BK chatted to Taiwanese-born Canadian avant-pop musician Alex Zhang Hungtai, better known as Dirty Beaches, before he rides into town this week to play gallery-cum-live venue SOL Space (Feb 24).

A lot of your songs deal with concepts of traveling or being on the road. Does this come from touring or some sense of displacement?
Both. I think how you live your life will ultimately influence what you create in your work, one way or another, whether conscious or not.

Continuing on that tack: your life’s been spread out among so many different places. How has your music been shaped by those migrations?
It’s made me a lot more sympathetic to people who are displaced. I personally think being a minority in a foreign country is the best education ever. It teaches you the reality of the world we live in, and when you see someone in need, you look at them very differently. That’s reflected in my music as well: I hold no loyalty to any sound, or genre, because it makes me think of nations, nationalism, identity, racism—and I fucking hate racists. Musically I want to be free. I wish to have multiple visas which allow me to travel across multiple borders and be free from prejudice, or other people’s ideas of "who" you are. Your experiences define you. Don't let other people categorize you. Your individual experiences are what make you unique. Even if they are boring experiences. They are you. And real.

How did you first get into playing music?
By accident, an Indonesian friend of mine had a metal band and asked me to join on vocals. They kicked me out of the band a year later, but then I started writing songs myself.

There's a heavy influence from past music in your work. Do you think there's danger in too much nostalgia?
Only in Badlands, as it was a concept album. For my entire catalog, please go to: dirtybeaches.bandcamp.com where you can hear all the music I’ve made since 2005.

You’ve talked a lot about approaching your music much the same way as a film; what particular films have influenced your music?
Mostly [Hong Kong Second Wave film-maker] Wong Kar-wai movies because I like the theme of time and the portrayal of displaced people.

I read a while back that you were scoring several films; what’s the latest on that front?
[I just did the score for] WaterPark, a Canadian documentary film about an indoor beach/water park/surf machine, inside a shopping mall in West Edmonton, Canada.

You’re set to release two-LPs-in-one in May this year; how do these differ from one another and your previous works?
It’s not so much different from my work pre-Badlands; the only difference is the surface, the style, and the sound—the core and content is always the same. I'm always making albums about lost, displaced people, with no home to return to, in exile, drifting, etc. Aesthetics and surface are disposable, like fashion. But who you are on the inside fundamentally, is what’s important. It’s like an internal compass. 

You’re quite active on Youtube, occasionally replying to comments from fans (both positive and snarky); is the internet a help or hindrance to what you do?
No, nothing is ever perfect in this world. If someone can rise from doing shitty jobs like working in a kitchen and recording music at night in their bedroom, to touring the world, then I say the internet is amazing. All the little bad things that come with it are just what come with the good things about the internet.

You’re now performing as a three-piece; what can we expect from your show in Bangkok?
Expect no fake shit, like bands playing old songs like a routine. We don't do that. We play our hearts out, because it’s mostly new, unreleased material or re-arranged songs. We give everything of ourselves in what we do, because we are given an opportunity to be ourselves as artists, so why act like "we have to play the songs people know" as musicians? Then I might as well quit music and go back to work in real estate and make more money—this is a very Asian philosophy! 

What’s the best thing about being on tour?
Food, adventures, landscapes—it plants seeds of multiple ideas that will later grow into something else.

Is your lo-fi sound a necessity or an aesthetic choice?
What do you think after reading this interview so far? I'm Chinese, I will use the cheapest way to make a record, and that’s what I did. Now digital recording is cheaper, and that’s what I'm doing now. It’s important to be realistic and make records your own way. Don't let other people tell you what to do. When I was doing cheap tape recordings at home, everyone hated it. Then it got popular. Well, the truth is, it’s not what equipment you use, it’s how and who is using the equipment. 


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