As local duo Pairs release their second album this month, drummer Xiao Zhong talks to Jake Newby about working with PK14’s Yang Haisong, holding a laser tag listening party and sticking to the DIY approach
Known for their frenetic live shows and steadfast DIY ethic, Shanghai-based twosome Pairs have won plaudits and fans across the country with their refreshingly down to earth approach since they first emerged two years ago.
After their first album, Pairs, was recorded in one take at Yuyintang last year, the 14-track follow up Summer Sweat is technically their first studio record. The band’s approach has been typically low-key however, and despite booking two days in the studio, they completed the album in around four and a half hours.
Working with PK14’s Yang Haisong, who has also produced acclaimed records for Lava/Ox/Sea and 8 Eye Spy, the band also rejected the idea of signing with a label (Yang produces for Beijing labels Maybe Mars and Modern Sky and gave them the option) in favour of packaging and distributing the album themselves.
Emphasising their different approach, they then booked a listening party at laser tag venue X Club ahead of the actual release at Yuyintang this month. Australian drummer Xiao Zhong explains the strategy, as well as his problems with China rock’s primadonnas.
Why did you decide to produce the album the way you did?
We had an idea of what we wanted and just ran with it. My take on labels is they help get your CD out, pay for stuff and all that wankery. But in reality, they can slow stuff down and also, there aren’t really any CD stores in China, CD’s are mostly sold at shows, bars and on Taobao – we can do all that ourselves. So what can a label really offer us?
They would save us money, maybe, but then we aren’t in control of what we are doing and we spend way too much time waiting for other people and all momentum gets lost. Maybe Noise [Maybe Mars’ alternative label] showed an interest and made an offer but it was way too late as we’d already paid for the packaging and were already assembling it. We’d do something with any label if we can stay in control and get some financial support, but right now there are very few labels doing things that we can’t do ourselves.
Do you think a lot of bands in China put too much emphasis on getting signed?
I feel bands in China put too much emphasis on walking on stage and talking for ages before they play a note, going out for dinner 15 minutes before they are meant to play and being late back, hanging out backstage and playing the rock star role and sucking their own dick for the majority of their set.
For the most part, I find that bands here take themselves seriously, and that’s fine, we take parts of what we do seriously, but I feel they put the emphasis on the wrong areas. But that’s me and my view and I am no moral yardstick. I’m not exactly sure what the right and wrong areas are, but I reckon a right area is having a connection with the people who are watching you, and I feel wearing sunglasses and smoking on stage does nothing but put distance between people.
Given that Yang Haisong is known for a polished, methodical approach to producing and you record albums in one go, why work with him?
He was and remains super friendly and really laid back -- he lets us do whatever. The reason we went with him was for something to do. He’s a nice guy with great taste in music and an awesome vinyl collection. We seem to like the same bands and have a similar outlook on stuff, especially hearing him talk about Dead Eloise [Yang’s noise rock band formed with his wife], so why not? The price he named wasn’t steep at all and we had the time, the means, the will and it seemed fun, so no reason not to.
A lot of what Pairs does seems to be putting something out there even if it’s not 100 per cent finished, are you ever tempted to revisit things and try to perfect them?
For us, there’s no point sitting on stuff for ages. If it’s fun to play, record it, do it live, release it and do something else. I think we’re generally pretty excitable and once inspiration strikes we like to act and push ourselves, and also we have the bar set so low that pretty much nothing gets pushed to the side.
We played ‘Yangpu Qu’ at our first show and we’d written it that morning or the day before, I forget now. I feel many bands would have left it out of their set and worked on it for ages, but it felt good, there was energy there and it was fun to play, so we did it and it went down pretty well.
Why do a listening party in a laser tag joint instead of a music venue?
100 per cent ego. To stroke my ego. I want the band I play in to be the soundtrack to a laser tag game. So I went and asked and X Club said yes. Why not? It won’t mean much, but it’s something to say to the grandkids or a box to tick or however you want to look at it. Anyone could do it, and they probably should.
Pairs’ laser tag listening party is at X Club on Friday 23. Read details here.
Summer Sweat is released at Yuyintang on Friday 30 read details here.