Horse Lords: The American DIY scene has really moved away from full bands in the past decade. So it is refreshing to hear a “larger group.” It seems like the ease and access to computers along with monetary cultural austerity has created more solo acts in the US. It’s just more financially feasible to write and perform with a computer than a group of four to five people. Band members are working overtime to pay bills so scheduling and touring is hard. Do you feel this is the case in Taiwan? Are there more solo acts in Taiwan than full bands? How has being a five-piece influenced everything from writing, playing, and functioning as a band for over a decade?
Hom Yu: Each of us have jobs outside of this band. It is still very difficult to make a living solely through music. I feel that working other jobs while making music is common in Taiwan. Now as technology becomes more advanced, many artists have begun to choose to be DJs or rappers—that is to say, everything has developed into working individually which is also more efficient. If you want to have a band, you have to spend more time and put more effort into it. I think this might be the reason why more and more people are moving towards individual performances.
Yi-Zhi: Music making and performance as individuality has become a global trend, and friends who originally had been in a band have gradually begun to present their own works and shows. Indeed, new bands like ours, with five members, are really rare in Taiwan. But it doesn’t mean no one plays music as a band anymore, it’s just rare that they can keep the band-form and live a financially stable life while maintaining the energy to be continually creative. Even we struggle to meet such conditions. The bands that are popular in Taiwan, or that are in line with the current music trends, maintain their financial situations relatively easily in the short term, but it is not easy to continue investing personal income into the band.
Our biggest problem in cost at the current stage is in terms of equipment, but it is also the part we hope to adjust. We’re trying to simplify performance equipment so that our music can be performed in different spaces (bookstores, art galleries, record shops, etc.), compared to the general music venue, while not [affecting] the performances’ music arrangement. But it is not just developing the unplugged version, but continuing to adjust the performance content with the advantages of developing more diverse musical expressions, so that we can flexibly respond to different kinds of showcases, and perhaps slowly develop video-based collaborative shows instead of just limiting it to performances. It’s not easy making a living with creativity, or breaking even, especially for bands with niche music styles, but it is always necessary to practice new methods and various contingencies to develop new possibilities.
Horse Lords: What is the writing process for you all? How much of the material is one member’s idea expanded upon vs. how much is collective writing?
Apple: In addition to the sharing of music with each other and the instrumental work that everyone is responsible for, we also put a great emphasis on the content of the lyrics. We read books, articles, or movies together, and come up with all kinds of inspiration from them. Sometimes a lot of music material is tossed around with each other, such as melody or sound, etc., which are used as practice and motivation. Collective creation is done by common consensus. We leave a lot of room for experimentation and collage in order to create a consistent feeling that is suitable for all of us. We may also, by luck, make two different songs at the same time because of this method.
Yi-Zhi: Ideally, I hope that all members can develop more proactive attempts in the creative process. Combining and balancing ideas amongst one another can give the works a more detailed view, fuller or even more diverse, as a result of the accumulation of various possibilities.
Horse Lords: How has folk influenced your writing style? What folk music in particular?
Sean: When I started to work on my own music, I focused more on listening to the Taiwanese folk singers close to my life and where I live, such as Lin Sheng Xiang, Panai Kusui, and Chen Ming Chang, etc. Through their songs, I sensed the life and plight of my communities and social issues. That kind of music is like a manifestation that grows from the land where you live. I slowly found a kind of connection to the “grassroots” in my mind, and began to think about the creative context as it relates to my own roots, and this influenced us later in our creative direction.
Yi-Zhi: Our listening preferences are actually quite different, but the same roots and direction of continued exploration in musical aesthetics is quite consistent. As Sean said, we are influenced by Taiwanese folk singers. Their creative ideas are accompanied by various social movements and environmental issues. Their music makes us rethink these connections from our lives and land outside of music, constantly reminding us of the trajectory of developments in Taiwan, and the accumulated cultural achievements of past predecessors and how they tried to decolonize Taiwanese culture. These are the common problems for this generation of Taiwanese, so that we don’t get lost in the trends of the global music world.
I don’t have a good or bad conclusion about music genres, but in the past few years, I have realized that we should face our current position from the perspective of decolonization. It includes everything in our life. Our search for the music context will lead us to rethink, in our creativity, the styles and themes we are looking for and where they come from. What is the symbolism and the connection to us?
Horse Lords: The electronic elements of the songs remind me a lot of Kemialliset Ystävät. There are moments of joy and more “darker” uses of synths and electronics. Are electronic elements used as a textural or atmospheric function or do they play a harmonic role within songs?
White Wu: Basically, all of the above. At the beginning of the creation of each song, I did not deliberately imagine that the song would be an electronic or rock band-like style, but the first thing that comes to my mind is the overall atmosphere of the song and the sound interpretation—which instrument should be used for the sound and the texture of the song, and which are closer to the overall feeling of the songs we make presently.
Yi-Zhi: Electronic music, sound, and synthesizers allows us to realize and manifest our creative imaginations. This is why we develop this particular kind of soundscape. The combination of sound changes is free and variable, just like the combinations of various food seasonings and earthy materials.
Horse Lords: With two drummers it can be a challenge to avoid creating a cluttered sound. Do you have strategies to leave space for one another?
White Wu: When we compose the rhythm, I am responsible for the main rhythm part, Yi-Zhi’s is to extend the tone and frequency of the main rhythm to increase the layering or sound of the phrase, such as in the songs “Yóu” and “Wu-Hai.” We would leave some space for each other to fill in, so that the veins of the song generated by the intertwined rhythm slowly coalesce in our current style. Or, for some songs with simpler but heavier rhythms such as “Dù” and “The Rain Links Heaven and Earth,” the visuals and dynamic tension of the performances are presented by the duo drums, and we try to make this the focus.
Yi-Zhi: In terms of editing logic in music, I mostly use software and sampling methods to edit the beats. The changes and possibilities of timbre are also relatively open. White Wu mostly plays and records the drum set to compile rhythms. We use our imagination and intuition to discuss the possibilities, then I use software to edit them, and integrate the final expression with the actual two sets of drum improvisation phrases.