Photo of Hard Queen by Popil.
Where: Yu Yin Tang 1731 Yan’an Xi Lu (entrance on Kaixuan Lu), 延安西路1731号
Starts: Saturday, April 4, 9PM
Hard Queen had no bass. Zero, the bass player, didn’t bring one. The Shanghainese trio, gathered at their rehearsal space in a refurbished bomb shelter last Thursday, pondered what to do.
“It’s ’cause he’s too lazy, so every time he doesn’t want to bring his own bass,” said keyboardist and lead singer Sheena.
“Every time?” Zero said.
“Most of the time,” she relented.
But Hard Queen couldn’t be troubled by this inconvenience for long. They’d just gotten a look at the Barbie-pink copies of their debut album Holiday, a five-track EP set to come out April 4. They’ll also be playing a release party that night at Yuyintang.
Hard Queen is one of Shanghai’s underground music superstars, a group of Shanghainese 20-somethings with day jobs who formed their band two years ago and insist that they’re only making music for “fun.”
Now with their EP coming out, a new website, a recent nomination for the Best Band in Shanghai Award in City Weekend and talks of concerts in Hong Kong and Beijing in May, their future in music is getting more serious.
But they aren’t.
“I want to make our songs [seem] like a holiday,” Sheena said, explaining the title of Hard Queen’s EP. “If people listen to our music, they’ll feel like they’re having a holiday, with beaches and sunshine…I’m just trying to play music to make people feel easy and comfortable and happy.”
Small and sassy Sheena writes most of Hard Queen’s lyrics. She claims to be 26, though she said it slyly enough that it might have been a lie. Her thoughts on music and life are so overwhelmingly positive that they’d sound insincere coming from anyone but her. And she hates the idea of making her living through music because she doesn’t want to turn it into work.
“When I feel like I want to make music, I just do it,” she said. “If it were my job, it would be less fun.”
Having never had formal training on the keyboard, Sheena only plays major chords in her songs but she doesn’t think that takes away from the music. Her mostly-female fans like it, she said, because she sings about things they can relate to and because she tries to communicate with them directly.
“Female singers pay more attention to the details, to the little things that move the audience,” she said.
Sheena founded Hard Queen in early 2007 with female drummer Cao Die Yu, a.k.a “Damen.” Back then, the band was called Hard Candy after the 2005 David Slade film. When they changed the name to distinguish themselves from other “Hard Candy” bands, their inspiration was the Dairy Queen.
“I asked Sheena to eat at Dairy Queen and that’s where we got the name. [Dairy Queen] is very sweet and that’s like our music,” said Damen, oh-so-sweetly.
Damen, 28, is a drum teacher for kids during the day – “you have to be very patient”- and tends to be shyer and quieter than Sheena, until she gets on the drums. She chose “Damen” as her nickname because it’s the Chinese name for The Doors, a band she loves.
The last of the trio is Zero, a 30-year-old former video game music engineer originally named Yu Xin Hua. The only male in the group, he was picked by the women for being “easygoing” and “a Buddhist.” He chose the name “Zero,” he said, because “it means nothing and I believe in nothing.”
At that explanation, Sheena and Damen started nodding sagely, mentioning “Lao Tzu” and other philosophers.
Zero stared at them. “I don’t know Lao Tzu,” he said.
Hard Queen doesn’t have a lot to say about the Shanghai music scene, though they’re excited by the prospect of more underground bands breaking into the mainstream. The labyrinthine bomb shelter where they rehearse is home to many other small bands including their friends in Banana Monkey.
So far, though, their best night as a band happened when they decided to challenge Shanghai’s foreign-dominated music scene.
“We were playing our final show at Windows [Underground], ’cause the boss of Windows didn’t want Chinese bands to play there anymore,” Sheena said, referring to the manager of Windows who stopped hiring Chinese bands because she thought her audiences wanted to hear foreigners.
“So at that final show we broke up all the equipment. We were supported by many of our audience members. We felt so proud,” she said. “We just want to show people that whoever you are, female or Chinese or aliens, if you make music you like, you can be satisfied.”
As for the future of Hard Queen, Sheena just doesn’t know.
“I don’t make plans, actually, so I can’t tell you where Hard Queen will be in five years,” she said. “For the present, I’m just feeling very happy to be in this band with good friends, doing our own music. I think it’s enough for me.”
Sheena shook her head and said she wasn’t very good at interviews.
“My head is full of shit,” she explained. Then she laughed.
Photo by Popil.