13 Questions with Etao Shin

by HST UK on May 7, 2012

Since forming in 2009 Etao Shin has been steadily making waves down on the South Coast. The trio create an interesting sound chock-full of quirks and complexities. HST talked to Joe from the group about their Eureka EP and the Southampton scene…

HST: Introduce yourselves, who’s in the band?

Steve plays the bass and climbs things and is enthusiastic, Ben plays the drums and is elusive and is enthusiastic about nudging cubes, Joe does the other things and is me.

HST: Signing to Sotones Records must have been a proud moment for you all, what does it mean to be signed to a label? Is it essential for a band to be signed in order for them to concentrate on playing, and not getting bogged down in promotional purgatory?

Becoming part of Sotones has definitely been a massive help for us, but signing to Sotones is not like signing to a regular record label. It is a co-operative label, meaning the bands that are on the label also run it. It is essentially a good way for a group of musicians to help each other out and pool resources, to organise events and give each other advice. Unfortunately, it also means we still get bogged down in, as you aptly called it, promotional purgatory, but we still find the time to play occasionally.

HST: What is the music scene like around Southampton? Tell us about some of the local venues.

In my experience, things seemed to have quietened down somewhat over the last couple of years, although this may have been due to my increasingly hermitic tendencies over these years. I’m happy to say things are looking up again though. Sotones are now organising regular events at the Bent Brief, a friendly local pub, which have been a massive success so far. There has been a steady stream of great new Southampton bands joining Sotones, including Oresteia and Toulouse Wolfe, and we (everyone in Southampton) are awaiting the return of one of my favourite local bands, Haunted Stereo.

I’ve personally been enjoying the return of Bang the Bore, a regular event featuring unusual music with an emphasis on experimentation and improvisation, which has found its new home at the John Hansard Gallery. I’m also looking forward to the Ejectorseat Arts Festival, an eclectic local music festival from the guys who put us on at our very first gig.

In terms of venues, there’s the Joiners, which is a bit dingy (in a good way) and is a good rock venue, there’s the Cellar which is a bit more eclectic with a lot of jazz and hip hop but will put on various other things. The Brook hosts lots of covers bands with occasional brilliant original-music gigs, and the Talking Heads books a lot of reformed punk bands, some up-and-coming bands and also has regular local music showcases. If you want something a bit more unusual, there is the Art House, a non-profit vegetarian café which occasionally hosts gigs; the Bargate, which is part of the old Southampton walls and has an art gallery upstairs; and there is an annual festival called Music in the City, which puts musicians in unexpected places, including the old castle vaults, which are damp and cold and smelly and beautiful, and in a churchyard next to a bombed-out church, which is where we played last year.

HST: Speaking of live music, how busy is your gig schedule for 2012?

Perhaps not as busy as it should be, which is partially down to ‘promotional purgatory’. We have an EP launch gig for the Eureka EP on 20th May at the Bargate Gallery, which should feature a string quartet if all goes to plan. We are also embarking on a tour of the UK’s bookshops from 1st to 6th June with our beloved labelmate Anja McCloskey (full disclosure: I also play double bass in her band), and we are playing this year’s Ejectorseat Arts Festival, which should be happening on 2nd June.

HST: Do you have any idea of how the Etao Shin sound will evolve over the next couple of years?

I have some ideas… I think the next release will be a long, sprawling mess, with as many tracks as we can fit on a CD, maybe playing around with production values and different sounds, different instruments, etc., just experimenting a bit more. I think a lot of bands are afraid to experiment and create things that are crazy and imperfect and then just put them out there, especially since home recordings can now sound so glossy and produced, but I think that would be interesting to try. After that I have vague ideas of an album that would be really musically meticulous and anal, inspired by dream journals and cryptic crosswords, but I don’t want to say too much and am liable to change my mind anyway.

HST: What do you make of being compared to bands such as Talking Heads and Dirty Projectors?

I guess getting comparisons to bands is an inevitability, and to an extent it is useful to people who read about you to have some kind of reference point to know what kind of thing they will be listening to if they buy your music or come to your gig. It’s also flattering in a way, as I love both of those bands. However, I wouldn’t say we are particularly similar to either band, except in pretty superficial ways… Like, I suppose, the reliance on rhythm and the ‘quirkiness’. I suppose that’s quite nice in a way though. I’m not sure, it’s quite a difficult thing to fathom at all, this reliance on comparison, but it is what it is!

HST: ‘Eureka’ is a spiralling patchwork quilt of dissatisfaction. How did the song come together?

Musically, it started with the bass riff and guitar chords, a simple idea which developed over a month or two into the whole song. The same kind of thing happened with the lyrics. They were pretty much written in the order they come in the song – first the simple idea of not hiding who you are, then branching out to all the elements that connected with that idea, then the idea gradually formed of making an analogy with a book I’d read, which grew into more lyrics, then it all kind of collapses on itself and gets too much, and then, I hope, there’s a glimmer of hope at the end. It was a pretty long but natural process.

HST: I feel that the song showcases a sense of vulnerability. It saddens me that many artists are lyrically transparent and vague, often burying emotion. How important is it for you to be lyrically specific, to address personal issues in a matter of fact way?

I agree with you to an extent. I think that because of the subject matter, the song had to be direct, otherwise it would have been defeating its own purpose. However, I also hope that it’s not entirely transparent, and is worthy of relistening and unpicking. I think that too often honesty and simplicity are thought of as interchangeable, and some artists may eschew thinking about making a lyric poetic or eloquent in favour of putting something bluntly, thinking that it somehow makes the song more truthful. In that respect I think, lyrically, Joanna Newsom is one of my favourite artists. But as you say, it is possible to go too far the other way, and make something potentially moving completely impenetrable. Pavement were very good at making moving nonsense, though. I think it’s a tricky balance.

HST: There appears to be a greater emphasis in creating a musical composition on the Eureka EP as opposed to a throwaway forgettable song. Does that limit you when trying to get you music out to a wider audience, or is this something which doesn’t matter to the band?

It kind of doesn’t matter, but even if it did, I don’t think I could write songs any other way! I just tend to make music and it comes out like this, and it’s not until someone else listens to them or we get a review that I even think about how other people might think of the songs. That said, audiences who don’t know us tend to be pretty open-minded and accommodating, unless they’re just being polite, which is a possibility.

HST: Though the last question doesn’t acknowledge that ‘Salmon’ is probably my favourite track of yours, taken from the The Shame of Life EP; it is short and jerky, recalling the much maligned afrobeat revisited phase of indie rock that came along about five years ago. Were you influenced by Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’?

I’m going to have to admit ignorance on this question – I’m not even sure I’ve heard Graceland all the way through. I think I’ve been avoiding it since one of my lecturers talked about it and implanted the colonialist connotations of the album in my subconscious. If there are influences from African music, they probably came at least partly from listening directly to African music. When I wrote Salmon I was listening to a lot of field recordings from various African traditions and reading some books on the subject, so it probably seeped through to the music I was making a little. And thinking about it, a lot of field recordings are probably ethically worse than Paul Simon, so I guess that makes my subconscious an awful hypocrite.

HST: I was reminded of The Mark Steel Lectures by ‘Byron’, and the infamous anecdote that is told about Byron leaving a poem on Viscount Castlereagh’s gravestone that read “Posterity will ne’er survey / A nobler grave than this: / Here lie the bones of Castlereagh: / Stop, traveller, and piss”. Are you at all enamoured by the clubfooted wordsmith?

Again, I know almost nothing about Lord Byron, I’m sorry to say. I did enjoy that anecdote though, thank you. The song Byron is actually about a different Byron, and death, and the many-worlds interpretation, not that I understand any of those things particularly well either.

HST: You were recently featured on a BBC Introducing radio show. The beeb gets a lot of stick, however radio wise it has a solid reputation for promoting new music. Be it through the legacy of John Peel, to stations like 6 Music and various numerous regional showcases. How has appearing on the show helped Etao Shin?

It was really useful to hear what some people in the industry had to say about the band, and it was good to get a clip of our music heard by quite a large audience. In a way the panel told us what we already knew – mainstream success would be highly unlikely and we’re the kind of band that would gradually build up a following through hard work and not much help from the industry – but it was also an acknowledgement that we have something worth sticking with, so it was heartening in that way. Whether it led anyone to listen to us, I’m not sure yet.

HST: What are you currently listening to? Personally speaking, I’m keen on a Danish band called We Were Born Canaries, and for my sins Drake’s ‘Take Care’.

I’ve been listening to Joni Mitchell quite a lot. Chris Schlarb has a really magical album called ‘Twilight and Ghost Stories’ which I’ve got back into recently, which is a long recording of rain with various contributions from loads of different musicians. Also ‘A Swedish Love Story’ by Owen Pallett and ‘W H O K I L L’ by Tune-Yards, mostly because they’re on my phone’s mp3 player thing and I haven’t changed it for ages. Oh also the ‘Tribute to Azumanga Daioh’ by Oranges & Lemons because Azumanga Daioh is one of the best things ever. I’ve just started listening to We Were Born Canaries now – thanks for the tip!


If you are interested in answering HST’s 13 Questions then hurry up and email us at: aprilmaymarch777@yahoo.co.uk

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