Yuwen Peng: Putting a Spin on Sizhukong
AAJ: There seems to be greater improvisation on Spin than before. Is that also true in concert?
YP: Yeah, I think so. The arrangements allow more jazzy improvisation.
AAJ: Can you talk a little about the song "To Rain," which is very striking.
YP: The song is based on a Hakka folk song. Hakka is one of the most important languages in Taiwan. Mandarin is the common language, and then we have so-called Taiwanese language, which is similar to Fujian from China. Then there is Hakka, which is also from China, but the Hakka people came to Taiwan later than the Fujian people. I am Hakka, too.
I first arranged the song for a Hakka jazz music festival, and we kept developing it. For the arrangements, you were right in your review- -I do listen to the Yellowjackets and [guitarist] Pat Metheny [laughs]. You really have a sharp ear. I was like, What? You know the music better than I do [laughs]. The melody is still pentatonic, and I just kept it simple in one key. I wanted the bridge to have a contrast, so I put some key changes in the background. The bridge melody [sings melody] is actually very commonly used in Hakka music. Sometimes musicians would just play this line behind a singer. So for me it's a very special line that I wanted to put with this Hakka song.
AAJ: There's a subtle use of electronics on "Fengyang 3.0." Is the use of electronics and loops an area you want to explore more?
YP: Hmm. I was thinking about it [laughs]. Now I'm not so sure. It's really another world, and you can go very deeply into it. It can change the whole sound of the music. Having listened to more and more electronic music, I realized that it's really not my thing to get into too far. We can maybe add some electronic sounds to apply on top of the acoustic sounds, but simply focusing on the technology doesn't seem to be my way.
AAJ: Another great track from Spin is "Bona Bona," inspired by bassist Richard Bona. Tell us about your appreciation of him.
YP: He's a great songwriter, as everybody knows. His songs have very sweet melodies. The rhythms and grooves are very natural. His songs sound very simple but very touching to me. I took some part of his guitar arrangement and changed it a little bit. I wanted to write a simple song that expresses the beauty of his music and expresses my admiration for his musicality. I just found out that Chihping [Huang] played the bawoo, and it was so beautiful, so I thought I had to write something for the bawoo, too, but Richard Bona was in my mind.
AAJ: Could you imagine Richard Bona in Sizhukong?
YP: Wow! Will you introduce him to me?
AAJ: Next time I'm down in Cameroon, I'll put a word in.
YP: That would be great [laughs]. Oh my goodness.
AAJ: Sizhukong recently signed to Sony, on which Spin was released. How did that move come about, and how has it benefitted the band?
YP: We asked a friend who runs an agency to help us with the marketing side of things, for both the aboriginal production and for the new CD release, and they connected us to Sony, who thought it would be a good idea to release our CD. Larger record companies like Sony have a good system to sell the product. They also have good relations with the media. They have a good reputation, so when people hear the name they say, "Oh, Sony, that's good." But they put us in the instrumental/jazz department, and of course it's not the sort of popular music that they will invest heavily in. They're not doing big things with us, but already it's a kind of progression to sign with Sony.
AAJ: In March 2012, Sizhukong toured in Canada. How was that experience?
YP: This year Canadian Music Week (CMW) had its first jazz festival part, and a friend of ours who works for Canadian Music introduced us to them. I think there were around 20 jazz groups playing. It was CMW's first time to have jazz there. I think originally it's more like a business market for popular or indie music. We played three gigs there in different clubs. Each time, there were three groups, each playing one set one after another. It was a very nice experience because it was our first time in North America, and we didn't know what would happen. But I think the audiences liked it, and the musicians from other groups and other countries loved it [laughs], so we were quite happy about that.
AAJ: Do you think there are more opportunities now for Sizhukong to play abroad?
YP: I think so. The Cultural Department of Taiwan, whose office is in New York, is trying to bring us to the States next year. I hope this will work. They are working on it.
AAJ: Is China a good market for Sizhukong? It seems like a lot of bands are touring there these days.
YP: Yeah. We've been to China three times already, and most of the audiences really liked what we are doing. People are talking about it on the internet. We need a proper agent there because to work in China you really need connections. That's true everywhere, but you have to find a way to break in.