If you were born after 1990 then it's quite possible you are too young to know them, but Feiwu, along with the likes of Ladybug, 1976, Sugar Plum Ferry and The Clippers are the progenitors of Taiwan's underground music scene. Forming in 1997, Feiwu were among Taiwan's early indie successes, releasing two albums, Birds of a Feather (1998) and Ring of Fire (1999), and playing regularly at venues like Roxy Vibe, and Spring Scream in its early years. Sadly, it was at Spring Scream twelve years ago that Feiwu performed for the last time. Or so they thought. As part of Legacy's 'One Night Only' series, Feiwu are reuniting for one final show on February 17th.
Feiwu are; Steve Tsai (蔡承宇) on drums, Joe Huang (黃俊喬) on guitar, Bob Hsiung (熊天焱) on bass, Andrew Watson (安德魯) on lead guitar & vocals and Ian Lamont (藍醫恩) on guitar & vocals.
What have Feiwu's band members been doing since the split? Do you continue to play music?
Ian: I returned to the states in 1999. I've been doing music off and on, mostly home recording with friends, but no performances. Andrew was much more dedicated after he returned -- he moved to New York, works in the music industry, and was in a couple of bands, and his current band Coda Resistance plays regularly. Steve has also gigged in Taipei with various people and is really connected with the music scene there. One time he sent us a video of him playing drums with Wu Bai.
Bob: I've bounced around a bit. I worked in Africa for awhile building HIV clinics, then I was at MIT building performing robots for a futuristic new opera. Sadly, I haven't been playing much music other than jamming with my kids (1 & 3 yrs old). We play a mean "Puff the Magic Dragon".
How did this reunion come about?
Ian: Even though we broke up years ago, we have remained very close -- any time we visit Taiwan, or Steve comes to New York or Boston, we get together. Steve came to Boston a couple of times in the early 2000s to study English and also music at the Berklee College of Music, and we would get together for some jam sessions at a practice space. When the opportunity came up, the idea of getting together again for a performance felt right.
The actual invitation came to Andrew. He used to work in the Taiwan music industry and was a guitar teacher to a lot of young musicians, including one or two of the guitarists in 88 Guava Seeds. He also sees a lot of Taiwanese bands when they pass through NYC, so his network is strong. And his Mandarin is unbelievably good.
Last April, Legacy approached him and asked if Feiwu would be interested in taking part in this retrospective performance series at Legacy involving underground bands from the 1990s. We were part of the scene along with bands like LTK, Chairman (董事長), 1976, Ladybug (瓢蟲)，Backquarter (私分街)，Ah-de (啊德)， Sugar Plum Fairies (甜梅號)， Clippers (夾子)，Chthonic, Sticky Rice, Air Dolphins (海豚), etc. We wrote a lot of songs in Mandarin, and a few of them, including 我愛台灣啤酒 a.k.a. The Taiwan Beer Song and a song about Coco Lee, gained a small degree of local popularity … or notoriety depending on how you view things. We couldn't do the show in 2012, but I was planning on coming out to Chinese New Year for a family visit this year. We were able to work it out to get all five former members of the band together for a reunion on February 17 at Legacy in Taipei.
Bob: We've got A LOT of people to thank for helping make this happen - like Chairman and especially Daisy Lee!
Has it been 'like old times' reuniting and rehearsing old material?
Ian: Absolutely! Bob, Andrew and myself started monthly practices in a rehearsal space outside of Boston last November. The music came back pretty quickly, and we also went over some of the songs that Andrew wrote after I left the band. There are quite a few of them -- enough for a third album, actually. As you might expect, it's pretty heavy! My only regret about the Boston practices is Steve and Joe weren't there, but we have a full week of rehearsals in Taipei before the show on February 17.
Bob: It's been really great practicing with Ian and Andrew, but I can't wait to get back with XiaoYu and I'm really excited to hear what we sound like as a 5 piece with Joe
Did someone say "FREE BEER"? How does it feel to have your reunion show sponsored by Taiwan Beer?
Ian: Ha! I was really surprised when I heard about that. We really do love the beer, but had no connection with the company. When we started playing that song in the 90s, Taiwan Beer was an old school monopoly. We weren't even sure if they were aware of the song. But the brand has really modernized and I think it's so cool that they're receptive to supporting the show -- with free beer to people who come to the concert!
This is not the first time there has been free Taiwan beer at a Feiwu concert. At one of the Spring Screams we did, we brought a case or two of the blue and white cans on the stage right before we played the song. "Hey, who wants some free beer?" we asked the crowd … and they rushed the stage! This time it's official, and I heard they are bringing a huge amount of beer to this concert. No need to rush the stage ...
Bob: Ah, if only their marketing people had figured this out in 2000, Taiwan beer would be bigger worldwide than Heineken by now
The Taiwan Beer song will likely be the crowd fave, but do you yourselves have a song you're looking forward to performing?
Ian: Bob was talking about this at one of the practices in Boston. There are a couple of really good tunes that were never recorded or only appeared on compilations. They will be fun to play, especially with three guitars -- listen for "Mary Jane" and "Deafened" and "Closure". Bob likes another unreleased tune that's kind of delicate, called "Say Something." From the second album, "Cuckoo for Coco" is another one -- tough to play, but it's fun.
One of my personal faves is "Puppetmaster" (布袋戲), off the first album. It's an instrumental. Westerners assume it's an acid surf song, Taiwanese hear it and think of Taiwanese puppet opera. The story is a little of both. Before Spring Scream '98 I decided to write a surf instrumental that we could play at the festival, which at the time was next to the beach in Kenting. The first time we played it at practice, our drummer Steve said, "布袋戲!". This was the Taiwanese puppet opera that used to be on Taiwanese TV. I didn't get the connection at first. But it turns out that the soundtrack for some broadcasts was none other than American surf instrumentals from the 1960s. We dubbed the song 布袋戲, and gave it the English title "Puppetmaster".
Bob: We have a few songs that we played at Spring Scream 2001 but never had a chance to record. "Resolute" is one of them and is probably my favorite Feiwu song of all time.
Have you been continuing to listen to Taiwanese music, new or old? If so, which bands?
Ian: Well, two out of five live in Taiwan -- Steve in Taipei and Joe in Taidong. Of course, they're pretty plugged in. I know Andrew sees practically any Taiwan indie band that passes through New York City.
One of the things that I did to prepare for this show was watch a lot of YouTube videos that were shot at Legacy and other places around Taiwan. We saw some of our old friends like Ladybug and Sugar Plum Fairy and Chthonic, but I was also blown away by some of the new bands. Touming Magazine is one of my favorites -- I really want to see them live!
A couple of other things I discovered by watching those videos: Many of the bands we used to play with with are not only still together, they've gotten really, really good. A lot of underground bands from the 1990s (including Feiwu) were DIY punk rock hackers back then … we were still feeling our way and developing our musical voices. 15 years later, I look at bands like Sugar Plum Fairy, Backquarter, 1976 and other people that have stayed together, and they've really blossomed as songwriters, musicians, and performers.
One other thing I'd like to say: I really wish there was something like GigGuide back in the 1990s. Great writing, great listings, and whoever is taking photographs at the shows -- he or she (or they) are amazing. When we were starting out there were some paper fanzines in Chinese and English, like POTS. The distribution was irregular and many people had no access to paper issues. If you missed an issue you might never see the concert listing or interview that would change your life!
What have you missed most about Taiwan?
Ian: One time in the summertime, I saw the number 57 bus driver in central Taipei take a meter-long section of vacuum tubing and … oh, I'm supposed to say something serious here, right?
OK. I arrived in January 1993 and except for 6-month period in 1996, lived in Taipei until June 1999. I lived in Wanhua for a while, and there were all kinds of things going on there. It was a very Taiwanese part of Taipei, if you know what I mean. It had a great night market. There was a stand there that had the best 花枝羹 , a kind of thick stew made with squid. That district also had religious and folk celebrations like "God's birthdays" when you'd see these incredible processions down the street. Of course, sometimes the religious celebrations would start early -- at the time getting woken up by paid mourners fake crying through loudspeakers wasn't fun … but I can look back and laugh now.
I'm going to sound like an old man saying this. Every time I go back, usually every two or three years, I see a lot of change. I kind of regret that I have not been around to witness that -- it's almost like I've been left behind.
Another good thing about living in another country, especially one that is so different from your own, is the feeling of constant discovery. Could be discovery of some cultural or social aspect, the food, the people, the language, nature, music, whatever. I miss that too.
One other thing I used to do a lot of when I lived in Taipei was hiking, which I can't do near Boston without driving for at least 30 minutes. In the mid-1990s I lived in the Hsinyi district and hiking trails were almost right outside my door. Sometimes I'd hike all the way out to Shenkeng and beyond. That area of course is totally changed by heavy construction, including that highway tunnel that goes all the way to Ilan and those trails may not be there anymore. When I go back this time, I am going to hit some of the trails in the north part of the city. My brother-in-law says that some new trails have been added near his house in Neihu, so I am going to explore those.
Bob: The food, the people, the music scene, the food.
For those of us that have yet to see a Feiwu show, what can we expect?
Ian: Definitely loud! Lots of energy. Singalongs in Mandarin and English. Andrew spouting random words in Taiwanese. We also have some special guests joining us on stage for some songs. Oh yeah, and expect free beer! It's going to be fun!
Bob: 12 years worth of pent up rock and roll exploding on stage in one night (and a whole lot of Taiwan beer.)
You can catch Feiwu's final show ever at Legacy on February 17th.