Alex enjoyed a long discussion with the band that left his head spinning and soul inspired. BHD is one of the featured bands and a driving force behind the GigGuide.tw concert at Revolver on 13 December.
So what can you expect from BHD on 13 December? Read on, dear friends! All secrets will be revealed!
What does BHD stand for?
Big Horny Dicks!
How would you describe your sound?
We would describe our sound as instrumental rock, not post-rock. We do not use vocals in our songs. Instead, we rely on melodies and dynamics within a song to craft the feeling. Sometimes, we get aggressive to get in listeners’ faces. Other times, we sit back in the mix and create textures and atmosphere. As a band, Mars Volta and Envy were strong influences. We were also greatly influenced by introspective electronic music.
Most bands use lyrics to convey feelings and meaning in their songs. How does BHD tackle the challenge of not using vocals to convey feelings or meaning?
There are many ways to convey feelings and meaning. Even though we do not use vocals, we use melodies, effects and rhythm to express ourselves. In BHD, we utilise rhythm for dynamics and feel. Our music does not necessarily tell a story, but it creates a scene or atmosphere. Some Taiwanese bands might start with a message that is their reaction to their immediate experiences or surroundings (e.g., antinuclear songs or personal experiences). The song is then developed around that message. In contrast, BHD starts from a musical idea – a riff, a rhythm or ideas from a jam session. Our songs are not reactions to our experiences or surroundings. They are pure apolitical musical ideas.
So you are saying that there is no message underlying BHD’s songs? If there are any messages attached to the songs, these ideas are actually formed by the listener?
Yes, that is something that we feel is special about BHD. Our songs are musical vessels for a listener’s individual experiences, reactions and feelings. The meanings of the songs are created by the individual. Each reaction to our songs should be different from person to person. We want our music to feel intense and invoke a reaction from our listeners. We want our songs to be more than just throwaway tunes. In that respect, we feel that we are different from post-rock bands that create wonderful atmospheric music that sits in the background. We want our listeners to be involved with our music to create their own stories, landscapes, etc.
How did BHD start?
Out of boredom! On a hot summer day in 2011, we (Huei Yen, Doves and Big Cool) were bored and recorded 10 hours of jamming with two guitars and a synth. That 10-hour set of music formed the basis of a BHD demo. We then roped in Sony (BHD’s drummer) who refined the rhythms for the jam tracks into proper songs. We then started performing as a four-piece band. At one of our performances, we met BlackBells and the idea of adding a DJ for scratching and samples surfaced. Next, Zan joined the band after we toyed with the idea of adding visuals to our performances. BHD’s final lineup of six members was finally established in the summer of 2012.
What were the challenges that the band faced during its formation?
The band grew organically with members joining as the scope of the music and performance grew. Our challenges were about incorporating the new members into the music. For example, when BlackBells joined the band, we had little experience with incorporating a DJ into our music. We had to work through some issues of how to best bring out the DJ and electronic aspects. Likewise, when we added Zan as a VJ, she had to figure out how to best pair her visuals to the music. However, we always believe that when we work on a song – whether it is the arrangement or how to best perform a song – the end result has to be something that all six members are comfortable and happy with. That approach united us as a band and helped a lot.
We were also lucky as the right piece always seemed to show up at the right time. The development of the band was quite organic. When adding visuals felt appropriate, we met Zan. When we were ready to record an album, we met Slater Chiang who could record in the style we wanted. Then through Slater, we met the right label, 22 Records, who operate in an “indie” way we believe in.
How has it been working with 22 Records?
Even though 22 Records is perceived to be a hardcore or punk label, and people have commented that BHD does not quite belong to those genres, we’re able to look past this to see that 22 Records operates in the “emotional” space. That is to say they deal with music that invokes emotions. That is the right space for BHD so we are happy to work with 22 Records. With regard to resources and distribution, 22 Records is ultimately still an indie label. It is not like we can just throw everything to the label and they will market, distribute and promote BHD for us. The band still needs to be involved to help themselves and the label grow together. Regardless of where we are in the world (Japan, US, Europe, etc), this is the way indie bands and labels work and this is the kind of relationship we want. We really do not want the label to apply lipstick and makeup on us. We also like the bands on 22 Records – Human Beings, Until Seeing Whale’s Eyes, Skip Skip Ben Ben, Ashen, etc. We are happy to be on the same label with bands that we believe play emotional music.
What is the difference between an indie way of releasing and marketing music compared to the popular or mainstream method?
Indie labels understand that it is the music that makes the label. Hence, they tend to protect the music and allow more creative freedom to the artists on the label. There is less packaging of the band as a marketable commercial product. However, we also need to balance that creative freedom with amplifying our creative work to a wider audience. That is the reason why bands record and release their work. Otherwise, we could all just mess around in practice studios, making music for ourselves. This “amplification” is the area that bands on indie labels struggle with the most. It is harder to get our music out to a wider audience. BHD values our creative freedom too much to sign with labels who might be more interested in packaging and marketing BHD as a product, instead of being focused on our music. Since we do not have access to mainstream distribution and promotion, we rely on live performances at the right events such as overseas festivals to get our music out.
Why do you have a focus on overseas festivals?
Let’s say that a popular indie band in Taiwan has 2,000 avid fans. For a band like BHD, we are more likely to have 100 due to the genre of music we play. So where do we find the remaining 1,900? We feel that we can find them overseas. Hence, we hope to work with our label to get exposure in foreign markets. We are starting with Japan and have future plans for the US and Europe further down the road. We are essentially emulating the Mono (Japanese post-rock band) model. When they first started, they headed out to New York and Europe to grow their fan base. When their music matured and their popularity soared, the Japanese market then took notice and they were able to grow from strength to strength. We want to gain international recognition and then work backwards into Taiwan, just like Mono did.
BHD is part of this collaborative called Noise Union. What is that?
Noise Union is actually a label that was started by the band members of Half Mile Radius (a band based in Tainan) of which Big Cool is a member of. Half Mile Radius’ like-minded Japanese connections then decided to form the sister label, Noise Union Japan, as an indie label to promote the music they were making. BHD hopes to bring 22 Records and Noise Union Japan together to see how Taiwanese indie music can be promoted in Japan and vice versa. [Since the interview took place, BHD performed at a Noise Union Japan festival called TSURUGI NO MAI in Japan.]
And finally what are your goals as a band?
First and foremost, we want to make music that sounds good and that we can be proud of. We also want to work with 22 Records to help grow the label. We see that as helping the entire scene grow as a whole. We also hope that the model we are following will serve as a guide for other bands in Taiwan – that there are other ways to thrive as a band. We do not need to only look to a small number of individuals (e.g., government officials, mainstream record label executives) to decide what Taiwanese music should be. We can make it ourselves.