Beijing band Carsick Cars feels that travel broadens its music
Carsick Cars seem to be permanently on tour but they haven't lost touch with their Beijing roots, writes Rachel Mok
The members of Beijing experimental rock trio Carsick Cars have probably been feeling a little carsick themselves these days. In the lead-up to their latest show in Hong Kong on April 20, the band have been undertaking a month-long road trip of North America, performing in more than 20 cities — from San Francisco on the west coast of the US, to major Canadian cities, and then back to New York for the finale — to promote their third album, simply called 3.
Carsick Cars are about to cross the Canadian border and return to the US as we speak, and the crew have stopped by a post office to send some vinyl records to fans who ordered the new album. And although they have been frequent visitors to Austin's South by Southwest music festival in recent years, this is the first time Carsick Cars have toured Canada and the US back to back.
Frontman Zhang Shouwang considers the road trip a little dream come true. "We have been driving all day and night. It is like I'm writing my own version [of Jack Kerouac's Beat Generation novel] On the Road," the 28-year-old vocalist says in a calm and shy voice. "We were driving along the Rocky Mountains the other day and the scenery was so beautiful."
But the fact is that Carsick Cars have always been on the road — and they won't be applying the brakes any time soon. After the North American tour, they will embark on a two-month tour of China that, following the Hong Kong show, will include a headline performance at Beijing's premier Strawberry Music Festival in May. In July, the band will travel to Britain to play cities including Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham.
This constant travel has inspired the band's songwriting — most of their songs are written while on the road. "We feel really lucky to be able to play overseas. It is very important for bands like us to broaden our horizons and let more people hear our music. Eventually we take what we have learned and our experience back to the country," Zhang says.
When he's overseas, Zhang is often amazed when audience members sing along with their tunes. "It surprises me that people know the words to our songs when we go to some smaller cities in the US," he says. Although the fact that most of the band's songs are written in English helps, "I think that music is an international language and they feel our energy," Zhang says.
Credit should also go to the band's label, Maybe Mars, which constantly takes mainland bands overseas for tours and festivals. Carsick Cars' label mates, which include, Re-Tros, Duck Fight Goose and Pet Conspiracy are also about to launch a five-date European tour as part of the China Drifting Festival.
The label has also helped to line the band up with collaborations with influential international musicians. Zhang's side project, the experimental electronic collective known as White, was produced by industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten's frontman Blixa Bargeld.
Their latest release, 3, was co-produced by former Spacemen 3 guitarist and keyboardist Peter Kember (aka Sonic Boom) and The Clean's Hamish Kilgour in New York last year.
"They tried hard to accommodate us," Zhang says of his collaborators. "They set the bar very high, too, so it has been a good learning experience for us. They have definitely moved our sound a step forward."
Compared to the brooding and claustrophobic sound of their first two albums — Carsick Cars and You Can Listen, You Can Talk — the band's latest album is more melodic and brighter. The single Wild Grass sounds like British guitar pop from the 1980s.
New bassist He Fan and drummer Sun Heting, who both joined the band in 2011, have played a major role in this much more accessible album from the Beijing indie icons. "We are more mature now, and it is reflected in the new album. It has been five years since our last album and we have grown a lot because of the touring, and because of our personal experiences," says Zhang.
Despite having spent a lot of time in New York and Berlin, the Beijing native still considers his home city a perfect place for creative young people.
"Anything can happen there. There was a period in history where Beijing was quite blank, but now everything is exploding. We have a lot of young talent waiting to be seen."
Carsick Cars, Apr 20, 8.30pm, Hidden Agenda, 2A Wing Fu Bldg, 15-17 Tai Yip St, Kwun Tong, HK$180 (advance), HK$220 (door). Inquiries: 9170 6073