With his slight, 5-foot-10 frame tucked into a plaid shirt and jean jacket, dark-rimmed glasses on his face, Jimmy Hua could easily go undetected in any crowded bar, even though he's holding a glass of water instead of whiskey. But the minute he straps on his guitar and steps up to the mic, everything changes. Armed with the electricity pulsing from the wires of his amp to the vibrations in his vocal chords, Hua jolts OC's rock scene into attention.
Picture a young, Vietnamese Jack White raised on a diet of sunny-weather suburbia and Beatles, and you've got an idea of why Hua matters. He still remembers the first time he heard "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," spinning it repeatedly on the family record player. His mom, a Vietnamese singer, would play plenty of Motown and old rock & roll in the house, but this record spoke to him in a way nothing else could. "I kept playing it over and over until my siblings got mad at me and were like, 'Why are you still listening to old people's music?'" the head of Big Monsta says.
To this day, his nasally growl carries a hint of that inspiration. The band's budding discography—including a full-length, two EPs and two singles recorded at his drummer Mike Willson's MAPS recording studio—is a testament to the endurance of rock in OC, where the scene has gone through its ebbs and flows competing for fans with ska and punk.
At Huntington Beach High School, Hua met Willson and bassist Adrian Sanchez in a music class. They played showcases together, learning full Beatles songs to play for hundreds of people. It was here where Hua's chops and love for bluesy, stripped-down rock & roll became his calling.
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Over the past five years, he has spearheaded Big Monsta's growth, winning over fans in OC, even a few bigots who didn't understand the concept of an Asian guy singing in a rock band. "I've come into instances where I play shows and a white guy comes up to me and goes, 'What the hell is this chink doing here?'" Hua says. "But after my set, I come back out, and the same guy comes up to me and says, 'Dude, you play fucking well.' And I'm like, 'Cool, all you had to do is listen to the goddamn music.' I'm not accepting it, but I'm trying to deal with it in my own way as positively as I can."
Though Hua is proud to be an OC musician, he's even more excited to embark on the band's first national tour, bringing their blues/rock blend to areas such as Austin during South By Southwest.
"I don't think we've discovered our own true potential yet, as far as our audience," Hua says. "My brother said to me once, 'Dude, your fans aren't even born yet.' But that got me thinking, 'Man, what if our biggest fan base is in South America?' We just have to go down there and try it a couple of times to see what happens."