Free track as heard on NPR’s
All Things Considered
Emmy winning producer Dave Liang brings The Shanghai Restoration Project (TSRP) to China for a 9-city tour starting on May 16 in Beijing.
Started by New-York-based Dave Liang in 2006, TSRP mixes Chinese sounds with Western hip-hop and electronica music, and draws its inspiration from the 1930s jazz music of Shanghai. Its albums have reached the top of the iTunes and Amazon electronic charts, receive millions of plays on Pandora annually, and can often be heard in TV shows, films, and commercials around the world.
TSRP’s latest album, “The Classics” produced by Dave Liang and featuring Zhang Le, a jazz singer from Shanghai, brings us back to the 30s – 40s period in Shanghai, but on an up-to-date electronic beat.
Dave plays live in Shanghai on May 17, at the Qianshuiwan Culture and Arts Center. We caught up with Dave before the tour and asked about his history with The Shanghai Restoration Project and about his expectations about the China shows. See full details about the show and other cities included in the tour at the bottom of the post.
Hi Dave, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. First tell us something about yourself?
I’m a Chinese-American who was born in Kansas, USA and grew up in upstate New York. I wasn’t surrounded by many Chinese-Americans growing up but my mom enforced a “No English” rule at home to keep us somewhat tethered to our cultural roots. I first went to Shanghai when I was in college and was blown away by the vibrancy of the city. I loved exploring many of the streets and old residential areas by foot. There was a real sense of excitement that I had not encountered in other parts of the world.
What’s your connection to Shanghai?
My father was born in Shanghai and years later returned with my mother to live there for five years up until he retired. I fell in love with American jazz in middle school and studied jazz piano all throughout high school. In college I became particularly fond of the Shanghai jazz era of the 1930s and 40s. When I first discovered the music of Zhou Xuan and Yao Li I felt their songs (which fused Eastern and Western music traditions)spoke directly to my experience as a Chinese-American. Up until listening to these songs I had never come across a musical blend with which I could completely identify.
You were surrounded by music from a very young age. Your mom was a singer, and you’ve mentioned elsewhere that she went around looking in many places for that one piano teacher that was right for you. Looking back, what impact did that have on you?
Fortunately for me, my mom was not a tiger mom. She didn’t want me to learn piano simply to discipline me or compare me with other kids at Chinese school. She loved music and wanted me to share that love. After shopping around for almost a dozen teachers, she finally found a teacher in Woodstock NY named Barbara Pickhardt who would encourage me to explore and improvise without adhering too strongly to a pre-written score. Not only did this have a profound impact on how I approached music, I learned to keep an open mind towards everything in life.
How did the Shanghai Restoration Project come about? What were you trying to do with it?
When I first started in the music industry, I produced for one of the Bad Boy Record camps (collection of producers who would submit stuff to be recorded by various R&B and hip-hop artists). I sold a track pretty early on to an R&B artist named Carl Thomas and thought it would kick off a huge mainstream production career similar to Timbaland. But I quickly found I was just one of thousands of producers in the game who had the same plan.At the same time, I found myself feeling frustrated with the genre definitions in mainstream music. As a Chinese-American, I couldn’t relate 100% to any specific genre, whether it was hip-hop, country, or indie rock. One day I was listening to the old Shanghai jazz records that had captivated me years earlier and decided I wanted to recreate this blend of East and West with modern day sounds. So I started combining the elements I loved from various genres and began to infuse Chinese instrumentation and sounds. And thus The Shanghai Restoration Project was born.
Tell us about some of the Shanghai artists you’ve collaborated with.
I recently released an album with Shanghainese jazz singer Zhang Le called The Classics, which consists of electronic remakes of the old Shanghai jazz tunes that I mentioned earlier. Zhang Le, who was born and raised in Shanghai but studied at the New England Conservatory, is one of the few Chinese artists I’ve met who can really swing.
On the visual side, I’ve worked quite a bit over the years with the creative collective NeochaEDGE. We’ve partnered on everything from a Chinese electronic compilation to album artwork to music videos. Here’s one of my favorites:
You’re kicking off a 9-city China tour that begins in Beijing this Friday. What can we expect at your show?
Our show combines most of our released material into an electronic hip-hop mash-up experience with significant live elements (singing, keyboards, rapping). While everything is beat driven, we explore a variety of genres with a strong emphasis on jazz. To top it off, everything is set to visuals, the majority of which were created by independent Chinese artists. In total there will be two of us; I’ll be playing keyboards and singing while my buddy Jamahl Richardson will cover everything from electronics to keyboards to rapping.
What’s next for The Shanghai Restoration Project?
For SRP, I’m interested in exploring more dialect driven projects (including but not limited to Shanghainese). I’ve already started recording some of these tunes with Zhang Le and we’ll be weaving some into our outdoor performances later this summer in the Canada and US. Outside of SRP, I just started working on a really cool project with Indian-American double violinist Gingger Shankar. We haven’t fully flushed it out but we plan to incorporate a lot of musical and visual samples from her family archive, which is incredibly rich and exciting.
Anything else you want to add?
Just one last thing: here’s a free track for Shanghaiist readers.
This tune is from our latest album, which was featured on NPR’s All Thing Considered in the US.
Full tour schedule:
Beijing, May 16th, Tangguo Third Floor
Shanghai, May 17th, Qianshuiwan Culture Center
Nanjing, May 18th, Castle Bar
Chendu, May 20th, Bistro
Chongqing, May 20st, Nuts Club
Wuhan, May 22nd, Vox Livehouse
Changsha, May 24th, Red coffee club
Shenzhen, May 25th, RI Du Tang
Guangzhou, May 27th, TU
[Photos via Dave Liang]