Ask any rock fan – even the disciples of the deepest quadrants of the underground – and none will proclaim that Shanghai is a hub of rock excitement. The city never jumps to mind when one thinks of rock n’ roll; places like New York, Los Angeles, London, Cleveland, Austin, Seattle, Toronto, Detroit and Liverpool are normally the biggest names, while Long Beach, San Francisco, Portland, Manchester, Chicago, Glasgow, Berlin and Athens, Minneapolis or Montreal usually win mention in the average enthusiast’s second breath. Even then, most music fans can (and will) rifle off the names of a few other cities before they even think of Shanghai or any other location in China. Does that mean there is no rock music to be found in China? No – but the irony is that the band poised to make the biggest impact coming out of The Red Dragon is an international group of players, who all arrived in China for reasons which had nothing to do with music. “Everybody in the band first came to China from North America and Europe,” explains singer/guitarist Craig “Chachy” Englund. “The only connection we had socially was the group; we came together for music – otherwise, we would never have crossed paths.
“I moved here originally because the economy was tanking back home, so I wanted to see what else might be possible,” continues the singer. “I ended up here when I found a good job and, after I got as comfortable as I could, I started trying to figure out how I could continue with the music I’d been making before I moved. I needed musicians to help me finish an unfinished album from my previous band in the US (Libyan Hit Squad). In 2010, LHS had broken up and left an EP’s worth of material in its wake. One of those songs was an instrumental called “Full Circle” that Greg Ginn (guitarist for Black Flag) had collaborated with us on. I thought the record was really strong and that it would have been a shame to let the project languish, so I decided to try and figure out how to make it work. Eventually, I got the right group of players together, and we kept working on the music. I was very VERY lucky to have found these guys. So we finished the EP released it on Ripping Records, it did well.
“We started out as a weird sort of party rock band but, eventually, I began writing songs that were a little less fun and much more reflective of the environment we were living in. Shanghai and China in general are not the easiest of places to live. I love it here but it is corrupt, it is dirty, it is communist, and it ultimately is very divided in some respects. It’s a beautiful culture but it’s also a very clandestine, ominous, and plain gnarly at the same time. It’s hard living in a police state doing what we do, that’s partially why we’ve had some of the membership changes that we have; people get tired of it and move along. We don’t have the same group of players that we had when we recorded the full-length album but as we’ve gotten comfortable together, the songs have grown and changed a bit in some really cool ways.
“This album was the one that I always wanted a chance to make. It scared the band and the label a bit when they heard what I finally presented to them. It nearly came to blows with Spacker [the bassist who appeared on the album –ed] and myself. And of course, I understand, It’s a polarizing album. It’s not a collection of songs, it’s a glimpse into a strung out western perspective of eastern practices and settings. It’s the China I live in and am most familiar with. I’m a fan of being challenged when listening to music, as long as that challenge is sincere and not self indulgent.
Having absorbed Round Eye’s debut album, one can only hope that the infectious and alluring primordial air of the music hasn’t changed much with the personnel modifications. There is no lead-up or warning which prefaces Round Eye; the band just dumps listeners into the mix headfirst and lets “PMS 2.5” have its way with them in a manner which is both outrageous and sinfully sweet. A shocking number of sounds (a really mid-level focused, overdriven bass, horns, drums and a few other instruments which are unidentifiable) just reach out wordlessly and spin listeners around mercilessly for about two and a half minutes and then simply abandon them in front of track two, “Street Light A” (which basically does the exact same thing for twice as long but also features a vocal performance by Chachy which feels both wrong and right all at the same time). After that first attack, the band never lets up, proceeding to get even more twisted and unusual.
Both the album and individual songs like “Meat ‘N’ The Boys,” “HesheRoshima A,” “Big Bam” and “You Can Tell That She’s A Dud Lay By The Fact She Has A Photo Of Her Nephew As The Background On Her Phone” (which actually takes longer to read than it does to hear at just thirty-six seconds in length) have the capacity to be totally formless acts of noise. It would be easy enough to write off if that’s all the album has to offer, but just when it looks like Round Eye may well be spiralling off into indulgent noise-making, the band snaps back to center for a raging, spastic punk blast with “City Livin’.” Other tracks like “HesheRoshima B,” “Fear The Consequence” or “(Julie’s Got A) Suntan” not only reassert how good the band can be, but also make the less engaging ones more enjoyable by knitting some of the formless sounds into them. It’s incredible how well the album supports itself in that regard. “I’m really happy with how the album turned out in the end,” confesses Chachy. We worked very hard on it and it took nearly two years to complete. We all agreed that we didn’t want another sound like our first EP, but we liked the core theme of a bizarre cultural abortion between East and West and wanted to take it further. By then we were kinda being known as the weird “party” rock band. At first it was a term I didn’t really mind. Our live shows at the time were drenched with alcohol and speed, so the shoe definitely fit. It was fun and sloppy games. We were in love with our surroundings but soon things soured. The honeymoon of being a band in China was over, so we decided to keep the theme of an abortion between cultures. Ever see the movie Basket Case? We wanted to be China’s Belial.”
“The songs were changing constantly because we were always thinking of how the album was going to be intertwined,” Chachy continues. “Scott Nydegger (a.k.a. MECCA) was brought on board by me to help with the arrangements and overall aesthetic. Scott loved the idea and worked his ass off with us. China in a lot of ways is like Free Jazz: it seems chaotic, loud, unfocused and in a state of near bedlam but, if you listen closely, there’s an order and a very keen arrangement in place for everything. That’s what we wanted with Round Eye; that’s the common thread in the rats nest.”
While the album won’t be released until June 9, 2015, Chachy is already itching to get on the road and introduce Round Eye to audiences far and wide. Dates have already been announced in North America and Europe and as they draw nearer, the singer’s excitement is running exponentially high. “We all have day jobs but thankfully those jobs make it possible to take long leaves,” Chachy bubbles. “We’re all set with the bosses and will have jobs waiting for us when we return. We always focus on touring outside of the the mainland, because China’s a relatively new scene for rock culture; touring routes are known but the venues and scenes are pretty precarious for the most part. You never know what is going to stick around after the first time you visit and with the Ministry of Culture asserting its presence lately things have become a bit… tense. Plus, though we are based in Shanghai, we are not Shanghainese. We aren’t Chinese and don’t pretend to be. We’re guests and live with what comes with that. Our stage is ultimately set in the west and by west I don’t necessarily mean geographically. I mean wherever rock has been established culturally (Australia, Europe, Japan, etc). We are planning to get everywhere we can and have been taking strides to make that happen. The songs are pretty large instrumentally, but we have live versions of most of the songs ready to go and have been playing most of them for just about a year now. I don’t think it’s a question of how large the band should be but rather how many decibels the amps produce [laughing].”
Round Eye – s/t – “City Livin’” – www.groundcontrolmag.com/music/Round_Eye-City_Livin.mp3
Ground Control Magazine – Round Eye – s/t – [Review]
Round Eye’s self-titled full-length album will be released on vinyl, CD and digital formats on June 9, 2015 via Ripping Records.