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ZHONG OF SINO HEARTS: "I WILL ALWAYS KEEP VARIETY"



Sino Hearts is a punk power pop band founded by Zhong, who is well known and active in the Chinese and Austrian punk scene. With his love for the sound of the 60s, the native Chinese earned his current notoriety, and rightly so. With his band he has now released his 3rd album "Lightening The Darkness" and we were able to ask Zhong from the Sino Hearts exclusively about him and his new album!


Nailhead Magazine: Hello Zhong! Thank you for taking the time to answer some of our questions.

For those who don't know you yet, please introduce yourself, tell us what you do and how people know you.


Zhong: Hello Constantin! Thank you for the questions, which give me the opportunity to tell you about the music, which I enjoy a lot.

I'm Zhong, I was born in China, but I've lived in Vienna since I was a teenager. At that time I was already more or less musically active and played in a few bands like Deecracks, Frankenstyle, Maltschick's Molodoi, 2nd Class Substitutes... and of course I founded Sino Hearts in Vienna.


Nailhead Magazine: What made you start making music or make the music you are writing now?


Zhong: Most importantly, I discovered punk rock and alternative music back in China when I was a kid, but in Asia, the independent music industry still only exists in Japan to this day. There are good scenes in China and South Korea etc., but there are hardly any real labels behind them and they are not really networked with the rest of the world. That's why I just had to get out!


As a classical music student I had the opportunity to study in the West (Austria) to see the other world. By the way, around 2004 an Austrian punk rock band - Sonic Bastards came to China on tour. I was in the front row at their concert in Zhengzhou, China. I wanted to make punk music back then.


A few years later I had just arrived in Vienna and immediately contacted Martin Liter King from Sonic Bastards, but Sonic Bastards were already over, but he had a new band Frankenstyle, their bassist had left the band at that point, so I started making music with them.


In 2012 I was the stand-in bass player for the Deecracks European tour and sat in the tour bus every day for almost a month, rocking through many countries in Europe. On the tour we played a few shows with Swedish power pop/garage punk band the High-hats. Their members came out of hardcore D-beat punk just like me and also have energetic arrangements with beautiful melodies. To combine the Ramones Brainwash from the Deecracks and also the 77 Punk from Frankenstyle, the Sino Hearts story started until today.


Nailhead Magazine: You released your 3rd album "Lightening The Darkness" in July this year. How does the new album differ from your last "Mandarin A-Go-Go"? How was the process?


Zhong: The title "Lightening the Darkness" was originally inspired by the album "Naked" (1978) by Viennese garage/psych legend Novak's chapel. What a difficult time post global lockdown under the shadow of Covid 19. And now the economic war between the countries behind the new Iron Curtain is escalating, the dark times are coming and there are no clear signals of what is to come in the future.


"Lightening the Darkness" is musically very melancholic, internally lyrically the record is a discussion about life and death, hate and love, dictatorship and freedom, isolation from the crowds, etc.


From a technical point of view, the record is more complicated than the previous works. Instrumentally there are also piano and synthesizer this time, for the first time also with a choir and many New Wave, Post Punk, Neo Mod etc. elements.


Originally there was Tom Zwanzger from S.T.R.E.S.S Studio in Graz who produced our last record "Mandarin A Go Go" but in the end it was produced by the Italian production team so it was mixed by Bruno Barcella and mastered by Riccardo Zamboni. Our stand-in guitarist Ned Moffit from USA also recorded some nice solos for the record, the drums for 8 tracks are by Chinese Travis Barker - our Chinese drummer Fan Yu and also 3 tracks by our ex-drummer Xu Minghe.

It's the best record I've ever written so far.

Of course we would also like to thank Soundflat/Topsy Turvy Records (DE) and Otitis Media Records (US) for the great cooperation.



Nailhead Magazine: You're a big fan of the 1960s and you recorded your new album almost entirely analog. What makes an analog recording so special for you?

Zhong: I was a big fan of the 60's and I would always record everything completely analog but in reality the process between digital and analog was intertwined.

In Beijing there is an analog studio "73 Studio" owned by Wang Jing, a legend in the China film & music recording industry and who has been with us not only on this record but also on the future record that we recorded in spring 2022, working as a sound engineer.


An analog sound is human to me, peculiar and sometimes imperfect, right down to the soul of rock music!


Nailhead Magazine: When I heard your music, I immediately thought of old European films. What were your inspirations for the new album?


Zhong: Thanks for the compliment! As a big fan of French Nouvelle Vague films from the 1960s, I wanted to try to write about small individual stories, fantasies, love or grief, like the little characters from the films. Unlike Hollywood's American Dreams and Happy Endings, I prefer old European movies.


Each of our records has a geographic theme, “Mandarin A Go Go” was Tokyo, Japan and this record is only for Vienna. I took the cover photo on Gumpendorfer Strasse, an embracing couple standing in front of the municipal building in Vienna, wet, cold and gray. And even "Love will tear us apart"!


It was also under the pandemic and lockdown in Beijing between 2020 and 2021, after 2 years of isolation, when my homesickness for Vienna reached the maximum. To date, China is not yet open and the border is still closed. Tourism abroad is forbidden, you can only leave the country with a family visit visa or a business visa. With the support of the Italian festival "Punk Rock Raduno" and Soundflat Records from Cologne, I was finally back in Vienna for a while this summer, when "leaving" from Beijing 5 police officers asked me what I was doing in the West...


So this record was recorded in China and produced in Italy, vinyl pressed in Germany and I picked up the discs in Spittelau in Vienna.

Damn, man!



Nailhead Magazine: You also released music videos for “Passing Shades” and “Every Low Heart”. How did you shoot the videos and how did the ideas for them come about?


Zhong: We shot “Passing Shades” in Vienna's Central Cemetery and Cologne's Süd Stadt and shot “Every Low Heart” in Berlin.


"Passing Shades" was a number about life and death, that's why I wanted to film something at the central cemetery from the beginning, especially during the Covid period, friends of ours had died and my cat was also at home with our original drummer Frank in Lower Austria, but unfortunately she died due to illness. R.I.P


"Every Low Heart" was a love song through time.

I was very spontaneously in Berlin to visit friends, after everything Berlin is still Berlin.


Nailhead Magazine: You lived in China in your past. How would you compare the Chinese music scene with the Austrian one?


Zhong: To be honest, in China and Austria there is relatively little real alternative music industry to support the musicians, although there are so many talented musicians.


This has the advantage that in Austria you can easily understand all kinds of music genres from classical to drama and rock etc. and also go to concerts. However, there are large gaps between the world standard and the domestic standard. Making a living with cool music is almost impossible.

The bands that have a name usually get support from abroad, e.g. from Germany or the USA, if they don't want to switch to Austropop. That's why I, as a musician in Austria, find it difficult to concentrate on both international and domestic markets, because they are completely divided.


In China, since 1979, the communists have opened up the country in a limited way, and from 2008 to 2019, the entertainment industry was developed at high speed. Although Mandarin Pop has a huge market not only in China but also in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, it is still very unknown to the rest of the world compared to K-pop and J-pop.

The rock scene in China has grown well in the past 15 years, and more bands have been supported by domestic or foreign music labels, and Mandarin pop rock is very popular among the youth, on the other hand, there are few performances by world-class western bands in China. Musicians can earn money with music much easier than in Europe. But China is still very isolated culturally from the west, the musical landscape remains dynamic, big and interesting in my opinion.


Nailhead Magazine: You've been on tour with the Sino Hearts in many different countries, including Taiwan and South Korea. How did these tours come about?


Zhong: I didn't just want to perform in "rock'n'roll developing countries" like Europe, USA, Japan, but also everywhere where I find interest.


I always wanted to go to Taiwan and since I founded the China line-up back then, I also wanted to prepare a stopover for the future Japan tour. Taiwan would be perfect. The music scene between China and Taiwan is always very well connected. We met our tour manager from T.C.R.C Records in Tainan, Taiwan in Beijing in the fall of 2016 and played a Taiwan tour right at the beginning of 2017.


To South Korea we were invited by IT'S A FEST from Seoul in 2019, a skate pop punk label. The scene there is also very lively and many young people came to our concert.

As a sidenote, my grandfather was a battalion commander for the Chinese "People's Volunteer Army" and fought in the Korean War in the early 1950s. The organizer of IT'S A FEST Jeff, his grandfather was an American soldier in the same war. 60 years later we played together at the Punk Fest with friendship and peace. It was very meaningful to me.



Nailhead Magazine: Can you tell us a little bit about your time in China in general?


Zhong: Above all, China is a huge country and I live in the north in the capital Beijing, where more than 20 million people live in the metropolitan area.


Before Covid I sometimes worked as an interpreter or written translator for the German or Swiss embassies, in cultural activities like exhibitions or drama in Shanghai. I also book different music groups from all over the world for their performances in Asia. As musicians we are also with big entertainment companies and you can not only buy our records but you can also find all kinds of mediums of our music on airlines like Air China and karaoke, of course you also get royalties.

Definitely, no longer waiting tables like in Austria at the China Restaurant, Acht Schätze...


Nailhead Magazine: Finally, the recurring question about the future. What are your musical plans for the future?


Zhong: As I said, this spring we also completely recorded the 4th record including 12 new songs and in summer 2022 we also played with an Austrian replacement (many thanks to Manu and Kevin!) at Punk Rock Raduno Fest in Bergamo.

"Lightening the Darkness" also contains a full-length Mandarin version, which was really a challenge for me. When I get back I'll take care of the releases for the domestic market.

Next year I will do a US tour with the 2 new records and record something there as well. Touring again in Japan or Europe would also be very possible for the future.

Musically I wouldn't be in the same area, since "Lightening the Darkness" I'll always be varied and I'm already looking forward to the next album!


Nailhead Magazine: Thank you for your time and the interview!

 

LINKS



Interviewer: Constantin Jacobs

Photos: 1. Svipe | 2. & 3. Mark Cristiano | 4. 南小宝 | 5. daehanmindecline | 6. Juanito Miranda






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