Not long ago, three silly musical lads from various elsewheres found themselves in Taiwan doing some quite serious rocking under the name Roxymoron. Among their many adventures and milestones were a dandy EP entitled Popular Wasteland and a supergroup team-up with Forests to honor the Beach Boys. But most often they could be found charming their friends and playing some fun, sweaty shows around the island. And then they hopped on a plane to England to do more of the same.
The following are excerpts and highlights from a conversation with Roxymoron drummer John Stephenson on the state of the ‘morons (Hint, hint: new music coming!) during a recent visit to his old stomping grounds in Taipei.
Um, why are you here? Didn’t you leave?
I did leave, yes.
The whole band?
The whole band left. We left Taiwan... 13 months ago? Roughly the time it takes a koala bear to have a baby, I guess.
I don’t know if that’s true or not.
So have you had your proverbial koala baby?
I’ve had a koala.
In the biblical sense?
Yeah, I’ve fucked a koala. It’s dead now. They’re not endangered, are they?
Well, they are when I’m around.
You guys made a difficult decision to relocate to England. Can you recount a little bit what went into that decision and what your goals were?
Well, we were 3 hairy - well, two hairy, 1 very smooth - white guys living in Taiwan, and we’d formed a band by accident, really. We were playing for fun, and it turned out that we quite liked doing it, so we tried to get some shows, and got some shows. And then we got some more shows and…
And then you left.
And then we left. We had never had planned to stay in Taiwan. That was never our plan as people. We all came here individually and wanted to stay for a year, two years... and just gradually through work commitments, relationships and things, and also through music, we ended up staying in Taiwan for 5 years.
The decision to move back to the UK had been mentioned quite early on when we got together. We’d always talked about doing it and then it just kind of happened. I can’t remember the exact moment when or who instigated it, it just kind of came to be.
In Taiwan, it’s hard to make a go of it career-wise as a foreign artist - even as a local artist it’s a hard enough slog - there are barriers and legalities and whatnot..
I think it was more we were just all three of us ready to go somewhere different. It’s hard to make a career of music anywhere. There are people way better than us who struggle. I guess just keep playing and stuff starts to happen. Although I guess in Taipei for waiguos one of the things that can happen is deportation. Cripes!
So you moved to the other side of the planet, and you have to develop a whole new fan base… and you chose Brighton. Why Brighton?
Everyone we knew back in England that we’d asked said, “You should go to Brighton. It’s near London – and it’s fun and there’s music there and it’s by the sea and you should go to Brighton.” And that seemed to make sense. It’s bloody cold in the winter though! Nobody told me that!
It’s an inevitable question to ask: Please compare and contrast the two scenes for us.
Obviously the UK has way more places to play, and in Taiwan, outside of Taipei, there aren’t that many venues – actually, inside of Taipei there aren’t that many venues...
So that’s difference number one. Difference number two, erm, more people speak English, that’s kind of helpful as that’s our mother tongue. Other than that, not a lot of difference. The best bands in Taiwan easily hold up to the best ones in the UK. If anything, Taiwan is more fun because there are so many good bands for such a comparatively small scene.
We’re sitting here talking in a park off Shida Road. In Brighton, are there there any problems there with dickhead neighbors?
Yep. We’re gradually getting to know the bars and their owners and they’re having exactly the same problems over there. Compared to the Underworld tragedy, there is, in England, at least an opportunity to fight it slightly more fairly, but that’s part of live music, it’s noisy and some people just want to have a cat and sit at home in silence all day.
To be honest, though obviously you can never prove this kind of thing, in Shida it wasn’t really the neighbours who were the problem, it was the corruption and backhandedness of local politicians and property developers that really fucked that situation up. It seemed fairly clear that the really shitty neighbours must have had some kind of backing from somewhere. Nobody is that shitty just for the sake of it, are they? Still, at least through all that Shida stuff I did get to meet Lieutenant George! What a dream boat!
Here in Taiwan you’ve recorded and worked a lot with 游翔竹 Yo Xiang Zhu...
He’s the first Taiwanese person who said, “I like you guys and I want to work with you.” So that’s obviously been really important to us. We trust him a lot and we’ve been lucky enough to watch him develop his skills over the last few years. He’s also an excellent cook.
And he’s in England now. Is that just a coincidence or did he go to follow you? Did you hire him? Did you kidnap him?
He’s married to Ben. So they went as a couple.
No, no, not really! He’s studying for a Masters in Sound Production. He got a scholarship from the Taiwanese government to go and do that in the UK. That’s great for him to go and have that experience. He’s in London on campus at Westminster University.
And you’ve recorded some new material with him.
Yes, it’s also been great for us. We recorded one track with him, which was nice because it was for free, for one of his projects. There’s a lot of nice equipment at the studios. This time he actually had to be the producer. It was nice for us to have somebody taking a bit more control. We need that sometimes.
That song is...
Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. There’s a video we made with our good friend Chris (Awe IX). He put the video together from some shitty stuff that I filmed and some good stuff that he filmed, and then he did some amazing animation on the top. And yeah, we’re quite pleased with that song. Although Ever Yao hates the snare sound. Haha.
Are you gearing towards a CD or an EP?
We’re going to be recording (more) with Xiang Zhu. That was just a single. He’s also going to have to produce an EP (for his degree) and he’s asked us to do it. So we’ll be recording some other stuff we’ve come up with in the last year. We’re doing that in July. I guess it will be available mid to late September.
Are you working with management? Or are you still doing this all independently?
We’ve had some offers. We’ve had a few people wanting to work with us, which has been positive.
But I think, certainly for me, and I wouldn’t want to talk for the other two, but for me I lived in Taiwan for five years and I really kind of took it for granted that moving back to the UK... I just thought it would be easy. Not the music, I mean living in the country that I’m from. It hasn’t been and so there’s been a year’s worth of adjusting.
I think for all three of us it’s been an interesting process. We’ve kind of coped in different ways. And I think all three of us have felt we’re not really ready to push forward with the music as much as we should.
So when these offers have come in, we’ve tended to kind of ignore them. We’re really happy that that’s been happening at shows, that the music is (going) in the right direction and it’s interesting people.
Timing is important.
Yeah. So we want to get this EP done and then re-gather our thoughts.
Just wondering, how do you identify yourselves?
We’ve actually been billed as a Taiwanese band at some of our gigs in England, and we turn up and there’s some confusion. (laughs) Other than that, I guess we identify ourselves as Ben, Dan and John. Musically, I guess we’re like one of those post-punk groups from like 1979. Maybe one that didn’t quite make it huge, like Magazine or Subway Sect. Something like that. That’s what I tell people in Brighton anyway. And generally they say ‘Oh, cool.’ And then walk off.
How has the band grown? How have the songs changed? Do you approach the music any differently?
I think we’re better musicians. We’ve all worked quite hard to become better at playing our instruments. Dan in particular has really been pushing it with his musicality, and also with his work with production and recording. Ben can sing now. Like actually sing. I’m very proud of him about that, I never say nice things to him normally, so here it is in writing, Ben! (Also, you smell). I just sit at the back with my drums and hit stuff, but more accurately than I used to, unless I’m drunk. Then I’m just as inaccurate as ever.
And I guess finally, we’ve tried many different approaches over the years, but in the end we still just play what sounds good to us. We’re maybe a bit quicker at putting a song together, but it’s really just all from the heart. If we like it then we love to play it and that definitely comes out in live shows.
Speaking of live, hopefully we can get ourselves back to Taiwan at some point for a little tour. We miss it a lot!
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