Kat Tosi Meets The Devils at the Crossroad
Kat Tosi sat down with Devils at the Crossroad to get the lowdown on their history, influences, music and new label
Kat Tosi sat down with Devils at the Crossroad to get the lowdown on their history, influences, music and new label.
What is your background? (Who are you and your band members? Tell your story.)
Joris "I have been playing in bands since I was 14 in France as a singer-guitarist or simply guitarist. It ranged from blues-rock to heavy metal, stoner or French rock. When I came in China in 2005, in Shanghai, I formed a crazy blues punk-rock line-up with Japanese and Chinese friends, called the Dropkicks. We belonged to the same Shanghai scene as Banana Monkeys, Boys Climbing Rope and the Rogue Transmission. In 2009, I moved to Beijing because of my work but keeping in mind to go on playing rock'n'roll. It took me more than one year, after several solo gigs, to find a band. I met Cedric at Salud Bar. He had a friend bassist named Marco and they were Ok to start with the Dropkicks songs then write new materials.
Cedric I have played drums since I was 8 years old. I'm French and I began to play metal in France at 14. Afterwards, I became a death metal singer for 8 years. Then I moved to China to be a musician. I played drums with different bands before Devils, like Last Chance of Youth or AK47. One day, I met Joris in a bar. He wanted to make a rock n' roll band. We decided to give it a try. Marco, who was my roommate, was beginning to play bass, so we asked him to join. Everything after came naturally...
Marco I was born in Brazil, but spent most of my years traveling around. I lived for 4 years in Germany, almost 9 years in Holland and even did some time in Egypt. Now, I've been living in China for the last 8 years. I didn't care too much about music until I was 11 and my older cousin let me listen to G'n'R's Appetite for Destruction. That blew me away and, from then on, it was ALL about Rock music for me. I kept asking my parents to get me a guitar, but that never happened. It wasn't until I was 15 years old that I had saved up some money and bought myself a drum kit (at which point my father bitterly regretted not buying me the damn guitar four years earlier).
I kept it up with the drums, playing in a few garage metal bands here and there, until I left Holland at age 23 and was forced to sell it. I met Cedric in Beijing 6 or 7 years ago. Cedric was visiting and stayed in my place for some time. I guess he must have liked over here, 'cos he kept coming back for holidays, until he finally decided to just cut the crap and stay. We became good friends quickly, since we had a lot in common, even though there were language barriers at first. Joris and I met through Cedric about 2 and half years ago. They were more seasoned musicians, while I was still trying to figure my way around the bass guitar, but I think that what made everything work was that we had (and still have) the right attitude and always have a good time playing together.
Why do you want to record and release your own music? (Be very honest.)
Joris That's because we're not only a live band. We write our own songs and it's a natural need to record them, to make them pretty, to polish the sounds and try to preserve our fury on the record!! Otherwise the music is just going to oblivion and then you regret it as you can't even share it with your friends and family back home. To release an album in China is a crazy experience: we'd like of course to share our music with the Chinese musicians and audience. Here there are so many people in need to bang their heads!!! We want to participate!!
Cedric First of all, we want to record for ourselves, as it's nice to keep a memory of what we've done. After that, it's cool to share with people. Also, it's a very good promotion tool!! But the most important is that a recording marks a step in your work. After doing it, you know then that you have to get ready for the next stage: new songs, new shows... It helps you to go on with making music.
Marco Some people have children; some people erect statues of themselves. Deep down, I think we all enjoy the idea that regardless of what happens after we die, a piece of us continues, serving as a testimony to our own existence, so that we never truly vanish. I suppose it goes back to that old question "if a tree falls in the forest and no one's around to hear it, has it truly fallen?" I love music and I'm damn proud of what we are doing right now. The band could end tomorrow, but what we've achieved so far is now out there, on record, and no one can erase it. The next goal would be to continue achieving more and making sure these achievements don't go unnoticed and that everyone hears that fucking tree fall!
What are your songs about? (What specific themes do they cover?)
Joris They're about men's hallucinations and madness. For example, about the hallucinations of some guy trying to imitate the old bluesmen of the Delta, going to the crossroad at midnight with hope of meeting the Devil for a special trade: to get music skills in exchange of his soul. But it only happens in his mind as he's been in a mental institution for a long time... A lot of songs also speak of mad love confusions: who's the devil? You or your lover??
Cedric Our songs mostly talk about women, hoodoo and madness. To make it short, I guess it talks about the dark side of different men's minds.
Marco There are some clear themes of good and evil and how incredibly blurry the line between the two often are. We are all taught by family and society what evil is, but our perceptions can change quite drastically given the right (or wrong) circumstances. Basically, we spend our lives pointing our fingers at others and judging, but things are never black and white, we are ALL capable of "evil". There are also songs about madness, substance abuse, alienation, revenge and all these things that make our lives great...oh yeah, and then there are the songs about women, hehe... But these themes are just skin-deep.
You can find all sorts of meanings behind them. I don't really like to tell people exactly what the lyrics mean, because, to me, the beauty of music (and poetry, for that matter) is that people can find their own truths in them. They are a mirror and should be a reflection of whoever is peering into it. One of the most satisfying feelings for me is when people read something I may have written and they theorize on its meanings, sometimes coming up with things I could never have conceived. That's when art takes on a life of its own and continues to grow, and that's what creating is really about for me.
Who are your musical influences?
Joris I started with good old school rock 'n roll: Elvis, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. Then 70's hard rock (Black Sabbath!) has become important to me, with Iggy Pop, Motφrhead and British punk like the Damned. I also like the wall of sound created by the stoner-rock of Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age. And I'm crazy about all those Scandinavian heavy punk-rock bands like Hellacopters or Turbonegro. But it's always funny to get some inspiration from very old blues melodies and feelings from Robert Johnson or R.L. Burnside...
Cedric I listen to a lot of metal music (death, black...). I came into this very young with Metallica and Nirvana. Growing up, I turned myself to more extreme music.
Marco The way I look at it, rock is 30% music 70% attitude, so all the musicians who have influenced me are the ones that inspired me to pick up an instrument and rock out, balls to the wall. No "virtuoso" here, hehe. I still listen a lot to G'n'R and I really like Duff's playing. As a bassist, he really knows how to make his presence felt with some great licks, without trying to steal the scene - I find that incredibly hard to find in Rock: bassists are either over-doing it (which always ends up sounding too funky for rock) or they get lazy and have no presence (which tends to happen very often).
Early Metallica's been a huge influence as well, especially when I was drumming. But they also had an amazing first bassist, Cliff Burton, who was an absolute beast! I also used to listen to a lot of Ramones growing up, even though no one around me did. I remember reading in an interview with them that one of THEIR influences for making music was comic books, haha... I was immediately sold! Recently, I've been obsessing over Kyuss. I think they are incredible and embody everything that rock should be: it's filthy, it's raw and it's loud! People always tell me about Queens of the Stone Age, but I say "man, you gotta listen to KYUSS!"
How do you describe your music to people?
Joris It's heavy, fast, raw, and vicious! It's this kind of Rock 'n Roll that makes you crazy jumping and banging and makes you feel like you're in a master switch! Then the genre is blurry: punk-metal-stoner-crazy blues-hard rock'n'roll, we don't even know what to call it.....
Cedric Our music is just a mix of what the three of us like: that is catchy, powerful and also danceable.
Marco Actually, I rather enjoy listening to people try to describe our music instead. It can definitely be described as heavy rock, but anything more specific is anyone's guess. As Joris said, there's a mix of metal, punk, blues, stoner and whatever else each one of us just happens to be listening at the time. The cool thing is that all our individual influences can be heard to some measure, which makes the end product a real collaboration. In the end, I think people will feel that the sound is very familiar (since we are heavily influenced by all the greats) and yet completely original at the same time (since the way we mix it up can be a little unorthodox at times).
What image do you think your music conveys?
Joris Free energy, drunken madness, emergency to have sex!
Cedric Our music conveys fun and an irresistible need to drink!!
Marco We are out to have a good time. We love what we do, and if we manage to bring this across through the music, that's cool. But, as far as I'm concerned, that's a question only the people listening can answer. I'm not really aspiring to convey a certain image...it is what it is, take it or leave it.
What are your immediate music career goals? (Next 1 to 3 years.)
Joris Playing live, finishing writing our news songs and recording them. No other planned musical career than to keep playing rock'n'roll one way or another and right now. And it's cool if that happens with my friends like in Devils.
Cedric Record other CDs. I will personally make new projects in different styles of music. And it would be nice to play outside of China.
Marco As a band, I think the reason why we managed to achieve so much in such a short time is because we keep our heads, more or less, in the present. There are too many "if's" and variants when talking about plans for the future, so we don't waste too much time on those, we just focus on the now and the next step to be taken. We got about 6 brand new songs now, which we want to put on an EP soon, so that's the next step. 3 years ago we didn't even have a band, who knows what's going to happen in the next 3 years...
What are your long-term career goals?
Joris Woo that's scary... I don't want any long-term career goals! Keep doing rock 'n roll is enough for me!
Cedric Same as the short term one. Keep playing music, keep recording...
Marco See above! Hehe... the only thing I'm sure of is that I'll always stick with music and perhaps expand a little more into designing. I was very much involved with the artwork for our new album Moonshine XXX, and, although it was incredibly brutal working against the deadline, it was also one of my most rewarding experiences once I saw the final product. So I might branch out into that area a bit further.
Tell us about what Devils have been doing with Scream Records.
Cedric They contacted us because they were interested in our music. They asked us to play a show for them and made the decision right afterwards to sign us and release our albums.
Joris What is nice with Scream records is they have accepted a lot of our conditions, knowing that we are their first "foreigner" band. The role of each party is very clear. We take care of where, how and who does the recordings and they manage the manufacturing, the distribution and the promotion towards the Chinese media and audience. Plus we are free to organize gigs without them.
Marco When Scream Records contacted us showing interest in the band, we were already almost finished with the recording of MoonshineXXX (which we were recording independently), so they didn't really get in on that. But we signed the contract with them before the album was released and they agreed to cover the expenses with the printing and distribution of the CD. They've been very helpful and supportive of the band so far, and we've signed a deal to record more albums under their label.
How do you rate your live performance ability?
Joris If I can keep my eyes opened more than 1 minute in front of the spotlight, If Cedric stands on his drums like a beast and Marco smiles while people are head banging, then I know it's not too bad! Otherwise I try not to rate specifically our performance ability 'cause it's depressing, haha!
Cedric That depends, it's more like: how do YOU rate our live performance? I love to play drums so I'm always the same and give the same show. Some live conditions can be more difficult than others in terms of how comfortable we feel on stage (depending on sound quality or materials), but we try to adapt.
Marco Don't get me wrong, we are all proud of the album, but the truth of it is that the real essence of Devils at the Crossroad is in the live show. That's where things get crazy and dirty. I'm not sure how I would rate our abilities (probably not very highly, haha), but I can guarantee that there will be an extremely high level of energy and that everyone in the room will have one helluva time (us included)! Every gig is different, and we never know how it's going to go, and that's what makes it exciting... the unpredictability of it all! We've played venues where we felt completely out of our element at first, but by the end of it, it was complete mayhem - As every Devils concert should be!
How is this album different to the work you have done previously?
Cedric First, it's a real album, since before we had only released a demo. The demo was made for promotion not for being sold. But as too many people asked us to sell it, so we did. This album is an achievement that took a lot of hard work. We did the recording in a real studio and took a long time to produce it. It's the achievement of two years of work.
Joris It's really different because for the first time we could work on the arrangements of our songs. We could work on atmosphere, sound colors, samples, etc. Our producer Quan Lei has been of great help on this. Also the voice is different from our demo, more raucous more like the way our band sounds live. That was one of the challenges: not to lose our identity because of an overproduced record. Another difference was the opportunity to use the talent of some of our musician friends. And of course, the art design of Marco gives this album another dimension.
Marco The sound on MoonshineXXX is still pretty much "Devils at the Crossroad", but the songs should sound more developed and mature when compared to the demo. If I had to pinpoint a direction that the band seems to be gravitating towards in terms of sound, I'd say that the music is becoming a little deeper, heavier and more elaborate. But we also try to keep ourselves in-check, and if we feel we are starting to get too far up our own asses musically, one of us will sooner or later say "fuck, let's work on a simple, straight forward, in-your-face song for a change!", I guess that's the punk attitude that still manages to creep in. One thing that has stayed consistent, however, is the high level of energy in the music: there are no ballads, there are no slow depressing tunes. It's loud and it's fast!
Tell us about the Beijing music scene. Where has it been? Where is it going?
Joris Well, for an underground foreigners' band, it's always a good place to start. Easy to get gigs and a lot of fun! Far less competitive than in the Western countries where you sometimes have to pay to play... There used to be a big buzz about the new Beijing sound in 2006-2007. Then the energy died and now, the festivals in Beijing and in the rest of China look pretty much the same even if they have multiplied. There are for sure more funny hard rock bands, and less post-punk. Anyway, the Beijing scene still needs a better administrative and technical environment to develop, I guess.
Cedric I don't know what to say. For me a lot of things have changed and a lot are still the same. It's complicated to explain. I guess in China sometimes if you have a name or good connections, it can be enough to do great things. I don't say the music is not good, I just say that compared to Chinese bands, it's not always fair, no matter the quality of the music.
Marco I know some people say the Beijing scene is not as exciting as it used to be and they talk about America and Europe as if they are some kind of Mecca for music, but the truth of it is that the scene there has become so over-saturated that there's no room for the little guy to develop his craft, so nothing new has the chance to grow. I think the Beijing music scene is doing just fine from where I'm standing. There's an incredible abundance of great musicians in Beijing, some are doing something new, others are bringing back old trends. There are also venues big and small to accommodate all kinds of bands of all levels of fame. Bottom line is that it's been a long time since I've been part of a scene which is so easy to get involved in rather than stand by the side line. To me that's imperative when it comes to providing an environment that encourages new talent to develop. I don't know where the Beijing scene is going from here, but I think it is a very exciting place to be for music right now.
What is the most challenging aspect of playing live in China?
Cedric Getting the Chinese crowd for sure. Being foreigner it was difficult to be accepted by the Chinese music circle. It was hard but I guess that we did it, also with the help of Chinese friends who never discriminated us.
Marco A big pain in the ass is sometimes dealing with sound guys who don't know or don't give a shit about what they are doing. The difference between having a good time on stage and absolute torture can very much lie entirely on whether or not we can hear ourselves properly onstage. When the sound is really bad, is hard to enjoy the gig, 'cos we have to constantly focus on what we are doing rather than just let go and feel the music, not to mention that it sucks to spend 40-60 minutes listening to noise. But this issue is not restricted to China alone, it happens anywhere the world over.
Can you list the names and affiliations of those who joined you on stage for your record release party?
* Randy Abel - singer (Randy Abel Stable)
* Alex singer and Sho guitarist (Never Before)
* Dave Cooper singer (Red Pirates)
* JD (independent bassist)
* Matt bassist (ex-Dude)
* Quan Lei guitarist (ex-AK47)
* Antoine (independent pianist)
* Lao Jiang guitarist (Jacky Danny)
* Jaime Welton singer-guitarist (Bad Mamasan)
* Badr Benjelloun singer (Beijing Daze)
* Kevin Kasal drummer (End of the World)"
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