X is Y is a newer band on the Shanghai rock scene. Layabozi caught up with members Guillaume and Fabien (mostly Guillaume, because it’s his project) over the Interwebs recently and here’s what went down.
Can we have a little background on each band member, please? Instruments, past bands, particular neuroses, date of the apocalypse, etc.?
Fabien: Instruments: Drums, Vocals.
Past bands: The Rogue Transmission, The Snots, The HuhuMamas…and a few ones that come up around Halloween like The Violent Phlegms or Yellow Riot! I’m also currently playing in The Fever Machine.
Particular Neuroses: Have you ever seen a psychoanalyst, Zack? Is hyperactivity one? Anyway, it’s carefully treated before gigs if so.
Date of apocalypse: What?
Guillaume: Instruments: Guitar, Vocals.
Past bands: My previous band was Basement in My Loft in Singapore, with Welsh and Singaporean singer songwriters. I’m playing drums on their first record. I’m also doing folk songs on my own.
Particular Neuroses: None left.
Date of apocalypse: We’ve never been so close.
Ben (bassist) used to play bass in a post rock band called Deviation in France. He is also an electronic musician (known as LON in Shanghai and responsible for the Amnesiac parties).
How did the band come together?
G: I was browsing Shanghai bands on Myspace and I noticed a guy called Fabien in the Top Friends of many local bands. His profile picture showed him playing drums. I asked him if he would like to start a band together. He agreed and introduced me to Ben who’s playing bass and was looking for a band. We started gigging a few weeks later.
What are some of the musical (or other) influences for each band member in particular, and on the X is Y sound, in general? Are there any bands that contributed to this band’s sound?
G: My main influences are Lou Barlow, Elliott Smith, Julie Doiron, Sufjan Stevens, Beck, Jim O’Rourke.
The bands that influence X is Y’s sound the most are Shellac, Shannon Wright, My Bloody Valentine and Codeine.
What was the division of labor when writing the album in terms of music and lyrics?
G: The record was co-produced by Jean Oison, who’s playing drums on the record. I wrote the music and lyrics, except on the song “Scream” which is a collaboration with Kirsten Johnson, a rapper and filmmaker from New Orleans.
Can you tell us a bit about the recording process, please? Where was it recorded? Who helped, if anyone?
I did all the tracking in my mother’s basement, which is large enough to allow far away mic’ing. I used a Firepod, Sytek pre-amps and different kinds of mics, such as AKG C414, Royer R121, a pair of Rode NT5, Shure Beta52a, a Shure KSM 141 and several SM57. A lot of time was spent on tuning the drums and finding the right placement for the mics.
After recording everything, I put the tracks in phase, mixed the record in Protools, didn’t use any compressors except on the bass, didn’t use any reverb either, except a little bit on vocals. I almost only used Equalizers. I wanted it to sound very dry and realistic and not too aggressive in order to avoid listener fatigue.
The album seems to have a very specific mood that permeates everything. Do you agree with that and, if so, what is that mood, in your eyes?
G: I think the contrast between the rough sounding music and the emotionless vocals makes the record sound pretty dark and hopeless. I spent time to find the right arrangement and then applied it to all the songs to have a very cohesive record.
Tell us about some of the different themes addressed in the lyrics of specific songs.
G: “Shoulder” is about readjusting your life after someone’s death. “Samold” is an encouragement to get over things. “Curse” is about having grudge against somebody.
We know that you have had a rough couple of shows: The Cassette show at Mao Livehouse (sparsely attended due to lack of promotion and going up against a big YYT show) and the LOgO show (technical problems due to the gig being at LOgO). Can you talk about the struggles of starting a new band here in Shanghai, trying to promote yourself and build a following?
G: I think we’ve been very lucky because starting this band wasn’t a huge struggle. We started gigging a few weeks after we got together. Things went pretty well because both Fabien and Ben are very skilled musicians and very well-connected on the local scene.
In order to remain connect with the audience, we’re using Douban, which works great.
How do you deal with these problems?
G: I don’t really think these were big problems, we’re just learning about the local scene and adapting to it.
About LOgO, Toshi from the Beat Bandits organized a fund raising show to buy LOgO a new drum kit, but the money raised won’t be enough to buy a decent drum kit. So I think LOgO should think about investing money in a proper drum kit and a better soundsystem. It would allow bigger event to be organized there, attract more bands, and bring more business.
Also, musicians spend time on composing and rehearsing their music. It would be mark of respect to provide them a decent setting to display their work. On our side, we’ll think twice before playing again at LOgO if things don’t get better.
What is next for X is Y in the coming months?
G: Our main goal at the moment is to promote the record (downloadable for free) by having as many gigs as possible. In the meantime, we’re working on a new EP and we’ll need a bit of time to find the right room and the right drum kit to record it.
There are many chances to catch X is Y live in the coming weeks, including this Sunday. Check out at least one of these future dates:
at live bar 696
with Maze (Beijing)
with Boys Climbing Ropes
with Fever Machine (Ed. Note: This show will be a BANGER!)
with Dead Vikings