On The Road With Chthonic Vocalist Freddy Lim
Band Photo: Chthonic (?)
St.Paul, Minnesota was on the eerily quiet hangover edge left by a freak storm that had raged the night before, another one brewing on the toxic green horizon turning to dusk beyond Station 4. The club is situated a block off the riverfront, is small, but is the only place in the Twin Cities where you can really catch a Real Metal Show. Ozzfest would be held an hour away in Wisconsin the following day, and I was thankful for the opportunity to see Taiwan’s Chthonic in such an intimate setting.
I was sitting comfortably on a couch inside the band’s home away from home, my (thankfully) socked feet swinging innocently just centimeters off the floor. My shoes had joined the enormous pile by the door, in a tradition I needed no reminding of, having spent many years focusing on the Japanese music business and going in and out of several Asian households and businesses. Doris, their bassist, had peeked out at me shyly from the back room, and Jesse (guitarist) was sitting nearby talking with the band’s photographer. Freddy appeared promptly and shook my hand firmly, his charisma and warmth immediate and stunning.
“How are you?” I grinned back, scooting over a bit to give him room to get comfortable. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the documentary crew settle into a crouch and tried to pretend they didn’t exist. Did I remember to wear a bra?
“Very good in fact, but I am not getting used to the American weather too much so…its hot and just different…Taiwan is very different too but not as humid, its hard to say…the food and everything…but I am the only one that does not get used to this kind of weather and food, everyone else is fine.”
I thought about Tanpopo Noodle down the street, a popular and very authentic spot, but a rumble of distant thunder distracted me. “Did you guys survive the storm last night?”
Freddy turns to someone on his right and repeats my question in Taiwanese. ”Yes, we survived!” He chuckles. “You slept through it?” I ask. “Yeah I must have slept through it,” he replies.
“It sounds like you have been having some rough times on this tour…” I begin.
Acknowledgment flickers in Freddy’s eyes and he explains,“We have played in some very large clubs here, like House of Blues…we are playing BB Kings next week, or the week after that…but some live clubs - smaller ones - like Peabody’s (in Cleveland), is not the way I understand it to work. There was only one staff. He had to do everything, and even everybody noticed that there was no sound from the violin, nobody can hear the violin! He didn’t do anything for it. So after like, three songs, I was just pissed off and I just stopped playing and I asked everyone to stop and to see what he is going to do to solve the problem. In the beginning he told us it’s our problem because the violin is quite different and a very modern instrument (ironically). In my thought, it was something about the pickup or something, but when I stopped the show he came on the stage and found out its something wrong with the cable and solved the problem. We were so close to canceling the show on September 9th because its in the same venue, and after the show the other day we just said ‘no more show in this venue!’ But we told ourselves…the fans that wear our shirts and attended the show, we have to try to make the next show work much better.”
“And those will be more off-dates from Ozzfest with Nile?” I wondered.
“From August 5th, we play every day to the end of the month, so its like 25 shows, so no off days during this 25 days,” Freddy replied. My eyebrows shot up.
“I know, it’s brutal,” he agreed. “But after that, in September, there is 2 -3 shows and a day off, so September will be quite good for us, and also there are many full set shows in September, some of the shows we are the headliner like the one in Peabody’s, so it will be very exciting… it will be longer, we will have more rest.”
Being only the second time Chthonic had ventured into the US, I wanted to understand how they became part of the current tour. I decided to get to the point quickly. “How did you guys get the gig with Ozzfest?”
“Our manager…well I should say ExManager,” Freddy coughs ”..he worked with Ozzy’s team. I think he was the booking agent or in the production team, I cant quite remember. So in March or February we just came to Sharon with some of our materials and talked with her and it seemed like, especially Sharon, she likes our DVD quite a lot and I knew there was a lot of competitors, because everyone wants to play in Ozzfest, of course, “he laughs.
“Yeah it’s a big deal over here.” I nod.
Freddy continues,”Yeah! So Sharon…we kept on sending things to her. She had to confirm that we are serious about that (being on the tour) because there are a lot of bands from overseas that want to play, but they are not so serious about the American market, so it is not good to have those kinds of bands to play in your shows, so she just wanted to confirm that we are serious. So we kept on sending her things and after that she said everything is cool and we got on the list!”
Although Chthonic have been around since 1995 and been on tour in the U.S. before, they only now have begun to muster recognition that could be compared to other Asian metal bands in the U.S. such as Dir en Grey. “Have you found it fairly easy as an Asian band to break into the U.S. Market? Do you feel the reception is good?”
“Yes the reception is very good,” Freddy begins, but then frowns,”but I don’t think its easy because, you know, from the beginning the initial cost of us are expensive compared to a local (American) band. We have to ship lots of stuff from Taiwan to the U.S., it costs thousands of dollars, and then we order airfares for the 11-12 people from Taiwan to here that includes the crew and staff and like, photographers, so it takes a lot more than a local band here. So, it’s not that easy. “Freddy shifts to lean forward a bit and then continues. ”We had to raise some money in Taiwan and then come here, and the label…they have to be strong, they have to have confidence. Right now, we are with SPV for our catalog…they have to have some confidence in us to spend more than others. So its not that easy,” he reminds me,” but about the music, yes, I have found that all the fans accept us quite easily. I think we have some exotic elements, we have some different instruments, and we arrange the music in different ways, so if we are talking about the music, we have enjoyed the shows very much and the fans enjoy the shows very much too.
“Before we came here, we saw lots of video clips on YouTube and found the American fans are not like the Asian fans …the fans there, they even listen to some bands they don’t like or they found out they don’t like the music (during a live), they will still stay there to the end and be polite - after the show even if they don’t like it. They won’t try to interrupt the show or something like that, but if you check on YouTube you will find lots of shows that the (American) crowds… they just throw something on the stage or they just leave the stage if they don’t like your music. So before we came to the U.S. we discussed a lot about this kind of situation, and if this situation happens, what we should do. We should keep our confidence, and continue playing and try. But nothing happens!” he giggles.
“Yeah I have heard nothing but people saying you are the best thing at Ozzfest.” I laugh.
“Haha yeah, and we are very happy about that!” Freddy grins, clearly satisfied.
Ozzfest is not the only thing on Chthonic’s daunting schedule this year. The band has played side shows with Nile, scheduled shows with Katatonia, Obituary, and Cradle of Filth, and in an amazing feat of dedication, even appeared in Germany for Wacken Open Air 2007 when they should have been sleeping.
“So how was it going all the way to Wacken and then have to come all the way back?” My telltale grin gave away the fact that I already knew half the story, but I wanted to hear Freddy tell it.
“You know, when we decided to still do Wacken, our managers and the other bands in Ozzfest all felt like we were crazy. And Lordi, they cancelled their Wacken show and our Exmanager, he was trying so hard to convince me to cancel Wacken because ‘its not gonna be possible to do that’ and blah blah blah,” I felt I had an idea about why the man was being called ex-manager at this point, and decided not to ask.
“There is a very important value in Asia, especially in Pacific Asia -Taiwan, Japan, Korea - to keep your commitment, because like…Wacken, they confirmed with me before Ozzfest, and the promoter even said ‘You can choose any slot you want, you can choose the best prime time’. They respect us very much; they appreciate our music very much, so we can’t cancel on them. We have to go, even if it’s a brutal journey, like out from America - have to come back within 55 hours just for a 40 minute show, nobody else will do that. We had to do that, because if we cancel the show, we would not feel right about that. There are lots of fans that went to our MySpace saying that we are the reason they are going to Wacken, so we had to be there. “
“But, in Frankfurt, the airport, they left all of our instruments in the (previous) airport, and then when we arrived at Wacken and didn’t have our instruments, we were so close to canceling. We told our promoter, we cannot make it without our costumes, our makeup, without the instruments, the VIOLIN, without the backline, we can do nothing like that…we can just enjoy the festival and other artists. The promoter tried to reschedule for us while we waited for all the packages to come in 5 hours, so we played later, but still only the costumes came but no instruments. So our violinist, he played another keyboard. We found out that there were some fans waiting in front of the stage and we discussed again and again, to see should we go out on stage. Now the promoter had provided a guitar, a bass, even if it was just for (practice). We still went on the stage; the fans enjoyed it very much. But the members…even now, I cannot remember any good feelings on the stage.” Freddy shakes his head and gives CJ (keyboardist), who has just wandered in to curiously eavesdrop on our conversation, a knowing look.
“You’re always going to be your worst critic.”
“Yeah…terrible. Just terrible “ He turns to CJ, now making himself a snack on their tiny stove, and asks him what he felt. “Oh yeah, he is talking about the same thing, he says the fans are just crazy.“ CJ says a bit more. “Yeah yeah,” Freddy translates, turning to face me once again,” we don’t like the feeling on the stage, we didn’t play anything of our own, everything just was not right, but we hope to go back to Wacken next year.”
There is no doubt Chthonic will be welcomed back to Wacken in 2008, but before then they will travel through Europe in from November 30th through December on stops in Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, and several more with Ensiferum. With such a long time away from home, I began to wonder if Freddy was feeling homesick.
“Do you feel you are getting your message across about Taiwan?” I asked, knowing this was a subject Freddy was ultimately passionate about. His small frame straightened up immediately, and a familiar gleam lit his eyes.
“Yeah! There are many fans, more than I expected, sending email or messages on MySpace saying that they support Taiwan, asking how they would do it. There was a high school girl wondering what she can do…she said the only thing she can do now is write about Taiwan in her Social Justice action lesson and to let more classmates know about it, and I said ‘that’s very good idea to do that’ because who knows what kind of person you will become, right now you are just a student or you are just a very young girl or guy, you can still do lots of things. Just spread messages - that’s a very easy message. Right now if you go on the U.N. Website, the slogan of the U.N. is ‘U.N: It’s your world.’ So we deserve to have the same right as the citizens of the U.S. or of Japan or Korea and countries all over the world. It says ‘Its your world’… they can’t just avoid a specific country to join, its not right. We are not asking too much, we are just asking the same thing as everyone else. So it’s a very easy message to send and right now I feel very good about everyone’s responses to that. “ Freddy’s youthful conviction and strong belief in a political body such as the U.N. gave me mixed feelings when I initially read through several of his past interviews. The U.N. is not something that has served my country well over the years, and it is always a risk to trust any organization, but as Freddy went on I realized that he understood something very poignant and important about music. It is a universal language that does more than help us feel or express ourselves. I attempted to draw Freddy into that point a little deeper, “Are there other bands in Taiwan you feel should have the same recognition as you?” but he wasn’t finished with me yet.
“Yeah, most of the bands there, most of the citizens there should have the same recognition. Outside of Taiwan, people think we are seeking the independence of Taiwan, but that’s not right, we already are independent. We pay taxes to our own government, they don’t go to China. We have our own army and we vote for our own government and President. If you want to come to Taiwan, you have to apply for a visa from our government, not China. So we are as independent as Japan or Korea, but we have a bad neighbor. He always stops us from joining the international community. That’s the problem. We are independent, but there is this bad guy standing in front of us talking to all the other countries saying ‘don’t share with him, don’t be friends with him, don’t listen to him, he’s married to me’” we both laugh, and Freddy concludes, “So, we are not asking for independence, we are independent. We are asking to be a normal member in this international society just like all the other countries.”
Chthonic have certainly been accepted as a normal member of the musical community in the U.S. and Europe, and went on to play an excellent show that night opening for Nile, full of the urgency and perfection I had heard of from so many fans. I can only hope that this translates into the rich cultural lesson Chthonic brings to this side of the Pacific. The band’s current full-length, Seediq Bale, is available through Amazon and stops along the tour. To find out more, visit them on MySpace.
You can check out some photos from their St. Paul, MN Off-fest show in our photo gallery.
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