Gerald Ko | “Be disciplined & spend a lot of time doing what you want to do”
If you’ve been to the San Gabriel valley area there’s this place called Half & Half Tea House that serves amazing honey boba that melts in your mouth! During one of our boba runs, the OA team met up with Gerald Ko also know as singindork888 on Youtube. Gerald is one of those multi-talented guys who writes, sings and plays original songs. In addition to making time to collaborate with other Asian American talents like Arden Cho, Clara C and Jasmine Rafael. We broke bread (or rather bricktoast) over how at a young age music was always a constant in his life, whether it be through singing or playing instruments. Oh did we mention Gerald is also a full time pharmacist by day?
- What takes up most of your time right now: Work (currently I am a full-time pharmacy services administrator that manages a drug budget for the County of Los Angeles’ mental health department)
- Guilty pleasure: Del Taco – on Tuesdays, it gets even guiltier
- Favorite color: I don’t have a favorite color actually…
- Relationship status: “None of yo’ bidniss”
- Pet peeve: Slow drivers, oh man
- Favorite food: Chipotle, plus some In N’ Out and Chick-fil-A
- What you look for in a girl: Girls who are feminine
- What kind of car do you drive: White Lexus IS 250
- Can you speak/read/write Chinese: I can speak Cantonese – I know the same amount of characters as Karen Zhou (which is only the characters “big” and “people”)
- Favorite shoe: Chucks because they’re so comfortable
- Fun fact: I almost went to jail, but I ended up working on the freeway instead. Let’s just say, I was a very bad driver once, but it did NOT involve drugs or alcohol.
- Funner fact: I’ve had two cars stolen from me – one was a Honda Accord and the other was a really busted up car. All that was left of the little Honda was the shell – everything else was stolen and probably sold for parts. I guess the other car was so crappy that they didn’t do anything and basically just gave it back to me without stealing anything. Plus, my cars have been broken into about four times, all near were I live. Everything happened within a span of 5 years, from college at UCLA through pharmacy school at USC.
- Funnier fact: When I was little, my grandparents and my dad would always have an 8 on their license plates. I guess it’s a Chinese thing; I think the number 8 stands for prosperity. My Grandpa always had “888” and my dad’s car had one 8. When it came to choose a YouTube username, I first picked “Singindork,” but that was taken. So it was kind of natural for me to add an 8 and when that was taken, I tried 88, but that was taken too. I ended up with “Singindork888.”
- Funnest fact (Gerald’s life is so interesting that we had to press him for more stories): When I was a little kid, I always wanted to be a spy. I would set up booby traps all over the house, with fishing line and random buckets filled with annoying things that would fall on my family’s heads when they walked in through a door or something. I also had walkie-talkies that acted as secret monitoring devices. I was also a major Pyro guy; in fact, I almost burned down the house once. And I would always get in trouble too for doing the dumbest, stupidest things, whether at home or at school. I got in fights at school [laughs]. I was the only Asian kid, a really small guy, and I’d get into full-on fights, but I had this group of white friends, who would always back me up and beat up the other white kids.
OA: How did you start singing and YouTubing and why?
GK: I used to randomly sing just walking home from the bus stop when I was in high school just because I always liked singing a lot. Well actually, I liked singing way back in third grade. I tried out for the Chorus at school and got in, but, when I went to the first meeting, I saw there were about 40 girls and I was the only boy. I didn’t want a bad reputation and I didn’t want my friends to use that to pick on me so I quit the Chorus that day. But I’ve always liked singing – I don’t know what it is, I just think it’s really fun.
I began YouTubing in 2008 after I noticed that a ton of people were doing it. Again, I thought it would be fun to see what it’s like and I liked the idea of hearing what other people would be able to tell me to improve. I liked their input and their critiques. So I started with “Singindork888” as a random screen name that I didn’t think too much about, but, as time passed, it started sounding stupid and I tried to think of different names. I didn’t want to use my own name because, well, I think it’s stupid too [laughs]. I thought of “Afraid of Everest” and used that for a bit, but then I began thinking that’s kind of stupid too. So now, I’ll probably continue to be known as “Singindork888.” For the record, “Afraid of Everest” does not exist!
OA: We know that you love singing, but how do you practice your music to continually improve?
GK: I took piano lessons from the age of 7 to about 12 and, honestly, I don’t know why I quit… I guess I just didn’t like it that much. But then I met a friend in high school that was this amazing pianist that I began playing again on my own. I stopped after I started at UCLA because they didn’t have a piano I could use.
I still don’t even like to say I play real instruments because I don’t consider myself good at them yet. I guess I can play some piano, obviously, strum along on the guitar and bass and beat some drums, but not very well. I was pretty much forced to take on instruments at my old church because they didn’t have anybody who could play on Sundays so I don’t exactly have a favorite instrument, either. I did, however, recently trade my TV in for a drum set so I’m hoping to get better.
As for singing, I don’t do practice that much. I’m actually very frustrated with my vocal capabilities. I pretty much just sing in the car and that’s all I do as far as practicing goes. It’s really random also – I don’t have any particular genres that I stick to. Everybody seems to think my music has a country twing to it, like a mix of a whole bunch of different genres, plus some country vibe. No vocal lessons for me; it’s just listening to myself sing along in the car and trying to improve. That’s what I’ve done all my life.
OA: You do a lot of covers, but also write a lot of original pieces. What has been your favorite to write and are you currently working on any songs?
GK: I really like some of my newer songs that I haven’t put up on YouTube yet. I’ve been writing a lot over the last year. A lot of times, I get inspired by stuff that I think about lying in bed, which actually happens a lot. Then I just think, “Oh, crap, I have to get up now and write it down.” Overall, this whole thing has been a real learning process and I feel that I’m enjoying my songwriting more and more.
For my last song, it’s pretty rock-based, I guess. You know, I’ve always wanted to be a rocker and have a voice I can really scream, like 3 Days Grace. But anyways, I hope to release that song soon, but I’m also learning how to produce better by screwing around and adjusting the program. I no longer want to do videos of me just sitting and playing – I want to do something that sounds and looks decent so I have to master producing before I can put some more originals up. I’m also trying to learn how to pronounce Chinese correctly. I’ve tried to sing some Chinese songs, but hopefully I’ll learn how to do them better this year. I’ve got some upcoming projects too, including more originals, and, this year, I’m probably going to be collaborating with a lot of people that I’ve wanted to work with. Personally, though, I’m not pursuing anything much in music because I know I can’t quit my job – I’ve got student loans to pay off, you know. I do music on the side, but purely for fun and I don’t make any money at all. I do it when I hear a song I really like and I really want to be able to provide music for people who actually listen to me.
OA: So then what are you listening to now?
GK: I really like music that has meanings and emotions to them, something that conveys a message. I don’t like songs that talk about clubs, dancing and girls because they just don’t have a message. Like no, I don’t brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack – I brush my teeth with Aquafresh, thank you very much. I’m drawn to very tonal music, like Coldplay and Jason Reeves (I’ve been listening to him a lot more recently). I just like the feeling and style of singer/songwriter music.
OA: What’s a day-in-the-life-of being you?
GK: It’s really boring, to be honest with you. I wake up and go to work, where I work 40 hours a week and have been working since 2002. It’s a simple, stable job, kind of like what your typical Asian would choose to do. Nobody forced me to go into it; I picked for myself after talking with somebody I knew in the field and I’m pretty happy with that choice (Gerald’s family is quite in touch with the medical field actually – his father works in a medical device company and his younger brother is an anesthesiologist). Then, I’ll just go home and maybe eat a little snack. I can’t cook very well so I either go out to eat with friends or just stay at home with a bowl of cereal (his favorite cereal is Honey Bunches of Oats). I spend a lot of time doing nothing on the Internet, like watching a lot of Youtube videos, but I don’t play games. I’m really lazy and it’s hard for me to get myself to do stuff so, if I have enough energy, I’ll record some music after work, but I mainly record on weekends. Sometimes I’ll have gigs, but I don’t like to take out vacation time for them so they usually happen on weekends, too. I do a lot of weddings in pretty much every single wedding venue around here, including the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which was pretty cool
OA: How much do you identify with your Chinese versus your American side? What does it mean to be Chinese American to you?
GK: I don’t really know – I only know that I’m Chinese American. I was born and raised in America, the first generation to be born here. I’ve never been fully Chinese and I’ve never been fully American and I don’t think I can ever be purely one or the other. But Chinese Americans are a very unique group of people in the world and it’s like a whole culture within itself. I feel very proud to identify with being Chinese American because I feel that we played a role in bridging a lot of things. There are a lot of challenges – it’s not an easy society to manage through, but it’s a unique place to represent and evolve.
OA: What do you think about the Chinese being considered “model minorities”?
GK: I think that it’s actually starting to equalize, slowly and surely. I feel that the first generation to make the move from Asia to America was conservative and strict at first because they’re trying to adjust and become accepted. But, once that generation is gone, the next is more easygoing and encouraging of trying other things. As the years go by, the next generation of Asians may not be known as “model” minorities anymore as they become more normalized and accepted.
It’s just like this Youtube thing – I’m extremely proud of all the Asians who are doing it because they are unknowingly changing how Asians look to all cultures. People from all different countries are watching Youtube and Asian YouTube stars have tons of fans that are not Asian. I see other people doing really well, like nigahiga, who is singlehandedly changing the view of stereotypical Asian man, and I am proud that he’s doing that. They’re reaching a younger generation through YouTube and, by doing so, they make a lasting impact for the rest of history, even more so than actors in major TV shows that reach out to an older audience. It’s actually YouTube and Disney, these younger shows, which are changing the perspective because they attract elementary and junior high kids. These kids form a new view of Asians in the world and that opinion will never change in their mind. It is amazing for me to see fans in line and so many are non-Asian fans. It’s really, really good to see that because the whole stereotype is essentially gone. I mean, Asian guys are never exactly portrayed as “hot,” but now, just because of Youtube, some of them are seen as really cool and talented and they don’t need Hollywood to do it because kids are watching YouTube more than TV and movies. That’s why YouTube is so great – it’s completely free and there is no “big boss of the studio.” You don’t have to fit a certain mold and I respect these YouTube stars that are pursuing this full-time. They are all on their own, letting people speak for themselves. It is a really powerful thing.
OA: Any last words of wisdom?
GK: If you want to succeed in something, don’t be like me. Be disciplined and spend a lot of time doing what you want to do. I’ve seen so many people succeed, not because they are awesome and super talented, but because they are disciplined and that is what’s important.
Interview by Karen Zhou
Photography by Melly Lee
Edited by Melly Lee
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