Let’s begin with THAT song. Lalala is probably the catchiest song from Manic Sheep. How did that song explode globally?
To be honest, we did not expect such a positive response to this song. The song had its beginnings as a written form of my feelings (lead vocal Chris) during a Blonde Redhead concert. It was meant to be simple song but from the time we recorded the demo, we could see the song gathering attention. The next thing we know, Lalala is making its way around the globe.
What can we expect from Manic Sheep musically after this?
Expectation is the root of all heartaches. (Kidding).
The Manic Sheep of the future will be significantly different from the Manic Sheep of old. We have matured tremendously over the last year since our debut album. The music we have been listening to have been growing in scope and variety. This has significantly affected the way we approach our own music. We are currently trying out new musical styles and composition methods. For example, we are exploring compositions with a stronger emphasis on rhythm arrangements and with an overall increase in aggressiveness. However, we want to retain the unique Manic Sheep essence in our new material.
Manic Sheep had a very busy 2013. What are some highlights?
When we were flying back to Taiwan from New York, our plane had an electrical fault and we had to land. We spent one night in Alaska. ALASKA!
It was summer then and we were wearing short sleeves and shorts in New York. All we had to brave subzero (-20 degrees Celsius) temperatures in Alaska were our summer gear and a thin jacket. In a place where polar bears and salmon fish inhabit…
Imagine you can go back in time, what would be one piece of advice that you would give the Manic Sheep of early 2013?
Early 2013 was when Manic Sheep started gaining attention and we received (and accepted) far too many invitations to perform. We did not consider planning or structuring our time more effectively so we were essentially performing non-stop. We should have slowed down a bit to allow time and space for more creative work and to better refine our performances.
You spent a bit of time in 2013 performing outside of Taiwan – in the US, Canada, Hong Kong, etc – tell us what overseas touring is like. How different was it from what you initially thought it to be?
Our time in North America is a learning experience for us. As we were unable to undertake a long touring schedule (say, three months), we realised that it would be difficult to build up a fan base in North America. Hence, our aims then was then to establish networks, to get to know music industry folks, and to see what overseas bands are doing. Surprisingly, we had a good reception in Toronto. They love indie-pop over there. One aspect that was very different from Taiwan was the lack of backline in North America. In Taiwan, most venues come equipped with sufficient gear for a gig. However, in North America, there are usually no instrument amps, and no drums (at best a three-piece drum set). Bands there are used to bringing their own gear.
Hong Kong was a completely different experience. We were fortunate to participate in a relatively big-scale music festival. We were very well taken care of. We know that there are many Hong Kong fans of Taiwanese indie music but we were very surprised that the number of non-local Hong Kong folks at the festival. Almost half of the festival goers were not local. It was most surprising to us!
Manic Sheep had received government funding. How did you find the application and subsequent follow-up process and what would you advise a new band to consider if they want to follow the same route as you?
The process was… troublesome. We had to deal with matters that we are not accustomed to.
We view government grants as a tool that can assist the band. Our plans are not dependent on whether we get funding. For example, we would still release an album or go touring overseas regardless of whether we get a grant. In fact, we only applied for a grant after we had started our preparations for our debut album. We sourced our own funding for overseas touring before we applied for grants. If we have to give advice on this matter, we would suggest not to let the grant affect your band’s plans. Plan and execute as if you are not going to get a grant.
There had been a number of line-up changes. What has been the effect on the band’s music and its future development?
We changed drummers too many times last year. This was a terrible thing because we had to start anew with each new drummer. It was difficult to compose and arrange new songs. Our performances also suffered in terms of continuity and completeness due to the constant changes. On a positive note, we had overcome this difficult phase and secured a drummer that will see us through to our next album.
Give us a clue as to how the band might develop. What music have the members of the band been listening? What would you consider to be a surprising record or artist to your fans?
We love the bands on the Captured Tracks label like Beach Fossils, DIIV, Soft Moon and Mac DeMarco. We also like Neu and some German Krautrock. Scott (謝閎宥 － guitars) also digs some Japanese bands and post-rock bands. I (Chris) have been manically listening to La Femme since I saw their performance.
When a Manic Sheep song comes on in my iPod shuffle, I can usually recognise it. Scott has a unique guitar tone and the band has a unique sound. What advice would you give to new bands starting out on how to develop their own unique recognisable music?
(Chris answering) I really admire Scott for his dedication of time and effort to refine his own custom sounds. He has an acute sense of sound and knows where his sonic preferences lie. Hence, he is then able to create his own unique tone. I feel that understanding one’s own sonic preferences and constant exploration is the only way to develop a unique voice.
Back to “Lalala” – One interpretation of the song is that it is about all the secret admirers that the band has in the audience. How would you feel about that?
This interpretation is somewhat brilliant. However, it is really about me (Chris) being a secret admirer of the songs of another band on stage… wrote it after the Blonde Redhead gig…
What is Airhead Records? How does that fit in with Manic Sheep?
Airhead Records is a brand started by Scott (Manic Sheep’s guitarist) and 張芳瑜 (Manic Sheep’s VJ and Designer). So far, they have organized two Re-Noise festivals and have plans to host more design and video events.
One of the themes GigGuide.tw wants to document is how the DIY ethos is driving the Taiwanese indie scene. There are many things that Manic Sheep has DIY’ed (the recording of the album, the marketing and distribution of the CD, the touring, etc). What was the best thing about DIY? What was the worst thing? What would you like to improve upon?
The worst thing about DIY is that there is never enough time. We are a band that has a low count in band and team members (the lowest count was just Chris and Scott). Hence, everyone in the band would have a heavy workload. Sometime, we get really frustrated as the backlog of uncompleted tasks build.
The best thing about DIY is that we learn a lot from this experience. For the debut album, we did everything ourselves from the recording to the packaging design to the management of the manufacturing process. We also booked our own shows, organized press interviews and shot our own music videos. We did almost everything that a band needed to start in this business. This is a good starting point for new bands. The band would understand the process better before more people get involved in the next phase of growth. Our opportunities to perform overseas came from trying our luck by applying to the festival organisers. We also pestered blogs, magazines and labels to listen to our music.
To be honest, we did not choose to DIY. We would have gladly accepted help back then if someone offered. However, no one did so we had no choice but do it ourselves.
Most people imagine sheep to be white, fluffy and cuddly. When they finally see a real sheep, they find that the sheep is shit-coloured, oily and extremely stinky. Should we feel the same way towards Manic Sheep? Why or why not?
Yes!!! That is absolutely spot-on!!!
When we named the band “Manic Sheep”, we wanted some conflict within the name (like an oxymoron). With the way you described sheep, that is exactly the conflict we wanted!
Any last words?
Thanks for reading this interview to its end. Whether you felt enlightened or disgusted, we are still thankful as you have read the whole interview!! One hundred loving hearts to you!!
We also want to give GigGuide.tw one thousand loving hearts. To have you guys around and to have your selfless contributions is an amazing thing. We are very grateful you are still around.