I still remember that one tuesday at TUN, chilling with friends, taking in tunes and 2for1 cocktails when all of a sudden a voice came out the speakers and the place went quiet. Don’t get me wrong, there are quite a few accomplished musicians at Open Mike night but the ones that can make a place go quiet and notice are far and in between! Miss Daisy Sweetgrass is such a musician!!!
The first time I heard her voice was a cover of Johnny Cash’s Long Black Veil, which was mesmerizing, so was her cover of Tanya Tucker’s Jolene! Her own personal compositions like Hutong Girl are also pretty darn good! Jump over to her website for a taste of her own music and try to catch her performing with The Redbucks or The Moonshine Apothecary. In the meantime, here is a little interview to get to know this lovely southern belle:
1- What’s going on in your world? This is your chance to plug your stuff:
Oh, man. I’ve been crazy busy this month. The Redbucks were playing loads this month (September). It was kind of our first month trying to play steadily and at new venues, so while it looked manageable on paper, in reality we’d really packed it in. It felt great, though. I just think we’re all feeling a little tired and eager to work on some new stuff. I also started a new job writing and editing for China Daily’s new Metro section. It’s been great, too. I’m just learning how to juggle all these new developments. One of these days I’ll update my website (www.daisysweetgrass.com) and get working on getting a zine together…
2- How did you end up playing Bluegrass in Beijing out of all places?
I really have the rest of my bandmates to thank for that. Although I’m from Tennessee (Memphis, which is not really bluegrass territory, but still…), I never really got interested in bluegrass until senior year of college. My boyfriend at the time played banjo and was really into bluegrass and old-timey music. Then I moved to Guangzhou and finally decided to start learning to play guitar, and the easiest songs to learn were the bluegrass standards I’d learned from him. When I came to Beijing in January 2009 not knowing anyone, but wanting to play music (or at least try to), I started going to open-mics around town. Because bluegrass tunes were the only ones I knew how to play on guitar, I became known as a bluegrass singer. That’s how I met the band (save for our bassist, Jackson, who I met later), it was at Tun open mic night.
3- You’re one of the few foreigners I know of that have actually gone “busking” around the city! How much fun was that and would you do it again?
Busking is great fun. It’s something I would encourage with a shade of musically ability and performance chutzpah to go do. Beijing is a fantastic place for buskers, as Beijingers are some of the most friendly and supportive audience members. Sometimes I’d go solo and sometimes with a friend, usually to Jishuitan metro stop (exit C) and busk for an hour or so. People react so positively. They see that you’re just out there to have a good time and to try and give that to others as well. It’s a cultural exchange, too, because people who would never have otherwise heard this style of music, or seen an instrument like a banjo, are able to just stand and listen for as long as they want and as questions. If they want to give a little money, then that’s fine. I blogged about it for a while this summer on my website as a sort of social experiment. It’s interesting, too, because foreigners rarely gave anything other than scorn. With a few exceptions, of course.
4- Bluegrass in China! That’s one hell of a strange combination… How are the locals reacting to it? Do you think we’ll see a local band trying it out soon?
The reaction’s been really amazing on all counts: foreigners, Chinese, young, old, you name it. I don’t know if we’ll see a local band trying it out soon. Whenever we play we’re always meeting people who play an instrument and love bluegrass, so I think the numbers are there. Whether a Chinese bluegrass band’ll emerge, who knows? I’d be in support of it, though!
5- You play shows on your own, with “Moonshine Apothecary” and the new group “Redbucks” .. what’s the difference if any?
The Moonshine Apothecary was a sort of smaller, spin-off of the bluegrass band because we were asked to play a gig at Gingko way back when and they didn’t want all of us, so we paired down to three and decided to play country and blues music instead of the bluegrass and old-timey music that The Redbucks play. When Daisy performs on her own, it’s a bit of everything albeit with lots of my own originals thrown in. And then of course, some Johnny Cash.
6- Talking about the “Redbucks”, by my count you guys have had at least 5 names now… is it final? why not “Dumpy Loves & the Boiled Peanut” ?
It’s for that very reason, i.e. band name pandemonium that we settled on The Redbucks. We just couldn’t reach a consensus on a name, which was confusing for everyone and hard to market. Finally, one day we had a sit down and decided on The Redbucks, which is a reference to the red 100 kuai bills that we get paid in.
7- Word association: write the first word that comes to your mind.
- Beijing: sing
- Shanghai: die
- Baijiu: flaming
- Banjo: clawhammer
- Alison Krauss: awe
- Hutongs: huguosi
- Polka dots: girly
8- Name 3 high points and 3 low points of your musical career in Beijing:
That’s funny because that assumes that I have a musical career in Beiijing, which is something I haven’t really considered until now. But yeah, I suppose I do have a musical career in Beijing.
There’s been so many high points, it’s a bit hard to quantify, but playing at open mics and having people react as positively as they did to this young woman singing and playing crap guitar really felt good and did a lot to boost my confidence as a performer. Meeting my bandmates and singing “Long Black Veil” that first night at Tun bar was definitely a highlight. Working on and designing all of my Daisy Sweetgrass paraphernalia (website, cards, CDs etc), pounding the pavement around Beijing and managing to convince bars to give me gigs. Playing “The Gobble Gobble Song,” The Redbucks’ only original and having audiences dance and really react positively about it. Low points? My low points in Beijing, which consisted mainly of being unemployed and quite broke, had nothing to do with music. In fact, music was always something that kept me from going any lower. If I had no money, I could always go and busk for an hour- interacting with people and getting better in the process.
9- Seems to me like Beijing’s music scene has exploded over the past few years with veterans and new comers and It’s getting harder to keep track of the bands/shows now; Any particular gems people should be aware of in your opinion? Some bands or singers that pretty darn good but can’t seem to get recognition?
I think that Beijingers do a really terrific job of recognizing talent. If there’s something fresh and inspired out there then people are going to go out of their way to support it.
10- What if: What if you just couldn’t be in Beijing doing the things you do… where do you think you’d be and what would you be doing?
I’d like to think I’d be somewhere else doing largely the same thing: singing and playing music with folks that I deeply care about. If not Beijing, then in New Orleans or San Francisco I imagine.
Big Thanks to Miss Daisy for taking the time to answer our questions! Keep up with her happenings at: