Chinese Psywaves is a collaboration between Neocha and M-Lab by Modern Sky. Throughout the month of May, we’re going to introduce four Chinese alternative rock groups who are making waves. For them, music is a spiritual sustenance that transcends the boundaries of genre. This week, we’ve got Chui Wan, a band that’s widely considered to be pioneers of Chinese neo-psychedelia.
Little known to most, there’s a certain kinship between Taoist philosophy and the psychedelic counterculture of the ’60s. Parallels can be found throughout the values they touted: both believed in the importance of expanding our limited perspectives, disengaging from the artificiality of society, and liberating our minds from external influence, to name a few. As pioneering psychedelic rock acts such as Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, and The Beatles topped Billboard charts, these countercultural principles even began appearing in the pop music of the era.
In March of 1968, between the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club and The White Album, the Beatles put out “The Inner Light,” a fairly obscure single that was tucked away as a B-side. The lyrics, penned by George Harrison, are entirely based on a chapter from Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. Other Taoist ideals appear throughout the Beatles’ discography, but this was one of the most unambiguous up until then.
「Chinese Psywaves」系列由摩登天空 M-Lab 和 Neocha 联合推出。整个五月，我们将为你查探四个中国区域地下摇滚乐队的独特波形。在他们的眼中，音乐不会任由形式的条框，精神的养料脱颖而出。本周，我们与成军刚满十年的吹万乐队进行了连线，通过他们洞察东方新迷幻音乐的独特一角。
你可能不知道，上世纪六十年代的嬉皮士运动其实与中国道教存在着一定的联系。在二者宣扬的价值体系中，我们可以观察到相通之处：他们都相信开阔有限视角、脱离社会人为因素、将思想从外部影响中解放出来的重要性。而作为迷幻文化运动的直接产物，迷幻摇滚乐似乎也与道家学说有着说不清道不明的联系。在那些赫赫有名的迷幻摇滚传奇乐队中，譬如 Jefferson Airplane、The Doors 和 The Beatles 等等，他们的一些作品多少都与道教思想有着相似的内涵。曾几何时，你甚至能在六十年代主流乐坛中瞥见这种类似道教的创作思路。
1968 年 3 月，在 The Beatles 专辑《Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club》和《The White Album》发行的间隔，乐队曾发行过一首名为《The Inner Light》的单曲，该单曲由乐队主音吉他手 George Harrison 编写完成。整首单曲的歌词摘自老子《道德经》的一个章节。尽管在 The Beatles 过往的作品中也出现过类似道教思想的例子，但《The Inner Light》的确是最直截了当的引用。
Oceans and decades away from the roots of the psychedelic movement, Taoism remains just as relevant for a new generation of psychedelic rockers in China. Beijing-based band Chui Wan—whose name itself comes from a passage of Taoist text that suggests beauty can be found in the mundane—is reweaving the thread between psychedelic music and Chinese culture as they dish out their unique take on the genre.
“As a Chinese musician, I don’t need to look to my Western peers, who may want to follow in the steps of their ‘60s predecessors,” says Yan Yulong, the frontman and guitarist of Chui Wan. “In our interpretation of the psychedelic sound, we only need to look to our own culture.”
跨越数十年，这种来自反主流文化的音乐形式漂洋过海来到东方，同时也为这个符号增添了更多神秘的意味。中国新一代迷幻摇滚乐手们在道教与迷幻摇滚的融合上是有过之无不及的。坐标北京的吹万乐队，他们名字便出自道家代表人物庄子的《齐物论》。（“吹万” 一词在其中被解释为 “谓风吹万窍，发出各种音响，后用来比喻恩泽广被天下。”）他们在迷幻音乐和中国文化之间寻找线索，创造独特的编曲形式。乐队主唱兼吉他手闫玉龙说：“作为一名中国音乐人，我并不太会去参考西方当代的音乐，因为他们会去追寻他们六十年代的先辈，而我则将目光放在自身的文化。”
Listen to some select tracks from Chui Wan’s White Night below:
In 2012, Chui Wan’s inaugural album, White Night, was released to critical acclaim. From the infectious surf riffs of the intro track “Swimming” to the wall-of-sound guitars and guttural bassline of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” Chui Wan debuted an impressive range that showed the world Chinese neo-psychedelia wasn’t to be taken lightly.
Despite roster changes since, Chui Wan’s subsequent albums, the self-titled Chui Wan and The Landscape the Tropics Never Had, were built on a similar aural vocabulary, though each added a new lexicon of sounds. The band’s latest release, Eye, is perhaps their most ambitious to date. The album—backed by the experience of three LPs and multiple world tours—demonstrates a newfound sureness of footing as the band treads deeper into uncharted sonic and lyrical terrains. On “Primitive Reverberation,” Yan forgoes lucidity for a series of “ehs” and “ohs” uttered at varying inflections or stretched out in a single lungful of air; in “Just Beginning,” looping synth stabs give way to an unexpected outburst of distorted guitars and a few delicate notes of Japanese strings; on “All Tomorrow’s Flowers,” bassist and vocalist Wu Qiong closes the album with a lullaby that promises a better tomorrow—and if the band’s musical evolution is any indicator, with passing time, things do seem to only get better.
Neocha recently caught up with Yan, bassist and vocalist Wu Qiong, and drummer Wen Zheng to discuss the new direction they took with Eye, the importance of artistic collaboration, and how life in China influences their music.
2019 年，乐队最新发行的全长专辑《眼》，可能是吹万有史以来最具野心的作品。经历了前三张专辑积累的经验，以及多场世界巡演之后的感悟，吹万乐队更加深入地涉足未知的 “音域”，歌词和演唱方面也有了更多的突破，开创了乐队新声音的大陆。在歌曲《原始回响》里，“啊” 和 “哦” 等感叹词代替了歌词部分，闫玉龙抑扬顿挫的唱腔弥漫在空气中；你还会在《刚刚开始》中听到飘绕往复的合成器旋律，同时歌中编入的失真吉他和日本弦乐器也令人 “眼” 前一亮。专辑在贝司手吴琼吟唱的一支摇篮曲《所有明天的花朵》中结束，表达了对美好明天的展望 —— 乐队把新声音的种子埋在地下，未来的花朵会开得更加响亮。
Listen to select tracks from Chui Wan’s Eye below:
Neocha: Let’s talk a bit about the latest album, Eye. What were some of the inspirations behind it?
Yan: The title is inspired by perception and mysticism. The album as a whole is related to the memories and lives of the band members; it’s a subjective exploration of our sensory experiences.
In terms of sound, the recurring folk influences of past albums have taken a backseat in Eye. We wanted to get even more experimental. There’s also a lot more emphasis on lyricism and vocals.
Wu Qiong: I was inspired by close acquaintances and my relationships with them, in all their complexities and simplicities. Memories also play a big part. Lyrically, English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and Chinese poet Gu Cheng were big influences.
Wen Zheng: “Eye” represents seeing oneself with absolute clarity; it means peering through the window of the world.
文正: “眼” 代表了认清自己，看见世界的窗口。
Neocha: Chui Wan’s music always seems to be wrapped in a sense of nostalgia. Is this something intentional? With passing time, do you have a new perspective on the topic of nostalgia and memories?
Yan: Memories are important. They’re proof that we’re alive. Whenever I think about memories and life, a poem by Edith Sodergran comes to mind. In it, she muses on the loneliness of existence: we enter this world alone, and we must also leave alone.
To me, my younger years were my best years, musically. During that time, I’d say 80% of my time was dedicated to music; everything seemed so carefree. People say that getting older makes you wiser, but I feel like I’ve only gotten lazier.
Neocha: Descriptions like cinematic and filmic are often used to define Chui Wan’s work. How do you think this is achieved?
Wen Zheng: Every time we’re jamming out or working on a new song, it feels like my drumming is in dialogue with the melody. There’s a tangible exchange of emotions, with every member of the band adding to the conversation with their instruments. Whenever I get lost in that moment, that’s when I begin seeing visuals.
Neocha: 曾有人形容 Chui Wan 乐队的音乐是富有 “画面感” 的，这一点你们是怎么做到的？
Neocha: Having undergone multiple roster changes between White Night and Eye, would you say the band’s original vision has changed?
Yan Yulong: Every person who’s been a part of Chui Wan has been an indispensable part of the band. They’ve all contributed their unique talents and energy to our sound. As a quartet, every member is of equal importance. This collaborative mindset is what’s helped us shape our music.
With the new addition of guitarist Wu Dong, he’s bringing his own creative energy to the table. Aside from just music, he’s also an expert in making DIY instruments. I’ve always wanted to work with him and develop a new effects pedal. There’s a lot to look forward to. But no matter what, the most important thing for the band has always been to make music that every band member enjoys.
Wen Zheng: Every new member is a new variable in the equation. Though we’re all equally motivated to create good music, but the emotions of each person is completely different.
闫玉龙: 在之前在乐队中一起共事过的伙伴们，每一位都为 Chui Wan 带来了音乐上的能量，贡献出自己的才华。四个人的乐队，缺一不可，只有达到这样的程度才能做出好的音乐。
Neocha: The band worked with director Ju Anqi on the music video for “Gentle Blinding Love.” What was that like?
Yan: It was great. It was effortless. When we were shooting the music video, our band members only had minimal input. I’ve always believed that support and trust are important parts of a collaboration. This holds especially true when working with someone who I admire and respect.
During the shoot, we just listened to Anqi. The band was only a supporting cast in fulfilling his creative vision. The only thing is, I’d say we could’ve improved on our acting skills. Hopefully, we can do better next time.
Wen Zheng: The concepts we had in mind were quite in sync with An Qi’s own ideas. We respected his expertise and gave him the creative reins. Our complete trust in him made the collaboration pretty straightforward.
Neocha: 去年，乐队与导演雎安奇合作了音乐 MV《缱绻温柔》，你们的合作过程怎么样？
Neocha: On the topic of collaboration, you’ve worked with collaborators worldwide, such as Rusty Santos. Have these collaborations changed the way you approach your music?
Yan: You learn a lot when collaborating with others, and it can bring your own flaws to light. Take for example, when we work with Rusty Santos, he’s always bringing new ideas to the table. Whether it’s recording or mixing, there are always new things to learn. It’s always fresh and exciting. We also now have a better understanding of how every country, every city, and every individual even has their own taste in music. These diverse tastes mean experimentative—eclectic even—sounds can flourish.
Wen Zheng: With Rusty’s input, we included a lot of stringed instruments in the album. He offered a tremendous amount of creative insight that we wouldn’t have thought of ourselves.
Neocha: 你们在过去有很多国际上的合作，包括专辑《眼》也是与制作人 Rusty Santos 合作。这些合作对你们的音乐创作有什么影响？
闫玉龙: 合作的同时，也能学习到很多东西，意识到自己的不足。像每次与 Rusty合作，他总能拿出新的东西。包括录音和混音中每一天的进展，都是新奇有趣的。
文正: Rusty 为我们的作品融入很多管弦乐的部分，为我们提供了很多意想不到的创作元素。
Neocha: There’s a fluidity to the band’s brand of psychedelic rock that in itself is in line with Taoism, and the band is named after Taoist text. What’s the connection between Taoism and your music?
Yan: As many people know, the name Chui Wan comes from Lao Tzu. He wrote, “When the wind blows, every sound may be heard therein.” To us, that represents spontaneity, and it’s a poetic interpretation of what the band is all about. One thing to note is that what we focus on and create are—of course—contemporary music. In both life and music, our ideals should try and align with contemporary schools of thought, but at the same time, it’s good to look to the past for inspiration and wisdom. Right?
Neocha: This year marks the 10th anniversary of the band’s formation. As veterans of Beijing’s underground music scene, how would you say it’s evolved? And for you guys, what are your aspirations going forward?
Yan: Wow! Time passes way too quickly. To be honest, I don’t think I’m as in touch with Beijing’s current underground music scene as before. As for the future, I just want this pandemic to end.
Contributor: David Yen
Chinese Translation: Pete Zhang
Photographers: Hai Shen She, Fu Jing, Wang Yishu
Images Courtesy of Chui Wan