After making their debut at Sónar, Hong Kong band Blood Wine or Honey are ready for the next stage
The band – two Britons and an American who met in the city – purvey a fascinating mix of styles and genres, and will play their second gig next month at the launch party for their first release, the EP Anxious Party People
A kind of benign musical manifestation of globalisation, Blood Wine or Honey are two Britons and an American who live in Hong Kong and met in the city, making music that betrays a smorgasbord of influences from around the world: a wildly experimental mash-up of psychedelia, madcap jazz, off-kilter funk, Afrobeat and electronica.
Adding to the band’s postmodern credentials, they existed as a concept long before their members ever picked up instruments together, and they have only played live once, at Hong Kong’s recent inaugural Sónar electronic music festival – quite a place to make your debut. On the back of mounting radio and label interest, and with a canny attitude born of the members’ many years in the music industry, the band have as good a chance as any from Hong Kong in recent years of making a splash internationally.
Blood Wine or Honey – whose debut EP Anxious Party People comes out on April 28 and then gets officially released at a second live show on May 6 – are made up of Shane Aspegren (drums and electronics), James Banbury (keyboard, bass and cello) and Joseph von Hess (wind instruments and percussion), who separately came to Hong Kong with their families between five and seven years ago.
Aspegren, from the US, was previously half of electronic music duo The Berg Sans Nipple during a seven-year period living in Paris; he’s also well known as a video, installation and performance artist.
Banbury, from the UK, has worked as a performer, composer, producer and arranger for the likes of Richard Ashcroft, Talvin Singh, Natalie Imbruglia, Snow Patrol and U2, as well as spending most of the 1990s as cellist with The Auteurs, a delightfully miserablist indie band with song titles such as Light Aircraft on Fire and Unsolved Child Murder, led by misanthropic contrarian Luke Haines; Banbury has also worked in film and extensively for TV commercials, through his company Component Music.
Von Hess, also from the UK, is the only member who has not consistently been a professional musician, although he forms half of gypsy jazz band Head Clowns, alongside his wife; he also had various other jobs in the UK, including driver of a mobile library (the job had its consolations: “I read a lot,” he says).
Banbury and von Hess met backstage when The Jesus and Mary Chain played at Kitec in 2012 (“Destroying the remnants of the rider,” they reminisce, in true rock ’n’ roll style). They met Aspegren at Clockenflap in 2013, when he was organising the cabaret tent; he had the idea of putting together a live karaoke band, and asked Head Clowns to take part.
“In my memory we talked about the band for about a year before we actually did it,” says von Hess. “We had the band name before we had any music – we were a concept before we were a band.” Eventually, however, they started jamming together, and gradually something unique started to emerge. “It’s been slow-moving,” says Aspegren. “Historically we’ve spent quite a small amount of time together, and it took us a while to work out how to work together.”
Banbury adds that for the first year, they were planning to recruit a singer, because “none of us really wants to sing”. They got around that problem by all doing the vocals together, which Banbury says “helped us to get over our embarrassment”.
The breakthrough moment for Blood Wine or Honey came a couple of months ago, when an advance copy of Anxious Party People found its way into the hands of BBC radio DJ and record label boss Gilles Peterson, who championed it with characteristic enthusiasm. Then followed Sónar (where Peterson also played Anxious Party People during his DJ set).
The band started with zero idea how they were going to perform their music live, and spent 14 days rehearsing before Sónar. “We definitely couldn’t play any of the songs when we started,” says Banbury. “We sort of reverse engineered our way into performing live. I’ve had experience before of taking studio projects on tour; it takes a long time.”
Von Hess adds: “We thought it’d be challenging to perform the songs, and we thought they’d end up being completely different from the recorded versions, but we were amazed how much we went back to the versions on the record.”
The band are minimising their exposure in Hong Kong – don’t expect to see them down The Wanch any time soon – but are looking for overseas festival gigs, and planning another EP, hopefully with the backing of a label. “The release of the record, that gig – they were all put in place in November,” says Banbury. “They’re stepping stones on a path – we’re looking for wider exposure than a one-off show.” The way things are going, they look highly likely to get it.