I’ve known the Frank brothers for a few years now, since Simon helped booked my first Beijing show at D-22 (when he was only 16? or 18? God I feel old…), but besides from being kindred spirits on Asian food and all food in general, we also share the same kind of displacement in our upbringing and world view, which is perhaps why I am attracted to them as human beings and also the sounds they make. They have seen much of the world at such a young age yet they digested all that information so well and pursue their craft with sincere engagement that is almost rare amongst today’s standards, given we are all ADD cases in some ways or another.
Aesthetics alone does not give you grit, I’ve said this many times. Living life and accumulating experience is what gives birth to grit. And like the rest of us from this generation we are obsessed with authenticity, simply because we are surrounded by a disposable culture, in fear that WE might somehow become disposable ourselves at some point or another. But when something is real, you can usually feel it, whether its from a emotional point of view or a cerebral exercise test scan. Whatever motives that drive a band is not of my concern or of interest. What I want to hear is a band that makes me fucking DRIVE.
Alas, I’ve done and read a lot of interviews in the past year but I feel like they always miss out on the key points in the make up of a band: Does your background directly correlates to and influence what equipment you can obtain and utilize (or choose, if you’re financially more viable), what it means to us as musicians in this day and age and how to utilize technology cheaply and efficiently. Although they are brief questions, this is usually what I want to know the most about a band. I want to know who they are as real people, where they grew up and where they lived, and what kind of equipment they use. You can know A LOT about a band in these 2 questions. Kinda like speed dating. Are you religious? Do you smoke? Lets get on with this before I side track even more…
1) Please tell us where you were born, and where you have lived up to this point.
Simon: Josh was born in Montreal, and I was born in Ottawa a few years later. After only a year our family moved to Manila. In 1994 we went to Beijing for the first time, and by 1997 we moved on to Hong Kong.
In 2000 we went back to Ottawa for a few years, which was an alright place to be a kid, but a strange experience. Then we left again for India. Josh graduated high school, so in 2006 he moved to Montreal to go to university, but my parents and I moved back to Beijing. By 2009, I moved to Toronto to go to university, but we kept on visiting our parents in Beijing. This summer, my parents left for India again, so home is a loose concept right now.
Josh: Home really is an elastic concept at this moment. Simon and I certainly can’t imagine living in the cities we were born. Beijing was very much a home to us—it was where our family was and it was the place where the two of us could spend time together and play music. Our family apartment there has already been rented to someone else and there’s virtually no way our parents could return to live in China with their current jobs. We can never recreate that much-cherished environment, but we will move on to even better things. I’m sure we’ll be back in Beijing at some point in the future. It’s nice to have a little break from the pollution, too.
2) Can you tell us your equipment set up?
Simon: I play an old Yamaha keyboard that my parents got for free with Visa-card rewards around the time I was six. The synth and organ sounds are alright, and I run it through a few pedals, most importantly distortion, delay, and a phaser. The phaser is an Electro-harmonix pedal called the Flanger Hoax. It took me a year of fiddling with it to figure how to make sounds other than the most obvious modulation. I don’t use it on every song, but when I do it lets my cheap keyboard sound like some combination of an analog synth/oscillator/wah-wahed to hell guitar.
Most recently we’ve been using rhythm tracks from the presets of this old Yamaha drum pad Josh got in Montreal a few years ago. Recently I bought an early programmable drum machine but we haven’t had a chance to use it yet. In using this old gear, we’re not trying to grab a bygone sound, I just feel that older drum machines are actually simpler to use and limit you in a way you need to creatively overcome. We used a lot of loops when we were playing more drone based songs, but it’s something we’ve moved away from.
Josh: Until this year, I still played the bass that my parents gave me for my 16th birthday when we were living in Delhi. It was a Fender knock-off that said “JAVA” on the headstock, and the only working control on the bass was volume. Actually it was a pretty decent instrument. My bass lines tend to more melodic or driving than the average rock band bass sound, and the fact that my instrument didn’t have much low-end meant that with a chain of effects pedal, I could make it sound like a really punchy low guitar. I used to use a lot of effects, but the most recent Hot & Cold sound is mostly clean bass, sometimes with a bit of distortion and even more rarely with delay.
I recently started using a Japanese bass from the late 1970s. It’s also a Fender imitation, but is so well-made that instruments produced in the factory it’s from are thought to sound and feel better than Fenders of the same era. I’m not super into collecting gear, but I really love that bass. Maybe an eccentric Japanese dude used it in 1978 for a weird studio album that never saw the light of day.
3) Has the music creating process been difficult since you live in different cities?
Simon: Hot & Cold songs come from the two of us being the same room. So being in different cities is hard. One good thing is that when we meet up, there’s a release of pent-up creativity. We both play music solo, but we’re still going have some ideas of bass parts, keyboard lines, snippets of lyrics, and rhythms that we’ve been saving up. Usually when we meet up we can come up with three songs after a day of rehearsing. Of course, maybe only one of those songs will have an idea that we can turn into an actually good song! It adds a sense of urgency: when we’re together we gotta work hard. We just did a song through sending files online, which was fun—I think sounds good, but it’s not the same.
Josh: It’s good to have a brother with whom you’ve done creative projects your whole life. We are each other’s main collaborators. When we get into a room to play music after time apart, everything usually just comes together. I’ll give you an example. We played two shows in Montreal this fall as part of a showcase for a Canadian music blog we really love, Weird Canada. Simon and I met up in Montreal the day of the show. The last time we had seen each other was a month prior in Beijing. We didn’t have time to meet early in Montreal to rehearse, so we just practiced separately in Toronto and New York. When we started to play our set, everything clicked. The entire performance, we could only laugh at how well we connected musically despite the absurd situation. That being said, we’d much rather write songs together in person and practice before our shows!
He also scores films, and is currently working on original scores for an Italian Horror film and a documentary about democracy in Taiwan. Some of his past OST can be found here: http://dirtybeaches.bandcamp.com/.