WHEN TAIWAN ROCK group Mayday announced a two-year hiatus in 2001 for national service, fans were distraught. More than 80,000 people packed their open-air farewell concerts and those who couldn't get a ticket jostled outside. Mayday returned in 2003, better than ever, and have since gone on to conquer greater China. Now they're preparing to play concerts in Beijing, Guangzhou and Hong Kong later this year, and tickets for their shows in Shanghai next month are selling quickly, with the most expensive $1,280 seats already snapped up. In Hong Kong last week as part of the first leg of a tour to promote their new album Just My Pride (Content in Chinese) the quintet were visibly drained, having had little sleep on a rigorous publicity tour. But that didn't stop them from lifting their energy levels for the cameras. It's been a gruelling two years for the band, but vocalist Ashin (Chen Sin-hong) believes it won't take long for them to recover. 'When we make fun of each other and talk about our goals, the fatigue disappears. We have fun most of the time.' There's plenty of buffoonery between Ashin and his bandmates - bassist Masa (Matthew Tsai Sing-yan), guitarists Monster (Wun Shang-yi) and Stone (Shih Hang-wei) and drummer Ming (Liu Yan-ming). 'We've known each other for about 14 years - from the time when we knew knowing nothing about music to learning guitar together. We've been growing and supporting each other all these years,' says Monster. 'We're like brothers, not just music partners or ordinary friends.' In fact, they spend most of their free time together in the studio. The founding members - Ashin, Monster, Masa and Stone - have been making music together since secondary school, when veteran Taiwanese rockers such as Lo Ta-yu and Wu Bai were early influences. At university, they were active in the band scene, Ashin being among the organisers of the first Formoz Festival, now a major event in the region. Forming Mayday in 1997, the core quartet were quick to start writing their own material. A year later, one of their demos made it to the desk of Rock Records singer-songwriter Jonathan Lee Zhong-chen. He was impressed and persuaded the company to sign the band. Ming came onboard in 1999, just before they toured as support act for singer-songwriter Richie Jen Hsien-chi and released their eponymous debut album. A mix of rock ballads and punk workouts dealing with subjects ranging from the pursuit of dreams to illegal drag racing, the set struck a chord with young listeners, shifting more than 300,000 copies and becoming one of that year's 10 best-selling discs in Taiwan. They say the key to success is keeping things honest. 'Our music is like our journal. We put the experiences and changes in our lives into our songs,' says Ashin. 'Every song is a time capsule.' Nevertheless, there's an underlying theme. 'Mayday's not about fuelling rock songs with dynamic drums and thrashing guitars,' says Monster. 'Besides love and peace, we hope people can find themselves. Everyone is unique, and we hope people can feel that they're unique when they listen to our music. From the day we're born, we're competing with others to be number one. But if you can be yourself, you're already number one. We hope people can understand this and appreciate themselves.' Energetic stage performances are a big part of Mayday's appeal, and they get a natural high from the experience. 'Playing live is important to us,' says Ashin. 'It's the most direct way for people to feel the energy of our music and to get the message in our songs. We like live gigs, big or small.' If some industry types were worried about the impact of their stint in the army, the band weren't. 'We believed if we were dedicated, people would continue to support us,' says Masa. 'We just took the two years as a time for us to settle down for a while.' And they were right. Their comeback album Time Machine was a hit and a reunion concert in Taipei drew 40,000 fans, breaking the island's ticket-sales record held by Michael Jackson's 1996 HIStory tour. Being rock idols hasn't changed their lifestyles. 'We don't buy houses and sports cars, or eat in luxury restaurants. It's pretty much like when we were students - we buy our own takeaways, we go out in flip-flops to take out the garbage,' says Monster. 'We like this kind of down-to-earth life.' Rather, what they earn is reinvested in new equipment for their studio so they can produce 'music we like' and which fans can relate to. 'We're not sure if we're successful, but we're happy with what we're doing at the moment,' says Ashin. Stone, the only married member of the group, had hoped there would some changes to their crazy schedules since becoming a family man two years ago. 'But there hasn't been any,' he says. 'When we're recording, we work day to night, night to day once the studio door is closed.' For all their achievements, the five aren't resting on their laurels. They say their attitude to life is reflected in their latest release. They are never satisfied with their music, they say, and always strive to do better. Dubbed the Chinese answer to The Beatles, Mayday still dream of one day being just as influential in Chinese rock. 'In our studio, there's a big poster of The Beatles. Every time I see this poster, the weariness from doing all the promotions and occasional disillusionment from the music business becomes minor,' says Ashin 'Maybe 30 years later, there will be a band posting our pictures in their studio. That would be success.' Stone adds: 'We also dream that when we're 60 or 70 we can still perform like The Rolling Stones.'