Rock in China interviewed Shanghai rock band MOON TYRANT about their previous touring, WE ARE SHANGHAI and a couple of other things. Azchael for Rock in China, “I:” for Ivan, JC for JC, “M:” for Murray and “J:” for Jaret, otherwise Moon Tyrant for Moon Tyrant.
Azchael: Can you briefly introduce yourself and the band?
Moon Tyrant: Moon Tyrant is Cincinatti chili. Jaret’s the chili, Murray’s the spaghetti, JC’s the beans, and Ivan’s the cheese.
M: layer upon layer of delicious, heartwarming flavor, and vicious to the asshole come morning.
Azchael: What kind of instruments are you using? Which brand?
JC: Jaret plays whatever we have at the venue, plus Ivan’s cymbals and his snare.
I: Zildjian and Paiste cymbals
JC: I play an Epiphone bass. It’s the signature model of one of my favorite bassists, Allen Woody, although it sounds nothing like what he played. I bought it in haste when my original bass had a forced retiring the week before Mongolia. There’s no bridge pick-up, so it’s all low end, which feels great live, but I’ll likely try and borrow a bass from someone to record.
M: Hamer USA Standard Custom. Also bought in haste after the unexpected demise of its predecessor. A decision well made though. It’s divine.
Azchael: Moon Tyrant was included in the recent “We Are Shanghai” compilation record. How did you get on the compilation?
Moon Tyrant: We cheated. Well, it was Ivan’s idea. And I was one of the other key organizers. Does that count as cheating? All of us put our own bands on the comp, but I don’t know if it was out of place. We’ve all been very active bands within the scene, and all of our recordings were done DIY. Those were two of the big themes for the compilation.
Azchael: Titled “We Are Shanghai”, what does that sentence mean for you?
Moon Tyrant: Someone once tried to frame a question to us under the guise of Moon Tyrant being a diverse band and I ended up treating the rest of the interview as a bit of a joke. Murray might come from Tasmania, but I never there was anything especially diverse about us.
We’ve all been here a few years now. In a lot ways, I don’t think of us a foreign band; I think of us as a Shanghai band.
M: Our individual tastes and styles differ so broadly that if it wasn’t for our meeting in Shanghai, Moon Tyrant surely wouldn’t have happened.
JC: All the promotion we do is bi-lingual, and we try to play every show with at least one band from outside our laowai circle. That kind of internationalism is really special to our city. Also, we look down on people from the countryside.
M: And believe without exception that true love comes from the heart, if the heart is full of cash.
Azchael: When you play in other Chinese cities, e.g. Wuhan or Suzhou, do you try to represent the Shanghai scene or do you try to establish yourself as an artist independent of Shanghai?
Moon Tyrant: We always have “Shanghai” on the poster if we have a say. We went to Beijing last week and brought out more “We Are Shanghai” CDs than Moon Tyrant ones. There are a few people here who promote themselves as a foreign act, but that’s ridiculous. You can’t call yourself a foreign band if you’ve never played a show outside China.
Azchael: How many other cities have you played in and what do you think is the major difference to Shanghai?
Moon Tyrant: Four within China, plus two in Mongolia. I’d like us to get out more this year. Our schedules have been one factor, and we haven’t really made as big an effort as we should have. Playing at home is great, but you get tired of having the same people pat you on the back after every show. There is definitely a different energy to crowds outside of Shanghai, where four clowns rocking out in silver face paint is considered a novelty. We’ve played in Hangzhou twice, Wuhan twice, Suzhou, Beijing, and best of all, Hefei. Ask Super Sophia about that one sometime.
Azchael: Which one of your songs gets you the best feedback at shows?
Moon Tyrant: Our newest song we’ve been playing live, “Patterns” has been getting good feedback. I certainly don’t ask people what they think. Actually, the song that got the best reaction, both recorded and live, is one we don’t ever play any more. It’s our “Rosalita”. Maybe after we break up and get back together in 20 years, we’ll make it the encore for shows at New New Giants Stadium. It was the only of our songs that I ever started to dislike playing, and I wrote it. We tried playing it in practice a month or two back when we wanted to mix up our set a bit, but we didn’t make it past half-way through.
Azchael: Do you think you are underground? What is “underground” for you?
Moon Tyrant: Yeah, we are. At least in Shanghai, there isn’t really “over-ground”, unless you count Sonnet gigging at the Apple Store or some of that nonsense. Plus, we’re the heaviest band in the laowai circuit, and the metal scene is really local. We don’t really fit in with either, even though we play within both. To me, underground isn’t an aesthetic or an ideal. It’s a status. I would love it if mainstream Chinese media accepted us and we weren’t this hidden part of local culture. I get especially annoyed when I hear locals refer to Yuyintang as a laowai bar. When my parents listen to cooler current music than teenagers here do, that says a lot about the state of a place’s rock scene.
Azchael: Being a four-foreigner band you have received a fair share of media coverage in English-language blogs and webzines. How much attention do you get in Chinese-language newspapers, magazines or blogs?
Moon Tyrant: What Chinese-language press? We’ve gotten some Weibo love, but a dismaying amount is “This foreigner speaks great Chinese!”. Woozy just taped a video interview with Bren (from Stegosaurus?) and I about the compilation CD. Maybe it’s just Shanghai, but what Chinese-language rock media is there really? If you’ve got any contacts, I’d be glad to reach out.
Azchael: Touring in China is time-intensive and depending on distance can cost quite some money. How do you cope financially? Do all your gigs pay you off for what you invest?
Moon Tyrant: It’s an expensive hobby. I have no idea how much we’ve spent over the past two years. Both Murray and I had to buy new instruments after tragic transportation incidents, and Jaret’s bought new gear, too. Plus, I’ve invested in a bunch of recording gear. And practice. I think only two of our road gigs have earned us anything. Our Shanghai gigs pay for a month or so of practice. Actually, everything we earn goes into a drawer in my room and gets funneled pretty much directly to Wujun, who owns the practice space. We’re totally not-for-profit.
Azchael: Do you have merchandize available? E.g. T-Shirts or other stuff? If yes, where can I get it?
Moon Tyrant: We are going to have t-shirts soon as part of the Twin Horizon project. Our friend Clem did the drawing for it, since Ivan didn’t want to draw his own band’s shirt. We’ve got older shirts that will probably ruin your laundry, even though I promise we washed them four times before we gave them out to people. Those are free. Just ask. They’re only in one size, though. They fit my girlfriend quite nicely.
Stickers are free. Our CD is usually free, too, if you want it. It’s on Bandcamp perhaps you’ll refer to your earlier question when you make the decision to download it. And we’re not hard to get in touch with (Facebook, Douban, Weibo). Just ask, man. Better yet, come to a show!
Azchael: What is your plan for 2012? What is your next big step?
Moon Tyrant: We’re writing. We take forever to write stuff, but we really want to record something new for the summer. Our sound has changed so much since the first record, and we want to really show that off. We’ve got three new tracks that are done, and Murray’s sitting beside me with a guitar working on another. Then we’ll break them down and hone special arrangements for recording. And as I said before, I’d like to get out of town a bit more often.
Azchael: Thanks for the interview.
Moon Tyrant: Any time. Moon Tyrant is not known for shyness, or for an unwillingness to offend fellow scenesters.