It’s not the first time we have an interview with a China-based band at Distrolution. Round Eye is from Shanghai but they differ from other bands as they are all foreigners who formed a band in Shanghai. They have a lot of influences, from punk to free-jazz. Let’s dive into it !
Hello guys ! Round Eye is a band from Shanghai in China, but you don’t look very Chinese, hence the pun on your band name. So, who is Round Eye and why are you guys based in Shanghai ?
Chachy: My name is Chachy. I sing and play guitar and sometimes keyboard. I’m based in Shanghai due to work.
Gil: Simply put Round Eye is five like minded people trying to rock a little harder than the next guy. Just a squirrel trying to get a nut, the fact we met in Shanghai is irrelevant. We are based here for different reasons.
Jimmy Jack: We are all Round Eye, based here because this is where we all lived when we met. Nothing more, nothing less.
You mention a lot of influences, from early punk bands like The Stooges to free jazz, and had many famous guests on your records (Greg Ginn of Black Flag, Steve Mackay of The Stooges, Joey Shithead of DOA, …). Really impressive ! Please could you share some cool stories about this ?
Gil: No, we will not share – we acknowledge our influences because it is critical to be aware where our music comes from, as well as not being arrogant enough to think we developed this music out of a vacuum.
Chachy: I met Greg when my previous band (Libyan Hit Squad) opened for his band The Taylor Texas Corrugators in Gainesville FL. We were the only band on the bill opening the show and played an entirely instrumental set. I was super nervous because we hadn’t done that before and we didn’t know how it was going to go down. To our relief, he was really supportive of it and we got to know each other a bit more. After that, while on tour, he came out to see us in Austin. It happened to be his birthday that night so after the gig we went to a bar and had a couple of beers, smoked a bit and brought up working together on a recording. I mailed him the track with some notes after we finished it and he mailed it right back. He was really very nice to us. Sherry, the very nice lady who worked for SST at the time showed us her most impressive dildo collection while we took tequila shots out of each others bellybuttons…Greg had gone home before that stuff went down unfortunately.
Steve came after I sent him a letter expressing how much I admired his work. He and his bandmate Scott Nydegger invited me out to dinner before their show at YYT (2011?) and we hit it off. I spent the next few days with them and before they went to Xi’an they asked if I could fill in on bass at their gig at Aperture Club. I called off of work and took the first train out. My first live show in China. We kept in touch ever since. He’d sit in with us when we played the bay area and we started talking about writing together which culminated with Round Eye’s first album and following tour. Steve, in a strange way, was the impetus of my and Jimmy Jack’s involvement with the Chinese music scene. Just for the sake of clarity, Joey isn’t on our records; he releases us on his label Sudden Death. But he’s more than welcome to join us whenever he wants! Love ya, Mr. Shithead.
Jimmy Jack: Steve was a great guy. First met him as a post-middle-aged sax wielding wild man in San Francisco. When meeting him again in China a few years later and it was a different story: Steve got cancer and his treatments had taken their toll. He was pretty worn down this time.
I remember vividly a night in Beijing. We were all still smoking and drinking in our hostel and Steve was telling stories of the past. Really amazing stories about many of our influences. The entire time I was thinking how lucky I was.
Steve probably went to china while his doctors advised against it. Steve was most likely told to stop smoking and drinking, he didn’t seem to listen. He said ‘Fuck it’ and flew 7000 miles to rock and roll. It’s a night I’ll never forget and a man who I will always look up to.
So, what does it take to be a punk band in China ? Does it make a big difference being foreigners when it comes to freedom of speech ?
Gil: I’ll answer the latter first; as we are guests in this country it is not our place to demand freedom of speech. Round Eye is mostly composed of Americans, and we hold the right to freedom of speech dear, but it is our duty to respect the rules of our host, regardless of whether or not we agree with those rules.
To answer your first question it’s fucking tough, super fucking tough. Did I mention its tough? We’re bashing our heads against the wall bringing the good news to a bunch of apathetic motherfuckers more concerned with being seen flaunting their middle class status through Starbucks coffees and Coach bags.
Jimmy Jack: Some nights we play in front of a fun loving, energetic packed house. Some nights we play in front of 20 disinterested businessmen. Some nights we play in front of people who were too drunk to remember. And some nights we suck.
Chachy: China’s in bed with a lot of US politics at the moment, so internationally the topic isn’t exactly taboo with me (Monstervision’s Pink House). If a Chinese person expressed to me a negative opinion about Donald Trump I’m not gonna be perturbed at his criticism of my president’s antics. But yes you must be careful and considerate; they really are paying attention.
We’re not Chinese. We’re not Asian. I don’t really know if I can answer this question as our situation is a bit unique. I can definitely tell you what it takes to be a foreign band based in China and that’s conviction and a good attitude because it’s tough. If you, a foreigner, want to get involved as an artists on a serious scale in China, brace yourself; It’s an uphill battle against indifference and supposedly hip assholes, both native and foreigner (mostly), who will try to say that you aren’t a legitimate player on the scene because of your nationality. You’ll be faced with a lot of outright discrimination and negativity from the get go. Thankfully, it’s not all like this. There’s beautiful people from all over in Shanghai and quite a few of them are very very close, true friends of mine, but this happens enough for it to be recognized as an issue. Also, you gotta remember that anytime you see a band of foreigners playing an event, chances are, on paper, it’s illegal. We have to get registered and go through a bunch of legal procedures in order to perform a festival or even at MAO or YYT. I dunno man. Ups and downs.
Remember that ALL CHINA issue of Maximum Rock n Roll that came out a while ago? Can you guess which city was not in the write up? Funny too considering I organized a MRR benefit show at YYT (one of only two benefits for MRR in all of mainland China the other being Beijing). I’m still perplexed about the exclusion. On the gig was Loudspeaker, Torturing Nurse, Pinball City, Zilu, and Round Eye.
Speaking about the Chinese or Shanghaiese punk scenes, how are they doing and how does it work there ? How is Round Eye involved into these ?
Gil: This is a very very broad question; almost would be more appropriate for a separate interview. All we can say is that we see encouraging spurts here and there, and a network is slowly growing – but at the same time we also see local bands take one step forward and two steps back. It is already an environment not conducive to encouraging punk – and on top of that these bands seem to be experts in shooting themselves in the foot at every opportunity they get.
Chachy: Now, for the moment, things are quiet save for, as Gil put it, spurts here and there. Mirrors, 脏手指， Manto, Loudspeaker, 谷水车间， 老阿姨, (Dirty Fingers, Dreamcan, and Old Aunties) are out there playing. Spill Your Guts toured Russia and released music. Junky, the mighty Torturing Nurse is still at it and running his noise events at Chair Club. There’s new bands like Nerve Passenger, DaHaHa, Ugly Girls, Rebellion, and Foster Parents. NEO bar and Inferno closed. I think Duck Fight Goose are still around. I don’t know, man haha maybe I’m just totally not in touch with shit. What Shanghai needs is another 小中 , that dude was an active little fucker. I still miss reading his Slinkrat blog.
In regards to Round Eye, we play when we can and we do what we can for the community. Gil, Morgan Short, and Lao Lu of Yuyintang have opened up Shanghai’s only true rock and roll dive bar Specters in the middle of Jing’an district, which is fucking fantastic. Yuyintang is opening a second venue for live music which is going to be called Yuyintang Park (I believe, according you mainman Lu). We’re bringing over THE DICKIES in March and Deniz Tek of Radio Birdman in June and having a bunch of new and old friends join us in support.
Jimmy Jack: I’m not answering this, hahaha !
What are the next steps with Round Eye ? Any plans for 2018 ?
Gil: An unrelenting and uncompromising forward march. We will not pick a fight with anyone, but if you back us into a corner we will fucking kill you.
Chachy: We’re touring the states for about 32 gigs with Zhao Kai of Bedstars filling in on guitar and this will be his first time visiting the USA! That’s gonna go down in July/August but before that we’re playing California for a week next month. We’re working on new material and will probably have a new video by May.
Jimmy Jack: Everything we have been doing since day one. Keep writing, recording, touring and making music videos.