Friday, July 30, 2010

Dirty Beaches

My good friend Dirty Beaches has just released a new 7" on San Diego label Zoo Music. It's the True Blue EP and the title track I guarantee will be your favorite track of the year! Weird Doo-whop, in the temple of Phil Spector worship.

I am re-posting an interview I did with him on the Obey Convention Blog.


Dirty Beaches rockin' the rooftop. Photo by Caley Jones

Alex Zhang Hungtai is the conduit for the one man band Dirty Beaches. The project, now in its 5th year, has taken Alex wide and far, literally and metaphorically. Alex has performed in China, and in the last year completed two US tours. His music has also traveled a long way; initially a more introverted, experimental project, Dirty Beaches has evolved into a full on violent-twist-jive-rockabilly-whiskey throw down, with a penchant for doo-woppy ballads. 2009 was a breakout year for Alex, with releases on Night People and Fixture. In 2010 Alex has been busy on the road and lining up a solid release schedule, including a full length LP on Night People, splits with fellow Obey Performers U.S. Girls and my group Omon Ra II (On Campaign for Infinity), and an archival release on Beijing label Rose Mansion Analog. I am over-the-top-excited to have Alex perform at this year's festival. Alex is a tremendous artist and I know his visceral and veracious performances will have a profound affect on the Halifax audiences. Below is a short interview I conducted with Alex last week:

Z - Since you moved from Montreal to Vancouver you've been incredibly busy. Why do you think 2009-2010 was/has been such a break-through year for you?

A - Being isolated from your friends always encourages productivity, albeit painful at times. My definition of friendship is much like the concept of family. I grew up without my family after age 14, so I spent a lot of time with friends growing up. There were older brother figures that I looked up to, and it has shaped me into the person I am at right now. Without them and those experiences, I am nothing. Those experiences morph into soundscapes in my music, or themes, even. They will always be there, like re-occurring characters.

Another reason for this year's intense schedule would be credited to my release on Night People, ever since my first tape release with them, I have been getting a lot of offers from labels, tour requests, etc, along with blog reviews. I hate letting people down, so I put the mileages into it. Been very lucky on those tours, making just enough money to get from one city to the next, with gas and what not into consideration as well. Met a lot of kind people on the road that gave us a little extra cash just so we could make it, and to the people that bought my merch, my thanks goes out to them.

Z - What's it like making music for you on the West Coast?

A - This year's winter in Vancouver has been so mild in comparison to Montreal that I almost secretly chuckle to myself whenever I look out the window. The area I live in (Hastings Sunrise) has a lot of trees, mountains, and old people. When I first arrived in October 09, I would listen to the twin peaks soundtrack my friend Conor got me for my birthday, and take little walks. However, there is one similar coincidence that my Montreal apartment shares with the Vancouver one: they are both very close to the train tracks. I love trains. oh boy. I like how they look, how they sound, I love walking on train tracks, I love riding trains, I love everything about them. Sometimes at night you can hear the train whistle, and it makes you want to be on that train, and just leave town. But that's just me. In China you can still smoke on trains, too. Although that's slowly changing now. I heard they banned indoor smoking in Shanghai this year. I hope it was only a rumor.

Z - One of things I really dig about Dirty Beaches is its exploration of minimalism. For the last five years you have used basically the same simple equipment and have created a world of sound, always light on resources but heavy in sound and spirit. Can you explain your approach and how you keep things fresh?

A - The approach to minimalism came out of necessity. My first release on Fixture was recorded with multiple tracks, with overdubs and layers. The problem was, I could never play it live. I had a hard time dealing with other people playing them, because they never got it right. I hate being the tyrant type too cuz I've been in bands with them when I was younger. So I never wanted to become that person where you write all the stuff and force, trick or manipulate other people to play the parts that you wrote. That shit is whack. And fucked up too. I think Bands should be formed out of friendship, and the idea of collaboration in mind.

Once I got over the idea that I was not going to be in a band, but a solo performing artist, things started to open up. I began recording my materials LIVE, almost identical to my live set up so I could translate my performances onto recording.

Whenever I'm out of ideas, I just watch a shit ton of films that have been on my watchlist. Lately I've been really into Tsai Ming-Liang, and Hou Hsiao Hsien (both based in Taiwan) and random forgotten gems from the 80's (like Willem Dafoe's first role in THE LOVELESS). Nick Cage and Val Kilmer flicks in the 80's are great too. I watch them when I'm sad and Val always cheers me up. He's the best.

Z - Given now that you are in your 5th year of the project, how do you hear the next 5 years of Dirty Beaches? How can we expect your sound to evolve or change?

A - I know I will always be making instrumental music. I've been doing that for the past 10 years. So I don't think that's gonna stop anytime soon. I've also started to make videos, and am currently working on my first short film, which is kind of a pilot for a digital download series part detective/film noir and other genres mixed in, starring my friend Bernadino Femminielli, who is a amazingly gifted musician based in Montreal. It will be fun to score it.

In terms of more ambitious ideas for dirty beaches, I'd like to try making sound installations for DIY spaces. I had an idea for the album HORROR that I put out on Fixture, but it was too costly financially to realize.

Z - Will Dirty Beaches always be a one man band and are you working on any collaborations?

A - I think dirty beaches will always be a one man project. Like films, that main character will always be longing for a place where he does not belong. An eternal damnation from home, misplaced, in exile, with nothing to hold onto.

However, I would love to throw it all away and start a new band that's not about any of that stuff I just mentioned.

Song of the year! True Blue, video by Alex Calder

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