We were luck enough to catch up with Alex Zhang Hungtai (Dirty Beaches). We Covered many great topics, including Film, Family, and of course music.
NT: Do you ever find yourself at times more inspired to direct a film then writing music?
AZH: Yes, but film takes a lot more preparation than music. Right now I’m mostly focusing on honing and cumulating film vocal skills like editing, overdubbing, boom mic operating, trying to learn more of the technical side of things, the boring stuff. But it will pay off eventually.
NT: You have directed a number of videos, do you get visualizations for them when writing songs.
AZH: Yes, but not all ideas translate well due to budget restraints. A lot of the videos are compromised
ideas that adapted to the limiting equipment and personnel, we try out best to work with what we have.
NT: You have described your music as like someone traveling long distances in search of something, in exile, misplaced, with no home to go home to. Can you tell me about this?
AZH: I think how we live our lives and where we come from inevitably influences everything we do in life, especially when it comes to decision making. It definitely influences some of the decisions I make.
Regrettable or not, I do enjoy this pace of work.
NT: You grew up in Taiwan, what kind of music and film did you have access to?
AZH: Not a whole lot, I left Taiwan at the age of 8. My fascination with Taiwanese culture came later
on in my teens through cinema, when I discovered Hou Hsiao Hsien and Tsai Ming Liang who often used old Taiwanese music to illustrate a time period or mood.
NT: I read that your Father wanted to become a singer, but had to give up his dream for the Military.
Does this inspire you to push yourself more as a writer?
AZH: His personal sacrifice gave me the luxury and freedom as a kid to just be a kid. And not be under some fucked up family pressure financial related bullshit. I owe all that to my father, he worked so fucking hard to support me and my sisters. I’m also glad I got the chance to pursue my dreams after being in conflict with them for almost 10 years. Its HARD to convince immigrant parents to let you pursue a career thats art related. That usually means becoming a bum in their book. I’m trying everything I can to convince them that is NOT what I intend to do.
NT: I think you once used a Tape Machine as your backup band, now you use Samples and Loops, any chance of working with a full time band?
AZH: Yes, DB is now expanded into a 3 piece unit (for now) we’ll be recording the next album very soon. Can’t wait to get those songs out to people ASAP.
NT: You worked at a porn/film store when you were younger, did this experience have a big impact on you.
AZH: It may have perpetuated bad job choices in the subsequent 15 years that followed…
NT: Your record Badlands was selected for the Polaris Long List as well being on other critics top albums of 2011. What can we expect musically from you in 2012?
AZH: It will be a natural progression incorporating more live instrumentations over loops, as that is my
current set up.
NT: You have released some stuff on Cassette only labels, what is the attraction to going back to this
format for you and other people?
AZH: For people like me, the format didn’t matter as long as I could get my music out to more people. I have to thank Shawn Reed from Night People for this, because prior to those tapes, I was literally unknown and ignored in Montreal. Only my friends from Fixture Records were nice enough to encourage me and release my earlier materials, despite the disappointing sales figure. Listeners often think releasing a record is very easy, for unsigned bands like us it costs a fortune to print your own record on vinyl, or CDR even. Once you add up the printing and all the hardware, its quite a bit of money. Bigger independent labels don’t give a shit unless your somewhat marketable, which is understandable; its an investment. Thats why the tape labels are so integral to this current movement because we are part of the tradition of DIY ethics that came before us, not because we are audio snobs but because no one would do it for us. Of course we all want to get on labels with a bigger budget to fund our operations so we don’t have to sleep in cars when we tour, but unfortunately sometimes its all we have. Perhaps it speaks to our current predicament with music, and how we treat music physically as disposable objects. Once a CD is uploaded to a computer or a mp3 player, it is rendered useless. Its also wasteful too as one time usage products.
NT: Are you getting an itch to move soon? Or are you happy with where your at right now?
AZH: Actually I just moved back to montreal 5 days ago. hahahaha
NT: Which five records have most inspired you in your life?
AZH: I can give you 2 sincere ones, FIVE is way too much I can’t think that far back….
DJ Shadow – Entroducing Back in 2000 my friends turned me onto this, I started recording, making mix-tapes and instrumentals with samplers and turntables that my then-room mate “took” from someone who owed him money. That was a great year.
John Frusciante – Niandra Landes and usually just a t shirt I really liked a lot of the guitar instrumentals, and I started recording a lot of guitar noodlings after I heard this. It also made me want to be a really good singer. If you listen to it you’ll know what I mean.