A little background on what brought me to the Dominion Theater on a dark, cold, and rainy evening. The College Music Journal (CMJ) has celebrated decades of popularity by always promising to bring the freshest music by promoting the bands that may have little footing in the US. The CMJ Music Marathon draws quite a crowd in the NYC area, especially in a city with 50+ colleges and universities throughout the five boroughs. This year, Taiwan indie veterans 1976, Bearbabes, and Echo were invited to play on this stage in the East Village to a packed house of college kids, media, and industry types. Each night of the marathon showcased a different country. This particular night was dedicated to Taiwan.
For the men of 1976, the band name was an easy choice. All four members were born in the year 1976. These four friends have been playing rock music together for almost two decades, and with any luck, they will continue to play together for a long time to come. As this was their first time in the United States, I riddled them with questions, but here is a select few.
Asian Fusion (AF): If I picked up your MP3 player or switched on your laptop right now, what would I find?
1976: A huge variety of music, but mainly from North America and Europe. You would find a little Wildebeest, The Strokes, and Ballet Troupe among the four of us.
AF: Looking through your discography, the songs you write are almost entirely in Mandarin, but a few of those songs sport English titles and even English interjections or choruses. Why inject English into your songs?
1976: Certain words in English express something that Mandarin just cannot match. The impact of punctuating our songs with English is far more demonstrative of the emotions we want to convey through our lyrics.
Out of the three bands showcased, only Echo has performed outside of the CMJ Music Showcase, and SXSW is the place to be seen. Echo is very much a rock band – a rock band with a conscience and a soul that cries out. Their sound reminds me of the Cranberries, complete with yodeling reminiscent of Dolores O’Riordan herself. The lyrics are just as impactful.
AF: Your band features a female drummer. Has it been hard to be recognized as a legitimate rock drummer in a country with a very new indie scene?
Echo: It has been really difficult. Female drummers are still rare in the rock scene, but it’s definitely getting a lot better for us. I mean, look, Bearbabes has a female drummer, too. Paul McCartney and Karen Carpenter are still two of my music idols from the time I first heard them as a kid until now. Imagine my surprise and immediate delight when YouTube showed me that Karen Carpenter started as a drummer.
AF: You have played SXSW. You can now say you have performed in New York City. Where do you go from here?
Echo: SXSW was an amazing first. The atmosphere, the enthusiasm, the energy that kept the entire city up and awake and listening to music really impressed us. You don’t usually see something like that in Taiwan. We loved performing in Austin, and well, it’s New York City! We appreciate the opportunity of just being here. Where do we go from here? Home to Taiwan, of course, but after that, we would like the chance to play in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other cities across the US.
AF: What about Europe?
Echo: That would be an amazing accomplishment, but the European indie scene is even harder to break into than the US. The indie scene in Taiwan still has a long way to go, too, and we want to be there to help it along.
Bearbabes is the last to finish their sound check. The lead singer hands me a press packet, and all of us sit down to chat. Their sound is soft and dreamy at times, very shoegazer, but the lyrics are strong and reticent to bow down to a man’s world. An all female rock band is a rarity in the Asian music scene. There are plenty of girl groups full of lollipops and rainbows, even girl power groups filled with zesty lyrics, but it is not every day that you get to see four women play all of their own instruments and write their own lyrics in a rock ensemble.
AF: Where do you draw your influences?
Bearbabes: The Beatles and Radiohead. The Beatles are icons and their music reaches across continents and cultures and speaks to all of us even if we didn’t grow up listening to them. All bands dream of striving to be like the Beatles. Radiohead is such a big influence because their music is always a surprise to the senses. You think you have figured them out, and they go and turn everything you thought you knew upside down.
AF: You have toured outside of Taiwan all over Asian. How does New York City compare?
Bearbabes: We love it! We would love to see more and perform more in the US. With what little time we have left in the city, we want to see BB King as well as the other bands during the CMJ Music Marathon.
AF: What would you like to say to your fans here in the US?
Bearbabes: Come see us in Taiwan!