On January 18th 2012, Azchael of Rock in China and Nichols of Zang Nan Recordings exchanged an email interview about the record label, the Shanghai music scene and their compilation “We Are Shanghai“.
Azchael: Can you briefly introduce yourself and Zang Nan Recordings and what you do?
Nichols: My name is Nichols (五毛). I am bassist/vocalist/producer for two bands, Rainbow Danger Club and Death to Giants. Along with Bren (bassist and vocalist for Stegosaurus?), I am co-founder of Zang Nan Recordings which, right now, is “whatever it needs to be” in order to help the Shanghai music scene grow. Our mission is geared more towards nurturing the scene and encouraging more people to to get involved (go to shows, start a band, record, etc.). We are also a label and albums by Rainbow Danger Club, Stegosaurus? and Friend or Foe have released albums under the ZN flag. We are also event organizers and we focus on spreading a net outside of our comfort zone of scene stalwarts (ex. free college shows, working with local comedians). We aren’t the only ones doing what we do and we don’t claim to have anything really figured out, and that is part of the fun. It’s something we enjoy doing and hope to make a mark in Shanghai in the process.
Azchael: You have recently released the compilation “We Are Shanghai”, what was the greatest difficulty to overcome while creating the compilation?
Nichols: Twin Horizon, an art/fashion collective, brought us on to help with mobilizing bands, organization, and being overall collaborators. The most difficult part was just compiling all the infomation for the website and CD printing. God love em, a lot of musicians are slackers and don’t reply to emails and phone calls. Who would have thunk it?
Azchael: What is the “Shanghai Sound” for you?
Nichols: Construction, car horns, loud people, drinking, eating, partying. Its in the music. Aesthetically, there’s a lot of energy and excess reflected in the sound. But, stylistically, there is no one dominant sound. This might have to do with the fact that a lot of people in Shanghai are from outside of Shanghai (another province or another country) and they all grew up on different
Azchael: As mentioned in another interview by Ivan, you plan to include more metal bands on the second compilation that is still in the future but planned. Which bands do you see on the forefront of Shanghai metal?
Nichols: I love metal, but Ivan is the resident metalhead of our group so i concede to him to figure that one out. My personal mission is to include more electronic acts and young chinese artists. Conrank, Uprooted Sunshine, and Naohai are just three groups that I respect and might want on the next comp.
Azchael: On your catalogue I recognize mostly foreigner-driven bands, are you also open for Chinese only bands? What are your selection criteria for promotion?
Nichols: I hope we are only a few years away from labelling bands by their ethnicity. haha. But, selection criteria is “Do we like the music?” and “Do you want to be on the compilation?” It’s pretty simple. I’ve actually offered to mix a few young chinese bands’ demos for free if they are willing to put the time and effort into recording. Hopefully you’ll see that in 2012.
Azchael: How much tour promotion do you do for bands from Shanghai in other cities?
Nichols: Our model is to be “Whatever we need to be” and we do things out of neccesity. RDC will be touring the states this summer, so i imagine we’ll be doing some stuff with that. We are also organizing a China tour for a band from Austin, Texas (The Noise Revival Orchestra) in May and June of this year. That’ll be the first ZN-organized tour. We’ve organized a few excursions of our own outside of Shanghai, but our current goals are more introspective. We want to help develop a really strong homegrown scene first and foremost.
Azchael: Are you interested in band exchange concerts, e.g. with Hongkong bands to raise awareness of Shanghai creativity in Hongkong, where everybody only sees Beijing as rock capital of China?
Nichols: Absolutely! That goes for any city in the world!
Azchael: Having most of your records on Bandcamp for free, what is the value of music for you?
Nichols: The value of music for me to very personal. I love creating and showing off my creations. I am a bit of narcissist, as are most people who gravitate towards music performance. I don’t make net profit from music and maybe never will. Making money is second-place to that personal love and good feeling I get from people liking what I do. Music is most valuable when its authentic and comes from the heart of the creator. I want more people to listen and not put up barriers (aka costs).
And, what is the point in ever charging for a download when its so easy to get it for free elsewhere? There is so much music out there (some of it really good) that its damn-near impossible for John Doe’s Garage Band to get heard even if they put their polished album out for free on bandcamp. Monetarily, there is no value to MUSIC itself. As Helen Feng once told me, music is a vehicle for which a band can sell itself because a band is a brand. You have to be willing to sell yourself to make any money off of music. You have to have ambition. Those who thrive in the music industry today and in the future will be the ones that can balance artistic integrity and authenticity with hard work and ambition.
Azchael: Where do you see the future of labels like Zang Nan Recordings in the digital age and how do you try to monetarize from that?
Nichols: Labels like ours are fueled by a labor of love and an abundance of energy. These things have a way of running out eventually and I hope that by the end of our journey, we will have made a mark on the Shanghai scene, or perhaps even handed it off to a new generation to do even greater things. I don’t have any current plans to monetize Zang Nan. Our goals are simple and we do what we can when we can to improve the local scene.
Azchael: How do you try to promote Shanghai music overseas? Which promotion paths do you choose?
Nichols: Like I said, ZN is more introspective. We want people within Shanghai and within China invested in local independent music made right here. We are definitely interested in teaming up with an organization that is better at promoting Shanghai/China bands internationally.
Left to our own devices though, it’s contacting music blogs and sinophile college communities aross the globe as well as promoting within our own networks of musical friends abroad and social media. I think Music Videos are next. I still don’t think we’ve hit our stride in getting all that to work. We aren’t professionals mind you. We are still figuring it all out. If you have any suggestions, please contact me immediately!!!!
Azchael: What recording equipment do you use?
Nichols: With RDC, we prefer to use an old Roland Multitrack recorder because we like being able to record on our own schedule and whenever inspiration hits. Sounds cheap, but when coupled with a good vocal mic and decent pre-amps/compressors, you can get a good clean sound with minimal post-production EQing. With recording Friend or Foe, we got a lot of technical know-how by Acid Pony Club. They also brought expensive pre-amps and guitar amp simulators. I felt like a kid in a candy store scrolling through those presets. At the end of the day, Ableton is the best editing suite for my tastes though lately I have been experimenting with open-source software. My final peice of equipment comes in the form of my go to mastering professional Adam Gaensler (Luwan Rock). If producing a song is like remodelling a car, I repair the engine, clean it up and made it work, but he waxes it and makes it shiny and beautiful.
Azchael: Thanks a lot for the interview.
Nichols: Thank you for making Rock in China WIKI exist!