Ahead of this summer's festival frenzy, we chatted with Nova Heart about their sound, the music community in China and what we can expect from them in Shanghai this time around.
Hi Helen, its been a while since we were last in touch for MIDI. For those who are new to you and your previous work, how would you describe your musical background? How did you get into making music and where do you draw inspiration from these days?
Since then, I’ve always done music as long as I can remember in one form or another sive age 5. Came back to China about ten years ago to work for MTV China, and got involved in the underground scene after I produced an episode on burgeoning skate scene in Beijing which ended up taking me to my first China DIY punk show. Afterwards, I started my own band, ZIYO, while I was working at CRI as a DJ. The band started as a hobby, but it ended getting signed to Warner and I got really serious about it but the stuff we made at a major wasn’t very good. Later I co-founded Pet Conspiracy in 2008, left Pet Conspiracy and started Nova Heart in 2011. Always wrote music but never did it seriously until ZIYO.
These days, I get most of my inspiration for things outside of music. Movies, life, people, experiences, news stories, literature. I think my world has become more visual, and I try and build the soundscape and soundtracks to tell the little dark stories of my overactive brain. Cryptograms from Kubrick, Polanski, Lynch, and some weird re-interpretation my life as seen through an audio dream cipher. I don’t think bands are very good sources of inspiration for me anymore, maybe 8 years ago yes, but once you’ve been in a busy bands for so long, the redundancy and banality of what being a musician really means makes you boring if you let it become your life. I need more. Not to say I don’t appreciate new ideas or well made stuff from good artists, but music is just a form of communication. And if all you can communicate is that you make music and you know lots of stuff about music, it’s not a very deep conversation.
Novaheart is made up of musicians from various places in China, but based in Beijing - can you tell us about living there and the music community etc.?
Beijing is like New York, Manchester, and Berlin all in one for good and for bad. Pollution sucks. Outside of a few pockets like Gulou and the parks here, it’s a very blocky industrial looking city. Very masculine, lots of Stalinesque architecture. Uncomfortable, but addictive never the less. And the people have attitudes pretty close to New Yorkers especially in the music scene, not fake friendly and generally straight forward but also at times confrontational or just rude. Everyone drinks a lot. Once when we played in New York, the show was packed with ex-Beijingers. I guess if you leave this place you invariably end up in New York somehow.
Getting started in music here is easy, but there are so many bands that it’s also easy to get drowned out in the noise. I remember hearing something about 50,000 active musicians (musicians that play shows) in Beijing, don’t know if it’s true or my imagination just made that shit up but it feels about right. But there’s also lots of international acts rolling through, different kinds of culture from modern art to Indian traditional music, to noise experimental parties, to swing dancing so you can pick your poison really, and that makes the miserable weather for half the year more bearable.
But outside of cliques, too many hipsters, bad weather, politics within the industry, Beijing is still a pretty cool town for being a musician. Dozens of places to play, interested local and expat audiences that pay pretty good dollar for door, and girls and boys that will sleep with you if you play an instrument and have long hair regardless of your personal income. It was maybe a bit wilder, a bit funnier when we started, but we were younger too and had less responsibility and more time. For me at least, Beijing is a beer-bellied bearded know-it-all loud obnoxious dude with not so great people skills, but has good taste in music and is still my best friend.
Having worked with a number of different collaborators in recent years, is the music you create also constantly evolving?
Yeah, it’s evolved so much, I can’t listen to almost anything I made 4 or 5 years back, unless I can just turn it off and not think of it being my own stuff. I could trace that evolution, but you’re readers would get bored with my self-indulgent pontification so I’ll just say. . . Yes.
You've put out many records and been remixed extensively - which of these are you most happy with and why?
ACID WASHED made a pretty cool remix, just cause it didn’t sound like me and I’m not even sure it even sounds like them. I just remember one of the guys jumping back stage at one of our shows in Paris, and did stuff on the backstage counter that is illegal to talk about here in China while telling me about his remix ideas. Ultimately, the remix sounds like that moment, and the events afterwards that led to lost wallets and disappeared friends. I think it’s pretty cool sound. Not a typical dance music remix, trippy.
Has the music you produced developed in response to the way your previous records have been received and the touring you've done?
Yeah, I feel like I’m moving through my own box of chocolates when it comes from audience reactions and people’s reception of my music. I kind of got sick of cheap tricks, even through I used my share in past stuff. What I want to illicit, changes with my mood. Yeah, I know four-to-the-floor with this chord progression and screamy screamy vocals will make people dance and that will get people to my shows etc etc, but after awhile it becomes predictable and boring. What if I do something different, what if I take them down one direction and then switch, and a make them suddenly go another. Disappoint expectation just to create new desires. So when people like something, I’m not necessarily motivated to recreate it as I am to develop them, a bit of ego gratification in making people behave as you want them to, like Being John Malkovich, in a freaky way.
Touring also exposes you to new people, new stories, new sounds. We’ve been to off the coast of Africa twice now, Reunion Island and Madagascar, and now we just don’t like beats to be four to the floor anymore. We still have a few in the album from stuff we wrote before our time there, but as a band, but overall our spirit and way of thinking changed. I know a few bands that do over 150 shows a year, where their lack of off time just made them into tour zombies that experienced nothing for years but hotels, transport, and venues, but we’ve been lucky to have lots of off time when we tour. So outside of audience reaction, time in different places made us more unique I feel.
Who are some of your contemporaries in Europe and elsewhere, that are moving in a similar musical direction to you right now?
I don’t know. I just got the Darkside album, and I hear some similar vibes I guess, but it’s still very different. Last EP was very Disco, so there was a whole movement with that and I came really on the tale end of it. So yeah, lots of people. . . too many to list. But the album is gonna be quite different, and right now, I can’t really pin it down what to call it yet or who to compare it to. Best I don’t think about that stuff and just finish the album clean of trying to fit in with anybody. I guess Rodion cause we he’s the producer, but there’s also Atom, Boxuan, and Wanghui each with such unique personal styles. Maybe if it was a movie, I could describe it better. Imagine Patty Smith getting in a fight with Morrisey at a film debute of Morricone scored Spagetti Western staring Bridgette Bardot and two members of the Knife with a guest starring Pat Benatar as a pregnant lady freaked out on ecstasy at an early 90’s basement Rave. Try and imagine that cause it’s a pretty accurate description of our sound.
How does the reaction of the crowd during your live shows differ from place to place? Where do you particularly look forward to returning to?
Touring has been pretty good for us. When we first started, we found that touring internationally we were getting better responses for international audiences than local ones. We got a lot of love in the last few years from Europe and Australia. It was crazy, we got booked to SXSW 6 months after we started performing and our first official show was in Switzerland but local audiences were not digging us.
I think when we first started in China, people really thought we were going to be like Pet Conspiracy, and it wasn’t. It was very different, but since it was also had a lot of electronic elements that’s what they expected and they were disappointed. But just last year, I think our audience is finally catching up to us. In a way I felt like we had to rebuild a following, that I can say proudly say is much less hipster! I think there was enough distance between this project and past projects now for Chinese audiences to just listen. . . and they became open. Now our local stuff is finally exceeding our international stuff.
Most look forward to returning to Madagascar. That was such a awesome place.
Tell us about the new material you've been working on, and will we get a chance to hear it at Electric Circus?
Not sure, working on lots of new stuff, but we won’t bring anything to the stage we don’t feel is ready, so ask me again ten minutes before we go on the stage.
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