Proximity Butterfly meet us for beers

Chengdumusic - What’s the best and worst questions you’ve been asked in interviews?

Heather – It’s usually pretty basic like where are you from and why did you come to China.

CM – OK, then, next question. Why did you come to China?

Joshua - (Laughs) Instead of saying the best question, it’s always been fun for us to answer questions differently. I think we were in Wuhan or something and this woman was doing an interview with us, and she asked us, where are you from? And Rob was like, “I’m from Uranus”.

Rob – No! I said Neptune. It’s right next to Uranus.

J – You could tell she wasn’t really paying attention, she was like, oh really, that’s fantastic. We’re saying we’re from outer space and just the look on her face is like, oh that’s great, the weather must be great there.

CM – I think that’s the stupidest question covered.

R – Aside from the one you just asked

J – Maybe some good questions are when people get really penetrating and ask about the song writing and the whole process of doing it. Sometimes people ask about going on tour and all the details and planning things out, and from the band’s perspective this is very interesting because people just see you up on a stage and they don’t really think about all the little stuff and everything you have to go through. Its not only about loving music, it really has a lot to do with organizing and planning things well and getting up early in the morning. Doing interviews, it’s sometimes nice to bring those parts out to people’s attention so people can feel it’s not just you getting wasted every day and all of a sudden these songs just randomly come out.

CM- We did actually want to ask you about the process of making a track. Where do you start? How does it all come together?

R- Every one is different. Sometimes the songs just come out of jams and stuff, other times it’s one member, usually Joshua, will just have the idea and we’ll take his theme and build around it.

H – Sometimes it’ll just be jamming continually on one riff or something. If we’ve been talking about a story before or something happening in the world and that kind of influences the mood of that song. Our new album is all related to the Sichuan earthquake. A lot of the songs have a connection to that mood or feeling. We have a big whiteboard in our practice room so we draw song maps. That one riff that was the start of the song, we might draw a picture that represents that riff. It could be anything like a horse in the dessert and you go to the next one and that could be a burst of sunshine. The next one could be a sharp edge or something like that. We just keep building the song. Usually when we have a tune in place and everyone understands it then we start rearranging or cutting a part down in length or something like that until we like it. Sometimes it goes really fast, other times we might be thinking about it for a month, rearranging and redoing it.

J - As a band we don’t listen to tons of music. It’s not that we don’t like music, it’s really like we love music so much we really get bored of the same old patterns. You bounce back and forth -- what music do you want to hear, what music do you want to build. Sometimes it’s inspirational and sometimes you have to craft it and go through bits and parts and say this is too long or that’s too short. It needs to change here, it needs to change there. We want to make something that we would want to listen to. Something that is really unlike anything that you often hear. We don’t really sing about walking down the street and seeing a girl and stuff like that. It’s really just from the places in our life and how we see things. The song constructions can be really abstract. It can be seen through metaphorical landscapes that can reflect into all parts of our lives. Our last album was focused mostly on the earthquake. Wang Yong’s from Penzhou so his family was heavily hit by it, so the songs in that album they’re not just tunes, they’re very real. He was helping carry dead people and that has a huge impact on you when you’re trying to put it into a theme or format where people will listen to it and probably have no feelings towards it and just be like, that’s a catchy beat. So it’s an interesting process trying to keep it emotionally balanced to things that are very real and at the same time being appealing to people that are outside of the way we think. One of the reasons we choose the name of the band was so we could just go anywhere and just go in all directions.

CM - Speaking of all the things you draw from, like the earthquake and your personal life, what music currently are you drawing from or what other things are influencing you?

J- Robert really introduces a lot of old music to us -- like blues players, when you hear the lyrics and hear the skills and hear that there are no effects, it’s just a guy sitting in front of a mic. Those things can impact you a lot. I’m not really big on remembering names of people and stuff, but for me in the last couple of years The Mars Volta has had a really large influence because I thought they were reaching out and doing something really different than what a lot of bands were doing. Robert’s pointed some Tool out at me. I’m not particularly a huge fan but you definitely respect a lot of music whether you would love to listen to it or not. I think that’s an important part. It sounds silly but you would put in Neil Diamond to listen to the texture and not listen for lyrical quality.

CM – We want to ask you a bit more about the whiteboard and pictures. Does the art influence the music or is it the other way about?

H – It’s both. Especially in the beginning when we started with chen du xi a long time ago. He’s a painter, I like to paint and we didn’t speak a lot of the same language at the time so we did a lot with images. Sometimes listening to a song will give you an idea for the art work that’s going with it or just doodling in a book and you see something that really sticks to one song and we work on that to develop album artwork. Our practice room is also covered in lots of weird images. The visuals were a good way for communicating without the language back in the beginning. It works really well actually, because when you’re playing a song and you have that visual it’s on the map and the one that’s in your head, too. It can help you, like Joshua was saying. You have to keep things close to you and especially when you’re playing a lot of shows, you can’t just keep on going through the song, you have to play the emotion that it came from.

J –It’s like you can imagine, telling the same joke over and over again. You go on tour and you have to play 20 cities or something, its like telling the same joke again and again and again. You have to hold on to why it’s incredibly funny and believe in that funny, then it can be funny every time. It’s an interesting part of doing it because the art turns everything you’re doing into a kind of live stream movie where you can just place yourself inside of it and make everything real.

CM How much of your shows are kind of like reinventing the music and playing the songs a bit differently to get that original feeling or emotions behind the song?

R – All the time. Every show.

H – A lot of our song structures have a spot in them that are really loose and are really changeable. It’s usually really intuitive, we just kind of look at each other. Joshua will jam out and sing a bunch of stuff we’ve never heard before

J – It’s cool. We might go into a part where Wang Yong usually plays really heavy and all of a sudden he’s playing really soft. Then everyone just gravitates around his expression. We try to keep the shows really alive to us ‘cause back to the joke thing, you can tell if somebody’s told it 100 times, it just takes away from it being funny, so you have to make it really interesting every time.

CM – Is there any added pressure on you seeing as you’re opening the Zebra Festival on the main stage? Or are you approaching it differently as it’s a bigger gig?

R – The pressure is a positive thing. Maybe you could call it excitement. We want to rehearse more because of it.

CM – Do you produce everything yourselves?

R- Everything.

H – For this album Joshua did it all. He took care of the recording and the mixing and the mastering, basically everything. Before that we did most of it but we had a Chinese guy helping out with the recording. He would do some of the mixing and mastering and set everything up and tell us to go and stop and things like that.

CM – How long does a normal practice session last?

R – Four hours, sometimes five.

J – If we’re working on new material it can get real extensive, maybe we’d start at 10 in the morning and finish at seven or eight at night.

CM – How did you meet Wang Yong?

J - We did a show in Sichuan University.

H- It was just Joshua and I playing an acoustic set. We didn’t have a drummer. Our previous drummer went back to Germany. We were drummerless. Then he [Joshua] asked at the end of the show if anybody knew any drummers that wanted to come and play with us.

R – Really? I didn’t even know this. That’s cool.

J – (Shouting) Are there any drummers in the house? Hello! Hello, are you a drummer? (Laughs) It was really good luck. The singer from his band was at the show and he kind of pulled us to the side and said we might have something going on, can I give you a call later? So he called us up a day or two later and said I think my drummer could do really great things in your band. He was thinking about going in another direction. He asked if he could come over and meet us. We were like, OK, let’s set a date, and he was like, well, how about in an hour? So they drove over late at night. Apparently Wang Yong had been listening to us for a really long time, he knew the band quite well, so we set up a time to practice and he came in and nailed almost every song. We were like, holy shit, that’s exactly what we want. He just puts his heart right out there on the table and that’s a guy you want to work with. Our previous drummer was real powerful and emotional and at first he was trying to fill some shoes and after a while we were just like, hey, man, you’re just good enough, you don’t need to fill shoes, just be you ‘cause you’re already part of this family. It was golden. We can’t imagine it any other way. If you believed in any kind of religion you’d probably be strengthened by this kind of situation. Everything just fell into place.

CM – Same story with Rob? Were you playing a gig asked if there were any guitarists out there?

R – (Laughs) He threw the bouquet and I caught it.

CM – Do you get nervous before shows? Are you nervous about opening and playing on the main stage at the Zebra Festival?

R – Again, it’s all positive.

H – There is energy, but it’s a long time since we’ve felt nervous.

J – It’s really a beautiful experience to have that many people there. I remember we did a show a long time ago in Shanghai and there were two people there because the bar did absolutely no promotion. We were like, hell, let’s send these two guys home knowing what they came here for. And we did. We gave it 100 per cent and those people bought everything. But it was cool. We saw those same people five years later and they were in that little room. It was cool.

CM – Do you have a favorite venue to play in Chengdu?

R – They’re all good in their own way.

H – I don’t think there is a favorite.

R – There’s places we don’t like to play but we’re not going to say where they are.

J – For different places you attract different people. For some people it’s like that’s ten minutes away, that’s too far. We could do a show at the Jah Bar on a Friday night and a show at the Hemp House on a Saturday night and two totally different groups of people come.

H – It was fun playing in San Sheng Xiang for the first time.

CM – Is there another one of those happening soon?

H – We just had a town meeting the other night. We’re aiming for the end of may.

CM – The festival out at San Sheng Xiang was great fun, we’re looking forward to that.

H – It was fun playing a place right by our house.

J – And all those bands just came out. Nobody wanted any money.

R – The homemade beer was really good too.

CM – Harvest, better known as Geezers beer! On the subject of beer, Tsingdao on a cheap day? What do you drink if you’re trying to be classy beer-wise?

R – 528 (laughs).

J – I like Erdinger or Baltika.

R – I like Old Speckled Hen

H – Anything over 30 kuai!

CM – Have you ever been heckled and how did you respond?

J – There are times when people are non-verbally heckling you. I can see when some people are … I don’t know … maybe they’ve got a negative attitude going into it, like they expect Michael Jackson. A lot of the time this changes the way I sing things, I’ll often sing directly to them about certain things and emphasize certain ideas or words. Actually, we did that show recently at the Hemp House and a guy seemed like he was mocking me or something so I just dug right into him and I saw his eyes fall back and then he started to nod into it and started to really get into it and after the show he said he totally liked the show.

R – Sometimes we mesmerize the crowd too. They don’t look like they’re into it, they’re just standing there staring at you but you know they’re loving it.

H – You get strange reactions that you didn’t expect afterwards because they looked, like he said, mesmerized and just standing there, then they come up to you and say we had such a great time, and I was thinking, is everyone bored or what?

CM – We know what you mean. It’s interesting watching bands perform. Sometimes crowds are concentrating so hard on watching you they forget to show that they are having fun.

H – The first year we went to the Midi festival there were some problems and the festival got shut down. We were already in Beijing, everything got moved to the auditoriums in the Midi school. It was a really good vibe there. I remember we were sitting outside, a whole crew came with us and we were all playing music outside and all these people came gathering around, totally enclosing us and they were all having a good time but every single person just had their camera there, nobody was doing anything but recording what was going on.

CM – You’re well known for your hair. How does having a baldy on board impact on the image of the band?

R – Ying and yang, baby!

H – He’s been trying to persuade us to go bald as well.

R – Get a haircut, you hippies!

J – Anytime anyone talks to us that doesn’t know anything about the band they immediately think we do reggae, and it turns out I don’t really like a lot of reggae. I like the idea and the philosophy behind it but I think the hair was more of a patience thing, kind of like being a soldier of time and just allowing your personality to accumulate over several years instead of to crop yourself into a structure. Fashion is not a huge thing for us. We are aware that image is important, but the way we appear has more to do with the energy we put into our appearance.

CM – Are there any Chinese bands that you’d really go out and listen to?

J – The Bigger Bang are really good and I really like The Subs.

H – The Subs are a band I’d go out of my way to see.

CM – They played a month or so ago in the Little Bar.

H – Yeah, and we thought they were playing the next day so we missed the show.

J – There are a handful of bands that we really like and it has a lot to do with having actually met them and seeing that we share a lot of things. When you can sit down and chat with them and talk about how they go about doing things it just amplifies their stage presence and their music.

Proximity Butterfly open the main stage at this year's Zebra Music Festival on 30th April 2011


shinichi's picture


Thu, 06/30/2011 - 22:55

“No! I said Neptune. It’s right next to Uranus.”haha~
I like these guys