Like a tide battered traveler drifting back toward shore, Mr. Sea Turtle has ridden endless waves of inspiration. From ska to grunge, from drunken debauchery to staunch Christianity, from motherly lectures to sleepwalking delinquency, this indie rock trio has been swept up by countless influences that roll in like new tides. Below, vocalist and guitarist Li Hongqi tells us about the journey that has taken his band from China’s obscure Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region to the heights of indie acclaim and fanfare, not to mention a June 28 release party for their latest album, dubbed Where Are You Going?, at Yugong Yishan in Beijing.
In Mandarin haigui or ‘sea turtle’ refers to a Mainland student who has studied abroad and is bringing their newfound skills home. Does that highfalutin label apply to you and your band mates? Is that where your band name comes from?
(Laughs) No, sea turtles are just my favorite animals, I really love them and wanted to name the band after them. Our bassist said Mr. Sea Turtle would sound cooler, so we chose that. When we first started playing ten years ago this ‘sea turtle’ term for returnees was not so popular in China. Now many people mistakenly think that we are some of these returnees from abroad. But we never could have studied in The West- our English is too poor.
The term ‘sea turtle’ may not have been well known when you debuted a decade ago, but your band immediately caught on. Your first album, POGO is no better than dancing, was lauded by critics and influences indie Mainland acts to this day. How does that earlier release differ from Where Are You Going?
We were in college when we recorded our debut. We had yet to form a worldview. We didn’t know how to really express our ideas, so we just vented our emotions. The music then was harder and heavier. We didn’t pay as much attention, there’s not as much nuance. Actually, much of the melody on our new album is the result of the church choir I now attend and the Baptist hymns I sing. It’s a huge inspiration, and it has really softened my lyrical approach.
How has being a Christian inspired your song writing?
My lyrics have more of a confessional quality now. They’re more about love, faith, life and death. What I write now is based on the teachings of the Church, and I write for people that have a limited knowledge of sin.
How have you sinned in the past, and what lessons did you learn from righting those wrongs? Also, did that process have any impact on your music?
In 2011 we played a festival, and we drank way too much. When it was over we were feeling great about it. But my mom was in the audience, and she told me we were so drunk that we looked like we were sleepwalking. Since then we’ve agreed to never drink before we play. We want to look like we’ve stayed awake.
Mr. Sea Turtle will release its new album, Where Are You Going?, at Yugong Yishan on June 28 9pm at Yugong Yishan in Beijing. Tickets are RMB 100 at the door, RMB 80 presale. For more information click here.
By Kyle Mullin