Round Eye, the experimental freak punk outfit have accrued quite a loud and controversial name for themselves since forming in 2012. The Shanghai based group have shown no mercy nor fatigue in sound development or work ethic and have as of late been a crucial force in bridging a wide gap between the eastern and western hemispheres of punk rock. Along with blazing a gnarly trail all over the globe (USA, Mexico, S. Korea, Japan) they’ve toured the mainland of China a number of times and have played host to visiting western groups and some legends as well.
They’ve shared stages with western groups such as D.O.A., The FUs, Paul Collins Beat, M.O.T.O., Ceremony, and Iceage, eastern groups such as P.K.14, SMZB and Misandao and have been banned from performing on the mainland by the Ministry of Culture during a tour with UK punk legends The Boys (as a result the tour was forced to literally go underground where they held the secret gigs in bomb shelters around the country). The ban lasted only the duration of the tour and was assigned due to “crowd control issues” following the tragic Shanghai band stampede, a controversial tour poster, and reports of Round Eye’s lewd stage antics.
They’ve won the “Best Local Band” title from Shanghai’s City Weekend magazine two years in a row. They’ve released two music videos (one starring famed Chinese actress Wang Lin) and honed their unconventional blend of 50s R&B and Punk with a critically acclaimed EP “Full Circle” on Ripping/Genjing Records which featured Greg Ginn (Black Flag) and have drawn comparisons to the Stooges, Dr. Feelgood and The Fall.
Currently, they are set to drop their eponymous LP Round Eye which features saxophonist Steve Mackay (Stooges/Violent Femmes) and R. Stevie Moore in June with a tour of the U.S. with Mr. Clit and the Pink Cigarettes set to begin in July to promote it.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with RE’s Chachy to discuss it. This is what he told us.
When did you begin writing the material for Round Eye?
Round Eye began forming into a cohesive whole around the end of 2013 after we finished an Asian tour supporting Daikaiju. Before then Poor Benny (with R. Stevie Moore’s efforts already recorded), “Wait/See,” and “God Doesn’t Know” were floating around in one form or another but weren’t being considered as part of the big picture.
You’re a band from China, but not a Chinese band. Has that created some obstacles for you?
We knew that when starting this band we’d be inserted into a sort of gray area in terms of cultural legitimacy. Our band is made up entirely of westerners (Italy, Canada, U.S., UK) yet we would never have developed the sound we have today had it not been for meeting and conceiving this band here in China with its culture acting as a sort of wet nurse. It’s pretty strange no? Like frying a mess of french fries in a Beijing hot pot. But I think people are finally starting to realize Shanghai is growing at an extremely rapid pace. It’s similar to Hong Kong in terms of cultural diversity. It’s getting to be a very cosmopolitan kind of city as it continues to thrive as one of the world’s main financial arteries and what comes with that is communities of people from all over the world.
In terms of gigging around It’s been a real trip and our Chinese peers like: PK14, SUBS, Bedstars, SMZB, MisanDao, Joyside, Dirty Fingers, Nonplus of Color, and others have treated us with nothing but respect, love, and plenty of encouragement and we all help each other out here. It’s a very healthy and inviting scene (in the underground).
So obstacles? Nah nothing really…but I suppose 1 obstacle that any band (especially DIY punk bands) might come in contact with is that of active censorship by the Ministry of Culture during politically sensitive times. We’ve been bitten by that beast and it’s not a fun ride at all.
But I suppose an obstacle in the states would be someone coming to a gig, looking for a band of chinese dudes/girls and seeing four white guys and snapping their fingers when the last horse comes in: “Round Eye…I get it.”
Which of the songs on the LP is most different from your original concept for the song?
“Big Bam” and “Jangling Cowboy” come to mind. The former was originally titled “Big V” and was a sweet little Suicide-esque song for my sister back in the states with lyrics and everything until I heard some Chinese propaganda being blasted on a bus on the way to work. I loved how extravagant it sounded and thought the bass line to Big V would work well with some more ambient instrumentation and act as a perfect way to introduce Steve to the narrative of the LP. “Cowboy” started as a song describing a couple being torn apart by two cultures that supported endogamy and the hypocrisy of eastern/western propaganda, the focus of hate and competition in the news, etc which it still is but back then the song was nearly 5 minutes long. We cut it in the middle and turned the second half into another song on another album haha. So I guess nothing really veered too far off course from original intent; shit was born weird.
Greg Ginn was on your last album. Steve Mackay and R Stevie Moore are on this one. How are you getting these amazing guest musicians?
From 1999 to 2010 I played for an experimental hardcore band called Libyan Hit Squad. On our last tour we became friendly with Greg after opening for him and his Taylor Texas Corrugators / Jambang in Gainesville. I dug it and since then he would come out to our shows if we played in Austin. We were supposed to open for him again on a final LHS tour of the SE but I was done with the group by then and was on my way out to China. We kept in touch and he graciously came on board when we asked him to collaborate on a track on the Full Circle album (for nothing too! very cool guy to us). R. Stevie Moore I know through a mutual connection being my sister who interviewed him a few years ago for a radio show in Chicago and Steve I met when he first performed here in 2012 with Scott and his group Sikhara (I played bass for them in the northwestern city of Xi’an and stayed in touch ever since). Steve’s played with us before in San Francisco on a couple songs when we played The Knockout and there we asked him if coming out to China and celebrating the LPs release with us was something he’d be interested in. Turns out it was.
Do you have any plans to tour the states this year?
Sure! We’re nearly confirmed on all dates for this summer to play the midwest and east coast of the US. It’ll be our second tour there and our bassist’s (Livio’s) first time in the US. From July 1st to August 2nd.
(Visit the band here: www.roundeyeband.com.)