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- 24 years of music & counting with Death Cab For Cutie, as told by bass guitarist Nicholas Harmer
We spoke with the bass guitarist of Death Cab For Cutie — Nicholas (Nick) Harmer. If, like us, you grew up with the melodies of 90's and early 2000's indie rock bands that can now bring waves of memories of college dorms and nostalgic youth, you're not alone. Loyal listeners of Bellingham-born Death Cab For Cutie have followed the band's over 20 years (and counting) journey since its inception in 1997 when then roommates Ben Gibbard (lead singer) and Nicholas (Nick) Harmer (bass guitarist) experimented in the confines of their college dorm. There's something so powerful and authentic about its tunes that have guided emotional breakthroughs, set the scenes for warm summers, and first romances. But despite the band's immense global success, its humble roots remain prominent in its albums, which continue to explore the indie-rock genre at different stages of life. Nick speaks to us on the Seattle music scene, Japan's impressive vinyl stores, and decades-long inspirations. This is the uncut conversation from our artist profile feature on Nick Harmer coming out this Fall in print. Interview by Faye Bradley and Sarah Wei. Raw interview transcribed by Cherie Cheung. Paradigm Haus: You’ve been with Death Cab for Cutie since 1997 – the beginning. How have you evolved as a person and how has your music guided you through different stages in life? Nick Harmer: Ben and I were really good friends and roommates before we were ever in a band together. Playing music and now 20 something odd years on, into a career together. What he's always done as a songwriter — and we've always tried to do as a band — is to write music that feels honest about where we're at in our lives. Not get hung up and try to appeal to a certain audience, but more write songs that capture our feelings about whatever life stage we are in. In a lot of ways, our music has evolved with our age and our life experiences as we've moved along. When I listen back to our earliest stuff all the way through to our most recent songs, I hear that they're like us, sort of evolving as people and how our life has changed and moved along. Music has always been an extension of ourselves. As we've moved through our different life stages, we've all wanted our music and our art to reflect whatever we're personally going through. And hopefully, people can relate to that or not. Sometimes people are like, “Oh, I don't know if I really like this new stuff that they're writing.” And ten years later when they finally catch up to that life stage, they go, “Oh my gosh, this totally makes sense to me,”. So, that's cool. PH: How do you balance your commercial success now with your personal relationships with Ben and the band, especially considering it's been such a long time? NH: We've always been good at changing hats. When we put on our business hats and talk about business, it's very matter of fact. Whether it's a business relationship or a romantic relationship, it always comes down to good communication. For better or worse, what we've always tried to do in the band is communicate about where we're at, what we're feeling, what we need, and keep that dialogue as open as possible. It's not a perfect science. When you're involved in music together in a collaborative way, there are lots of things around personalities, egos and everything that you get involved with. We were really good at being able to know and compartmentalize our relationships. It's okay that those things sometimes don't ever cross over. We are constantly navigating, and it's always been an extension of anything which is just one foot in front of the other when we started the band. We didn't have any goals. But we only knew that we wanted to do the next thing in front of us. We would accomplish that and set a new goal. To me, the commercial success that has come along has always been secondary and was never the goal. Some people start projects and they think, “well, this isn't successful commercially. It wasn't worth doing, so let's just stop doing it and give up.” And I have met a lot of musicians along the way that were in bands who really didn't connect or go anywhere. They just stopped playing music entirely because they never had commercial success. And I'm like, “Why? Did you start playing music just for commercial success?”. So, the shortest answer is just good communication. We get caught up in making sure that everything is clear and we're on the same page as much as possible about things. Also, there is a level of not overthinking things and follow our instincts. Now, that has worked out really well for us. PH: What do your little victories look like now compared to when you first started? NH: It's funny that the same little victory still feels the same. It always starts and stops in our band with the song that we're working on. There will always be something so satisfying about finally finishing a song together, or we hear a demo from Ben where immediately we're like, “This connects to us!” It is never not exciting when you finish bringing something new into the world and you can sit back and go, “I really think this is a good song.” The rest of it that happens after that is all just toppings on the ice cream sundae. It's still fun to play shows, to go to new countries, and to do all these other things. If the music isn't there and exciting, then the rest of it doesn't really matter as much either. I keep coming back to every time I finish a song or we finish a song, I look at Ben and I can see him 20 years ago when we were living in this tiny apartment in Bellingham. We were first starting out and I was hearing some of his earliest songs for the first time. I remember how I’d be blown away and said, “Ben, those are really great, let's play music!” It's crazy that this many years on, I still have that feeling. I can see him as the 20/22-year-old college student that I was friends with from the very beginning. But the littlest victory is still playing music and writing the songs. We've been writing a lot during the pandemic, even though we haven't been able to get into a room as a band. We've been writing over Zoom and Dropbox. Even though I'm not in the same room as my bandmates, there's something really fun about finishing a song at the end of the week. We can listen back to our text threads together, and see the excitement. We still feel that victory or that joy, but I don't even get to look at these people. Hopefully, we'll get a chance to get in a room and play music soon enough. It's fun to say these little victories can still translate even though we're not in the same room anymore. PH: Behind where you find inspirations, what has been the creative process when you're not able to meet up with your band? NH: That's a good question! A lot of the songs start and stop with Ben as a songwriter, lyrically. That's always going to be a focus of the music that we make, wherever Ben is able to find his inspiration which admittedly is very limited in a pandemic. You're not able to get out and hear stories, talk with friends, and gather up all the kind of input that you would normally need to process your writing. I know he's been trying to do versions of that, just reading and exposing himself to 'others.' Lots of others, whether it’s art and creativity, or film. We’re constantly ingesting tons of content in lieu of being able to be with other people. We've tried to change things up this time by doing a 'Round Robin' style of writing. Did you ever play a game when you were young, called The Telephone? For example, one person says something, and they say the next. By the time it gets to the end, it is completely different than what the first person said. We're doing a version of that musically. There are five of us in the band and we rotate through each day of the week, where one person starts on their instrument, with a new song. So, I'll say I start on Monday, I'll write a baseline with no other instrumentation, no drums, no guitars, nothing. And I would upload it to Dropbox. Then it's the next guy's day on Tuesday. They download it and say it's the drummer, and Jason will play drums. The rule is to react and to play what you get sent, and you can change it any way you want. We all kind of react to it and pass it along. By Friday, we have a finished song, and no one knows what it's going to be except for the person who's working on it last. It's been fun to listen to how things shift and change, and what is motivating people. We're all in our individual bubbles, so we make creative choices completely in a vacuum. Sometimes it works really well, and sometimes it is a disaster. Our inspiration is coming mainly from listening to each other and trusting this weird process that we've invented. To me, it's like a weird version of a birthday party, where on Friday you get this present that you didn't even know you wanted. It's always fun and you're always happy to get it. I wouldn't say all of the records that we're writing come together that way, but a lot of the records have come together that way. It will be an interesting one to record. And I wonder how it's all going to come together when we finally get a chance to record because it's a little different from how we would normally write and work, but it's been inspiring for sure. We've adapted, taken that limitation and tried to make it a strength. When we finally record these songs, we’ll see if people who know our band either say, “These are good songs, you guys really were onto something”, or, “Go back to the old way, please don't ever do that again.” We'll see. PH: That's really creative. How have you adapted your creative process, since having a few different band members throughout Death Cab's life? NH: Thankfully our creative process from the beginning has been fairly the same. The songs start with a demo from Ben. But I wouldn't say it always started with him because there have been songs along the way that have been written together, in parts and pieces. If he never comes up with memorable lyrics or a melody that feels compelling, the song never goes anywhere. That's the final checkpoint in any of the stuff that we've done as a band and he is the primary songwriter in the band. From the very beginning, all of the members of the band who've been with us, our only job is to figure out in which ways our instruments can support his lyrics and the songs that he's demo-ed out. He’ll bring songs to us in various stages of completion. Sometimes, it's just a guitar and a vocal, and we're coming up with everything around it. We all adapt to whatever information we're given from his initial burst of creativity. It’s all about support after that. I guess it's more about how new people adapt to the way that we've been writing forever. As long as they come into the band and realize that they're in a supporting role, and figure out ways to process that information, they'll do just fine. Anytime it's ever been weird is if somebody comes in and thinks, “I got to write my songs too.” We're like, “no, that's not this band.” Thankfully we've never had any tension or stress around any of that stuff because most people understand that it comes from the top down creatively. So, we haven't really had to adapt very much to how we work. It's mainly how do we adapt as a unit with personalities and working out the internal chemistry that new people and new ideas bring in. I wouldn't say that is not a challenge, but that has been more of the work than figuring out how to write and make music together. That process has always remained fairly intact, as far as I'm concerned. PH: What are the most important values to your band? NH: It's always been really important to us to not get hung up in some arbitrary definition of success. A value for us has always been being honest and authentic about what we are feeling and what kind of music we want to make. We are trying to stay as true if we can, to the music that's coming out to us. And not feeling that we need to change to reach a bigger audience, to sell more records or tickets. I think that there is a lot of pressure when you get into the public and performance aspects of being in a band, where you start asking yourself lots of questions about, “Do we look right?” Some people get caught up in that, but we've just never had that. We've always said, “You know what? It's about the work, and it's about the music.” If that's good, we like it and we're proud of it, then that'll have to be enough. And if there are only 50 people in the whole wide world (hopefully more), we're not going to change anything about ourselves. It feels disingenuous to who we are, to try and guess at what someone might like. So, a value for us has been to keep our heads down and do the work. We are a very even band. We've got good communication. I remember there were some journalists that we met a long time ago and they were like, “Gosh, it's really hard to write about you guys because there's really nothing to write about. What's the story? You guys are well-adjusted, nice guys that like to write music together. There's no drama and fighting, so what's the angle?” And now, I think the angle is straight-up longevity. We've been able to do all of that and make it last. All of the things that tear bands apart after their second album or five years into their careers, or any of that stuff, we've been lucky to be able to escape from that for the most part. We've lost some members along the way, and we've made some adjustments. But the band is still very much intact from how it was in the very beginning. The band started as Ben in a room recording a bunch of songs into a dictaphone by himself. And that's the core of it from here until the end. In some ways, there have been some changes, but it's also been a lot of the same. I guess our values are just to be as honest about who we are, and where we're at. And not allow us to get caught up in the trappings of the weird worlds that we sometimes find ourselves in, which can be harmful. There's been a lot of moments along the way that make us scratch our heads. We're like, “I can't believe that we're here! We're at the Grammys!” And we were hanging out at some party in Los Angeles with all of those crazy famous people, but we're just not crazy famous people. I think it gets humbling over the years in a lot of ways. So that's good. PH: We've noticed a lot of mainstream music has a lot of features, collaborations and singles to gain popularity. In that way, what's your opinion as a band that started ‘offline’? NH: I think collaborations are awesome. If there's something genuine about it, there's a reason why those two artists are working together. They're either fans of each other, or there's something real about their connection musically. I'm a little skeptical sometimes of collaborations that were assembled by managers and agents to get exposure for people. It seems like a vehicle for something. But if the collaborations work well, they are awesome. So, I'm all for it, as far as that goes. And we've had collaborations with other people singing our records, but we haven't had a true genre thing. We did something with Chance the Rapper that was fun. We were a part of Chance's song. But we haven't really done anything where we've had a Death Cab song. To me, it just shows how much musicians listen to each other. There's so much collaboration that happens behind the scenes, in terms of influences. There are so many bands and artists that I listen to all the time. They end up on the same record with others and it would make all the sense in the world because they're the ones that are getting me excited about making music and vice versa. So, I think it's a cool thing that's happened in recent times that there is so much of it. And the ones that work are outstanding. The ones that don't, I think everyone knows it felt a little strange. Over from when we first started on our earliest tour, we were able to buy one cell phone and that was the phone for all of us to use. And to where we are now, it's just mind boggling. And as I used to joke with people because we formed in 1997, people always ask what it was like when we started. I always say, “Back in the 1900's, there were no cell phones.” It's funny to say it like that, but it also speaks to how long we've been around. I can remember a conversation with a musician friend of ours named John Vanderslice, who at one point he ran a studio in San Francisco. We were recording at the studio and we were talking about stuff. He was like, “I'm telling you guys, there's this thing coming, that's going to change the world. It's called Broadband Internet. The speeds are going to be so fast. We're going to be able to watch movies and they're going to be available to get music over your computers. It's going to be amazing.” And I remember all of us being like, I don't see that happening. I really can't imagine it. And now look at us here. We're having video conference calls across the entire Pacific Ocean together right now in real time. We've seen some bad things develop over time and it's been great as far as that goes. I think collaborations at this point, just embrace everything and roll with it. There’s no point in trying to ever think it's a sad moment in your life when you start to think that ‘how it was’ is better than ‘how it is’. A lot of people get caught up in nostalgia in that way where they're like, “I remember when it used to be so much better when X or Y or Z was the thing.” But there's no such thing as that. It's cool right now. You just don't see it. PH: Now that we've got social media platforms and video streaming platforms, how do you feel that has helped to build your band’s presence? NH: I think it's a double-edged sword. There's the side of it that’s enabled it to be easier to directly communicate with people who want to hear from you and want to know what's going on. That immediate connection is amazing. With people all over the world, you can disseminate information, news, updates, music, and all of the things that we're working on as a band so quickly. And be able to communicate to our audience or anyone that's interested in what we're doing. There's power and connectivity that are very real. It's nice to have that closeness to people. But also, there is the other side of that double edge. “How much is too much information to share?”. There is some value in keeping some mystery in the world. There is some value in keeping some privacy in the world and keeping some parts of it off. I know most bands now before they even make music, they're securing their Instagram handles and their Twitter handles. They're getting all of their domain names registered, and the music comes out. But I never thought about any of us in any of it. Because it wasn't in the beginning, it's just not at the front of our brains that we need to be doing. And we don't exactly know how to maximize and utilize it to its fullest potential. A lot of people are like, “you guys should be posting more.” People now are so much more savvy about how to use those platforms to their maximum reach. We just don't and that's okay too. We've tried in the past to do more and it feels weird. But after all, I like social media platforms. It's really fun to get a peek into people's lives. But I also think we don't exactly know how to do it well and it feels a bit awkward for us. Generally, we are pretty shy people with the idea of taking a picture of all of us sitting backstage, on a bus, or on an airplane. We always think, “Who's interested in that? That's weird, I don't feel comfortable.” So, we try to leave a lot of it out. Video: Transatlanticsm by Death Cab For Cutie. Provided to YouTube by Redeye Worldwide Transatlanticism · Death Cab for Cutie Transatlanticism ℗ 2003 Barsuk Records Released on: 2003-10-07 Producer: Chris Walla Music Publisher: Where I'm Calling From Music (BMI) Music Publisher: Please Pass The Songs (BMI) Composer: Benjamin Gibbard Composer: Chris Walla PH: How would you build your relationship with fans around the world? NH: We didn't ever have an expectation that it would be as successful as it has been. When we first started on our earliest tours, we would go through most of the cities in America and there would be 50 people at the shows if we were lucky. Then there would be a hundred people at the shows the next time. Most people became aware of our band and our breakthrough moment was with ‘Transatlanticism’ when that record came out in 2003. We'd been a band actively touring since 1998 with a good five years of traveling and playing shows. Each time we played, there'd be a few more people. It felt really manageable for us to have our career move in this slow crescendo. Some bands immediately thrust into the limelight, and I think some bands can thrive in that. But for a lot of bands, that trajectory really ends up destroying them. In some ways, they don't get a chance to navigate all of the little stuff and figure out how to communicate, how to adjust, or how to manage expectations. You need to do all of these things when your career grows. For us, we’re more methodical and slow. There were lots of lean years when we weren't making any money and we were really doubting whether or not we should continue. But we always just kept believing that as long as we weren't losing money. Even though only a few more people each time were showing up or buying our records, we were headed in some good direction. PH: What has kept you motivated along the way? NH: It’s really our friendship. It's fun to see the world with your friends and playing shows. I think Ben and I would both tell you the minute we aren't interested in being friends or playing music together, then there's no band. I don't just mean Ben and I, everybody in the band. We all really value each other's friendships and the time we spend together. We love going on adventures and playing music together. It's our community. It's our family. It's our church. It's everything all in one. What keeps us motivated is the promise of infinite. We're infinitely curious about what's next in every moment. PH: Are there any quirky or funny moments that often happen backstage? NH: There are simple things, I think our jokes are so small and random. Most of the jokes and the things that we goof around with are just so random and they wouldn't really make any sense. Most bands have a rider in their backstage, which is the things that you need to have backstage such as snacks or food. In the past, you hear stories about old rock bands that their riders are crazy intense with all these particular things. Our rider’s always been really small, but one thing we've always had is a lemon, some fresh ginger, and some honey. We had this weird thing where we would slice up the ginger, drizzle honey on it, and we would just eat the ginger only. When you ask for that in all the different countries, the different versions which show up are hilarious and mind boggling sometimes. Because it seems simple to get those, but the ways it gets interpreted are different. I remember when we go to the grocery store in the United States, people won’t know what fresh ginger is. They would come back with pickled ginger or some honey flavored candies. So, we always laugh about that. I guess that's the funny thing backstage and it's like a ritual. Besides, we really love going record shopping wherever we are. If we go to a new city, we'll go out and we'll go look for records and buy records. We have a record player and speakers that we bring backstage, and just basically take turns to put on a record that we bought. We can just sit and talk about music all day long and argue about the top five best REM records. Even when we come off stage, we sit back down on the couch, put on more records, and just keep talking about music. We are constantly just talking about that. If that seems fun to you, then hang out with Death Cab for Cutie, because that's what we do. Honestly, we love it. It's the best. So, there are a lot of recurring jokes and a lot of the same conversations. I can't imagine spending my life doing that with anyone other than the other four guys in the band that I'm with. PH: Where do you find the most interesting records in the world? NH: Everywhere has them. But honestly, I think the culture around collecting vinyl and really appreciating vinyl is unparalleled in Japan. There are a lot of really niche record stores in Tokyo with only Reggae and Dub records, or with only speed metal. But it's hyper-curated with things that you've never seen anywhere else. When people find their thing, they're just a total nerd about it. My favorite people in the world are people who love something so much that they could absolutely bore you to tears and just talk about all the nuances of why they love it. Those are my people always. Whatever it is you love, get nerdy about it. So, Japan has a culture of that hyper fandom and focuses on records in a specific way. But I think there are great record stores everywhere in the world. The most exciting thing about vinyl and the resurgence of this world in which so many people live on music streaming platforms with their phones. A lot of people don't even have record collections anymore, but for the people that do and the people that value them, there's still so much out there to discover. The actual physicality of being in a store and thumbing through records, that's still really exciting and fun for me. I'm glad that there are enough people around the world that still value that. You can still find a good record store in any major metropolitan city in the world. In Japan, I find a more robust feeling of specialized focus. We've been lucky to find good records everywhere, and it's always fun to go to a country that we have no experience in and picking random records out of a shop. For a while, we were all really excited about Thai funk bands that we came across from the seventies and they were crazy. There’s also a psychedelic rock movement that happened in Africa in the early seventies to the early eighties that you wouldn’t even think about, like legitimate rock and roll psychedelic. You find these little pockets along the way and that is exciting because you're uncovering things that you feel like you've really discovered something and not a lot of people know about. PH: That's amazing. Which decade have you connected to the most in terms of the music genres you’ve mentioned? NH: My era of music was probably 1985 through 1998. That stretch of a decade was a real formative time for me in my life. When I was discovering my personal identity and how my identity was reflected in pop culture, I was ingesting my favorite bands and discovering all of my favorite albums that defined me as a person. I was very protective of those things and very proud of them. And I was really lucky to live near Seattle, and through the big grunge explosion of Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam. There is so much pride involved in that. They were our hometown heroes and also bolstered my connection to that particular era of music. So, I will always have the most amount of emotional sentiment and nostalgia for that period of time, because it was a formative time in my life. That was when I was making my choices about what music I liked and was developing my identity. But I still really love listening to music from R&B, Pop, and Rock, from the Sixties. There was a time when Rock and Roll was developing. People were starting to break out of these molds and society was shifting. A lot of movements were happening socially that caused a lot of unrest, but I think that artists were interpreting and exploring their art during that time. The Sixties was just such a dynamic time in American history. A lot of the music that was coming either from England or the others, were also being made in America during the Sixties. It is fascinating to me because it really captures this appealing moment. No Room in Frame by Death Cab for Cutie Album No Room in Frame Licensed to YouTube by WMG (on behalf of Atlantic Records); UMPI, Abramus Digital, BMG Rights Management (US), LLC, LatinAutor - PeerMusic, ARESA, CMRRA, LatinAutorPerf, and 7 music rights societies PH: What is unique about the Seattle music scene that makes you want to stay and grow your band here? NH: We love the area. Ben and I have talked about that in the past. We grew up here, so it feels like home. But I love it geographically and how the city is laid out. We're close to water and mountains. There are lots of outdoor activities that you can be a part of. The general quality of life is nice here. But the music scene for us has always been really hyper-localized and really about supporting each other. That was something that we saw through the Seattle explosion in the early 90s with the rise of the grunge bands. They were all friends and they supported each other in a community. After they got famous and successful, they came back and opened up recording studios in town. They brought their wisdom and expertise back from traveling the world and making music at that scale. A lot of those bands reinvested it back in the Seattle music scene, and they really helped and supported a new era of bands coming up, also for when we were starting out. And I think that's something that we've always really wanted to stay connected to and to be a part of, because it was very instrumental. The fact that we can be helping someone else to get started just feels like the right thing to do. PH: How do you think you've affected the music scene? NH: That's a really great question. We try to hire as much of our crew from a local pool of people and bring out local bands from Seattle on tour with us. We’ve tried our best to support the upcoming bands through our own promotion and give credit to what we’re listening to. All I know is that we're a part of this community of musicians and we want to help out. We want to share our knowledge. I've had lots of conversations with band members from other bands along the way about the record contracts and how the music industry works. And I'm always available for phone calls, talking to people about our experiences, and just trying to share the advice that we have earned over the years. PH: What do you think makes up a good music scene? NH: I think a good and healthy music scene is one that has not only good bands but good graphic designers and good photographers. I think a good music scene is oftentimes part of a bigger scheme of just creatives and artists that are all working together, and they're all feeding off of each other. I was having a conversation with a friend a while ago because of the Internet and the social media platforms, and I realized that there isn't really a chance as much anymore for a scene to develop in its own vacuum. But there used to be a sense that you could discover the city, or one part of the world. Now with social media, it's so much more immediate about the thing people are doing. You don’t get the closed off thing that happens when a group of artists feed off each other and people in social media are not really connected to the outside world. In that echo chamber when things are a little bit isolated, it really forms a collective and a scene that is really identifiable. If social media has done anything, it's homogenized a little bit of that across the board and made scenes a little bit more immediate trading of ideas and fashion. I’m not saying homogenized in a bad way but there are a lot more common denominators than there were. That's just me looking at what I used to know about when we were traveling for our earliest tours before social media. There was such a crisp and clean music scene in Seattle, obviously, that happened in the 90s. And there was a really crisp scene of music that was being made in the Midwest, Chicago, and Omaha. You could just find all these pockets around the country. I remember we would go in and out of them as we were touring and think that there were so many like-minded people out here. We're all connected, but we don't know that we are. With social media now, people in bands find each other really quickly. The scene becomes not geographically based and that's cool. But I think what still makes a good scene, is more just about all of the creatives around that feed off of what's happening in that aesthetic, whether it's fashion, photography, painting, or film. There becomes a movement that happens around any scene, and it’s identifiable for this one particular group of people, not just musicians or visual artists. They all work together in some ways. PH: With the pandemic, do you think the music scene will become more widespread in which people are now having to live on the Internet? NH: I think probably more widespread because most people are connecting now from the internet. There's an amazing power in that. When I was young, I would be lucky if two other people in my entire school liked the same music that I liked, and you'd find those people as your best friends. Now there are communities and message boards that spring up around us, you are just able to connect with more like-minded people that feel the same way about the things that you feel the same about. That to me is so exciting, and that is such a global phenomenon now that even language barriers aren't as pronounced. You've got so much more cross-pollination happening with pop culture that people are borrowing, sharing, being inspired, and influenced by all the things that are happening around. It’s probably going to be a little bit more global than hyper-localized. I think there’s going to be some outstanding local artists, but they'll probably be more a part of a larger collective than a smaller local one. It’ll be really interesting to see what happens when we finally get out of lockdown and we're done with all of the computer screens or phones. I think a lot of people here in the States after we had the Spanish flu in 1918, we had the roaring twenties. It was this boom period in the States of parties and drinking. Everyone was just excited to be alive, and people keep talking about how it's possible that we're about to go into the roaring twenties again. We're going to be so excited and be so thankful that we get to do that. But it's just going to be a wild next decade of fun, which could make everything localized in some ways. I think it was a unique human experiment that's about to happen after this weird experience that we've all gone through on a global scale with this pandemic. It's affected every corner of the globe as soon as science is able to help us turn the corner of humanity as a globe. I can't wait to travel and play shows, and I’m so excited and so thankful if we get to do that again. I will never ever take a day of that for granted, for the rest of my life. That's going to have an impact on the music we make and the disposition that we have if we get around it. If we don’t, we're going to hit this decade of depression that we've never seen in the history of humankind where everyone's going to just be so sad and miserable. Then we will never get around the virus and just live in our caves, which I don't want that to happen. PH: What do you love about music that has impacted the world? NH: It’s always cliché to say that music is like some universal language. But there is this sense that music brings people together like the community around the music fans, and the experience that music creates in the backdrop connects people with each other. Music to me is life, it's everything. So, to be able to realize that people all around the world share that same feeling to me, makes the world smaller and makes me realize that my concerns are everyone's concerns. Also, we are all living on this planet together and we need to take care of each other. Because of that, music is able to transcend political borders and a lot of things that are typically used to divide people by making them feel they're miles apart in different. There's just something about sharing a musical experience with someone that is real and it feels deep. It feels like we're connected to something about humanity that's bigger than anything. So, that to me will always make music special, makes me thankful to be able to play it and to be a part of it. Stay up to date with the latest tour dates on Death Cab For Cutie and listen to the latest album, The Georgia EP. All images courtesy of Death Cab For Cutie and/or Nick Harmer.
- Oi Ling Fine Chinese Antiques Shaping Contemporary Ink Painting
The Flow of Ink: New Dimensions in Chinese Ink Painting (26 Jul - 26 Aug 2021) is a new exhibition at Oi Ling Chinese Antiques in Hong Kong that is an expression of contemporary Chinese Ink Painting today. We talked with Oi Ling to uncover the hidden traditions. HONG KONG. In collaboration with the Chinese Cultural Studies Center and The Hong Kong Academy of Chinese Art Studies, this exhibition of nine artists attracts the best of the traditions in literati painting. Each landscape and contemporary take on the genre derives from a feeling of spirituality, where symbolism is used as one of their strongest technical tools. Including works from Lam Tian Xing, Liu Wei, Fan Hong Bin, Tian Yan Hua, Ma Lin, and fashion designer William Tang. When we look at the ink on silk painting Yearning for Home 戀舊林 (2020) by Lui Jia, combining nature and geometric elements: a sparrow, mountainscape, clouds, and glass box in pastel shades. The piece exemplifies delicate lines of Gongbi painting techniques paired with a contemporary narrative. For 馬麟 Ma Lin in 幽谷知音 A Kindred Spirit in the Deep Valley (2021), two gentlemen, representing a scholar and his discipline carrying a traditional Guqin, walk a mountain plain shrouded by pine trees in a monochrome ink-washed painting. There is an echo of poetic history, spirit, and appreciation of nature. While, 黑色的聚會 Black Rally (2014) by Wong Hau Keri takes contemporary photography composition to depict a black, white and red rally of people on the street. The piece talks to modern social uprisings and brings them into focus using traditional ink on paper techniques. The artist is able to challenge the contextual and cultural nuances of Eastern society — in form and topic. Overall, the exhibition is able to showcase simple themes and concepts of Tao (道), as each artist in their own process discovers a truth in the natural order of the universe. As a viewer, we are brought the philosophies of the East, Buddhism, and religion together with an intersection of traditional techniques and contemporary stories. Linking both ancient and modern sensibilities of China. For Oi Ling, the owner and founder of Oi Ling Fine Chinese Antiques she entered the arts business in the early 1990s, when Hollywood Road, where her store is located, was once the mecca for antique wares and jewelry retailers left behind from colonial Britain. Now, from Lynhurst Terrace to Cat Street Galleries, we see the past peeking through the facades, cobblestoned stairwells, and mumbled clock radios spinning Cantonese melodies and foreign languages in the background. When we consider the physical landscape and works on the show we are able to see the contextual importance of Chinese studies of art as a bridge to understanding the past. Interview with Oi Ling by Sarah Wei. Paradigm Haus: Could you start by giving us a brief outline of your background and how you got into the antique business? Oi Ling: The reason I chose to enter the antique business and set up a retail shop on Hollywood Road is quite simple. When I look back, I would say that it is all destiny. In the early 90s of the last century, a distant relative had a workshop in Macau restoring antique furniture and he was thinking to retire and close the workshop. Since I was thinking to change fields I approached him to take over the business. After I took over the workshop, I opened a retail shop in Central [Hong Kong] on Lyndhurst Terrace with a focus on Chinese antique furniture. I did well from the beginning and very soon built up a reputation. Different collectors started approaching me with their collections and that is how I branched out later to different types of antiques but my heart remains with wood – that is anything wooden – furniture pieces and small wooden objects. PH: How has the reputation of Hollywood road changed, from old antiques and merchants to the international retail avenue it is now? OL: In the 1990s, Hollywood Road was famed for its many quaint little antique shops and old-style tuck shops. Slowly when the property market began to take off and hit Hollywood Road many small businesses were being pushed to Sheung Wan and the Western District. New and posh western-style restaurants slowly replaced the old tuck shops and antique shops. In the past 10 years, the road sees fashion brands and lifestyle shops nesting there. PH: Is there a memorable or standout story from your life in antiques and fine art that stands out to you? OL: The most memorable one is when I was in my one-month confinement right after I gave birth to my daughter, my colleague called and said that she received a phone call from a five-star hotel telling her that a very important guest of the hotel would like to come to see me so the hotel called to make sure that I would be in the shop. They didn’t tell us who the guest was. It turned out that it was Glenn Frey from the band Eagle. He was recommended by a friend to us. So I rushed to the shop with my baby daughter. He gave us VIP tickets to the concert and bought furniture pieces from us. He even asked to hold my baby in his arms and we took a photo together. Another memorable story is also related to a five star hotel. The general manager himself called to tell us another VIP would be stopping by. This guest loved Chinese art and antiques, they heard from other sources that I was good with interiors especially with artwork placement. So I was invited to the hotel to redecorate their suit. It turned out to be Jacques Chirac. PH: Speaking on your current exhibition, what themes and elements are you presenting in the story? OL: The focus of this exhibition is to highlight the spirit of Chinese scholar tradition - to be sincere and without hypocrisy in intellectual pursuits and expressions. In the exhibition, the paraphernalia such as handmade Xuan paper, brushes, ink-stone, ink-stick, seals, and seal paste is on display at the same time. The intention is to give a full picture of tradition and its associated material culture. Through such a combined display of artwork and material culture, we hope to cultivate an understanding of tradition and its evolution through changes of time and history. PH: Could you take us through the practices and techniques of the ink artists? OL: The appreciation of a piece of Chinese ink painting differs from the appreciation of a piece of western-style painting in that it requires the understanding of calligraphy, poetry, and the art of seal engraving as well. For an artist to be considered good in Chinese ink, he or she must be good in all the four genres - poetry writing, calligraphy, painting, and the art of seal, additionally to having the good taste in balancing the four elements in a piece of painting. PH: Which elements are essential to the process? OL: The essential thing in the process, apart from fine tuning the skill, is an understanding of the spirit and value of the Chinese scholar traditions and the philosophy behind this tradition. PH: How have traditional ink practices changed? OL: One of the main changes in practice is contemporary ink is more experiential with the infusion of modern elements and ideas. PH: Leading from the last question, is there a modernization that has occurred? OL: If the word modernization means the infusion of western ideas and compositional style as well as the modernization of materials, the answer is yes. An example to illustrate my point is the use of ready made ink that comes in a bottle rather than using ink stick to grind ink. PH: Which artists are your favorites and exemplify innovative style and practice? OL: All of them are innovative in different ways. Fan Hongbin is an artist with multiple talents — his brush and ink techniques are traditional and, separately, developed a color palette that is completely modern. The artist enjoys creating scenes and landscapes which convey beauty and tranquility but can also be bold and provocative with his use of vibrant pinks, blues, and green color choices. Tian Yanhua takes modernity to a new level with use of traditional brush strokes and ink techniques to narrate a personal utopia without any traces of the old lyrical style. Lam Tian Xing’s contemporary look is achieved through a composition of void space by way of covering the entire canvas with heavy layers of ink. An absolutely innovative technique. Liu Jia invigorates the old art form with a modern sense of humor and talking to topical social issues. Wong Hau Kwei did away with old styles of panoramic view composition in their landscapes by replacing them with modern photographic angles compositions. PH: What do you hope this exhibition achieves for Chinese ink painting and the culture? OL: Chinese ink painting is an art form that includes the following: the art of seal engraving, the art of calligraphy, the art of paper making, the art of making ink stone and ink stick, the art of seal paste making, and the art of brush making. The technique and craftsmanship involved in the making of all these art forms are now items of intangible cultural heritage. To successfully pass on the technique and craftsmanship of all these elements to future generations requires not only understanding but the development of a viable system that is sustainable and where proper conservation and protection can be implemented. Find out more about Oi Ling Chinese Antiques on their website and follow them on Instagram at @oilingantiques. For those looking to collect contact Oi Ling via email at email@example.com. All images courtesy of Oi Ling Antiques.
- Doris Poon and Tiffany Law Asia Society Hong Kong Curators on Contemporary Artists to watch now.
Doris Poon and Tiffany Law from Asia Society Hong Kong shares with us five contemporary artists to follow for inspiration from Sweden to Hong Kong. The lead curators for Asia Society Hong Kong, Tiffany Law started as a practicing artist before moving to curation to explore the relationship between exhibition and society, while Doris Poon focuses on ideology and artistic expression. We asked Tiffany and Doris about their favorite contemporary artists now. This excerpt is part of our 'Rapid Fire' series from our interview with Doris Poon and Tiffany Law. Find the full interview here. Image courtesy of Stephen Friedman Gallery Mamma Andersson, Sweden #mammaandersson Mamma Andersson’s paintings are captivating in the sense that the cinematic landscape paintings project a complicated composition, juxtaposing the interior and exterior settings with textured brushwork, loose washes, and evocative colors. The pictorial spaces often evoke a hint of suspense, mainly because Mamma draws inspiration from a wide range of archival photographic source materials, cinematic imagery, theater sets, and the mountainscapes in northern Sweden. It is like that specific scene does not belong to here nor there, the past nor present. Installation view of Wheezing | Image courtesy of De Sarthe Gallery Mark Chung, Hong Kong #markchung Mark Chung is a young media artist known for his immersive installations which often offers an intimacy to the viewer's personal experience. The audience recalls a similar feeling that relates to your daily encounter with the urbanscape. In Mark's most recent solo exhibition's work, "Wheezing", recordings of the light show at Victoria Harbour 'A Symphony of Lights' were projected onto a wall of shattered glass and casting the shadows and light beams onto the viewer's body. That installation was visually intriguing and held metaphoric meaning about feelings of inescapability from a candy-coated utopian world. Doodood, Balltsz, Muimui and Joel, 2018 | Image courtesy of Chris Huen Sin-Kan Chris Huen Sin-Kan, Hong Kong and London @chrishuensinkan Chris Huen explores the moments and exquisite experiences of everyday daily life. Chris' subject matters always appear to be his dogs, sons, and wife, yet each interior scene is delicately painted, capturing a frozen moment. One can sense his intuition in the works, where brushwork is used to depict the "aura" and the air of each setting is fantastic. Sometimes it looks like there are different time zones in one scene. An Emo Nose 2015 single-channel video animation | Image courtesy of Edouard Malingue Gallery Wong Ping, Hong Kong @wongping Wong Ping is famous for his video works, capturing the hidden obsession and secret compulsions in our everyday life and address them in the metropolis setting. Hold your heart tightly | Image courtesy of Sarah Lai Cheuk Wah Sarah Lai, Hong Kong @laicheukwah Sarah Lai is a local Hong Kong artist who is keen on using the pale palette to depict objects from daily life. The way Sarah places her paintings in a gallery space and the presentation with real everyday objects would offer new perspectives to view your daily surroundings. Find out more about the exhibition and events at Asia Society Hong Kong website and follow them on Instagram at @asiasocietyhk.
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the best bars in hong kong Here are our bar picks in Hong Kong for a suave night out on the town. Read more interview PIXAR'S FLOAT AS TOLD BY DIRECTOR AND WRITER BOBBY RUBIO Bobby Rubio, a story artist at Pixar and the writer and director of Spark Shorts’ Float, shares his story on self-discovery through animation, drawing and writing. An excerpt from our feature on ‘Asian Stories’ coming out this Fall in print . read more interview TOP 5 COFFEE SHOPS BY OH WONDER London-based Anthony West and Josephine Vander Gucht of indie-pop band Oh Wonder and London coffee store NOLA share their top picks for coffee shops in London. read more feature RACHEL DEMY RECOMMENDS 5 PHOTOGRAPHERS SHE LOVES RIGHT NOW Rachel Demy who's work has been featured in publications as The Rolling Stones and NPR shares with us her current favourite photographers to follow for inspiration from Taryn Simon, Autumn de Wilde to Courtney Coles. read more recent 24 years of music & counting with Death Cab For Cutie, as told by bass guitarist Nicholas Harmer Oi Ling Fine Chinese Antiques Shaping Contemporary Ink Painting Doris Poon and Tiffany Law Asia Society Hong Kong Curators on Contemporary Artists to watch now. Eco-Friendly Travel: 6 Sustainable Hotels To Add To Your Bucket List London's Top Influencers Share Their Favorite Restaurant Picks Asia Society Curators' Top Summer Exhibitions Worldwide. blog archives
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blog archives june 2021 Oh Wonder's top recommendations at Nola, London Pan Jian: A Chinese Abstract Artist and his view on the world. Submotion Orchestra's Ruby Wood on the Influence of Jazz & Musical Collaborations Art, Music, and Clubs from Europe to Asia with Fabio of Rossi&Rossi. Oh Wonder's view on the London coffee scene & its relationship with music may 2021 The Best Bars in Hong Kong Travel Influencers Share Their Dream Destinations For When Travel Re-Opens Pixar’s Float as told by director and writer Bobby Rubio. 10 Minutes With...Sally Ryder, Founder of RYDER Diamonds How The Vuze Aims to Decentralise the Music Industry Whisky Expert John Rhodes Shares Insight on Forecasts for 2021 Hong Kong's Top Influencers Share Their "Happy Places" Inner Strength – Outer Strength at The Oriental Spa, The Landmark Mandarin Oriental Top 5 Coffee Shops in London By Oh Wonder Vivarium director Lorcan Finnegan on Irish folklore in film & dystopic cities Rachel Demy recommends 5 photographers she's enjoying right now The Asian-American story behind Pixar’s Float with director Bobby Rubio. Oh Wonder's London Cafe Playlist Meet the brains behind the world's first global culture mapper, Step Your World Nury Vittachi shares his top tips for starting a creative career in Asia april 2021 The future of hotels in cities, according to the experts 5 Places to Grab Breakfast in Hong Kong march 2021
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