No-No Boy’s new song “The Onion Kings of Ontario!” debuts today

No-No Boy’s new song “The Onion Kings of Ontario!” debuts today


August 15, 2023—“The Onion Kings of Ontario!,” the new song from No-No Boy—the acclaimed musical project of Dr. Julian Saporiti—is debuting today alongside a new music video. Directed by Saporiti and his wife, Emilia Halvorsen Saporiti, the video is a tribute to a specific archive of Asian American home movies shot in Oregon by the Tsuboi family between the 1920s and 1960s.

The song is the second unveiled from No-No Boy’s anticipated new album, Empire Electric, which will be released September 29 via Smithsonian Folkways Recordings (pre-order/pre-save here). Produced by Saporiti alongside his wife, Emilia, and Seth Boggess, Empire Electric was inspired by Saporiti’s time at Blue Cliff monastery in upstate New York. A period of raw reflection and healing, the visit allowed Saporiti to open himself up, both mentally and musically, leading him to experiment with the American folk sounds, Asian instruments, electronics and field recordings that became Empire Electric. Across these 10 tracks, including lead single, “Mekong Baby,” Saporiti explores his own identity as a Vietnamese-American, while also examining the complex topics of spirituality, intergenerational trauma and imperialism—creating stories based on his own research as well as archives, oral histories and site visits. 

In celebration of the project, Saporiti will perform select shows this fall with stops Tacoma’s Spanish Ballroom, Portland’s McMenamin’s Mission Theater and New York’s Caveat. Ticket details can be found at

In addition to Julian Saporiti (lead vocals, instruments, programming) and Emilia Halvorsen Saporiti (lap steel, harmony vocals), the record also features P.T. Banks (harmony vocals), Hamilton Berry (cello), Diego Javier Luis (spoken word on “1603”) and Kristin Weber (violin, vocals). 

Empire Electric is a wandering; a letting go. A search party. For sounds, for history, and for self. It is a coming back,” Saporiti shares. “If you find this music to your liking, I invite you to settle in with good headphones or a stereo and listen closely to all the sounds present, to unravel them, to take time, to breathe, and hopefully to listen beyond even the music, to yourself, to the world around you, to history, to your community, to nature.”

Of “The Onion Kings of Ontario!,” Saporiti shares,
“I met a man named Jim Mizuta a few years back when his family asked me to interview him about his time in a Japanese internment camp. He had never talked about that part of his life, but for some reason, with three generations of his family gathered around, he opened up. Whenever I was in the area, I would pay Jim and his wife, Martha, a visit, catch up, and break bread. On one occasion, my wife Emilia and I joined them for worship at their Buddhist temple. It was deeply moving, a kind of American spirituality that felt comfortable to my Vietnamese-Tennessean worldview.
I wrote this song shortly after, about Jim’s community: salt of the earth folks remaking themselves, centering their spirits, and doing their best after being knocked down with such state-sponsored humiliation. Jim passed away earlier this year, so this song is very much dedicated to his memory and his quietly remarkable life. He was an onion farmer in Eastern Oregon, who raised a good family, who happened to have gone through something really terrible.”

1. The Onion Kings of Ontario!
2. Nashville
3. Mekong Baby
4. Western Empress of the Orient Sawmill
5. Jakarta
6. Nothing Left but You
7. Little Monk
8. Sayonara
9. Minidoka
10. 1603
September 20—Tacoma, WA—Spanish Ballroom at McMenamin’s Elk Temple
October 4—Portland, OR—McMenamin’s Mission Theater
November 7—New York, NY—Caveat
Raised in Nashville and now based in Oregon, Saporiti has spent his career bridging the gap between art and scholarship, creating projects that evoke difficult conversations about culture and identity. Empire Electric is his third release as No-No Boy, following 2021’s acclaimed album, 1975—a central component of Saporiti’s Ph.D dissertation at Brown University. Of the record, NPR praised, “one of the most insurgent pieces of music you’ll ever hear…an act of revisionist subversion,” while American Songwriter called it “insanely listenable and gorgeous” and Folk Alley declared, “a remarkably powerful and moving album.”
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings is the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian Institution, the national museum of the United States. The label’s mission is to document music, spoken word, instruction and sounds from around the world, continuing the legacy of Moses Asch, who founded Folkways Records in 1948. The Smithsonian acquired Folkways from the Asch estate in 1987 and Smithsonian Folkways Recordings has continued the Folkways tradition by supporting the work of traditional artists and expressing a commitment to cultural diversity, education and increased understanding among peoples through the production, documentation, preservation and dissemination of sound.