Published on March 24th, 2015 | by The Beige Baron0
Interview: Scattered Purgatory
Shimmering in heat haze, the ritualistic drone of Scattered Purgatory originates not from a lost corner of the Californian desert, but from the tiny, densely populated tropical island of Taiwan, a speck of land off the coast of mainland China intersected by the Tropic of Cancer.
Listen carefully, though, and you can hear the eastern flavor seeping through the layers of reverbed guitar and looping synths—muted crashing of gongs and cymbals, or the tinkling of bells and chimes echoing the gamelan court music of Java over the Equator to the south.
The band’s first full-length album Lost Ethnography of the Miscanthus Ocean—issued by cult Japanese imprint GuruGuruBrain Records—traverses desolate landscapes and empty wastes, yet contains a lush organic warmth that recalls The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull-era Earth.
“Shinichiro Ikebe [composer of Akira Kurosawa’s films] also influenced me heavily,” says Li-Yang, who plays bass, synthesizer, and baritone guitar for the band. “While we were working on Lost Ethnography, I was into Bobby Beausoleil’s Lucifer Rising. Maybe that’s why people think this album is cinematic?”
“Yeah, I guess we all like Earth a lot,” agrees Lu, who completes the Scattered Purgatory lineup on guitar and synthesizer. “When we were making the album, we tried to add some Chinese/Taiwanese/Eastern elements on a drone-based layer. And it came out like this. I’m also really into Japanese psychedelic music like Shinki Chen, Ghost, White Heaven, and Suishou no Fune. These Japanese bands influenced my guitar playing a lot.”
So how did three Earth fans from Taipei find each other and start playing drone?
Li-Yang: Lobo and I have known each other since high school. Lu played guitar in one of the most famous local stoner rock/punk bands called Sleaze [湯湯水水] before this band was born, we didn’t really know each other before that fateful night. Lobo and I went to Sleaze’s show in, shall we say, a non-sober condition, and after some nice talks about drone metal bands like Earth, Sunn O))), Corrupted, and The Melvins, we decided to make our own. But at first we were just fooling around on stage. We played a few shows in the first one or two months and pulled off for eight to nine months before we really thought this could be a serious thing.
Lu: I was in a different band, and I was looking to start a heavy doom metal band. Actually, I was so high when I asked if they wanted to join [laughs]. And then we practiced few times. But after a while we started to dig a lot of drone music. We didn’t really think we would be like this now.
What was it like growing up in Taiwan? Was school a lot of pressure? Did any events or experiences lead to you getting into music and art?
Luo: It’s pretty boring. We spent most our time in the classroom and after that we were sent to after-school study institutes. There are not many wild places for kids to hang out, especially in Taipei.
I think the event that really started getting me into music and art was when I found a punk record shop advertised in a small newspaper, then I started really digging into that kind of music.
Li-Yang: Taipei sucks, that’s all. I can’t exactly remember my first contact with any kind of outsider art… maybe it was in high school. I always read lots of comic books, and I was into some pretty underground comics around that time like Suehiro Maruo. As for live performances, I hadn’t really seen any doom metal bands live except for Boris and Sunn O))) in Tokyo. I started collecting pedals after I saw Russian Circles live.
Lu: Growing up in Taiwan… Yeah we have very long school hours, and most of the students are working hard and trying to get into good schools and get a well-paid job. School life didn’t really lead me into music. Actually, listening to punk rock inspired me to start learning guitar when I was 15. At that time I just thought it was kinda easy to play punk guitar riffs. I totally had no idea I would be playing such different music in the future.
I imagine there is not much space in Taiwan and that many people live in apartments. How and where do you practice?
You’re right about Taiwan, especially in Taipei. It’s hard to have your own practice space unless you’re unbelievably rich. The minimum wage here is about 700 USD per month or 4 USD per hour, so we choose hourly rental practice rooms instead of practicing with a 15 W amp in someone’s room or basement, because “hearing sound” isn’t enough for us, you need to “feel” the resonance and sub-bass to get things going.
Most of the students are working hard and trying to get into good schools and get a well-paid job
What drew you towards making experimental music? Is there an “underground” scene in Taiwan? And are there many live venues?
Lu: I wouldn’t use the term “experimental” to define our music, we’re just a band that plays hybrid music without a drummer and vocalist, even though the music we make is probably not “easy listening”. I don’t know why or what drew us towards making drone, maybe it’s that we three share a common state of mind while listening to drone, a spiritual, reflective experience.
There is a small outsider artist scene in Taiwan, although it’s really small, but we’re all really close. It’s great to have several groups of people that are trying to make things different. About venues, which is a big problem here, we have less than 10 functioning venues in the capital city, not mentioning the other parts of Taiwan, but this goes back to the land price, and our government still seems to think sponsoring certain (big but shitty) bands that are already really big would help the whole scene grow.
Our existence has always been controversial in our hometown, but we’re lucky to have a lot of support from lots of friends. As for ambition, we are focused on playing at a festival, and see how far our music can lead us.
How did your association with GuruGuruBrain happen? Do you come to Japan often? What Japanese bands do you like?
Li-Yang: We got Go’s message [from Kikagaku Moyo and founder of Guruguru Brain] from one of our mutual friends on Facebook in March of 2014. He was looking for Asian bands that were interested in touring Japan and releasing some albums on their label. I happened to have a personal trip to Tokyo planned for the following April. So I hung out with Tomo and Go for a night in Koenji, that’s how we met.
All of us have been to Japan several times, since you can now get pretty cheap flights, and we all adore the creativity of the underground music scene in Japan. As for the classics, we’re into bands like Taj Mahal Travellers or free jazz improvisation musicians Kaoru Abe or anyone else you can find on labels like PSF Records. For the new generation, you definitely need to check out Minami-Deustch, Tolchock, Bombori, Kikagaku Moyo, Sundays & Cybele, and so many more.
It’s hard to have your own practice space unless you’re unbelievably rich
Your music has a cinematic quality. Some of the tracks like the 20-minute closer almost have a Sergio Leone quality to them, like a Spaghetti Western. Do you like film, and if so, do you watch Asian cinema or western cinema? Would you ever like to create a soundtrack?
Li-Yang: Thanks for the compliment! Of course we love film. I love both eastern and western cinema, especially when it’s related to surrealism. We’d love to create a soundtrack for a movie or documentary, it’d be fun because you’d be doing it for another person’s story and interpreting it with your instruments.
Luo: I like film a lot! But I don’t think I’m really into certain kind of cinema, I think every category has its own unique atmosphere, so I just watch whatever I feel is appealing at the time.
We’ve always wanted to create soundtrack, or sound pieces for experimental theater. It would stimulate our ways of defining music in another context.
What’s your process for writing and recording? What comes first? Do you have an idea of how it will sound before you start recording?
And as each of us are now using multiple instruments on stage or during writing since we released Lost Ethnography of the Miscanthus Ocean, we have totally given up predicting what it’s going to sound like. The stuff we are working on now, I can only tell you that there are fewer riffs and more layers of sound. It’s less concrete and a lot darker now.
Lu: For gigs, we are more like performing and improvising “parts” than playing “songs” mostly. Normally we jam in the beginning at practice, and then we will talk about, yeah we could keep that part, and we think what kind of atmosphere we could go for next. So for recording, we do write songs.
What other bands from Taiwan would you recommend?
Luo: Outlet Drifit. It’s hard to define their music, but they do a good mixture of Taiwanese aboriginal music with rock, psychedelic, and folk. And we’ve been playing a few gigs with 落差草原wwww, they have two drummers playing tribal beats and vocal loops are they are crazy, very ritualistic. They also wear really arty costumes when they play live.
Also we’re all into Taiwanese noise/free-improv artists such as Fang-Yi Liu.
Got any plans for a tour lined up? What are you working on next? Will it sound different from your previous work?
We’re now planning our Australian Tour in May and June, and we have a series of releases coming out this year and looking forward to the possibility of collaborating with other awesome musicians. Our next work will sound a lot different from the previous album for sure, no more “doom”. You’ll catch it on Sky Lantern Records soon!