• Blog
  • Music

Meet Shanghai's newest cold wave act Faraway Neighbor

The duo tell us about their inspiration, influences and favourite nights out in Shanghai

Photograph: Betty Grace Nielson
New Shanghai cold wave band Faraway Neighbor and their minimal, moody sounds have really nailed the world's 2020 vibe. Contrasting light, synthpop tracks with heavier, industrial overtones, their new self-titled EP offers a kind of gauzy, post-punk cocoon you could crawl into and let everything else fall away. Musician Peter Isachenko and singer Mayura Jain of the duo give a bit of backstory to the act's origins.

Tell us a little bit about the project’s genesis. What was its inspiration?

Mayura Jain: I wish it were something more poetic than this, but the truth is that Peter and I were friends before and it came about after a long night of drinking. He is my best friend’s boyfriend, and by her description I knew him to be somewhat of a ‘bedroom producer/musician’, but he had always spoken about not being able to picture his music without a singer. I’d never heard anything of his before, and I haven’t sung a note since high school choir. But after a few too many shots of Fireball, I volunteered to sing if he needed it. When I finally sat down and heard what he’d written I was like, ‘Holy shit. This is actually something I’d pay to hear.’

Peter Isachenko: We met about a year and a half ago. I had just come to Shanghai and was looking for a vocalist. For eight months, I was annoying everyone around me with my search for a bandmate, until Mayura decided to reveal that she’s actually a trained musician and has perfect pitch.

Working together was really easy from the outset, as we could both focus on what we do best. I definitely do not consider myself a good writer and was really glad to take this weight off my shoulders and focus on music. In general, we have a pretty good band dynamic where each of us has our own space to express ourselves without any constraints.

The songs on this record are still some of the first songs I’ve ever made so I can’t say there was a clear vision or a concept. Rather I was trying to emulate and borrow from my favourite artists.

And the name: Faraway Neighbor… I know it’s been about a year in the making but honestly, that sounds like the perfect quarantine phrase.

MJ: Yeah, that was Peter’s idea. Our first time performing was a few months ago at the Hippo Tank’s monthly Ambient Night at Elevator. We needed a moniker for it, and Peter came up with that off the cuff. No other name has really made that much sense since, and I think it’s fitting given how many of our friends will be hearing our music and how we’re going to have to collaborate in the future.

PI: We’d been working on the EP for quite a while, but only started thinking on the name just before the release. It might seem like a name related to the situation, but it really isn’t – at least because I feel we weren’t affected by it here in Shanghai that much compared to other places. Originally the name came up during an evening at [Uptown] RnB, when we were thinking about a band name for the ambient night at Elevator, where we were supposed to perform. So the name was intended to sound more ethereal and dreamy, rather than to comment on the current state of things.

The track progression in your EP feels a bit like 2020 – lighter and more jubilant in its synth pop start and then descending to pretty grim and dark. Was this intentional?

MJ: That would be Peter’s stroke of genius there as well.

PI: The last two songs were written first actually, but it did seem more appropriate to us to arrange the track list in this order as it does follow the line of many tropes in life. The first tracks although sound more dance and energetic still are pretty grim in their themes of dysfunctional relationships, regrets and anger. I wouldn’t say that the EP follows the light/ dark dichotomy, but more the stages of depression: anger/ bargaining/depression itself.

Any major influences on the album or your music?

PI: For me, the biggest influences were probably the bands HTRK and Xeno & Oaklander, with their gorgeous arrangements and blatantly personal lyrics. To put it simply, the vibe we’ve borrowed was ‘making dance music for sad people.’ But their music is much more interesting than this banalisation.

You’re moving apart soon. How do you see collaboration going forward?

MJ: The last two songs we wrote together – which funnily enough are the first two on the album – involved us sitting down together and bashing out a melody over a couple of hours. We don’t have that luxury anymore. So I imagine it will involve us working more on our own, and recording more fully-fleshed ideas to send to each other.

PI: Technology really makes it easy these days to work together on the opposite sides of the globe, and we’re grateful for that, of course. The opposite side of that is the fact that we won’t be able to actually play music together, and it really does take away a lot of fun out of it. But as musicians in 2020, I’d say we’re no strangers to that, as writing music these days involves less and less actual rehearsing and more instrument programming and spending time behind the computer screen. Overall, work over distance won’t differ so much from our process now, as almost every part besides recording we usually do by ourselves, separately.

Last one – describe your perfect night in Shanghai. Where will we find you? What will you be listening to?

MJ: Starting out at my favourite bar, Uptown Records ’n’ Beer, obviously. After a few Costco pre-mixed margaritas, some friends and I would meander over to Specters to bob our heads awkwardly to post-punk music.

PI: I’d have a beer in a park with my friends (if the baoan lets us) and listen to Sade. Although I do love those bars, I hate that almost every night out in this city is centred on consumption and spending a ton of money.

Hear Faraway Neighbor's recently released, self-titled EP on Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify, Xiami and QQ.

Read more