Originally posted on Genjing Records
In anticipation of the release of our newest and ever expanding cavalcade of full length 12” records, in this case, A Million Farewells, by Tom Cruise And Katie Holmes, we sat down (at our respective computers) and had a little conversation with the ever affable Xiao Zhong regarding his band’s new indie centric, quasi-shoegazey album, the status of the outfit in general and filming videos of one’s cat frollicking about a maternal backyard. The results are, we’d like to think, as highly readable as the album itself is listenable, but that would probably be stretching it a little. Actually, that’d be total bullshit. A Million Farewells is a true indie rock classic, in our books, at least, and one you should be on the lookout for on November 13th, but until then, we’ll let Xiao Zhong wet your musical appetite a bit in the form of the below Q&A session. Enjoy!
Tom Cruise And Katie Holmes is quite a band name. What was the rationale for taking on such a handle?
I think I was at a point in China where I wanted to bring in something that was a bit more common in the Western music underground than it was in China with band names. Like Lindsey Lowhands, Jello Biafra, Bare Grillz. But I am not clever to figure out those kinds of puns, so just I translated a whole bunch of celebrity names into Chinese and sent them to Sharon to pick. She kind of ran with the idea that I’m Tom and she is Katie.
Tell us a little about the origins of the band? You guys went from a duo to a more traditional four piece, right?
Yeah, originally it started with a bunch of nice songs I had written that didn’t fit in Pairs or Hu Jia Hu Wei and as everyone can attest, my voice is awful. So I thought it would be nice to have something with listenable vocals for once, you know, something that makes Mumma proud. At that time, Cee-Q was posting clips of her singing on Weibo and looking for a band, so I reached out and sent her some recordings and the next morning she had already recorded vocals to them and sent them back.
Our first live show was a bit hard because we were used to being really loud. Pushing audience conversation to beer gardens and band rooms. But as this was just guitar and vocals, people decided to have their cake and eat it too and watch a band and bitch about people from HR at the same time.
I remember hearing the idiotic conversations during songs and tried to drown them out with noise at the end, but nothing could stop them. Side note: that’s when the Pairs song, Blue Dress, was written.
Once Dan moved to Shanghai and he and Cee-Q became friends, she kept pushing to get him in the band and after the first practice, only an idiot would turn away a drummer like that. Then we got Sam in purely for sex appeal and went back to forcing people to the beer garden.
Is there a principle songwriter in TCAKH? If not, how does a typical TCAKH tune come into being?
At the start, I’d bring in the main bit of the song to Cee-Q and we’d change it as needed. But as we became a four piece, it was more just getting Dan to play a beat and then going from that. Usually simple chord stuff that was fun to play on stage. I think Bird is Flying was written around a Big Muff that I’d just bought. Cee-Q writes all the lyrics, that’s her world. Originally the ideas was to be in all Chinese but I guess she finds it easier to write in English.
When and where did you record A Million Farewells and how long did the sessions last?
We recorded at 72 Studios with Ryan Baird. A really great studio. I’m not sure what happened to it as Ryan might be in America. I’m sure it’s still kicking. We just booked out a day and recorded all the songs then and there.
It was a pretty fun day. We ate pizza and Sam and I made up a prison stabbing game. I got to fuck around with my loop pedal and I think Cee-Q was drinking a whole bunch of whisky. But she seemed a bit down that day, I think because it was one of my last weeks in China before I moved back to Australia, so there was a sense of ‘fuck, we’re making some fun stuff and it’s all going to end thanks to a Cathay Pacific flight in three weeks.’
Tell us a little about the cover art for the album. It’s quite a striking image…
That’s by Bette Brain. An old friend of mine from way back, we used to drink at the Welcome Stranger where she earned the nickname ‘The Mouldy Slink’ which didn’t stick for as long as I’d wished. She creates some amazing pieces and last time I spoke to her she was putting up this huge installation on the side of a building. She’s just naturally creative, so I asked her to send me some of her artwork and she sent heaps of stuff and then the band picked one they liked. I dig her use of colour and lines, although that one wasn’t the one I was hoping for. Bette sent this amazing blue and purple collage but the other guys didn’t like it because it said Orlando somewhere in the background. But for your artwork needs, hit up Bette Brain.
Have you ever made any TCLKH music videos?
Yeah, at this stage we have one I made featuring my Mum’s cat and a backyard in regional Victoria, Australia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOrrMe0N8Ns
Alessio Avenzzano has made a new one for Bird is Flying so hopefully that will come out real soon. There is someone in a hat pretending to be me and sadly, playing guitar probably better than I can.
Have you released any albums other than A Million Farewells? If so, how were they released?
The first one was just CD in an envelope. All hand written and tied with string. Some had candle wax seal but that’s way harder to do than Game of Thrones makes it look. I kept burning my finger on the wax. It was a bit of a nightmare but fun to just sit around my living room with Cee-Q, talking shit and sealing envelopes that no-one probably gave a shit about.
When TCAKH was active, what did your typical live set-up look like (pedals, amps, whatever)? Feel free to get geeky, if you like.
Dan has some sort or pad and a compressor pedal (I think) that he used to put his snare through. I had an EQ pedal, Hot Cake, Big Muff, Boss Loop pedal, DD3 delay. Sam just has a bass that he bought on Taobao that the strap keeps falling off of.
I know the band are spread about the globe (physically) at this point. Any plans for a tour in the near or even distant future?
Not from my end. I think time wise it would be pretty hard to line everyone up. I’m not sure it can be done and I am not sure if it would be all that great. I can barely remember the songs and I think it had it’s time and place but it’s over – which sucks when you have awesome people like Genjing putting a lot of hard earned money and time into releasing the vinyl for a band who isn’t going to tour. Although, never say never.
Favorite venue to play here in the PRC, past or present, and why?
We always did pretty well at Mao Livehouse for some reason. I think that’s because in my last year in Shanghai I made good friends with Yan and she looked after us really well. The crowds there were mostly Chinese as well which was a big part of wanting to start that band. We wanted to keep out of the foreign wank stain, which is going to be hard when I am a foreign wank stain and only ¼ of the band is Chinese.
Personally, you can’t go past Old What in Beijing. Always had really fun times there. XP was good for all the good heads you would see. 696 in Shanghai was also a fun place to play, mainly because Xiao Bai made it sound really loud on stage so you felt powerful as fuck, even just playing a D chord.
What is the strangest thing that ever happened at a TCAKH gig?
Not sure about strangest, but the saddest was when I threw my spine out during a song and had to go to a chiro who was this ex-rugby chiro who twisted me into a ball and said ‘no shows for two weeks’. Couldn’t walk properly, couldn’t move. It was me jumping with one foot in the grave.
Any particular cities you dig playing in?
Tom and Katie never toured that much. We only really did Beijing and Shanghai. Maybe some other small towns that I’m missing, but we found our groove as things were winding down for me in China. When Tom and Katie was getting/doing good shows, it was around the same time Pairs was doing it’s final run of shows, so it was kind of an odd time. I’d have to say Shanghai, as that’s where we started and ended.
Did TCAKH have any pre-show rituals you’d like to share with us?
I pretend to stab Sam. Cee-Q is takes a million selfies. Dan is on WeChat or talking about the Illuminati and Sam is bleeding out out on the floor or showing one of his siblings around. He has this revolving door or siblings who tag team visit him that he is always hanging out with.
Strangest gift a fan has ever given you?
Yan from Mao Livehouse once printed out every Weibo post I had ever made and got them made into three books. Such a weird gift but so nice. I mean every post, even shitty reposts. It’s pretty sweet and I don’t use Weibo now, so it’s a weird kinda memory lane trip to look at some of that stuff.
If you could work with any living artist, who would it be?
Shogun from Royal Headache. Listen to that man sing. Read his interviews. Watch him on stage and tell me you wouldn’t want to do something, anything creative with that guy.
What was the last thing (musically) you listened to and in what format?
I don’t listen to music much anymore. I am way more into podcasts, although I only just discovered Spotify and listen to that at work sometimes. Right now, the record in my record player is Total Control ‘Typical System’. I was watching a bunch of old nu-metal clips on Youtube the other day. That’s a rabbit hole no-one should go down.
What are your thoughts on digital music (streaming platforms, iTunes, etc.)?
Fuck yeah, go for it. Don’t fight the moonlight. It’s like Australia not having marriage equality, it’s 2015. It’s going to happen, that’s what the world wants. Don’t be the dick that stands in the way of history.
Any particular band/artists (Chinese or western) you’re currently working your stereo out with?
I still pump Alpine Decline a heap as well as PK14.
Any particular bands/artists you seriously despise?
Grinspoon. Once I told a girl that I didn’t like them and she kicked me in the balls so hard I couldn’t get on the bus to go home. Mum had to come pick me up. So, fuck you Grinspoon.
You were a Shanghai hand for quite some time – how do you feel the scene is developing in China’s “financial capital”?
Echo Park may have kicked some stuff off recently. Total props to Archie, Nathaniel and the Split Works gang for getting anything up off the ground in Shanghai this year. However, it seems since around the time I left, shit came to a grinding halt. This is just from what my friends tell me. Beijing is experiencing the same thing, I think. Venues closing, festivals dying down. Shit seems uncertain and there seems to be a lack of pushing from the underground for fair enough reasons. But in saying that, I’m being quite cyclical, obviously. A rollercoaster of creativity – it’s like the musicians follow the stock market. There’s a huge drop and someone picks up the pieces and up it goes again and all is well until it drops. I’m not saying me leaving had anything to do with it, for sure.
What problems do you feel the Chinese independent music scene is facing at the moment? Any potential solutions?
As far as solutions, I don’t think greater China really wants a live music culture. It probably doesn’t help them day to day. That need to express yourself by noise and in front of friends and strangers is a weird one. It’s great but it’s not for everyone, although if everyone expressed themselves creatively, there’d probably be less fist fights in KTV houses.
But, venue closure is a hard one. It takes so much money to get that off the ground and the powers that be can tear it down at any second and eventually you go, fuck it, I’ve got a partner, I need to look out for and my friend’s Dads who knows someone who is hiring. Fuck it, I’ll be an accountant. Potential solutions would be have a an extracurricular project. Whether that’s a zine, podcast, blog, band, solo music, drone gang, video channel. As long as you have a project, you’ll find yourself taking bigger steps, getting more involved with the people around you and push the scene further.
If you could design and swing literally any merch item, what would it be?
Didn’t Kings of Leon have condoms? That’s cool. Umbrellas are handy. Can’t go wrong with shirts though.
I once heard that you were offered a record deal (here in China) back when Pairs was still an active unit and you’d be willing to ink the deal if the label flew you to Chicago to record with Steve Albini? I think I remember some other fairly interesting demands as well. Any truth to that story?
It’s true, I think. My memory isn’t incredibly that sharp at the moment. But, I think I was pissed because I offered that label something and it took them ages to get back to me and I was pissed that it had to go through a bunch of yes men, when if I had of moved myself, it would have already been done in that time. So when they said they were interested, I wanted to make sure that it was worthwhile because I didn’t particularly need their network. We already had a lot of friends doing great stuff and an email account. There’s no proper distro in China really, so they couldn’t really help there. The way I saw it is if we signed with them, it would be a round table of yes men looking to their boss and actually not doing stuff. So fuck it, send me to hang out with Albini and we can do something. But in the end,nothing came from it, which was perfectly fine with me.
Tell us about your current band/project, Pale Heads?
It’s on a 5 month break while our singer enjoys newfound fatherhood. But it’s fun. Four songwriters in a band making noise and just enjoying each other. I’ve been a fan of The Nation Blue, The Drones and Batpiss for ages so it’s pretty incredible to be in a band with those idiots. Plus, touring is heaps of fun as we get along really well and they encourage me to juggle. I think next year we’ll do a few more shows. Fingers crossed for a China tour.
Lastly, what do you miss about China most now that you’re back in Oz?
Having a heap of disposable income. Not having to worry about petrol prices, health insurance, taxes, and expensive food. But I don’t miss the pollution, the crowds, the push and shove, etc. So, it all evens out.
Grab your copy of Tom & Katie’s “A Million Farewells” today!