Hong Kong indie rockers Kestrels and Kites eye China concerts
Band are looking to spread their wings and build a following outside the city
Hong Kong indie-pop outfit Kestrels and Kites are much like the city they call home — a composite of diverse people scooped up from elsewhere, drawn together by an almost inexhaustible drive to make things work. When the band formed in 2009, they were officially known as Jade and the Stagger Swallows and featured three members.
Of that original line-up, only the singer — Tiffany Laue (the "Jade" of the band name) — remains, and there have been many entrances and exits over the years, with members from other groups, such as Hungry Ghosts and Shotgun Politics, jumping in. It's quite a feat that the band, renamed Kestrels and Kites in 2011, still exists at all. But perhaps that is why their latest EP, Higher than Mountains, is a hymn to finding ways round obstacles (or smashing them) and negotiating the bumps in the road.
"We titled the EP after one of the singles, and that song was about trying not to get stuck in the dumps of it all," says Laue, who sings on every track. "We thought it was a nice title to give the record a more positive, uplifting note."
The band today consists of Laue, Luke Chow (who joined on the second EP in 2011), Owen Fung and Jon Mussell. The latter two joined midway through production of Higher than Mountains, which will be officially released at a live show at Backstage Live in Central on July 4.
"Our former drummer Freddie got really busy with his family so we recorded everything when he was away and then I just mapped out all the drum patterns in Logic while we looked around for a new drummer," says Chow, who is also in Hungry Ghosts with Laue. "Then we were looking for another guitarist, so when Owen and Jon joined, we added them to the tracks. It's a pretty crazy way of recording an EP — not a conventional approach — but the new guys really added an element to the songs and the band, so we wanted to try and incorporate that energy."
The result is a sound that is still, intrinsically, Kestrels and Kites — poppy, upbeat tunes — but layered with subtle voices from a cluster of different indie bands in Hong Kong. Surprisingly, too, the EP sounds very much like a live band playing all together in a room, which is testament to Laue and Chow's professional studio tweaking as well as the natural camaraderie between the members of the current line-up.
"There's definitely a transformation with all three of our EPs that I've worked on, as they were made with different musicians who shaped the direction of the records," says Laue. "But now, I think we're all happier in terms of the band, we all get along, which is important, and band practice is really fun and very organic."
With all members focusing on Kestrels and Kites as their main creative outlet now, the band has some real momentum. "I took a lot more risks here than I would have taken with Hungry Ghosts, which is kind of on hiatus at the moment," says Chow. He adds that they've been visiting the southern regions of China to play gigs recently — something they'd never considered before. They were given a positive reception by new fans in Shenzhen and Zhuhai, both known for their vibrant live music scenes. This was refreshing for all the members of Kestrels and Kites, who have been in Hong Kong's music scene for years and are aware of the pros and cons of producing original content in the city. Laue cites various venues as being major support systems for artists — in fact, she met Chow at The Wanch in Wan Chai — but it's still not enough.
"I guess the majority in Hong Kong are interested in covers but not original music — there's not much of a crowd that comes to our shows who aren't our friends. But our plan is to do more touring, go and see more of China and play to different crowds."
With that in mind, Chow says the band are looking to really shake up their touring schedule geographically for their next EP, which they've already begun working on.
"I think it's a band's responsibility to build a following and we've stayed in Hong Kong most of the time," says Chow.
"I don't even know why I never decided to go up to Guangzhou until now, but it's just around the corner — there are millions of people who love guitar and bass music. Touring will keep us alive."
Kestrels and Kites EP launch, July 4, 9.30pm, Backstage Live, 1/F Somptueux Central, 52-54 Wellington Street, Central, HK$150. Inquiries: 2167 8985