Creative Asia Interview about "Phantom Pop Star"
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Interviews and Reports
BY AURÉLIEN FOUCAULT
As Beijing indie rockers, Hedgehog, are about to release their latest album with Modern Sky this month, CREATIVE ASIA catches up with the trio about the album, Phantom Pop Star, their influences and plans for the year ahead.
Hedgehog are ZO (guitar and vocals), ATOM (drums and vocals) and FUN (bass).
Hedgehog’s studio is buried inside an underground parking lot somewhere on Ande Lu. I was scheduled to meet with them sometime between 7 and 10pm and found myself standing in front of a big iron door, covered with rust and Hedgehog stickers. Fresh sounds filled the corridor. To avoid interrupting them in the middle of a song, I decided to wait for it to end before knocking on the door. The song was brilliant, both atmospheric and very melodic.
A security guard passed by, intrigued by my presence. He stared at me and then looked at the door, standing next to me. After listening to the tune for a minute, he grinned: “That’s some really good music!”
ON THE NEW ALBUM
CREATIVE ASIA: You’ve just started a tour taking your new album on the road, how has it been received so far?
ZO: Yes, we’ve done two shows now: Fuzhou and Xiamen. It was great. I’ve seen some comments on Weibo and people seem really excited about our new stuff. We haven’t put so many new tracks online, maybe only three tracks out of the ten that are on the album so for most of the songs, it was the first time that the audience had heard them. So they are talking online about the songs they had never heard before.
That’s good sign for us that they want to talk about it.
They said the melodies were good…They couldn’t really comment on the lyrics because they had a hard time hearing them.
CA: So, when I asked ATOM about the official release date of the new album, all she said was “Very soon”. Can we now break that secret and announce a real date to the world?
ZO: Yeah, the exact date is April 20!
CA: This album will be your…seventh?
ZO: No, the sixth. We had Happy Idle Kids, Noise Hit World, Blue Day Dreaming, Honeyed and Killed and Sun Fun Gun. DEstroy meMOries was a demo, most of the tracks ended up on Sun Fun Gun. It was the first thing we recorded with FUN, so this album [Phantom Pop Star] is going to be the second with the current line-up.
CA: Can you tell us a little bit about the new album Phantom Pop Star? What should we expect? How does it differ from your last album Sun Fun Gun?
ZO: Yeah, if you compare it with Sun Fun Gun, there is a big difference. Sun Fun Gun was really noisy and we made this one pretty Lo-Fi. Most Chinese students didn’t really like SFG, they found it too noisy. It was a bit experimental and they’re not used to this kind of sound. But Phantom Pop Star is more pop and maybe more psychedelic. I use a very clear guitar sound, almost no distortion.
ATOM’s sound is also very different.
ATOM: Yes, on this album I also used some electronic drums. It’s called Korg Wavedrums and I used it to add some percussions and more ambient sounds…
ZO: So the big difference is basically in the sound itself. It’s more soft.
Also, this time all the lyrics are in Chinese. I think there are only two or three words in English in the chorus.
CA: Is there a reason for this? Why choose to sing only in Chinese?
ZO: Well, one of the reasons might be because of love. You know…ATOM and I were a couple during the last two years…And it’s over, now. So it’s kind of melancholic…I felt more comfortable writing in Chinese to express these feelings. I couldn’t write that as well in English, it would sound funny.
CA: What are your plans for this year?
ZO: Now we’re doing a big tour but it’s only during the weekends. So we play on Friday and Saturday and then come back to Beijing…That will last for over two months and we’ll play about fifteen shows.
FUN: And we’re going to do lots of festivals too.
ZO: Yes, we’ll do five or six festivals. Strawberry [Music Festival] will have so many festivals this year: Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, Nanning, Guanxi…
CA: Do you like to play festivals or do you prefer doing your own shows?
ATOM: They’re all good. Festivals are great because you can see lots of other bands play and have a lot of fun.
ZO: I like to play festivals. I think our sound suits big open venues because I like to play the guitar very loud in front of lots of peoples. It’s a little like playing in nature, it’s better than playing in a dark small venue.
Usually in China, venues are not very well equipped. Except in Beijing and Shanghai where it’s ok, in most cities the equipment isn’t very good so we can’t get the sound that we want. But festivals usually have a much better sound and they’re more comfortable to play at.
FUN: Now, Xiamen also has a really good new venue with a good sound, it’s called Real Life.
ON ROCK IN CHINA
CA: Do you think there are any differences between being a rock musician in China and in the rest of the world?
ZO: When it’s about indie bands, it’s the same, I think. Most [musicians] also need to have a day job and a DIY approach. That’s the same for us…Even though we’re now signed to a label, they don’t really help us with the production. We make it and they release it. In China, almost every student who listens to rock ‘n’ roll has heard of our band. So in a way, one could say that we’re a ‘big’ indie band. But at the same time, most people in China don’t listen to rock ‘n’ roll at all and they’ve never heard of us. So we’re kind of big now but still completely live an underground life. I think in Europe, if you’re a big band you’ll probably make good money…so that’s maybe a difference.
You know, Chinese students they discover rock ‘n’ roll by accident, it’s not really part of the culture. It’s only really changed in the last four or five years. Before that, it was up to chance - they had to meet someone that would introduce them to the music. So that’s a whole different story than in the west. But album after album, we try to grow a bigger fanbase.
CA: What does your family think of your life as a musician? Do they find it weird? Are they proud of you?
ZO: My parents don’t care about it at all, they didn’t even hear my music. They only gave me one rule: don’t do drugs!
FUN: My mother really likes our music. She comes to see us play…She even came to film us at a festival.
ATOM: My mum and dad support me a lot. They came to see some of our shows in Beijing. My dad even makes some comments and gives me some advice on our music, although he doesn’t play music at all. He keeps saying I should go on TV and become famous showing my drum technique!
ZO: I don’t expect my parents to understand our music. They still think of the music they heard when they were young, like Hong Kong Pop music. There’s a big generation gap…They will probably listen to that for their whole life. But many students like our music.
ATOM: Everytime we play we see new faces, young faces.
ZO: A girl at a concert recently told me she has listened to us since primary school. That’s incredible.
CA: I know most of you have another band as well. FUN plays with Guai Li and ATOM plays in Nova Heart. How does that work?
ZO (laughing): For me I think the problems outweigh the positive…I don’t think I get any influence from Nova Heart. And ATOM was very busy this year, we had little time for rehearsals. This record took us nearly six months to complete and during this time ATOM went abroad so many times with Nova Heart. She was away for nearly two months…Nova Heart gets so many shows abroad!
CA: You have toured in the US, Australia and Singapore…What country would you like to tour together next?
ZO: I’d love to go back to the US. We feel our music is more American than British for example. We don’t really sound like gentlemen. We felt so comfortable in New York, it’s a little bit like Beijing in some parts…dirty, punk and full of tourists.
ATOM: Australia is nice too. People are very very polite.
ZO: Yeah, they always say “no worries”.
CA: (This is the part of the interview where we drop names and influences.) Name two or three bands that really made you want to get into a rock band and become a musician?
ZO: Definitely, Nirvana. I never wanted to be part of the band but they made me want to be a rocker. There’s also Spacemen 3, I really wanted to be in that band.
FUN: Clash…and Fugazi!
ATOM: New Order! And Joy Division of course.
CA: Did you see Peter Hook when he came to play Joy Division songs a few weeks ago?
ATOM: I know he came but I was playing with Nova Heart that night…
ZO (laughing): Again, Nova Heart! You should quit that band! They can play without you, they have a drum machine!
CA: Two or three bands that you follow and for which you can’t wait to hear new music?
ZO: DIIV. Moon Duo. Psychic Ills.
FUN: Holy Fuck. Alt J.
ATOM: Half Moon Run. Alt J, as well. LCD Soundsystem!
ZO: But they already broke up…LCD Soundsystem is finished.
CA: Chinese bands?
ATOM: Big Wave!
ZO: The Molds. They’re the best underground so far.
FUN: Does it have to be a new band? A band that’s still active? Tongue (舌头)!
CA: Where do you see Hedgehog in five years?
ZO: Err… I think we have about two more albums in us. At least. To try different styles, do something more free. I would like to make an album with no lyrics. Only music.
ATOM: Yes, maybe for a movie soundtrack!
FUN nods approvingly and the band gets back to their practice…
Hedgehog play Day Two of the Strawberry Music Festival, Beijing on 2 May 2014.
Hedgehog are distributed in Australia by Tenzenmen