There's a lot of good music that just recently came out, but little did I know I would be playing a band I hadn't even heard more then any of those other new releases. That band is I Come to Shanghai, and their brand of psychedelic pop has infected my brain. As I type this I have the song 'Pass the Time' swimming in my head, and it's usually accompanied by 'Your Lazy Eye', 'Houses on the Shore', or 'Another Sunday Morning'. My wife is probably about ready to kill me as I've been singing 'Salvation is a Country Club' throughout the house for the past week.
Obviously I really like this cd, and I wanted to write something about it so that more people might check it out. The problem was I couldn't think of much else to write except that I really like the cd. It's full of infectious psychedelic pop songs that never get old, that's really all you need to know. So I contacted one half of the band, Mr. Robert Ashley, and asked for a brief interview. He kindly obliged.
If you want to hear the music for yourself, you can download it from icometoshanghai.com for any price you wish to pay, including nothing. That means there's no excuse not to try it out, and if you download it for free and really love it then go back and donate some money.
Do you and Sam essentially write your own songs, or is their collaboration between you on each others songs?
Sam and I both write our songs independently, though we sometimes ask each other for opinions on specific word choices and lyrics, etc. But the songs we show up with individually always end up being massively transformed by our arranging and recording process. We're pretty much not satisfied with a song until it's radically different than the thing we started with, and that's the bulk of our collaboration.
The lyrics from what I can tell seem deeply personal. For example, 'Salvation is a Country Club' seems to be about your struggle with wanting to accept God but not being able to believe in him. Are these your inner struggles in song form or just scenarios you've created?
A little bit of both. I don't want to explain too much about the lyrics. There is a shortage of mystery in the world today.
Our country seems to accept religion as the norm and not being religious is a taboo. Does that make you wary of writing songs like 'Salvation is a Country Club'?
I grew up in a fairly religious town in Texas, but my mom was an atheist. Not in the Richard Dawkins in-your-face sense. Just a non-believer. I got used to talking about my lack of religious faith from an early age. Not that I didn't try to get some.
You're a huge Beatles fan, and the cover of the album features you in a Sgt. Pepper like uniform. Is it safe to assume that's the biggest influence on the sound of your music?
I think the biggest influence on the sound of our music is the limitations we had to work around. I can't remember the number of times we came up with an arrangement for a song only to realize that Sam's rickety old turn-of-the-century piano just wasn't going to cut it. Or that we just couldn't get a good enough XX sound. We were constantly working around a serious lack of equipment and expertise, and those limitations were a huge influence on what we ended up with. That said, the Beatles are kind of the high water mark. Eno's up there as well.
I can't decide whether 'I Watch You Sleep' is sweet or extremely creepy. Any thoughts?
I certainly wouldn't want to decide for you.
We live in a day and age when there is almost no mystery behind our favorite artists. If we want to know more about them we just go to wikipedia, google them, or follow them on twitter and we immediately learn everything about them, including what they ate for lunch. Considering the bio for I Come to Shanghai is 3 sentences long, is that former mystery something you are consciously trying to create?
Yeah, definitely. We would hate to ruin everything by saying too much. Our natural urge is to say as little as possible. Plus, you can't write a bio for your own band without feeling like a pathetic asshole.
So few people consume their music the way they used to these days, which is the whole album from start to finish. Considering there are 2 writers for ICTS is that hit single mentality something you're sort of forced into, or do you pay attention to the album as a whole while writing the individual songs?
We started out focusing on individual songs, but our choices in which songs to go with (and what the order should be) were very album-oriented. At the end of the day, we hope it works in shuffle or as an album.
How has the pay-what-you-want means of album sales worked out so far? Do you feel like this is the future of distribution for smaller indie bands that might not be able to get a record deal? Do record labels even matter for a band in this digital age?
People have been very generous with donations so far, so it's been swell. I can't say I really understand anything about the way the music business works today, but what we're doing right now works for us. And after spending last week doing nothing but printing out shipping labels and taping them to mailers, I'd say a record label probably has its advantages.
How much do you plan on concentrating on the band now that the cd is released? Will there be a tour? Can we expect another cd in a year or two?
The band is our highest priority. We'd love to tour eventually. Right now, we're just working on getting a two-man live show together that has some of the album's depth. We certainly plan on following up quickly. A year-and-a-half or two years from now would be nice.
Any music you've been thoroughly enjoying lately?
Sam and I both discovered Future Days by Can recently (ok fine, he played it for me first). I'd heard Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi plenty of times before, and they were interesting, but they never got to me. Future Days knocks me out. It's somewhere in between Eno's Another Green World and Cellar Door Sessions-era Miles Davis. Badass drumming, amazing sounds, very laid-back, and surprisingly tuneful.
Since it's all I've thought about for the last month, do you have any name suggestions for our site?
Have you considered myheadblewupfromradness.com?
I might need to check out that Can cd as I'm in the same boat with not getting into the other 2 so much and then forgetting about them. But I'm really excited to know that this wasn't a one-off experiment, and there'll be more music in the future. Hopefully in 2 years I'll be writing about the new I Come to Shanghai cd. Maybe that post will be going up on myheadblewupfromradness.com, we'll have to wait and see. I want to thank Robert Ashley for giving his time to a small site like ours.
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