This will be King Ly Chee’s first visit to Taiwan in a long time! You were meant to come in 2011, but were denied a visa. What’s up with that?
Actually, we’d been coming to Taiwan since 2000. Our first time in Taiwan was July of 2000 where we played two shows: one at Underworld and then the next day at that year’s Formoz Festival. We released our first album “We Are Who We Are 這就是我們” in Taiwan in 2001. I can’t remember what label we released it on though! Hahaha…I think it was the reputable indie-rock label of the time. For a while we basically played Taiwan every year and some years we even came out up to 3 times. The year that we came a lot was when Freddy of Chthonic was going to release our album called “Stand Strong 硬心”.
Yeah, I have to admit all those early years of getting visas to come to Taiwan was SUCH a pain in the ass. I was traveling on a Pakistani passport and to be able to get a visa to come to Taiwan I had to have an official letter of invitation from someone in Taiwan. This person couldn’t just scan the letter and email it to me. They had to physically go to the office in Taipei and deliver it by hand. Then I had to apply in Hong Kong showing bank statements, return flight tickets, hotel booking, and then wait weeks for approval. Because I was Pakistani, I could never get a “multiple entry” visa so I had to do this EVERY single time I had to go to Taiwan to play.
2011 was SUPER annoying because by that time I had officially become “Chinese” in Hong Kong and was traveling on a Hong Kong passport which immediately allowed me to travel basically anywhere in the world visa-free. It was such a beautiful thing to be able to travel like a normal person. I thought for sure that I would have been no problem for Taiwan. Only later did I find out that for your FIRST visit to Taiwan on a HK passport you HAVE to apply for a visa in Hong Kong prior to arriving. That’s why we had to cancel our show in 2011 at The Wall because I had visa issues AGAIN. This time we’re all sorted…can’t wait!
Many people don’t really know what hardcore music is and how it differs from other loud/heavy/fast music. How do you explain it to those curious about hardcore?
This question is always hard to answer and you’ll get different answers from all different walks of life. If you ask my wife, she will say there is NO difference whatsoever and it’s all in my head. Hahahaha…
There are many ways to look at hardcore… the easiest is to look at just the music I think.
The music style for hardcore follows the mindset of how punk rock was created in the early ’70s…it was always based on simplicity, a few chords, some screamed words, loud drums, as a way to rebel or scream your heart out. Skill was not an issue – it wasn’t about how much you could solo on your guitar or do massive 80-tom drum fills… it was about getting across a message in the most explosive way possible. So for some people, it just sounds like complete chaos because guitars are being thrashed, musicians are probably not even playing in time with each other, etc. But to the people involved, there is so much life to that abrasive way of performing/writing music. It wasn’t about big rock stadiums, and “bitches backstage”, flaunting your millions, etc. Hahahaha… So when you think of “hardcore” or “punk rock” in its truest sense, it’s very simple, direct and in-your-face music. The power of the music is in that simplicity. Over time, of course, hardcore music has evolved into so many different types and there are now sub-genres within the hardcore umbrella. So it’s hard to explain the sounds of “hardcore” in 2014 because a lot has happened since the late ’70s when “hardcore” was first being created.
Lyrically and culturally is where hardcore’s REAL beauty lies. As mentioned above with the simplicity of the music, the lyrics were also straight to the point and often very controversial because of that, because it directly addressed issues in the world. Way back when I was super into heavy music – the bands that GOT me into hardcore/punk rock (Sick Of It All and Bad Religion) were the bands whose lyrics were honest and relatable. They were singing about society like I was seeing it in and I didn’t need to dig too deep into the content to understand what they were singing about. Just look at the lyrics to Sick of it All’s “Just Look Around”! What country in the world ISN’T that song about?! Hahaha…
Regardless of how different the music may be now, and how many different forms of hardcore their may be… it’s the culture of having a message in your music/lyrics/life, and doing it yourself, and being able to rely on and being there for others that hasn’t changed. Sure, hardcore has never been as big as it is today and there are CERTAINLY “hardcore” bands that seem to have lost touch with what it’s all about – but that’s also because these bands are doing it for a living and have to view hardcore through a whole different lens because they have mortgages to pay and kids to feed. Who in their right mind would EVER argue the choices that those types of bands who do it full-time have to make in order to keep their families alive?
But being honest, and real, and writing music that has something to say IS what hardcore is all about to me. Without that, there really is NO different between hardcore and metal and any other type of heavy music.
I was pretty active in the New Zealand hardcore scene in the ’90s, but I mostly stopped going to shows when a lot of negativity crept in. We’d still be “preaching” unity, positivity and tolerance, but would beat-down anyone dancing and enjoying the show “the wrong way”, or wearing “the wrong clothes”, and in some cases eating a ham sandwich or having a beer. The message got lost. That said, I really admire those that have stuck with it and have remained positive. What drives you to stick with it after all these years? What are some things that bug you about the hardcore scene in HK and abroad?
The things that bug me about Hong Kong in terms of hardcore are too many to name. Let’s just paint the grim picture that it is – in a city of 7 million, with us promoting the FUCK out of hardcore here for 15 years now, there are still only 2 hardcore bands here. When we put on some killer modern-day bands like Backtrack who are doing well all over the world and deserve it because they’re fucking AMAZING (their latest record “Lost in Life” is my favorite record still of 2014) we barely got 90 people. WolfxDown, a German band that has been making a HUGE name for themselves these past few years, got barely 50. To people in the US or Europe that sounds like a decent turnout – out here in Asia where we’re paying for flights, hostels/hotels, venue, backline, vans/food, etc., our expenses are much higher, and so turnout is important for us to be able to put on more shows. For the past almost 7 years I’ve had to pick and choose which bands I am willing to put on because I am already anticipating losing money. That’s a fucking shitty feeling man, to know that I’m going to lose money to put on a show for a band that I believe in. But that’s Hong Kong. People in this part of the world have always been into more commercial music – and that goes for heavy music as well. Metalcore, deathcore, dancecore – whatever you want to call it, will always get a bigger turnout and more hype because those are the bands that kids love here.
The only thing that keeps me going is that I have a band with members who actually love hardcore and we’ll keep going because this has been a part of our lives for so long. I was 22 when I started this band. I’ll be 38 this year. I am married and have a 2-and-a-half-year-old little girl now…King Ly Chee is the air I breathe (direct lyrics from our song “Promise”), so there’s no slowing this thing down.
Hardcore has been slow to take off in Asia, but with the likes of CNHC Festival and more international hardcore bands touring in HK and Taiwan, do you think it’s finally starting to get the recognition it deserves?
It’s not getting any recognition in Hong Kong at all. CNHC Festival and all the great things happening for hardcore in China has had NO impact on its growth in Hong Kong. People here still couldn’t care less.
China is where there’s been massive growth… kids there are really taking to hardcore in a special way. It really IS that outlet to them that it has been for us. And that’s what makes it special, what makes it real, and what will make a lasting impact on their lives that will make them stick to it for years to come. Kids in China actually want to study the history of a culture that they’re getting into. Kids there KNOW about bands like Black Flag, Gorilla Biscuits and Minor Threat! That shit is SO rad to me! When you take the time to do all that research, you’re getting a great deeper sense of what the culture is all about. As you dig, you might find yourself getting more entrenched in that world – and that’s what makes you become a “lifer”.
Many of your songs have versions in both Chinese and English. Which should we learn so we can sing along at your Taiwan show?
In Chinese speaking places all over the world, we always sing in Chinese. All the songs that we’ll be playing at the Taiwan show will be in Chinese. We might be playing a few brand new songs because this year we’re celebrating our 15th year anniversary with a brand new album and so we want to play a couple of those songs. Those songs will be the only English ones probably because we haven’t finished writing the Chinese lyrics.
That’s a hard question to answer because in 15 years we have been very lucky in that regards…
For sure it has to be Sick Of It All. The band that GOT me into hardcore when I was a kid. The first hardcore band I watched in the US when I first got there to attend university in 1994. The band that basically taught me all I know about hardcore to this day – ethics and values. They clearly hold a VERY special place in my heart…so in 2013 when I was able to put on their show in Hong Kong, it was an unbelievable moment. They are the greatest hardcore band on the planet and I was SO nervous to meet them because I didn’t want my heroes to turn out to be dicks or anything like that. But dude, they were the nicest guys ever. I must’ve breathed out the biggest sigh of relief because they were like “What’d you think we’d be like?” hahaha…for my heroes to actually just be humble guys thankful that people all over the world still care about them and are willing to go the extra mile for them, was so SO amazing. They loved Hong Kong and I hit it off with them so well that they even allowed me to come travel on their tour bus in Europe for about a week and a half! Not only that, but Lou [SOIA’s vocalist] called me out on stage every night to sing Ratpack [Youtube]! Jesus dude…2013 was one of the most amazing years of my life come to think of it! I still get SMS’ from Lou and Craig [SOIA’s bassist] every once in awhile asking me what’s up and every time, I just stare at my phone thinking “how the hell did this happen?” Hahaha…
Your last album “Time Will Prove” is two years old. Have you started preparing for your next release? What are your other near-future plans for King Ly Chee?
Yes! As mentioned above, to celebrate our 15th year of doing this shit, we’ll be releasing a new album! We’re in the midst of recording it right now and can’t WAIT to get it out! Should be out by the end of August…once again, it will include both English and Chinese (普通話) versions of our songs.
Aside from your “hardcore” family, you are also a very proud husband and father. Has becoming a parent made you more grown-up or changed you?
The only thing I think it has changed is that I’m more relaxed about things in the band because my focus is elsewhere. All my band members have noticed it and love this fact! Hahahahaha… once you have a child, there is NOTHING else in the world that matters more. Not King Ly Chee, not hardcore, NOTHING.
I really appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions, Riz!! See you guys soon!
No problem man! Means a lot that anyone out in Taiwan even still cares about us! We haven’t been out there since 2004 so we’re excited to FINALLY get back! Big thanks to you for the interview, but especially to Jimmy for inviting us!
King Ly Chee 荔枝王 play at Heart-Town 2014 - Emo Punch Mini Festival on 2014/07/05.
這是我新的開始 [listen / download]
Scream for Life
We Come Alive (新專輯的另外一首 － 將會第一次演!)
誓言 [listen / download]
CNHC [listen / download]