Even the most adept of music journalists can be prone to pigeonholing bands into arbitrary genres. Beijing rock outfit The Peppercorns describe their music as ‘art rock,’ a somewhat alternative and experimental rock sub-category.
However, as with many artists who push musical boundaries, sticking an arbitrary label onto The Peppercorns doesn’t do their music justice.
Their work is a unique blend of ominous and carefully crafted sounds; consider it the musical equivalent of a classical sculpture. This is thanks in no small part to Fei Xiang’s contribution on the electric guitar and the Theremin.
Formed in Beijing in early 2016 by Xue Feng, Zhongyang, Quxuan Weng and Shu’er Yan, they are described in their introduction as “the only art rock band in China.” Lead singer Xue Feng explained that this was a very deliberate marketing maneuver by the distributor, but that the band believes it’s not that far from the truth.
In 2020, The Peppercorns released their first album, The Whirring Collection, a 1970s art rock-inspired collection of tracks. Since then, they haven’t stopped pushing the boundaries of art rock.
Music Dish caught up with the band prior to their upcoming Beijing show on May 22.
Would you briefly introduce yourselves?
We were officially formed in Beijing in early 2016. We didn’t think much at that time, just wanted others to listen to the songs that we had written before. When the idea of our first album The Whirring Collection came up, we started to get much clearer with our goals.
Are there any specific opportunities or common goals that bring you guys together and inspire your music?
I think one of our goals is to explore life and the world through imaginative music. Over the years, we had many different members come and go, but our common goal had never changed, which is keeping our imagination alive.
What made you all decide to focus on ’70s art rock? Is there any story behind it?
Actually, each one of us has a different music taste, but ’60s and ’70s rock music are what we all have a common passion for.
In terms of art rock, you have said “In the future, we will probably not do the same thing” and will focus on “exploring art music in China today.” What new ideas are there in terms of integrating Chinese music and art?
We most likely will not use the themes and techniques that we used for our debut album ever again because to me, repetition is boring. Regarding our new exploration, on the one hand, I feel like the predecessors have developed all kinds of possibilities, while on the other hand, everything is still possible. In fact, concrete implementation still needs practice and we’re just getting started.
Xuefeng (lead singer) gave up a full-time job to pursue a career in music and created an independent studio. Did you gain any new insights along the way?
It’s just an ordinary story about giving up a steady income to pursue your own creative ideas. I think it is pretty similar to many self-employed small business people in many ways.
What do you all like to do outside of music?
Maybe reading and watching movies. I started skiing last winter and now I know how to turn. I also like to grow plants (I am a green leaf lover).
Your album The Whirring Collection uses structural design to create a complete concept in five songs connected end to end. Where did this idea come from?
First, it was definitely influenced by many of the art rock albums from the ’70s. I always wanted to make an album like this. The concrete concept of this album was formed in the summer of 2016. At that time, we decided to make ‘love apart’ as the theme, to make a coherent album with a certain sense of flow.
You have all lamented that perhaps flaws are the essence of all life. What flaws have you encountered along the way? Perhaps the production of vinyl?
The vinyl industry in China is definitely not as developed as in Europe or the US, and we have been learning along the way. For example, cover printing actually involves a special process, otherwise, they will be unglued and have bulges. We found a very good printing company in Beijing. The printing quality is tremendous but unfortunately, they were all unglued at the end. It was such a waste.
Beijing is one of the greatest places for independent music. How do you think doing independent music in Beijing has influenced your work?
I’ve been thinking about it lately. In terms of the style of Indie music, in the south of China, things are really different from the north. Music from the south is more relaxed and soft, while music from the north is louder and a bit more fired-up. Our music also has some Beijing characteristics. In my opinion, no one should be able to create anything without their cultural background. Everything should be closely related to their geographical location.
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This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
[All images via Music Dish]