Four years after organizing the massive Black Rabbit Festival, Splitworks is back in the outdoor festival game. Echo Park may have a new name and a new look, but it boasts the same beloved and varied lineup that the promoters supply every year with the JUE Festival. Over four stages, some of the country's best acts will share stages with international stalwarts in genres from R&B (Kelis), hip hop (Black Star – the former Mos Def and Talib Kweli), punk (Pennywise), K-pop (Jay Park) and more.
One of the big headliners is Gerard Way. Before he makes his Mainland China debut, we chat with the former My Chemical Romance singer about going solo, his guitar heavy debut disc and his love of comics. Stay tuned this week for more Echo Park coverage and check out some of the acts here.
Congratulations on coming to Shanghai for Echo Park Music Festival. Will this be your first time coming to Mainland China?
I have only been to Hong Kong, many years ago with MCR, and I imagine going to Shanghai is a totally different experience – one that I look forward to. It is a big honor to be invited to play Mainland China.
Congratulations on Hesitant Alien. It’s a great record and it’s been a while since I heard such a guitar-centric album. Was it an easy album to write and record? Did you have a big concept or ideas on how you wanted it to sound when approaching the record?
The biggest concept of the record was the sound itself, and the celebration of the guitar. It was an easy record to write and perform, though there were other challenges I faced, having just left MCR and not getting a release date for quite some time. I wasn’t sure if people realized I really was making a fuzz rock record. It took a while to convince some people that it is what I felt in my heart, and the art I wanted to make.
Musically, there’s quiet a big Brit-pop influence from glam to shoegaze. Did you intentionally try to tap into that or was that just more the type of music you were naturally writing?
It was a mix of both – I was definitely tapping into all of those influences, but it also happened to be the music coming out of me at that stage of my life.
Now that it’s out, have you been happy with the reception? Have you been thinking about its follow-up?
I have been so tremendously happy with the reception, from debuting number one on the Alternative chart, to the live response. Worldwide, it was able to connect with people and bring them together to enjoy it.
Image wise, it’s a very different look from your past. Did you have any visual inspirations for the record, the show and the music videos?
David Bowie and Iggy Pop have always been pretty big influences for me visually. This time, with this album and concept, I thought a “clean but not completely clean” look would be a nice contrast to the fuzzy sound of the album, to the aggressiveness of it.
Stepping into a solo career can be a difficult transition. Was it easy to write songs for ‘Gerard Way’ and did you have any thoughts of releasing records under a pseudonym a la Nine Inch Nails?
My first instinct was to start another band instead of just going by my name. In that version, I played guitar as well as sang and it was fun for a bit, but then I realized it wasn’t much fun being trapped behind an instrument. I move too much, I have too much energy trying to get out of me, and at times it made playing some of the songs difficult. I also wasn’t really in a band situation, as it was very much a solo thing. But there are always other projects I want to start and I can see myself going under different names or new bands, possibly playing guitar.
Speaking of My Chemical Romance, it established a really strong legacy. As a band was it hard to break away from the reputation you developed over such a strong discography? How are the other guys doing?
I think the other guys are doing just fine. We are in contact when we can be. To me it wasn’t hard to break away from the reputation as I sought to actually preserve its reputation and legacy.
You’re also a gifted comic artist. Are there any projects that you’re working on that you’re excited by? What do you think of the Marvel-ization of film and TV?
I love how super hero films, especially the Marvel ones, have almost become serialized like the comics themselves. They feel like episodes, which, to me, is what a comic film should be. There are many projects I would like to work on – I am currently writing Issue 3 of 7 of the new Umbrella Academy Series: The Hotel Oblivion, as well as cooking up something completely new that is a departure for me from my previous work.
Is there anything that you would like to add?
Just that this whole experience is a gift. I really value it now more than I ever did before. I don’t take it for granted. I want to be making art until I die.
// Sep 19-20, 11am-11pm, RMB200-260 (one day), RMB300-400 (two-day pass). Shanghai Rugby Football Club, tickets.