Lee, and John Xiaomeng Zhang.