Once again, I found myself in a situation a short time ago where I was asked if I’d like to interview a band I knew absolutely nothing about. When I was informed that Chthonic’s bassist Doris Yeh would be doing interviews for one day only in New York, I quickly hit YouTube, Spotify, you name it. Well, after two songs, and some reading, I knew I had to talk to this person. She was an absolute delight, with an infectious laugh, and a deep knowledge of her home country Taiwan’s history. We touched on that, grueling music video shoots, baseball, and her band’s unique sound. Take a look:
Amps: You’re in NY to promote the AAIFF Asian American International Film Festival for “Supreme Pain for the Tyrant Video”. How long are you here for?
Doris: I arrived the day before yesterday, and I leave tonight. It’s a lot of flying, but it’s ok. I will sleep a lot. I can sleep for twelve hours and not leave my seat.
Doris: We enjoy it a lot. And we enjoy the pain that they give us (laughs)! In a video we do a lot of martial arts and we do two months training for the martial arts, and we’ve got so many bruises, but the outcome is worth it. Every time we start training the band members start screaming, especially during the most difficult part, stretching. We do a lot of difficult kicks and hitting and sweating a lot. It’s four hours a day, twice a week for two months. So, when we’re ready to shoot the video, the choreographer will ask us to do the new moves, and we’re better at it now, not professionals, so it still gives us some pain. But we really enjoy the videos.
Amps: Do you continue to study martial arts or only when it’s time for a video?
Doris: We just do it for the videos. We were talking about it after the last video, because it was so fun. It’s a good sport, but then we thought about all that stretching and it didn’t happen (laughing).The videos are enough.
Amps: I have to confess I am new to your band, so I am still learning. I listened to a bit on Spotify, then I went and bought EVERYTHING from iTunes. So, converted fan, here.
Doris: Oh, that’s good! That’s good news for us.
Amps: I also notice that I can’t listen to just one album. I always have to go through two, sometimes three in one sitting. It’s like I’m unable to stop at one!
Doris: Wow! Ok, thank you, that’s a compliment.
Amps: Oh, you’re welcome. I found myself going online and wanting to learn more about the stories behind these albums, too. Do you find that other fans examine history as a result?
Doris: Yes, actually. All our albums are connected to a story and our history. There’s a male character connected through all the albums named Tsing-guan and he went to Hell to try to steal the Book of Life and Death during the 228 Massacre which happened in Taiwan 60 years ago and he wanted to steal that book from the Ghost King and try to change the history of Taiwan, but in the end he failed. In the new album, Bu-Tik, Tsing-guan, because he failed, he was trapped in front of the Mirror of Retribution and he has to watch all of history until the universe goes to the end, so he suffered a lot.
So in this new album there are a lot of violent things that happened during the past 200 years in Taiwan. That’s the thing that Tsing-guan saw in front of the Mirror of Retribution, so the songs on Bu-Tik are each a violent story, violent things that he had to watch. It’s interesting that we didn’t do that in the beginning. We have a story, and then we extend it for the next album, and then it will become a big story. I think through doing it this way audiences can discover the different songs through our music, and not only enjoy the music but enjoy the story behind it. They can do their research, go on Wikipedia and say, “Oh, that’s the story that Chthonic talk about on their albums, or on this song, or that song”. It’s interesting, some fans have told us it’s fun for them to read and learn the history of Taiwan.
Amps: “Defenders of Bu-Tik Palace” is hands down my favorite song. It’s aggressive, it’s got a killer melody, and I just love it! Do you have a favorite track on the record? If you had to pick one…
Doris: Hmmm…I love many, but I think ”Next Republic”. That’s the first song that Spinefarm Records put on the internet for fans to stream and at the beginning there’s a voice from an old man. He’s now 92 years old. He’s been through World War II, the 228 Massacre, the battle between the KMT Government Army and the Japanese in the South Pacific War. He’s been through a lot. But he’s now very positive and active in acquiring Taiwan’s independence. We recorded his voice, and he is encouraging the Taiwanese people to fight for our own freedom. And the chorus is very melodic. That’s a song that I really love. And of course, “Defenders of Bu-Tik Palace” because in the last parts we have a Taiwanese opera singer chant, and she was so powerful, so incredible. I was like, “Wow!” And that makes the song so different.
Amps: Tell me about the use of the Erhu.
Doris: Yes, that’s the Chinese pronunciation. In Taiwanese it’s called “Hena, H-e-n-a”. Actually we used that instrument when we released our first album 15 years ago because we were trying to find a sound that could express the melancholic feelings. There’s no modern instrument that can convey that kind of sound, so our vocalist Freddy (Lim) learned how to play it, and we used it for the rest of our albums since then.
Amps: Any plans to do another cover like “Painkiller”?
Doris: (Laughing) yeah, you know the reason why we did that was we just felt like we wanted to cover a song, like a tribute to our favorite band. Of course there are a lot of bands we love. “Painkiller” is one of the songs all the members agreed to do. I think in the future yes, maybe we will cover some other songs. Our singer Freddy has a side project with Marty Friedman who lives in Japan now, and they covered a song from a very famous girl group, like the Spice Girls, and they made the song into a heavy metal song, so that’s interesting. That’s our kind of cover song.
Amps: Tell me about throwing out the first pitch at the Brother Elephants game, and playing your KILLER version of “We Are the Champions”!!
Doris: (Laughing) oh, you saw that?? Actually, I feel a little bit embarrassed because that is the biggest Taiwanese baseball team. They invited us to do the opening and we wanted to throw the ball to the catcher, and we also wanted to play the song. “We Are the Champions” is a very well-known song, so we decided to make a heavy metal version, and we put a little bit of Oriental elements in it, so it was fun. We never played in front of baseball fans, and the most important thing is that they won, so I guess we’re lucky for them (laughs).
Amps: You have plans to tour the States, I hope.
Doris: Yes, we will. We are arranging to tour the U.S. next year after we tour Europe and Southeast Asia this year.
Amps: Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans?
Doris: I don’t know where to start. First, thank you, thank you so much. I hope that one day we can play in your cities, and please enjoy our music, and our videos. I hope that we give you something new to think about. With combining modern dance, martial arts and heavy metal I hope Chthonic brings something really new to you. You’re gonna love it, so please enjoy it.
Amps: Doris, I’m so glad you took some time to speak with me. I’m so glad I found your music, and I can’t wait to see you here in the U. S. Have a safe trip home.
Doris: Thank you so much. I will, bye bye.
All I can say is that was a pretty insightful conversation I had with Doris Yeh. I highly recommend Chthonic’s music, and also, check into the stories behind the songs. It’s fascinating stuff, believe me.