Zoo Music artist Dirty Beaches–the working name for Alex Zhang Hungtai–burst onto the scene in 2011 with his critically-acclaimed album Badlands. Prior to its release, Dirty Beaches perfected his haunting, lo-fi blend of rockabilly, new wave, and avant-garde experimentalism on a series of limited edition CD-Rs, cassettes, and mp3 downloads. His music can also be listened to at dirtybeaches.bandcamp.com.
Dirty Beaches latest effort is Drifters / Love is the Devil, which was released on May 21st. The two-LP set, also available on a single CD through Zoo Music, has earned rave reviews from the likes of Vice, Filter, Spin,Pitchfork, and The Fiddleback. The first half of the album features tracks with vocals, while the second half consists of solely instrumental efforts.
Back in May, Alex answered a few questions for us about his new album and his approach to creating music.
The Fiddleback: What are some of the reasons you decided to divide your forthcoming album into two sections?
Alex Zhang Hungtai: They were written around the same, just different perspectives. But part of the main theme on this record was also presenting a duality not only in view point but also as an identity. The same subject can viewed differently depending on the perspective. I find it very limiting when a story is told from a one-sided point-of-view.
The Fiddleback: You have recorded soundtrack music for three different movies over the last few years. How do you think these projects influenced the material on Drifters / Love is the Devil?
AZH: Thematically, not really, but musically, yes. It allowed me to grow as a musician more and experiment with different instrumentions, [such as] composing on synth and computer programs. After all, it’s a life long pursuit of the craft and the mastery of it. To keep growing, it’s essential to explore outside of your comfort zone.
The Fiddleback: You have released several recordings on cassette. What is it that you like about cassettes as a format to distribute your music on?
AZH: In the past I was just happy to distribute my music in any form, whether it was tapes or CDRS, it didn’t matter to me as it was only released by my friends in Montreal. Nowadays I do it if an old friend wants to put it out as I really enjoy working with people that you have an relationship with.
The Fiddleback: Is your recording persona different from your on-stage persona?
AZH: No, not really. Live it’s more about capturing the spirit and energy of the recording. We try our best and work really hard and focus on presenting the material as we see fit. It’s important to us to have fun as well, and at times it leads to live improvisation of our material. It doesn’t always play out like the album. If I went to concerts it’s not of my interest to see a band replicate exactly note for note what they did on the album. I enjoy surprises.
The Fiddleback: What kinds of future projects do you have in mind now that Drifters / Love is the Devil is about to be released?
AZH: I like to focus more on scoring films and work with different directors and learn as much as I can—perhaps starting a new project to explore different themes and genres that I like to explore, which were limiting for dirty beaches. I’d like to pursue scoring films as a day job and go further in that direction. It’s my dream job.
Photos by Anna Zelikova