Chthonic have just released an incredibly strong album in the form of ‘Mirror of retribution’. SonicAbuse was lucky enough to catch up with Doris Yeh, the bassist of the band, and talk about the music, inspiration and politics behind one of Taiwan’s most succesful exports.
You released three albums quite quickly between 1999-2002. Why have we had to wait so long for the new album to be released?
“Because some of the members were busy with their own music careers, like having their own band or putting on some music festivals. But after over 100 shows in the US and Europe in 2007, everyone started to work hard together to get our 5th album ready for release. I think we’ll speed up in the future J”
You have had a turbulent history as regards band members, is there a reason for the high turnover in personnel?
“Actually, it’s not that high a turnover of band members, as me and Jesse as well as Freddy have been in the group for over 10 years now. And our latest drummer Dani has been in the band for over 4 years! Keyboard player CJ, meanwhile, has been with us for 3 years. As a band with a history in excess of 12 years, I don’t think that’s too bad!
“And I should stress that we’re still on good terms with the former members of Chthonic, as most of them only chose to leave because of personal career arrangements.”
What bands influenced the formation of Chthonic?
“Various bands, I think. Metal bands like Emperor, Dark Funeral, Anthrax, NIN, Dimmu Borgir, Arch Enemy, Cradle of Filth, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Megadeth… and, for me, other artists like Sigur Ros, and Eminem for Dani, Monada for Freddy…I don’t know if there’s a direct link between these artists and acts and our music, but I think that the spirit of the musicians I’ve mentioned must have left a mark on our creative thoughts.”
Is there a piece of art or literature that is particularly important to you?
Both you and Freddy have been very active in the Taiwanese independence movement, do you feel that it is important for people in a position of influence (such as rock musicians) to take a stand on important issues?
“I think politics influences people everywhere. Everything is about politics, really – like how to deal with a family argument, how to make different departments able to work together, how to make people like me or support me, that’s all about politics. And if you have a vision of improving the world for the better, then just speak out about it, try to get people to follow you, especially the government; let the leader of the government hear your voice, follow your ideal, then you’ve completed your obligation in your life.
“The words that are really important to me are: “The process is the result, the result is just the process”. In other words, it’s not important how things go in the end, whether they succeed or whether they fail. The most important thing to your life is that you try your best in the process. That’s what counts.”
You’ve been very strong in your condemnation of the Taiwanese President, Ma Ying-Jeou, for failing to condemn China’s human rights record and for his comments on ‘not allowing Taiwan to become independent’ – do you hope to influence the people who listen to your music with your actions?
It’s quite rare for music as extreme as yours to be so popular, are you surprised by how much success you’ve had at home?
“In terms of the band, we want people to enjoy our music first. After that, yes, we want them to be influenced by the meaning inside the music, and to enjoy the beauty of the music as well.
“If the opportunity arises, we will speak out from the stage. Our feeling is that President Ma’s present policy is too lightweight in terms of China, so there is now an international debate as to whether Taiwan is currently pro-China or part of China. That’s really freaking me out, but I’ll stand by my position and keep my faith to the end…
“As for the success we’ve had in our homeland, we’re not surprised about that – our voice is really big here. Not just our music, but our hopes and our thoughts as well. We’ll let everybody in this country hear our voice, and that does seem to have had an effect on the people of Taiwan.”
Now that you’ve signed to Spinefarm, you’ll have an opportunity to spread your message further afield, do you think the world in general takes enough notice of the issues surrounding China and Taiwan?
“No, I don’t think enough notice has been taken of these issues, but soon more will be known about this.”
Many of your songs are written in Classical Chinese, what is the advantage of using this language?
Do you feel that, by singing in your own language rather than being tempted to sing in English, you have maintained the integrity and intent of your lyrics?
What was it like to work with Robb Caggiano from Anthrax as a producer – Did he influence your music at all?
“Classical Chinese has been the official language since the Chinese army occupied Taiwan; we do use Chinese words, it’s true, but we use Taiwanese most of the time. For our past albums, we just translated the whole meaning from the Chinese language, but for this new album, ‘Mirror of Retribution’, Rob helped us a lot to translate the true meaning rather than just the words. Sometimes, of course, the message of the music is more powerful because we aren’t singing in English.”
Your music incorporates a lot of traditional instruments and Taiwanese folk melodies, what encouraged you to experiment with these sounds?
“In the beginning, we tried to add a sound that can express the feeling of sadness in our music. Then we found a traditional Taiwanese instrument called the ‘hena’, which is a two-string violin. We liked the sound very much because it made it easier for us to express the deep sadness in our music, to highlight all of the darker emotions.”
Chthonic have a very strong visual element, why is this so important to you?
“Well, with our music, we’re dealing with the myths relating to our history and the culture of Eastern Asia, and we think that the visual side plays a part in putting this across; also, given the extreme nature of our music, our appearances can help us to express the wrath and the emotions behind the songs…”
How did you feel when you received the support of the Dalai Lama for the 2009 Free Tibet concert?
“His support is a great blessing for us – we feel so honoured to receive this, and we expressed his blessing for the Taiwanese from the stage. He encourages the young people in our country, and many people found it hard to hold back their tears, or just cried out, when we broadcast the film of him speaking to the Taiwanese.
“You know, it’s a strong power, and we think that power from the people can change the world. Maybe you’ll consider it an innocent thought, but I do believe that if more and more people want to change something, the world will finally undergo a change driven purely by that collective faith.”
Thank you very much for talking to us. We really appreciate it and we love the new album. Best wishes from SonicAbuse!
Chthonic are on their first ever tour of the UK in November.
Interview conducted by Phil Stiles