Hong Kong hard rock band Bamboo Star discuss their latest EP, working with producer Bob Marlette, bridging the Eastern and Western Worlds through music, charting on the US metal charts and what’s next for the band.
By Emily May
Hong Kong hard rock band Bamboo Star was formed in 2014 by lead vocalist Wilfred “Wolf Red” Chung and backing vocalist and guitarist Terence Ng and are well known for their extensive touring throughout Asia and Canada. Rounded out by Lawrence Wong (drums/triangle) and Jasmine Wong (bass), the band aims to bridge the Eastern and Western Worlds through music. Although based in Hong Kong, much of the band have roots in Australia, Canada and Malaysia and know what it’s like to be caught between two different worlds while seeking their own identity.
Music has allowed them to bridge that divide and find acceptance. The band released their debut EP No Hard Feelings in December and had the opportunity to work with legendary producer Bob Marlette (Alice Cooper/Marilyn Manson/Black Sabbath). The lead single “It’s Just Business” was released two weeks ahead of the launch show and peaked at number 6 on the US college radio metal charts. On reaching radio charts in the U.S., the band says, “It’s a real honor and quite surreal. None of us saw this coming at all. We’re a band all the way from Hong Kong; it’s tremendously flattering that people connected with our music from the other side of the globe. It means that rock music can truly be a world language.” The group released a video for the song, which you can watch below, that features stop-motion animation using clay figures that they themselves sculpted. You can follow the band and stay up-to-date with all upcoming music and tour dates via the following links.
iTunes/Apple Music- https://itunes.apple.
You stepped onto the international stage in 2015 when you won PlanetroxChina, a regional Battle Of The Bands that won you a spot at the Canadian Festival Envol et Macadam. What led you to perform in the Battle Of The Bands and what was the experience like as a band to win and perform in Canada? How do you feel that the win helped to propel you as a band?
Performing at Envol et Macadam 2015 was a real eye opener for Bamboo Star. We had played a few festivals in Singapore in 2014 and 2015 and a few shows regionally but Quebec was by far the furthest we had taken our music before. The stage set-up and the performers were world class, and for us it let us know how much more was out there. Having tasted it once, we figured we had to work harder and grow. As for what led us to enter, the China leg of the Planetrox Competition was conducted by one of Hong Kong’s main rock bookers The Underground HK. The owner/local legend/’mother of rock bands’ Chris B, had first encouraged us to enter in 2014 where we were finalists but didn’t win. Failure only made us push harder and we returned the year after.
You signed with the US-based label Virulent Music Group in 2016 and have said that by signing with an independent label, you’d forego an advance in order to maintain more long-term creative control. Was signing with an independent label your plan when starting a band?
It’s always a balance between money and ownership, especially when starting out. It was important to us that we could write our music and direct our visuals in the way we wanted. What we had discussed in the early days though was that we wanted to work with a label from the US who could help get our music to a more international audience.
Your sound has been compared to the theatrical power rock of the 1980s. Who would you count as your main musical influences and who are you listening to currently?
Personally speaking, I love that classic 1970/80s rock and metal – Judas priest, Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crue, Skid Row, Alice Cooper etc. The band also has other influences on the sound and through them you’ll hear some prog, contemporary metal and funk rock as well. (Think Dream Theatre, Bring me the Horizon, Red Hot Chili Peppers). These days I’m listening to more contemporary hard rock such as Hailstorm and Five Finger Death Punch and I’m really loving Slash’s new stuff with Myles Kennedy.
Your debut album No Hard Feelings was released in December and you recorded the album in LA with the famed US rock producer Bob Marlette, who has worked with bands such as Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath and Lynyrd Skynyrd. What was the experience like of working with him? What do you feel that he contributed to the album and the recording process?
This was the first time we had worked with such a famous producer and we’d travelled a long way to record so we were a little anxious at first. He turned out to be such a lovely guy though. He was super chill and friendly, and he emphasized how important it was to get comfortable, so I feel he really got the best performances out of us. He also brought a very experienced pair of fresh ears to the table. After milling on our songs for almost two years in rehearsals and live shows, it’s easy to get carried away and forget what a first-time audience might want, particularly on radio/streaming. He also had a fantastic sense of which parts needed to be repeated or enhanced in the arrangements.
You have said that the album “bites a lot harder” and is Bamboo Star pushed to the next level. What made you decide to go bigger with this album and include more hooks and power to the songs? Were most of the songs written before you entered the studio or did you write some of the songs while in the studio?
It had been a few years since the previous record and we had been through line-up changes, been signed and gained loads more live experience during that time; not to mention that Hong Kong society itself changed a lot during those years. I’d say a lot of it comes from growing as songwriters and as people – we just became more confident about writing what we were feeling. Of course, the production was stepped up a lot and the recording quality really captured us at our best too! As for writing process, we had written all the material and tested it repeatedly in our live show before going into the studio, but Bob is brilliant though. He helped to refine a lot of the parts and added layers we hadn’t considered before.
You have said that there are lots of talented musicians coming out of the Hong Kong rock and metal scene and with the tools available to musicians now, it is a good time to garner international attention. Who are some of your favorite Hong Kong artists right now and what do you feel are some of the best tools available to musicians right now?
For something similar to Bamboo Star, check out the bands Nasty Dudes and Seasons for Change. If you’re into mainstream Canto-rock then the biggest players in the game right now are Supper Moment and Kolor. If you’re quirkier and want more math/prog then you’ll want to check out GDJYB and Prune Deer. For the harder stuff, you definitely need to check out Evocation, Synergy, King Lychee, Cursed Eyes, Unto the Dawn, Charm Charm Chu… There’s such a diverse range of sounds coming out of Hong Kong, make sure you scope them out! Right now, the best resources to both emerging Hong Kong artists as well as listeners hoping to discover something new would be The Underground HK and Infree Records. Unite Asia is also an awesome news site covering regional bands.
Your single “It’s Just Business” was released 2 weeks before the album launch show. The song showcases a bit of each of your own styles so that you each have the chance to shine. How do your individual styles differ and what do you each feel you bring to the band?
We all grew up with a lot of rock but we all have our preferred niches as we developed as musicians. Me personally, I’m a huge fan of classic rock and metal. Terence (guitar) listens to a lot of prog, Jasmine (Bass) has her roots deep in funk and Lawrence (drums) plays a lot of contemporary metal. I don’t think any of us are purists and we’re not trying to replicate a particular sound so we’re eager to have all these influences mix. As long as we like how it sounds at the end and we have a good time playing it then that’s all that really matters.
You also released a stop-motion animation video for “It’s Just Business” that featured clay figures. What was the idea behind the video and what was the process like to make the video?
“It’s Just Business” has a sinister topic set to fun and energetic music. We wanted to extend that further into the visual realm so that it looks a bit silly and innocent on the surface but has very adult undertones. The filming itself took over 900 hours of work where we ended up shooting and editing about 4800 photos, not to mention the model-making time as well! The whole thing was done by us and we had the film set arranged on my dining table in my apartment for five months! Ultimately though we ended up with a video where people just can’t seem to stop watching once they start, even if they’ve seen it before.
Your mission as a band is to represent those who feel caught between two worlds and to bridge the Eastern and Western worlds through music. You all live in Hong Kong but have roots in Australia, Canada and Malaysia, with Hong Kong also seeing influences from Chinese and Western cultures. You’ve been caught yourselves between two different worlds while always seeking your own identities. What has that been like for you over the years? In what ways have you sought to achieve this goal and how do you feel that music can bridge the divide?
It’s a funny position to be in, this awkward identity where I’m a minority whilst growing up in Australia, but also in Hong Kong I’m seen as not Chinese enough either. It was in music (heavy rock and metal in particular) where I found the feeling that it was ok to be different and even to embrace it and draw strength from it. I’m sure Terence had a similar experience growing up in Canada and Jasmine had that when she migrated from Malaysia. We end up finding solace in something we all love regardless of background, like music, and hope that what we make can do the same for others who might feel alienated in society.
You are hoping to spark a social shift in the way that music from Asia is perceived worldwide. How do you feel that it has been perceived, both in the past and currently, and how are you hoping to change these perceptions?
Regionally speaking, K-pop is clearly the big winner in recent years and historically Japanese rock has carved out its own dedicated listeners worldwide, even now with One OK Rock flying the banner. Every time I am in the US or Australia and talk to folks, even those in the music industry, I ask what they think of Hong Kong music or specifically Hong Kong rock music and the answer is similar. Some have heard of Canto-pop and none know of any rock music that comes out of Hong Kong. Historically we had a band called Beyond who made a mark regionally, but rock bands have always struggled to find a way outside. We’re hoping that a combination of an American label, Information Age connectivity and our own ‘one foot in each side’ cultures that we’ll be able to find listeners not just for ourselves but for other Hong Kong musicians as well.
What was the idea behind the cover art for the album? How did you meet and come to have Angga Tantama do the cover art?
There is a line in the song ‘Movie Star’ which describes “A submachine gun slinging Cupid” and that was always such a cool image in my head. I scribbled up a few sketches and we tried a few different concepts that could represent all the songs but ultimately still came back to that one. The juxtaposition of the images (down to having little skulls on the hearts) was something we felt really reflected how we write and our performance. We searched online for a long time for an artist whose style had a mix of graphic boldness, detailing and could tactfully execute something with a bit of irony and found Angga who did an absolutely awesome job.
I read that you are aiming to release music videos for all of the songs on No Hard Feelings. What inspired you to want to do videos for all of the songs? Do you already have ideas of how you want the videos to look?
We moved away from the LP format because in the digital age it was no longer about filling a physical record. We put together the collection of songs which we thought best told a story and it came out as 5+1 tracks. Typically bands putting out an LP would release videos for a few songs, but No Hard Feelings is short and sweet. Combined with the idea that most people consume music by streaming these days, we figured it was only natural to have accompanying videos to every track! We’ve actually done a lot of filming for the videos already; we’re still putting them together and working out the release schedule right now… As for how they’ll look, you’ll have to wait and see.
What’s next for the band?
“It’s Just Business” surprised us all with how well it was received on US radio and that was carried even further by No Hard Feelings. I’m hoping this release will find enough support to get some shows happening in North America this year.