Rainbow Danger Club's new album release

Shanghai band release their new, and quite possibly last, record

One of Shanghai’s finest bands release their new, and quite possibly last, album this month. Time Out talks to Dennis Ming Nichols and Jesse Munson of Rainbow Danger Club.

Listen to Rainbow Danger Club's Souvenirs here.


Home-made flying machines, monsters under the bed and never-ending ladders; welcome to the world of Rainbow Danger Club. Formed in Shanghai in 2009, the band’s first album Where Maps End was a glorious exploration of an imaginary universe backed by lilting melodies and an ambitious musicality that cemented their reputation as one of the best bands in the city. Their full-length follow up Souvenirs, released this month, sees the band return to this territory with a record that delves into the ‘emotional heart’ of Maps according to lead vocalist Jesse Munson: ‘Souvenirs is the home life of these characters, whereas Maps was their adventures from home.’


Yet just as they release their hugely accomplished new album, Rainbow Danger Club’s own adventure looks set to end, with Munson returning home to the US this summer. While both he and the other half of the band’s creative core, producer and bassist Dennis Ming Nichols, prefer to label the move a ‘hiatus’ they admit that this is likely to be the last Rainbow Danger Club record and that their release party, in addition to a mammoth Goodbye Shanghai show at Yuyintang later in the month, will almost certainly be their final live show with the band.


But if this is the end, they’re going out in style. Souvenirs is 18 tracks and 70 minutes of music that finds the band at the height of their powers. With Michael Ford (drums) and Michael Corrayer (trumpet, percussion) joined by new full-time member Todd St Amand (cello), plus a long list of locally-based collaborators including Goushen’s Lenz, The Horde’s Fierce Franco, Johnny Haru and George Wyndham and Acid Pony Club’s Laura Ingalls, the album is even more richly textured than its predecessor.


RainbowDespite being an enormous undertaking however, the final product is actually a scaled back version. ‘We were thinking about doing a double album,’ says Nichols. Munson explains, ‘I’m of the opinion that less is more, whereas Nichols would like a longer album. There were some spirited debates, but we met in the middle with 18 tracks.’ ‘It’s epic,’ says Nichols. ‘We’re an epic band’.


The sheer scale of Souvenirs and its dense musical layers add to the evocative feel of a record whose lyrical themes are a continuation from Maps. ‘It’s a puzzle piece that fits right into place,’ says Munson. ‘That’s partly why it took so long – it’s been two years of working on it. It’d be easy to go “let’s make this genre song and then this genre song”, but it’s really more fun to give yourself the challenge [of linking them].’ The result is a record strong enough to stand on its own, but one that Nichols says is ‘absolutely better’ if you’re familiar with its predecessor. ‘Basically, we just created a world. We knew an aesthetic and we knew this basic universe that we wanted to build our songs around and that’s where Maps came from. We did Maps knowing that we would eventually want to write more songs in this universe.’


As to the origins of that universe, the pair point to escapism as a key factor. ‘You’re starting a band, what an insane thing to do,’ says Munson. ‘There are tens of thousands or records put out every year by just as many bands and there’s no way you could ever think that you’re going to stand out between all of them, it’s such a strange thing to do. So in a way the creation of a universe was a solution to the idea of so much music. We’re not going to out-cool people, or out-leather jacket, or out-sunglasses anyone, so coming up with this sweet world seemed like a cool thing to do. It’s really a motivating factor because it’s something you can return to again and again when you write a song.’


Nevertheless, while the stories told in Rainbow Danger Club’s songs are often fantastical, they remain emotionally grounded and relatable; never more so than on Souvenirs. So is the escapism inherent in their work actually a reaction to living in a foreign city? ‘There’s a couple of songs that have been very inspired by Shanghai,’ says Nichols, ‘but I don’t know if it’s specifically because we’re living in Shanghai that we wanted to escape it. Anywhere you live you want to escape it.’



Where the city has had an impact is in allowing the band the freedom to explore their own ideas unhindered by the whims of the mainstream. ‘Playing music here, you’re sort of insulated from trends and it forces you to think of your true self relative to what you want, as oppose to relative to what other people think is cool,’ says Munson. ‘It’s not so much where you are as where you aren’t.’

Not that recording an album in Shanghai has been an easy ride for the band. ‘It would be really nice to have a full time music schedule, but you really have to find the places in between to make a record,’ says Munson of an album that was recorded almost entirely without the use of a studio, the band putting the tracks together in their apartments with handheld Zoom recorders. ‘Everyone lives in different parts of the city and I actually got cut off from using the internet at work because I used up too much bandwidth sending song files to Nichols,’ says Munson, highlighting another obstacle. ‘So I would have to get on my motorbike in the middle of the night and go across town so I could give him a USB stick.’


It’s ultimately been worth it though, with Souvenirs making for what Nichols terms ‘a very personal, very special record’. Munson agrees: ‘Eventually, we’re all going to end up in different countries, but this is one thing that we’re always going to take with us. And it also ties in with Where Maps End because as far as you can go away, you always come home, and you’ll have something to remember that experience by.’

Listen to Rainbow Danger Club's Souvenirs here.


Rainbow Danger Club play Yuyintang on Saturday 1 June. Goodbye Shanghai is at Yuyintang on Saturday 22 June.