Underground CD#3: Life After Roots – Rock Beyond
An Oral History
” We put the word out that bands could apply and then we invited a few bands too. Around 40 bands applied. We have the same process for each CD. We like to choose great bands, bands with hidden potential, and also bands that might not be able to afford a recording opportunity.” -Chris B
We Got the Neutron Bomb: Music in Hong Kong Today
Amino Shower: These days independent music and music in printed forms is fading out rapidly, being engulfed cruelly by this consumer society.
Killer Soap: There are a lot of good bands in Hong Kong, but there are only very few indie labels here to help bands record and publish their CDs. Probably because the audience group is too small to make a profit. Not many people in Hong Kong appreciate live music, especially rock music. To most people here, music is just a click of buttons to download some 128kbps mp3 files or a ‘side-product’ of lunch buffet in karaoke party rooms.
Very Ape: Although there are a lot of respected bands in the music scene in HK, I (Asako B.) believe there is a bigger and more varied music scene outside of HK.
Hungry Ghosts: Hong Kong’s music scene is probably at its healthiest yet, but not nearly close to its potential strength. It’s great there are enough bands, venues, promoters and funding to be able to sustain THREE compilation CD’s.
The Sleeves: The music scene in HK is in a very healthy position at the moment thanks to efforts from the likes of The Underground & Koya. There’s definitely a lot more activity around HK and there are more promoters on the scene bringing in more & more (both up & coming and established) international acts due to the increased growth in the local scene. More local bands are getting a chance to support and play with international artists.
The Process of Weeding Out: Why and how the songs were chosen
Amino Shower: The sum of all parameters: many people like them + easy lyric phrases for memorizing + easy melody to sing-along + mother-tongued language + short attention and forgetful HK people
You can predict what kind of band we are actually…hahaha.
In Love and Pain!: They are 2 of the songs which helped to shape the band to what we are today, the story of the band started there, and we want the listeners to have an idea of where we came from. “On The Road/Into The Wild” is the song which we played when we first met Chris, so it’s kind of the part of how Underground and us come together and became really good friends, too.
Eve of Sin: We chose these 2 songs because they best represent the band. “Surrender” is a heavier song that probably encourages more headbanging while “Strangle” is more of a moshing song. However both songs are what we like to call ‘unforgiving’ because we don’t try to follow traditional song-writing styles but aim to keep our songs brutally honest while staying heavy. Lastly, it also shows the band’s growth; Surrender is one of our earliest songs, while Strangle is a new-born child to us.
Good Fellas: Both songs, “Be With Me” and “Hey You” represent Good Fellas well; the sing-along choruses always get the audience jumping and singing together. We love it and we want to let people know more about Good Fellas through these songs.
Sleeves: We made a short list of four, recorded them, listened to the mix and then decided which two we felt represented us best. We also took advice from Koya-san on which songs would come across best in a single live take.
OneLastFall: We chose the songs that gave out the most of our sound, groove and technicalities. They are also our favourites, and the 2 most requested songs from the crowd!
Very Ape: We’ve had a member change; so, we chose these two songs to represent our new approach.
Killer Soap: We finished writing these two songs right after we came back from London for GBOB World Final and we played them live for the first time in Underground 77! So we thought it a good idea to put these 2 songs in CD#3 to mark this special moment.
Hungry Ghosts: Firstly, we tried to pick two songs we thought would really come out through Koya’s sound, and secondly, songs that were as diverse as possible since the songs on the compilation are one after another.
Logo: The songs represent two different sides to our music and belong to our first setlists; “Love Hotel” is specifically a Hong Kong song.
Uranus: They were the only two songs we could physically play before driving Koya mental when we got together in the Mark One studio. We hadn’t rehearsed in three months due to irritating work commitments and because the neighbours had set fire to our rehearsal studio.
A Different Kind of Tension: From the stage to the studio; making the CDs
The Sleeves: The studio environment is another world entirely from the live one and it is hard to state a preference for one over the other, they are that different. Just like cheese and chocolate – both are brilliant. For the Underground CD, the recordings were a live take rather than a process of layering tracks, so they more closely represent the sound, if not necessarily the whole experience, of a live performance. For this reason, the practicing and playing did not really differ significantly from that of a live performance, although the CD version does not include the usual bootilicious hollerings at the start of “Sex Museum”.
Eve of Sin: We believe that even during recording, it is not a matter of just playing the right note or beat but the emotion you put into playing the song. Thinking about green grass and cotton candy will lead to a different snare drum sound even if you physically keep everything the same. Somewhere, somehow, something is affected. We can’t explain what it is, but we believe it’s there.
OneLastFall: Nothing beats playing in front of a live crowd!! We love the energy we feel when we’re on stage! And it is the crowd who gives us our energy! Studio time for us is “PROGRESS” time! Sharing ideas for new riffs and melodies at times can be frustrating and tiring, but in the end the result is rewarding. The studio is where we create new material and live is where we show what we’ve got!!
Logo: Both experiences are good in different ways, the voice becomes more significant in a recording. Also, you are aware that someone might listen to it more than once (if you’re lucky) and maybe listen to it repeatedly. If you’re really lucky it might be made into a karaoke track and people will sing along.
Zoundz: We originally wrote our songs for the studio rather than live performance. We only change our song’s content for live if it’s necessary.
As a metal band we believe that a great live performance can project the power of our music, and this is why we are still active in the indie music scene today. The atmosphere shared by performers and audience are magical. This energy is what performers live and depend on with.
However, the studio is a metal band’s workshop, to form a beautiful sound by hours of adjustments and tunings. Such hard work can only be recorded and mixed precisely and clearly in a studio.
In Love and Pain!: We love both, because they help one another in terms of growth of the band. You always want to sound more “studio” when you play live, but more “live” when you are in studio, and how to manage to achieve that is always something we’ve been trying to do.
Killer Soap: We are much more creative in the studio environment, where we can hear each instrument clearly and have more interaction between each band member.
Very Ape: Live stage performance has an excitement to create instantaneous sound and of course engaging with audiences. On the other hand, on studio recording, we come to be more conscious for the details.
Eve of Sin: They (recordings & live shows) are two different beasts. Kind of like a sauna vs. a steam room.
During live shows, the wilder the crowd, the more energy to our band. We aim to perfect every performance because we do not believe in writing songs we cannot play live. That would be no different from retouching a photo and faking our beauty.
In the studio, it’s a matter of searching for a different type of perfection. Making a mistake is possible but not acceptable (there’s a time for mistakes — practice sessions) and we don’t have that same dynamic as a live show. However, it allows us to shift our focus away from the ambiance and audience to the song itself and play from within.
In other words, during live shows, the energy is surrounding us with blasting lights, speakers and roaring crowds; in the studio, all that is packed within us.
Uranus: What practice? What rehearsal? Did the other bands practice? Bugger!
The studio works for us because the producers are forced through monetary inducement to listen to us. Plus, they can lock us in until we produce something remotely usable. Personally, I’m totally into the whole cage-wrestling thing. I think this would work with a Uranus gig: lock the audience in and don’t let them out until the gig ends or they give in.
The Sleeves: The recent Poubelle CD was a brilliant example of using a studio well. It reminds us of whoever it was (XTC or 10cc, can’t remember) that spoke about using the studio as an instrument. Provided the essence of the song remains the same, there is nothing wrong with expanding the sound you have and the number of tracks you utilise. There is something kind of appealing about having a different sound on the studio version in contrast to the live version. Next time, maybe we’ll go wild with extreme overdubs and invite the Hong Kong Philharmonic to accompany us … or a bagpipe section…
Zoundz: It was a great experience to record for the 1st time in Mark One. We’ve learn a lot from Koya because his professional skill and fast judgment. Also the unforgettable ash-tray beside his monitor-screen J.
Killer Soap: The most unexpected thing was that the recording process was soooo smooth! Thanks to Koya-san, he’s such a nice guy and created a comfortable recording environment for us. Since we’d finished composing the songs a long time ago and we knew exactly what we wanted the song to be like, so the mixing stage was very smooth too!
OneLastFall: Everything went smoothly as planned- setup our instruments, did a li’l warm up, went through the songs once and then straight to recording! As tight as we are and with the help of the very easy going Koya, guiding us through the process… Everything was pretty much about going with the flow! It was a piece of cake!
Killer Soap: We definitely spent lots of hours discussing among ourselves how we wanted the song to sound in the CD because there is a lot more room for us to use our creativity. Like in the song “Just Let it Go”, we wanted to change the mood of the song after the second chorus, but that’s very difficult to achieve in live setup. However, in the CD we can add different effects and tuning to achieve that specific kind of mood we want to create.
Amino Shower: This recording experience, with live-take + voice over-dub was quite refreshing for us….though we still won’t adopt this approach in our own studio for our lame technique and attention span.
Good Fellas: I (Po Kei) personally do not like recording sessions; they’re boring, so we did it as quickly as possible. And our songs included in the CD are straight rock-n-roll, so we did not need to record many tracks for it. Of course, Good Fellas enjoy playing live shows more- we love to interact with the audience, sing with them, jump with them; it’s so much fun doing it!
Hungry Ghosts: As with everything with the Ghosts we like to keep things spontaneous; we added a new ending to one of the songs, a bit of stereo mixing between different amps, and Tiff added some ‘off the cuff’ backing vocals. We tried to keep a ‘live’ element to both the songs without too many repeat takes.
In Love and Pain!: When we were recording these songs, we tried to do things that are recommended but we had never tried before. We made some changes on the arrangements and melodies as well, but it’s good to do that so we can learn something new and keep things fresh for all of us as well.
OneLastFall: Other than focusing more and ensuring that we were tight on our vocal harmonies as well as on the guitars, we didn’t have to make any other changes. We all are comfortable with one another personally and musically, which makes everything flow easily- just as it should be!
Very Ape: We normally have one female and two male members to take lead voice and chorus. But to add the effect, this time we had all guys for the chorus, like a male version of Dreamgirls. Which was a really cute image. Wish we could’ve used the picture for marketing! We added some changes to maximise and emphasise our style for the CD, but we wanted to leave it to the listeners’ imaginations and interpretations.
Uranus: We changed drummers mid-stream. Not because the old drummer was particularly bad. He was just extremely hairy and looked scarily similar to Joaquin Phoenix during the “bearded phase”. So, we brought in Dom. If Dom was any better looking he’d be arrested for causing a disturbance to the peace. We reckon he might be able to introduce the rest of us to some girls.
Hungry Ghosts: We always love recording though naturally it can be stressful when we have understandably limited time. I really like Mark-1 and, surprisingly, after all these years it was our first time there! We instantly fell in love with it; there was a real muso musk to the place.
Rockaliser Baby: More about the songs
In Love and Pain!: Most of our songs are about our daily lives, what we see and what we feel about the things around us. “On The Road/Into The Wild” is about keeping our heads up high and following our dreams, and “Warning” is about a lot of people just doing the same things over and over again without even realising it.
OneLastFall: “New Direction” has a headbanging vibe with heavy riffs and blasting beats right from the beginning, up to the breakdown and until the end. “Pointless” is an oldie but a gooooodie that shows our technical and melodic side. A slower number but packed with a punch!
Amino Shower: “My Facebook Hero” is about the internet habit among many people, and “三高一低分析我“ simply examines different human behaviours under exploitation by the ideal of body image. However, I open Facebook every day, and I go to gym 3 times a week, so I am not writing songs to deem how clever I am by criticizing these phenomenon.
Eve of Sin: All our songs are rooted in rage, anger, hatred, pain, suffering and torture. One may conclude this is evil at its purest; however, this is the impression from a shallow level. “Surrender” talks about the idea of cheating, of a loved one cheating in a relationship. The love story unfolds as a game of hide-and-seek, but one player bends the rules and ruins the whole thing. Even if the cheater feels like a winner initially, guilt slowly creeps in and eats away at the idea of being victorious.
“Strangle” is based on the concept of 2 people arguing. Basically two people are trying to strangle each other, but one of them had already died a long time ago, but his/her hands were stilling digging deep into the other’s flesh. The dead person didn’t die of suffocation as one would initially expect (through mutual strangling) but from a self-induced heart attack perhaps caused by years of guilt, fear or unhappiness.
The Sleeves: “Sex Museum” was inspired by a trip to Amsterdam by one of our previous drummers. She insisted that she didn’t actually go to the Sex Museum while she was there but by the time she had finished denying it, we’d already written the first verse. Another Sleeve has enjoyed the pleasures of a Sex Museum, albeit a rather low wattage one, in Uwajima, Japan. It turned out to be a couple of rooms of erotic Indonesian statues and 300 year old wood-block porn, which was definitely a letdown for an over-active imagination that had visions of the Marquis de Sade, Barbarella and Caligula rolled into one, after arriving and seeing the sex shrine located next door.
Totalitarian Love Song is about dictators falling in love with the consequence of politicized love rather than love a priori, so to speak. The narrator of the tale flirts with fantasies about being a dictator so that he can “get his way” – we’ve got a sensitive side too!
Logo: “Lights Are Out” is about moving on from a person and a place. “Love Hotel” describes the closing moments of a man who dies in a love hotel
Zoundz: “Eyesore”, we believe, is one of our most typical songs- not extremely heavy but includes all elements of our latest album “MantiZexizm”. “Disaffection” is a new direction with some elements of our original sound; an important step that may lead us to the shape of our next project.
Hungry Ghosts: The song, “It’s all in the Game” was actually called “Hello Kitty” and still is by the band, because to us it is a really fun sounding pop song.
Subway to Venus: What the CD means to the bands
Logo: It feels good when you are selected to be part of something and The Underground is an important musical archive.
Uranus: Craig: The band is considering investing in a Bedford truck to transport Uranus to gigs in Hong Kong. How is this relevant? It shows just how far we’ve come since the Underground first picked us up and sent us in to battle back in the heady days of Adele, Winehouse and Co. When we first plinked our contemporary rock originals we had to walk to gigs in our flip flops, equipment pulled behind us on $55 metal trolleys with plastic wheels. This got us to the Global Battle of The Bands final in 2008. We came third in that final and, well, since then, Uranus has just exploded!
Eve of Sin: Bands release CDs because that is like a CV that gives you the chance to get your first foot in the door for that all-important interview. It’s that ability to better relate to the song after enjoying it on a CD that extends the experience of a live show. Much like great paintings cannot be enjoyed fully upon first impressions, the same goes for music. Sometimes, the same song has a different impact on you after a few listens. The CD allows this chance.
In Love and Pain!: This is actually a pretty big deal for us, and the experience itself was so good; it really helped us to learn paying more attention on different aspects of playing music.It gives bands an experience of serious recording which included a REAL studio, an engineer, multi-tracks recording and most importantly, a deadline!! Secondly, it helps to cross-promote different bands to different fans, thus create a more solid foundation of listeners for the bands in HK.
Amino Shower: Being chosen to the CD means that someone is devoted to the war for freedom of non-dominant culture and not giving in. As laying down a reference-recording and the subsequent promotion are so crucial for public, and the band themselves, to realize their musical style, it offers something more than playing a thousand gigs, which give only tiredness but no reflection.
Good Fellas: We have a strong connection with the Underground. To be included in this compilation CD is definitely an honour, an affirmation to our music.
The Sleeves: Of course this means a lot us. We are four amateur musicians (plus one very amateur singer!) who have been given an opportunity to record our songs with the great man Koya. We are well aware that this opportunity wouldn’t have arisen in a city such as London or New York where there are countless original bands who are a hundred times more talented than us.
OneLastFall: Being included in the 3rd compilation CD means a lot to us as a whole because it pushes us up the ladder by providing a good platform, if you will, for us to give people a taste of our sound; whether listening to the stereo, or sharing new bands/influences amongst friends with an mp3 player. It also gives us a chance to get feedback from our fans, friends and families to give us that extra push needed to better ourselves.
Very Ape: As a band, since we had a major member change, our new sound had been getting together. When we normally perform on a live stage, we value its excitement and creativity, but contrary to that, by participating in this compilation, it was a good opportunity for us to realise and pay attention to details of the sound; it made our ideas for the sound clear.
Eve of Sin: We have matured as a band in terms of intra-personal relationships. Through trial and error, we are progressing towards goals we only dreamed of when Eve of Sin was still a concept on the back of a napkin. Being part of a compilation CD that includes bands from all over our hometown of Hong Kong is definitely a milestone and is one more tick on our path to realizing our goals. The Compilation CD has allowed us to check ourselves as a band because it gave us a sense of being at a professional level, much like the great bands we admire. We believe being part of the compilation CD is a chapter in our story that makes us realize our dreams are slowly coming to life.
Killer Soap: I believe having an album and sharing music with other people is the dream of all musicians. From time to time, people come ask us when are we gonna release our own album. We really do not have time to sit down and record a proper demo. Now, we can ask them to go buy CD#3!!
Hungry Ghosts: WOO! It’s great to finally be on this compilation as there have been many stops and starts for us as a band. With members overseas we had to pull out of CD#2 which was a disappointment. It’s lovely the Undergound are still supporting us.
Uranus: We moved from flip flops to public transport, and from public transport to a chauffeur driven limo (owned by William – lead singer- and driven by Johnson). Unfortunately, the 7 series BMW couldn’t fit the band, the drum kit, guitars and groupies without doing three or four trips from the Uranus Studios at Clearwater Bay to the gigs, so a bigger alternative had to be found. Hence the Bedford Investigation. None of this would have been possible without he support the Underground has given Uranus. 2010 has started as a gigtastic year. This April, we launched our first tour of Hong Kong. We really need that Bedford!
Kick Out the Jams: The CDs’ significance to Hong Kong’s music scene
Eve of Sin: The main thing about compilation CD’s is that it’s diverse. It doesn’t try to satisfy only one group nor satisfy everyone. There are bound to be people who think certain tracks are rubbish while others can’t get the songs out of their heads. However, like it or not, it gives bands a chance. Much like buying a lottery ticket guarantees nothing but at least a chance, CD#3 guarantees a chance and provides hope for bands to progress.
Amino Shower: Without this continuing project, many indie bands in HK can forget about progress/growth either way. Even nowadays, with home-studios so over-the-counter, printing and distributing their CD entails high expenses, making many millions good works abortive at the outset…Unless they are ‘lucky’ enough to be signed acts in big record label, they will never taste the atmosphere of recording in decent studio-settings.
Hungry Ghosts: With it being the third CD we really do hope it facilitates some Hong Kong bands being able to get out and play more overseas. Honestly, we don’t have good venues in Hong Kong. I (Luke Chow) personally am a little bored with gigging in the same places.
Uranus: The yearning for more rock n roll! We absolutely promise that Uranus will be jam packed with as much rock n roll as physically possible. If that doesn’t cause a growth spurt, we don’t know what will!
Logo: The Underground and CD3 gives the independent music scene a voice in Hong Kong’s cultural development. It’s great to have the archive, a solid copy rather than a number on a download.
Good Fellas: The element for creating a scene is the people, putting all the creative musicians together. The CD is definitely helpful to get the music-lovers together. Each band in this compilation has a following already, and this is a good way to let the audience to try to listen to other type of music.
Eve of Sin: What worked as great music in HK in the 80’s is seen as ridiculous nowadays. But had the music of today never had exposure, we could very well be stuck in the 80’s. In the same way, this chance, is an opportunity for both sides to grow and learn to appreciate each other.
Good Fellas: I (Po Kei) think the bands selected are not only the ones writing good songs but also good live performers. Because for me, good bands are not those only write good songs, but also play good live shows, I hate to go to show with boring bands. And I think everyone hate those.
Zoundz: We know it’s so rare to have any this kind of movement around these days. It’s significant for HK’s indie music. You can listen to 12 bands with different genres, on one CD. It’s also a great chance to promote HK’s indie music across the globe, even though, unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of noise from our local media.
OneLastFall: It opens up different genres to the public and gives them an alternate sound for an outlet as opposed to the heavily regarded “Cantopop”. If the people can just open up their minds and accept that there other kinds of genres that are just as enjoyable… the music scene in HK would definitely expand and flourish.
The Underground is making bigger waves each year… people are bound to get curious. The compilation CD is a way to let people know what’s in store for them the next time they see an Underground poster.
Very Ape: I (Asako B.) hope this CD release could be a trigger for creative urges and activity for people in HK. I personally think it’s a good tool to get more interest from various people.
Killer Soap: After so many years, we finally have a few bands in the mainstream, I think all this indicates that the band scene has been growing healthily!
The release of the Underground CD is a very important step to bring the music of local indie bands closer to people outside of the scene. Sooner or later, they will realize that local bands can write good music like every other musicians/bands in the world. Then they may realize that live music is happening in Hong Kong everyday! There is no need to travel million miles to watch live rock music!
The Sleeves: If nothing else, we hope that our inclusion on this CD will encourage Hong Kong’s youth to put down their physics books, calculators and slide rules and say: ‘Sh*t, if those old bastards can play and write songs then so can we !!’
The following bands were spoken for by specific members:
- In Love and Pain – Marvin Lee (drums)
- Logo – Chris Dundon (guitar)
- Uranus: Craig Leeson (guitars)
- Hungry Ghosts – Luke Chow (vocals, guitars)
- Zoundz – Ivan Cheung (vocals)
- Good Fellas – Po Kei (vocals, guitars)
Interview by Shashwati Kala