Q. Freddy: The Free Tibet concert was amazing, thousands of people, in a Taipei square shouting “Free Tibet!”. Can you explain what it is about Tibet that is so important to Taiwanese? What is the connection to Tibet, which is so far away?
A. Taiwan is in the front line facing China, as a part of the free, democratic world, so it’s very important in this human rights issue, Taiwan should not be quiet, especially as this is the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against Mao and the Communists. In the world, there are lots of activities about the Free Tibet campaign. In Taiwan though, there were fewer than 200 people who would march on the street in support of the protest.
This is an issue that Taiwanese didn’t get involved in, so it was quite frustrating, but I believe that the Taiwanese, they have the same values as Tibetans, we just need to find the right way for the Taiwanese to join in. We can’t just use the old ways of protest. There are lectures for example, and it’s so hard to get young people to want to joinin. I started to pay attention to the Free Tibet campaign in 2000, and I found out that the world Free Tibet campaign, they are very open. It’s the most open campaign in the world. They work with actors, actresses, directors, musicians, bands, they have release Free Tibet compilations. The Beastie Boys have organised more than ten times Free Tibet concerts.
I think we have to learn from this campaign. Especially, in the new U2 music video, there were some clips of the Tibetan monks and Tibet flags, and then a woman dressed in national costume. If you are traditional Buddhist, you can’t make fun of us, of what we believe in, our religion, but we didn’t see any Tibetan go out against this music video. This campaign is so open that the let all kinds of people with all kinds of values but the all support Tibet. So I think that’s very important for us to have this kind of campaign in Taiwan.
Q. But the Dalai Lama who is the spiritual leader, he’s only trying to negotiate more religious and cultural freedom for Tibet and has accepted Chinese rule. Why does the Free Tibet campaign go further than that?
A. For me, it’s not political independence, independence is for each human being, for each citizen, each Tibetan. They have their own independent religion, their own independent language, customs, so for me, when I’m saying independence, it’s not just about politics. So I believe the Dalai Lama and the whole Free Tibet campaign, believe in the same thing. It’s not just about political independence. When they gain their meaningful autonomy, if they want a meaningful autonomy, they regain their independent thoughts and beliefs. I don’t really care about the political independence if they’re going to achieve it. If they want, they should gain it. If they don’t, it’s OK. A modern society, a modern system, a political structure should protect the independence of each citizen.
Part 2 – The new album
Q. OK, tell us about the new album, what is it called and what the idea of the album is, what’s the concept?
A. The album is called “Mirror of Retribution”. A mirror of retribution is the first thing you will meet when you are in hell, the Taiwanese, Oriental hell. Through the mirror, you see all the bad things you and your relatives have done in your lifetime. Each spirit has to face the mirror of retribution then the ghost king will send him to the specific level of hell that he deserves. In the Oriental hell, there are ten ghost kings in ten courts and there are 18 levels of hell and hundreds of small levels. So it takes millions of years for you to serve your sentence. So the original idea is to show this philosophy of hell. All the Asians, Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Vietnam, share the same philosophy.
No other metal band has tried to do this. It’s too big! So the question is how to do it. It not just like Satan and one burning hell. So in Taiwanese temples, there are some mediums there are people who can travel through heaven and hell and find people, find dead relatives and talk with them. So we needed a story, not just the facts. The story should be in Taiwanese history, so where is the corssover point between Taiwan and hell? So we found the point is the 228 incident which happened in 1947.
It’s not just because it’s the biggest massacre that happened in Taiwan, but that the last battle happened in front of a very important Taiwanese temple. So it makes sense that someone in the temple who is a medium would try so save his people, save the Taiwanese from the tyrannical KMT army. So he travelled to hell to try to rewrite the book of life and death. So the original idea is to write about the philosophy of hell and then we found the right story to link Taiwan to hell. That’s the basic idea of the story.
The first half of the story is how he went to hell and how level by level he tried to find the book of life and death and tried to rewrite it. But then the ghost kings, wizards and monsters in hell found out that he is not a normal spirit, he’s still alive, his spirit just left his body, so they, in the 6th song, all the spirits and ghost and monsters, they came from hell to the temple to try to put some seals on his body and suck his spirit back to his body and not allow him to escape from his body again. Then, he decided to kill himself as the only way to go back to hell. But he failed. The end of the story is that he is locked in front of the mirror of retribution for a billion years as his sentence. I think the most interesting part of this album is that we tried to group the same kinds of hells and put them together in one song. There are the mountain of knives and sword forests, different kind of sharp hells all grouped together.
Q. How do you feel the album has progressed musically from the last one?
A. I think Jessie and I write songs more. We have better chemistry to write songs together. Just like the earlier question, because we grouped the hells, so sometimes we said the hells are like sharpened weapons we need blast beat and fast rhythms and Jessie will have the same idea and we work so fast. Another example is the hell of heavy rocks and pressure things, it’s so easy that through discussing hells, Jessie and I will have the same idea, so we need thrash riffs for these. So I think we have better chemistry and an easier concept of the album. So it works very naturally.
Q. Is this the first time Jessie has done backing vocals?
A. Yes, yes it is, and I think he did very well.
Q. So what are the plans for the album now? It’s released in August, do you have touring plans?
A. I think before September, we will release the album worldwide. I believe in the US it’s September 1st, then Japan then the rest of the world.
Q. What label is it on? Is it global?
A. Spinefarm, yes, it’s Universal, so it’s global. The touring dates are maybe the US in September/October, then Europe and Britain and later, we can tour the rest of the world.
Q. It’d be nice if you came to Britain in the summer when it’s nice and warm unlike last time in 2007 when it was so cold!
Q. How long did you have the old makeup and what’s the idea behind the new?
A. We had the old makeup for about ten years. We changed it little by little, not like this time when we made a big change. Before, the old makeup, we tried to put some Taiwanese elements in but it didn’t work very well. We found out that some fans, reviewers and critics couldn’t figure it out. Some critics fought about whether Chthonic is black metal or not, doesn’t worship Satan and so on, are folk metal. We thought we should let them know it’s really hard to use the Western categories with us. We’re inspired by the Western black metal, death metal bands, but we are Taiwanese, we write about local things, we’re inspired by a lot of local pop and different kinds of artists.
Q. That’s one of the things that strikes me about your audience. At the Free Tibet concert, you had aboriginal music, rap, black metal and pop-rock and the audience stayed the same and the audience enjoyed everything! I think in Taiwan, people aren’t religious about musical categorisation.
A. I totally agree with you. Especially in Taiwan, the rock history is not long, so the people they are interested in getting new stuff in as well as the musicians. They are interested in mixing different kinds of ideas in the music. So I think don’t waste your time trying to categorise our music, just listen to it and see if you like it. All the metalheads in the world, you’re just going to love it.
Q. Let’s get back to the makeup. What’s the idea behind the new makeup?
A. It’s just that we try to get more elements from the Taiwanese, Daoist tradition, it’s called http://tinyurl.com/ne794w. It’s something like the 8 generals thing, they put on all different kinds of spells. It’s like Dani’s mask, the teeth and the shape of the mouth are from the Guan Jiong Shiu. Also, Doris, there are some marks on her forehead also from Guan Jiong Shiu. Guan Jiong Shiu makeup is very complicated but we try to find the modern elements from their makeup and put them on our face. So it’s simpler now and what we have on our face is from the old Taiwanese Guan Jiong Shiu makeup.