“The Chinese government: they put us on the black list.” Metal As Fuck interviews Chthonic’s Doris Yeh

Taiwanese bass bombshell Doris Yeh of Chthonic explains the story behind her band’s sixth album, Takasago Army, and confronting their U.S. Tour demons - “We fired our ex-manager afterwards because he’s hiding some kind of secret.”

 

Chthonic, the black metal band from the small island of Taiwan are creating a big fuss. They combine the heaviest of metal with the gentlest of traditional Taiwanese folk music, along with scary make-up seeped in Taiwanese folklore. Chthonic’s is a sight to behold and a sound to behearin’.

Bass player Doris Yeh may be slight in stature but she can play the hell out of that 4-string. Having just released album number six in Takasago Army, she was keen to tell me all about it and playing to “very crazy” Japanese fans.


Metal as Fuck: How’s it going, Doris?

Doris Yeh: I’m at home because there's a typhoon coming to Taiwan and we have no place to go because it’s raining and windy outside. So I stayed at home to do some work, reply to emails and…

MaF: Do interviews…

DY: Yeah, do interviews also! [laughs]

MaF: Could you help me out; how do you officially pronounce the band name?

DY: Actually you can not pronounce ‘CH’ you can just pronounce ‘thonic’. Like t-h-o-n-i-c without the CH at the beginning. We know that some fans will still call us C-hthonic [pronounces the C as in cough] or Ch-thonic [pronounces the Ch as in chase]. It doesn’t matter what people call us now because we are getting used to hearing different pronunciations of our band. We can recognise they are calling our band name.

MaF: It’s all the same thing!

DY: [laughs] Yeah! Thonic, C-hthonic or Ch-thonic, it’s all fine with us.

MaF: That’s good. Are you proud of the new album, Takasago Army?

DY: Yes! You want me to describe the album Takasago Army?

MaF: Sure yeah.

DY: Ok…Taiwanese soldiers fought for the Imperial Japanese army in World War II…Taiwan was occupied by Japan before World War II so we’re like the colony of Japan. They recruited over 200,000 Taiwanese soldiers to fight for this war so Takasago Army is one of the very brave units in the army. Most of them were formed by aboriginal people because they are very good in the jungle, you know, fighting in the jungle and they can get used to the weather and environment in the South Pacific like Indonesia, that kind of tropical weather. They were always being sent on important missions, sometimes suicidal missions. So we are trying to describe the identity confusion of the Taiwanese people over that period because after World War II the Japanese army left but the allies allowed China to take over Taiwan. The Chinese army who came to Taiwan cheated some Taiwanese people and soldiers and recruited them to fight another war inside China…so those former Japanese soldiers who fought for Japan were seen as the traitors under the rule of the Chinese army so some rebels formed by students and normal farmers went to the mountain to ask those brave aboriginals who survived from World War II to come back with them to fight with the Chinese army again. It’s kind of a complicated history of that time because we’re occupied by this country then occupied by that country and we have the identity confusion…those Taiwanese are finding their own identity through those kind of difficult environments and situations and we respect this kind of spirit.

MaF: That’s quite a lot of history and a big project to base an album around. When you sit down to write and album like that is that a joint decision or does one of you say ‘I want to write about this’?

DY: Actually we don’t have the big scale to write a whole story. We’re not historical teachers or something! [laughs] We’re just very interested in those Taiwanese soldiers, their emotions and their thoughts during that kind of difficult situation. This part of history was hidden by our government because nowadays our country, even though we’re an independent country -Taiwan-  we’re still ruled by the party who was just the party that retreated to Taiwan and occupied Taiwan 60 years ago from China. We’re not talking about a very serious topic actually we created a character his name is Wubus and he’s from the aboriginal tribe…but now they have to represent the Japanese army to fight for their war…in this period a lot of confusion comes out because the Chinese army teach all the Taiwanese that all our origin is from China. So we are a part of China, our ancestors are from China blah blah blah. We have been through another period of identity confusion. The topics always interest us maybe because we are living in this kind of history background country so we have more feeling about writing these topics. When we write the albums we don’t think about ‘we want to teach some people about anything’. No, we are not like that instead we created the character Wubus like we see a movie from America, from Hollywood. Like Spider-man or Batman! [laughs] Or Thor from Norway! It’s a story in America, American hero or Norwegian heroes, they have their own background, their own history. When we write the albums we’re trying to write a hero in this generation, you know what I mean? But we’re writing in Taiwan so it's a heroic story in Taiwan. We’re not that serious or historical we want to entertain the fans in a way.

MaF: Well I think you’re doing that! Now, when you release your albums you release two versions: one in English and one in Taiwanese. Was that something you were made to do or did you decide to do that as a band?

DY: Actually because Taiwanese is our mother tongue it’s very natural for us to think about melody and compose the song based on our mother language. We don’t know why (or) from which album but we started to have English lyrics versions. Maybe we want the story to be known or can be read by more people and more fans...For us, even though it’s more complicated and costs more money in the recording studio [laughs] we think it’s worth it to do that. Because in our music it’s not only the melody or the music it’s also the concept and story behind the music that is an important part. If we can let more people know what we are talking about, even though our English pronunciation wont be very correct [laughs], we still want people to know the story behind it so that’s why we do two versions.

MaF: Also in your two versions you have in the English version nicknames that are different to the Taiwanese version. For example you go by ‘Thunder Tears’ – where did that come from?

DY: [laughs] Actually if they asked me to do that again I wouldn’t do it! [laughs] I remember that the first time we started to tour in America when our names show up there are some fans or some critics who think that our names are too cute. Not extreme at all, not heavy! [laughs] It’s weird because we’re in different cultures English names for us is just a name, we will never think that ours is too childish or too, you know, old school or something! [laughs] Our manager at that time he suggested to us to have a nickname to make the people have more imagination of our band members, not focus only on our real English names so we have Thunder Tears or the Left Face of Maradou or something. But things get more complicated after this because Thunder Tears, yes it’s cool, but sometimes it will feel a little bit embarrassing! [laughs] I don’t know, it’s just a name so I hope the fans will not be too serious about it.

MaF: No I don’t think they will. So to go back on something you touched on earlier, you’ve always been quite outspoken when it comes to politics, especially those of Taiwan and you got into some trouble back home because of it. Is that true and how did you deal with that?

DY: Yeah, we have our own political views but it’s separated from our music. When we do our music we do like 99.9% concentration in the music part only. We never think to put any of our political views into our music because it’s not suitable, it doesn’t match our songs. We’re just interested about history so we write that. But in the other way, aside from the music, some of the members are very active in public issues or human rights. Our vocalist Freddy he’s now the chairman of International Amnesty Taiwan and a few weeks ago he was elected the chairman of the International Amnesty Pacific Area.

MaF: Wow!

DY: Yeah! He’s taking more care about human rights over the Pacific countries…I was the promoter – me and a few members – put on a concert it’s called ‘Free Tibet Concert’ in Taiwan and we invited some Taiwanese artists to play. We support the thoughts and ideals and policy to making Taiwan a real independent regime country. I think these kind of thoughts influence a lot of young people. We are very active on the internet also so besides our music we sometimes talk about political issues and things like that so many young people were influenced by us. Our government, our nowadays government, like I said was formed in China 60 years ago and now they’re pissed off about our behaviour I think. And of course the China government they put us on the black list already because there are some Chinese promoters that tried to bring Chthonic to play in China but they were all refused…I never think it’s a problem though, I think its worthy.

MaF: Have you found that there’s a different reaction to you when you play in different countries? Maybe countries where you don’t have to be so careful about expressing your political views?

DY: We spent a lot of time in Europe and North America for the past few years (and) the fans kind of support our ideal. If we say anything about our political view on stage, even though we don’t say it often, but if we ever say that, the fans will kind of support our point of view. When we’re playing Japan I think (the) Japanese (people are) very aware of the situation of Taiwan and the history of Taiwan…we always get a very good reaction. But, I think most of the reaction, the good reaction, is based on the music not what we said on the stage. Japanese fans…they are very polite when they meet you, but when you play they are very crazy! [laughs] And when you play in America it’s like all the fans are always drunk, they’re always very hyper! [laughs] In Europe it depends on what country you play. I think the coldest reaction when we play is in Finland; I don’t know if it’s because of the weather [laughs] or something, people just stand there and they’re watching you like, ‘ok, let’s see what you’re doing!’ [laughs] But it’s weird, when we toured in north Europe in 2007 our merch sales in those countries were the best in Finland so its ironic.

MaF: You’re going out on tour again in the U.S. with Arch Enemy this month. Are you looking forward to that?

DY: Yeah! Actually we toured with Arch Enemy last year in the UK for 5 shows I think. We both had very good impressions (of each other) and good discussions. So Arch Enemy invited us to the U.S. North America tour and also the Europe tour in December. We feel very honoured to tour with them and also very excited that we can come back to the U.S. again and Canada again. Last time we toured in America and Canada was 2009 and it was not a very good experience…it’s really complicated. Like, ok, in the middle of the tour we shared the same bus with the other band but the other band was so pissed off – the headliner band – so they quit the tour in the middle and we can’t afford the whole expense of the bus so we were forced to leave the bus at a set time. It’s not fair to us because we have to start to find a new van and trailer and driver in a very short time…and they confirmed this decision just two hours before they leave the bus! [laughs] The driver of the bus he had some problem with the manager of the band so we fired our ex-manager afterwards because he’s hiding some kind of secret. It was a complicated period so actually we’re kind of scared to come back to the U.S.. (But) of course Arch Enemy invited us to tour with them in the U.S. and it’s a very good chance so we just decided to come back and of course we miss our fans in the U.S. and Canada. We hope this time there won’t be too much problem.

MaF: I hope so!

DY: There is one more thing I want to add. In the interview you asked me (about) the reaction of every country (and) it reminds me of the reaction not from fans but from the journalists in different countries. I did an interview with the German press after I described the story of our albums about World War II and the emotions and the feelings about the soldiers and (the journalist is) very touched about the story. He said, “I can totally understand those peoples feelings.” I was thinking that maybe in World War II because Japan and Germany all belonged to the Axis and not all the people supported the behaviour of Hitler; inside Germany not all the Germans supported his decisions…but in that situation, in that generation, in that environment, they have to fight. They have to go to the battleground. After the war ended they still need to face the blame and they have to burden the fault of this war. I mean these people, even though the leaders have already died or (committed) suicide…the peoples and citizens of the countries have to burden the fault. Back to Eastern Asia, the Japanese fans and critics they can totally understand our story because it’s really related to their countries. Even though their government didn’t teach them this part of history they feel appreciative that Chthonic exposed this…so it’s kind of very interesting for every countries reaction is really different. One interviewer from the UK he has one question to me: “if you’re in that generation will you support the Allies or will you support the Axis?” I was like “what kind of question is that?!” [laughs] I think many Western people they think we kind of encourage this kind of spirit. I’m not sure. I just feel very shocked and interested about this kind of different reaction it kind of provokes the sensitive nerves of everyone.