Photo courtesy of Moon Tyrant
Over the weekend, Shanghai-made expat band Moon Tyrant released their debut album Future Superhuman with a party at Yuyintang. Consisting of four musicians from Panama, Tasmania, New York and New Jersey, they play old school rock n’ roll with a jazzy metal twist. Shanghaiist’s Bo Hershey caught up with one of their members, bassist JC Heinbockel, who chatted with us about their new CD, the local music scene and what’s next for the band.
In case you didn’t get the CD at the release party, you can check them out on their Bandcamp page Douban page, and soon on iTunes!
What’s Moon Tyrant’s story? How did a group of guys from different parts of the World form the band?
Jaret, our drummer, and I had first met back in 2007 when I was studying here. He actually helped me get the job that brought me back after graduation. We’d spend around at our desks all day talking about music and politics. He and a friend of his, Murray, had been talking about starting a band for a while, in that way that people talk about things they’ll never do. The first night I met Murray, we all went to Scoreboard and ended up playing air guitar standing on the tables. I brought my bass back from vacation and we decided to give it a shot. I had introduced Ivan to Jaret and Murray some time beforehand, and it all worked out. Jaret’s brother actually used to sing, too, but after he left the country we really found our groove.
Who writes Moon Tyrant’s songs? Is it a collaborative effort?
Our songs are definitely collaborative. Usually, someone comes in with an idea and we bang around on it, jam it out. On the record, we simply said “Music by Moon Tyrant”, because all of us really do contribute. Each of us has at least one song on the album originating from his idea. Usually, we start with the music. Ivan writes most of the lyrics, and he’ll fit them in as the songs evolve.
Is there anyone in the band who is the designated front man of Moon Tyrant?
Ivan is. After all, that is the job of the lead singer. Murray and I are often the most recognizable, though. He’s distinctive looking, and I often wear goofy things on stage.
The process of making an entire album is very tiring. There must have been some memorable moments during the creative stages?
We had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to do going in, so while it was tiring, there wasn’t a lot of extra creativity in the studio. It was mostly just goofing off and playing with Wu Jun’s (owner of Godot Studios) dog, Heimantou. For me, the most memorable moment of the whole process was when RDC’s Michael Corayer came in to play a solo and totally nailed it. I remember that, when he hit this one note, my knees nearly buckled. We were all looking at each other in amazement.
Being here in China do you keep up with current music in America? Do any bands in the United States influence your music over here?
We all still listen to a lot of music. The guys in the band send each other .mp3s all day. We all listen to really different stuff, though. Ivan and Murray listen to a lot more metal, but different sub-genres, while Jaret and I listen to more indie rock. I listen to a lot of jazz and classic rock, and lots of opera and orchestral music, too. I don’t really think there is any one band that has a real audible influence on our overall sound.
Being based out of Shanghai has its benefits. Still a majority of the population are Chinese citizens. As expats, what is it like to be foreign musicians in China?
Well, the best part is how easy it is to get started and get gigs. Back in NY, it probably would have been a lot longer before we could have gotten gigs. In Shanghai, people and fans don’t really treat us that differently, but if you go to some smaller cities, rock fans are so grateful to have just about anything. They’re really kind. We once met a guy in Wuhan that ended up coming out to eat with us. He refused to let us pay for anything, even though we’d racked up a pretty steep tab.
Where do you see music scene in the city going?
I think this scene could grow anywhere. A lot of newer bands are starting to step away from all that awful pop-punk that used to, and to some extent still does, dominate. Right now, in a city of more than 20 million people, the biggest rock acts attract maybe 300 people. As people here start to get a feel for rock, there’s lots of potential. But for now, I like the small scene. I love how approachable everyone is.
The ex-pat music scene seems to be growing in Shanghai. Also the Chinese rock genre seems to be growing. How would you compare Chinese rock to America?
I’m always astounded that most of my Chinese friends are basically limited to Guns n Roses or Nirvana in their rock vocabulary. They don’t even really know the Beatles, but they know that terrible cover of “Hey Jude” that always gets sung at KTV. Chinese rock bands often lack that ingrained cultural understanding of, not just rock music, but the spirit of rock and roll. And so you get a lot of emulation, which most of us grew out of in high school. That’s already changing, though.
Are there any Chinese bands that influence Moon Tyrant when writing music?
There are a lot of Chinese bands we like, but there aren’t that many great Chinese bands that play the same kind of rock we do. I’m perhaps more influenced by all the locals’ bands I don’t like: I want to be better and louder than them.
Would you recommend aspiring musicians to move to Shanghai?
There’s definitely no shortage of gigs, and the barriers to entry are low. I’d welcome more musicians, but if you really want to take it seriously, it might not be the best place. At the same time, this is a scene where a musician could maybe have a bigger local impact than at home. Everyone says go to Beijing, but if you’re good, you’re good. Where you are won’t make that big a difference.
Moon Tyrant has new album coming out soon. What should fans expect from this album?
This record is a great debut, because it really serves as a great introduction to what we do. It’s not a concept album or anything, like Rainbow Danger Club did. Our songs stand alone, and the songs we recorded are pretty diverse sonically. But, they’re just like our live show. This is a record that is loud and should be played loud. With lots of bass.
With your album done what is next for Moon Tyrant?
We’ve already started to write new songs. We’re planning to release some more material before the end of the year and take some mini-tours around the country. This has already been a cool experience, and a great way to travel the country. Most of the time, when people ask, I tell them we’re going to do an album of Eric Carmen covers. Which we totally should.