Xie Yugang of OG Chinese post-rock band Wang Wen and renowned Parisian guitarist Serge Teyssot-Gay first met in 2016, when they performed together at a library in Dalian.
Two years later, Xie flew to Paris to record an album built off the musical connection they found that night. The resulting record, A Nano World, is lovely, ominous and otherworldly. The duo are embarking on a China tour to promote the album this month, and we spoke with them before they set off to learn more about what to expect.
When did you first decide that music was going to be an important part of your life?
STG: I was maybe 8 years old. When I was listening to music, all kinds of music, it was mostly classical music at first. For the first time in my life, I was comfortable with the language. I was a bad student (because of dyslexia) and had some awful experiences in my education life. When I was listening to music, I was comfortable. I thought: I have to speak through this language, I have to play music and I have to express myself.
That’s: What was your first instrument?
STG: The guitar is my only instrument. When I was 9 years old, I started with classical guitar and I had a private professor. I saw him one hour a week for six years. When I was 15 years old, I wanted to fight with the world, and I stopped the classical way. My teacher wanted me to go to the university for music and I became very afraid of that. Because it was the same, it was like in school and I hated the school. Music was easy to me and it was something just natural. So I start to find musicians like me. I start to compose at this time when I was 15 years old and never stopped all my life.
Which musicians did you like growing up?
STG: Jimi Hendrix was a kind of revolution - he showed me a new way, a wild and free way. I learned that it's not about how you can compose, but a way you play with energy. Another band I liked was The Who. The guitarist has a kind of violence inside, and in my teens, I loved this violence. I wanted to change the world so much. Although I didn’t know how to do it, I just wanted to try. So I’ve decided to experiment by using a musical language, to have discussions with people and to change since that time.
Do you think music can change the world?
STG: Not really. Music is a philosophical way of thinking and it’s a proposition. After that, people do what they have to do. They think what they have to think, and that’s cool. A friend of mine once said, “we play the music we live with, not the music we sell”. It’s poetic in French, but it doesn’t translate well.
You live very far away from each other – in Paris and Dalian. What are your hometowns like musically?
STG: Paris is a good place to meet different musicians from everywhere in the world and there are a lot of possibilities. One part of my job is to find them. Sometimes it’s just a connection, for example there is Syrian musician called Khaled Aljaramani, and a writer friend of ours said to me one day: I think it would be good if you play with him. These kind of things can easily happen in this city.
XY: In Dalian it’s quite different – you cannot find many musicians there. Although it’s a city with 3 million people, there are very few band and musician. So the only thing you can do is to concentrate on your music, and if you have some ideas, just to finish them.
Luckily, I have a band there [called Wang Wen] and we’ve been playing music together for many years. This is my only band, but sometimes I have other projects with other musicians. If I have an idea and it’s not suitable for the band, I do it by myself, but more and more I wish to work with different people.
Last year, I made a solo album, but I think it’s a little boring, because it’s just something that was in my mind and then I recorded it. That’s all. When I first thought of it, I could already imagine what it would be in the end. However, if you cooperate with other musicians, even just two musicians, there are always some different results.
STG: For me, I always try new things when I work with someone I don’t know. I think the worst result is also a good experience and the best result is the beginning of a story.
How do you decide who to collaborate with?
STG: Just feelings. I never work with someone if I don’t have the right feeling. If these people don’t like our music, it’s not right. It’s very different with the commercial way of the music industry – you can do so many things if you’re not restricted by the industry. It’s full of good days, good communication and life in the cooperation. That’s what I am looking for during these past 15 years.
Yugang, you have many music projects and adventures in Dalian. Since the music scene in Dalian is small, how do you do that?
XY: You have to explore some new ideas, new musicians and new ways. If you’re not interested in new things, I don’t think you should make music. The interesting thing about music is that you can always feel fresh from it. Although Dalian does not have a big music scene, you can invariably find what you need if you wants to explore new sounds.
And the internet is great because you can find anyone in the world. So I don’t think it’s a problem with the city, but with musicians themselves. You either want to do it or not, you want to stay in your own world or a much more open musical world.
Do you have any plans for future albums?
XY: This album has given me a lot of new ideas. Before that I didn’t think too much and I just focused on my own ideas. But now I think the more interesting and more efficient thing is to have more cooperation with other artists.
STG: I also like to work with dancers and painters. It’s really great. Because when you play with the musician, it’s the communication with his language. But when you play with other artists, like a dancer or a painter…
XY: You will get another dimension.
STG: Yes! And it makes me feel my music is different in a way that I can’t imagine by myself. When I work with other art forms, our communication is somewhere else. I can’t tell where, but it’s very creative. I like the accident and the strange mistakes, which seem like an accident, but might be something else actually.
If you look in nature, there are a lot of strange things. And we invariably understand normal things, but in music we don’t care about that. We are always searching for something different, something interesting.
Interview by Linlin.