Emperor Chung Interview for PlanetMosh – 01/14

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With a sound that boasts captivating vocal lines and infectious licks punctuated with delectable dual-lead melodies, fresh UK upstarts Emperor Chung are quickly making friends. The band garnered support from Scuzz TV and Team Rock Radio, as well as recently wooing crowds at 2013’s Download Festival. The band’s 11-track eponymous debut, released in October 2013, blends rock influences as diverse as Coheed and Cambria, Alter Bridge, and Thin Lizzy, with a modern, grunge-edged touch. Impressed by the strength of the record, Lee Rose had ‘just a little chat’ with the band, in January 2014.

Going Mental With “Elton John”, er, Emperor Chung

You guys definitely do the ‘mental’ (‘crazy’) thing pretty well. Er… anthropomorphic superheroism. And the … ‘of doom’ thing – you guys have this done to, well, an art form. Rigs of doom, studio diary of doom, artwork of doom, Alex Cooper – producer of doom, Daz Lawson – artist of doom… am I missing anything?

You’ve missed the most important … ‘of doom’ really… When cows sit down, it’s… IMMINENT DOOM!!! Doom? It’s our way of saying ‘very nice’.

The mental thing is that it all seems very normal now. We all have our little defining qualities… or not. Dan has an unhealthy obsession with whiskey, outrageous horror movies, and quirky Channel 4 documentaries. Eddie loves drum rudiments, polishing his cymbals, and installing composite doors. Rich cannot survive without cheesecake, and has memorised the entire Metallica guitar back catalogue. Martin likes eating soup and tiger bread while sitting in a hot tub. Add all that together, and we’re on a collision path of doom with mental-ness!

That ‘comic book thing’ really went around in 2013. Was there some Musician’s Conference booked where some of the better players said ‘ok, let’s do albums centered around wild escapist fantasy’? (IIRC, Terry Syrek and Nick Johnston both did this; Llexi Leon makes a living at it – sure, it’s instrumental madness, but still). I’m joking, but it does seem that way. Perhaps we need that!

Danny: I’m familiar with Nick Johnston, an incredible musician by the way. Now you point that out, it is weird. To be honest, the comic book thing was Coheed and Cambria influenced. I and Dandan absolutely love Coheed. So catchy but interesting. Great production and a mental concept – BOOM!

Dan: As a bass player, I obviously wouldn’t have been invited to any kind of Musicians Conference (!) As Danny said, we’re great fans of Coheed and Cambria, and they have this Sci-fi comic book series that is conceptually linked to the albums. So that kind of helped spur us in this direction, really. Plus, it meant we didn’t have to go down the dark and depressing generic hard rock route that we really wanted to avoid, so it opened up a hell of a lot of possibilities with the band.

It’s what rock’s all about, isn’t it. Escapist fantasy. It’s not good enough anymore to write about love, loss, or life (sucky or not).

It is escapist fantasy, however the tale of Chico Chung is still, in a way, a harrowing tale of love, loss and life but with a Chung twist.

In a way, even religious music is a ‘storyline to follow in song’. Contemporary rock & metal bands have made entire careers out of elevating God, Satan, and a bunch of Norse entities… So what you’re doing isn’t really all that ‘out there’; it’s just a different set of characters.

Yes, I can see your point. I think music helps people escape reality anyway, even moreso with a bizarre concept. What is ‘out there’ anymore anyway? Even with the characters, the story still evolves ’round recognisable events and happenings, i.e. power and greed, develop into bad scenarios and decisions, closely followed by revenge and happiness. Plus, there is a horse with mole hands, and Emperor Gillette has a parasitic spider for a moustache.

The closest thing I can think of to this new ‘cartoon’ offshoot in rock is – Visual Kei. It’s HUGE in Japan. But then you’d have to dress up in costumes. Well… Kiss, Ghost, and Gwar do it well, but nobody beat David Bowie and Sir Elton John in the 70s.

We just Googled that visual kei thing – crazy!

Art, drama, and music are so closely linked in my eyes. No, we don’t dress up in costumes or spray sheep’s blood all over the crowd, but the vision is to create an epic stage show. Think Emperor Chung on Broadway. Big animated cartoon videos, animatronics, and a huge performing dance team. We dressed up for Halloween and our masks didn’t even stay on for half the set – I felt like the guy outta Robocop who gets covered in toxic waste and his face kinda melts off! – probably not cut out for going GWAR extreme!

The wordplay is cool. I like how you’re taking nouns and assigning them new values. It’s like watching people wonder out loud: “why is a zebra called a zebra?” ‘A rose by any other name still smells as sweet.’ So, for better or worse, it’s… the PlanetMosh Word Association Game!

(* = I got these from Urban Dictionary, except nebula which is an astronomical phenomenon, and rifftastic which is a PlanetMosh special buzzword.)

Snice – ‘It’s nice’: the feeling of my thumbs crushing your eyeballs.
Funt – The smell given off by Chico’s feet.
Ratbag – The scrotal sack of the bastard rat.
Nebula – A spatula like instrument used to clean out the nebulisers of the elderly.
Rifftastic – A tasty treat for the ear canal AND something an annoying 70’s DJ would exclaim.
Snackers – The snake’s testicles.
Beastophile – The less said about this the better.

C sharp, c natural, c food…

CITV, C-stem of a down…

On that note, to business. You’ve been described as an amalgamation of Alter Bridge, Queen, Thin Lizzy, etc… Ah, labels. I picked up the disc to review, because the last time someone said an album sounded like Queen and Thin Lizzy (Paul Gilbert & Freddie Nelson’s United States), I adored it. Of course, neither album actually sounds like Queen and Thin Lizzy – it’s some sort of lowest common denominator ‘PR writer’ reaction to the vocals. What can you do!

Comparisons to other artists will always happen; it gives people a rough idea what we are gonna sound like. It’s good to have been compared to some of the greats that we have (of course). But we agree it’s never the full story – we have so many influences between us. Whether these examples are accurate or not, we cannot grumble.

Okay, maybe you’re baiting them a little (in the intro to “Downpour”, etc.)…

A la Thin Lizzy ;)

Who’s your chief songwriter? I remember that Martin writes the lyrics, but who’s responsible for penning the majority of the music? What is your songwriting process usually?

Danny Beardsley is a songwriting beast! As you said, Martin wrote the lyrics… the mental mental lyrics, but yeah, Danny wrote all the music, apart from “Victory’s Calling”, which was a collaborative effort. The huge majority of the music was written before the line-up of Chung was even complete, which was great ’cause it meant we could crack on with it, and get things rolling with everyone adding their individual flair!

How did you guys decide to set the band up as a ‘concept’ act from the beginning? I mean it’s certainly whimsical and off the beaten path, but it’s sort of ‘involved’ or convoluted; too much to be pure fun.

After leaving our last band we decided to pursue a different angle. When we were creating the Chung – we wanted everything to be fun – we wanted to have a laugh whilst doing what we love. It might seem involved and convoluted but it really did just come together easily – sort of like… “well, Danny likes penguins, [so] let’s make the main character a giant Emperor Penguin. Chung sounds Chinese-ish; what about if the bad guys are Chinese zodiac characters?” and it all flowed from that. We came up with the original concept in one night. The name was first, then the concept, then the music, then the members, then the lyrics. The whole process was a breeze thankfully.

You guys are a special kind of crazy. You’re really embracing randomness without entropy. It’s not just the art, storyline, and lyrics, it’s the syncopation, harmony guitar lines, and little inflections here & there. It’s nice to listen to, but you sort-of have to be in an open-minded mood. Like the open acceptance when listening to Zappa, heady prog, or free jazz.

Nice choice of words there. Writing music with such a grand story in mind, it has to shift and the music has to tell the story as much as the lyrics do. The album is supposed to feel like a journey, and I hope that comes across. The lyrics are probably our main prog element, as the songs generally have a well-known formula. The harmony guitar lines and syncopation are just tools to make certain movements sound epic. The album is quite intense though; there are a lot of varied influences being showcased throughout, and I think that’s why you have to be in an open-minded mood to fully enjoy and appreciate the concept.

Another rule, from the start, was that we wanted to write music that we would want to listen to ourselves, and we’re pretty much geeky prog heads. So, combine that with the ‘arty story’ side of things, and as a whole, it’s probably a bit more of an experience than your average rock album.

‘Storyline’ and lyrics aside, the music has some strong ideas and quite a few catchy choruses. It’s a whopper (we Americans do burgers best!) of a debut, really. You’re at least putting lots of feet, fingers, and wing feathers forward. What do you feel sets you apart from the fray, musically speaking?

Thank you for the kind words, first of all. We try to maintain a healthy balance between writing catchy, memorable tracks and moments of MES (musician ego syndrome.) We all try to push ourselves as musicians, but what is most important to us all is trying to be good songwriters. We hope that this comes across and that people do feel like it sets us apart from the fray a little at least.

And absolutely, yes, you do burgers best. Cue plug for Annie’s Burger Shack in Nottingham (UK). She is American and they are the best goddamn burgers you will ever taste. We bloody love it there.

Have the crowds ‘told’ you any favourite tunes? i.e. are there “guaranteed crowd pleasers” on the album and in the set?

It’s been a bit of a mixed bag really – “No Mercy” has been a surprise favourite of a lot of the reviewers. Live it really depends on the make-up of the crowd I think. We expected that a couple of tracks would become particular favourites, but everyone seems to love a different track. We like that! We have something for everyone hopefully.

“My Next Foe” and “Vow This Day” are popular with the radio stations as they are proper catchy. The metal heads and guitar geeks obviously prefer the heavier side of the album: “Our Weaknesses” and “Victory’s Calling”. The good thing is that we have a nice contrast of fans and positive feedback. The harmony guitar lines always raise a few smiles, “Free At Last” and “Bloodline” especially; everyone loves a harmony guitar line right?

A reviewer said that you guys had mosh pits going while you played at Download. Weird. True?

Weird and a bit true. We’re not sure “mosh” is exactly the right word. Something was happening out there. It wasn’t anything like a Lamb Of God pit by any means! We were really lucky to have a shitload of support from Scuzz TV leading up to Download, and they started the whole “Up The Chung” thing, so before we even went on the crowd were chanting “Up The Chung” and then after every track. It was rammed as well. It was incredible. The stage manager asked our manager why they were chanting “Elton John”!!! They was certainly a lot of energy and interaction. We loved it.

You’re slated to play the Aces High festival, and that looks like a nice bill. Do you have any other shows planned?

We certainly are. Well chuffed to be headlining a hometown festival too, always makes it a bit more special. Yep, more shows in the pipeline. We have no idea which ones are announced and which ones aren’t, and we don’t want to be in trouble (cue “have you met our manager?”) So let’s just go with… “please check our Facebook and Reverbnation pages and our website for all details of upcoming shows.” Oh wait, there is one we can say… 24th May, at the TBFM 5th Birthday Bash in Wakefield. Gonna be a cracker, that one.

It’s a joy to listen to a band ‘on disc’ and then listen to live footage and… you guys can pull it off live. I’m watching some of the fan-filmed YouTube stuff, (the only ‘trustworthy’ stuff ’cause it’s not ‘retouched’!), and I’m loving that you guys are hitting the guitar harmony lines AND the vocals sound great.

Thank you. Live music has been a huge part of our lives and we hope that one day we will considered one of those bands whom provide fond memories to the audience with an accurate and moving performance. Half the battle is having a decent sound on stage – sometimes that is a complete nightmare. YouTube has been equally a great help and burden for live bands. I’ve seen videos of great bands sounding a little dodgy on one night and being judged purely on that one captured moment. BUT, on the other hand, it’s a great source of social media and can be used to promote the product.

I think you forgot to add the bit about us all looking like Jared Leto though…

You’ve got a good problem, and that is… how do you follow up a debut like this, with something ‘better’? It’s not like you have a ‘basement’ production or ‘naff’ musicianship here.

Cheers dude. The answer for us at the minute is “we don’t”! No rush at the moment for us. We’ve got a lot of ideas though, where we can take the Chung brand – through music videos and other types of media – and are aiming to increase our fanbase in this way. More people need giant asskicking penguins in their life! The album hasn’t been out long at all. There are still entire continents that haven’t heard it yet. We want to focus on getting the album out there.

Was your ‘followup’ acoustic album released? I looked on Amazon and didn’t see it, so I figured I’d ask about it’s status.

It was stolen by Emperor Gillette during the final battle, and was absorbed into his parasitic moustache of doom. I can say no more.

OK… the acoustic EP has been on hiatus for a few months now, as we’ve been completely swamped. BUT we start working on it again over February, having ensured that Rich recorded his parts before he flew off on a European Tour with Cradle of Filth… that is a perfect example of news of doom right there!! It’s been a surreal year, to say the least.

Martin, LOL, ‘vocal acrobatics’, how true. What motivated you to get in to music in the first place?

Music’s always been a part of my life… my parents are both musicians, so I grew up with a huge variety of musical styles around me. Started learning guitar to accompany my voice at an early age, and the more I explored it, and after getting a taste of live performance, the more I realised it was my passion. Been performing in bands since I was 15, and really took it seriously and properly honed my singing voice in the last five years or so.

And Martin, you have at least two other avenues to work with, musically. Your ‘one man’ solo stuff, and your other band, Confyde… how do you balance ‘life’, and ‘music’?

Simply put, I balance the two because music basically is my life…! I do work a day job to pay the bills, but most of my spare time is spent working on musical projects or socialising. I like to be busy, and try to fit in as much of it as I can! My solo material is pretty much synonymous with Confyde; the majority of songs I write for me to perform solo end up being used in that band. So, my calendar is not quite as hectic as you might think. However, I do earn money singing acoustic covers gigs, which is kind of separate, and I always enjoy jamming/collaborating with any of my musician friends who are up for it.

Danny, you were “Brian May” at 15, so I’m going to assume you had a hand built custom guitar to go with the persona, but did you have ‘the hair’?

Brilliant!! The dreaded attempt at trying to recreate one of the greatest bands ever!? ‘How did that pan out’, I hear you cry? One gig! It seemed “Freddie Mercury” had a… let’s say “difficulty” with alcohol prior to stepping out on stage. There was no custom built guitar or big hair, back then anyway. I think this ‘May’ have caused the implosion of the group (“brilliant” – rest of band). Good fun though, and a great experience.

Who’s the ‘Zakk Wylde’ in the band (someone’s playing a lot of pinch harmonics… )?

Both of ’em! The pinch harmonics in “My Next Foe” are always a pinch-harmonix-off at rehearsals!

Danny: Rich and I are both big Zakk Wylde fans; what guitarist doesn’t think he is a guitar god of doom?!? During our live shows the ratio of pinch harmonics to normal notes alters significantly. If you’ve been to see Killswitch Engage, you’ll probably be familiar with ‘pinch ping pong’ as I like to call it.

I do hear the ‘Eric Johnson’ in those whimsical legato slides on “Downpour” and “My Next Foe”.

Dan: This sentence is simply too technical for the bass player! Next question please?

Danny: Eric Johnson has to be my all-time favourite guitar player. His tone, feel, and use of the almighty pentatonic never fail to soothe my soul. Ha-ha. The legato lines were more inspired by Protest the Hero and Synester Gates to be honest.

There’s something unsettling about being reduced to columns of (numbers in) red and black. Seriously, should we have a “music industry”? Should talent be monetized, bought, and sold ‘by the numbers’?

Let’s face it, music being as popular as it is, someone is always going to find a way to make money out of it. We should have a music industry, but the way it’s been working in the past however-many years hasn’t been benefitting the hard-grafting musician. It definitely needs to change… but will it?

emperor chung band photo

I read somewhere that the average lifespan of a band these days is 18 months. We still have The Rolling Stones, Iron Maiden, and ZZ Top, but they’re obviously outliers in that stat… it’s a little disturbing that musicians aren’t expecting to ‘stay together’ to really build up a band nowadays. Since Chico set out – and succeeded – in his vengeance on the debut, where does he go from here (taking his merry minstrels with him)? Does he (go at all)? What’s ‘next’ – your next ‘collective band goal’ to aim for?

Prequel?  Sequel… ?  Hmmm… Nah, we’re just gonna sell out: ‘write’ the Black Album 3, [and] live in luxury for the rest of our lives!

The music industry is a complete animal, and it’ll tear you apart, if you let things get to you. For a lot of people, music isn’t an essential product of life, so a lot of venues don’t even pay bands for their travel costs, nevermind a fee to play. Deezer and Spotify are great tools at getting people to check out your work and spread the word, but why would people pay for music when they can listen to it for free? Financial strain is a massive reason why bands fall apart these days. We are very fortunate to be able to keep the band afloat by basically working full time!! This funds everything that we need to keep the band going for now.

We need to do this, we have big plans and goals we are hungry for. We have had an incredible couple of years and we appreciate all the help and support we’ve met along the way.

The concept has potential for prequel and sequel expansion. We are currently working on all sorts of things.

These parting words are yours…

Fiiiiiiiiiinally… This has come to an end… The miseryyyy and sufferinggggg. (“Free At Last”)

Interview of Dooooom dude. Thank you, PlanetMosh.

About Iris North

My formal position is: editor and music reviewer. I joined the PlanetMosh army in 2012. I enjoy extreme metal, 'shred' guitar, hard rock, prog rock, punk, and... silly pop music!