Interview: Dirty Beaches

Interview and photography: Andrey Bold


Coming seemingly out of nowhere with a music equivalent of Route 66 road trip analog radio transmission, Badlands, Dirty Beaches became a cult favorite virtually overnight. We meet Alex Zhang Hungtai, Bernardino Femminielli and Shub Roy a couple of hours before their first Japanese show organized by Big Love, backstage at Astro Hall. Alex is worried people may expect them to play material from “Badlands.” They won't. Not exactly dance floor friendly, but drum machine beat and recent relocation to Berlin may give you a hint of what's coming next.

Alex Zhang Hungtai

Alex Zhang Hungtai

  • ABWe've been in the remix/remake period for quite some time now, do you see the end of it anytime soon?
  • AHI think the problem we have now is over reference. Everyone has an internet access. Everyone has good taste. I think that's very superficial. Good taste alone doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. I think back in the days you could relate to people based on that, but nowadays you have 16 year olds that have amazing taste in everything—art, culture, music, but what's missing is the content. There's going to be a backlash and everything that's been referenced too much will turn around. Back to the basics.
  • ABWhat's your take on the Japanese music scene?
  • AHWe don't really know that much about the current scene. A lot of people I know like the 70s Japanese psychedelic music.
  • ABFor example.
  • AHHadaka no Rallizes, did I say it right? These kind of bands are really popular with young American kids bored with the North American 70s music.
  • I think it's not based on the places anymore. Everything is happening at the same time and it doesn't really matter where you live. It's not like in the 90s. Seattle. Grunge.
  • ABThe ultimate date tune?
  • AHAnything by Chet Baker. [Smiles]
Alex Zhang Hungtai

Alex Zhang Hungtai

  • ABWhat is our favorite sound?
  • AHI haven’t really thought about that.. trains.
  • ABWhat inspired you most recently?
  • AHHmm... I'm trying to think of some movie, but I don’t really remember. There was this papier-mâché face that we found in our space in Montreal, a really ugly face. One day we were recording and me and Bernardo kicked it out, we threw it out of the building.
  • ABYou killed it.
  • AHYeah. It's just like erasing your own face or something. No face. The faceless ghost. How do you call it? Kaonashi? (A lonely spirirt from Hayao Miyazaki's “Spirited Away”) Yeah, I really like that.
  • ABAmerican Dream, is it all but gone?
  • AHI don’t think it ever existed. I think it's more like an idea that people hold on to.
  • ABWhat about the imagery? Endless landscapes and highways referenced on “Badlands?”
  • AHI think it's still there, just not as glamorous as people picture it in the movies and books. Just a shitty gas station in the middle of fucking nowhere. Rednecks. I remember reading “On the Road” when I was in high school in Hawaii, fantasizing about a road trip from East to West Coast with my friends. I mean the desert in the South West is still beautiful... like Nevada. I’d recommend anyone to drive across the desert in the States. It's really beautiful. Other than that it's not that glamorous, just tiny towns.
  • AB“Two-Lane Blacktop” or “Brown Bunny”?
  • AHOh, that's a very good question. I’d say “Brown Bunny.” Yeah, because “Brown Bunny” is a movie you watch on your own and I like to watch movies by myself. “Two-Lane Blacktop” you’d wanna watch with your friends, it's more like an entertainment road movie to me.
Bernardino Femminielli

Bernardino Femminielli

  • ABI’ve read you’re a fan of Vincent Gallo, have you met him?
  • AHNo. I don’t want to meet him. You shouldn’t meet people you admire, it may ruin it. I prefer to admire them from faraway.
  • ABWho is your favorite artist?
  • AHHmm... I really like Gallo, he does everything.
  • ABWho is your favorite hip-hop artist?
  • AHRZA.
  • ABOne thing you can’t live without?
  • AHFood.
  • ABAny food in particular?
  • AHI'd say either Hawaiian or Taiwanese. Yeah.
  • ABThe longest you've been in the relationship?
  • AH5 years.
  • ABIs it over?
  • AHYes.
  • ABWho of your favorite actors you'd want to be if you choose to be one?
  • AHTony Leung.
  • ABIf you direct a movie it'll be...
  • AHSome kind of detective sci-fi.
Shub Roy

Shub Roy

  • ABAre there any Japanese filmmakers you like?
  • AHYeah, I really like Kiyoshi Kurosawa and there's this really quirky guy... Ishii Sogo, he made a lot of weird movies with Tadanobu Asano.
  • ABAny newcomers?
  • AHI’ve been into Polish movies lately. There's this cinematographer Zbigniew Rybczyński who shot Angst.
  • ABClassic.
  • AHI loved the camerawork and the music was amazing. His style reminded me of Christopher Doyle.
  • ABThe ultimate party tune?
  • AHInspector Norse by Todd Terje. It's very up-beat.
  • ABWhat is your dream band lineup?
  • AHMy band right here. Us three.
  • ABAre you still based in Montreal?
  • AHWe just moved to Berlin two months ago. It's great, a very open city. Germans don’t care if you speak German or not, a sign of how metropolitan it is.
  • ABWhat is your favorite piece of Americana?
  • AHI once found a snake skin belt for like 3 dollars, but it's broken now. That was my favorite. Found in the Midwest, in the middle of nowhere that really cool snake skin.
Alex Zhang Hungtai

Alex Zhang Hungtai

  • ABLA or NY?
  • AHOh, that's a very good question. I actually really like LA.
  • ABDo you drive?
  • AHYeah exactly. [Laughs] You need a car in LA. I think it depends on what stage you’re in. If you have money, you go to NY, but if you don’t have enough LA is definitely cheaper. So, if you're more established—NY, if you just want to take a break from the shitty Montreal weather and drive in the sunshine—LA.
  • ABWhat is your favorite hangout in Tokyo?
  • AHI don’t really have one because I don’t know Tokyo that much. Wherever my friends are. I connect to the cities through the people. I could be in NY or LA and have a horrible time because I'm not with my friends or someone I know. For me the most important thing is to be be surrounded by friends.
  • ABYour dream is...
  • AHTo buy a house for my mom.
  • ABWhere is she now?
  • AHShe lives in Shanghai with my dad.
  • ABIn Shanghai then?
  • AHWherever she wants.

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Interview transcript: Shoko Tanaka