On the Beat, No Holds Barred: 10 Questions with SUBS Drummer Carl Edmunds
I’m kinda bummed I didn’t get around to doing this before and now, it’s more of an exit interview as Carl is set to play his goodbye show with SUBS Friday night at Mao Livehouse.. but here it is folks, 10 questions with Carl Edmunds about his experience in argually one of the more interesting underground bands in China over the last decade. Love them or hate them, SUBS are different. In these 10 questions, we get a look at some behind the scene.. Let’s go!
1- Who is Carl and what are you up to? this is your chance to plug your stuff
Carl is the current, soon to be former drummer of SUBS, and also a qualified librarian (I think that’s why they hired him).
I came to China mid-2010 just out of curiosity, and just for 6 months or so. Famous last words for many a foreigner here. I will actually be leaving China at the end of this month. Been dedicated to this expat lifestyle for 6 years and it’s time for a change and go home. Home being Perth, Western Australia. A far cry from Beijing by nature, and a far cry from anywhere geographically. Aside from smashing the drums, I’m an outdoorsy guy, and love getting out alone amongst nature, though sometimes putting myself in dangerous situations where I shouldn’t be alone.
2- let’s start at the beginning: how did you first encounter SUBS and who brought up the idea of you joining the band?
Apparently I first saw SUBS at the Modern Sky festival in 2010, but I can’t remember that occasion at all. We’d smuggled a lot of liquor into that event so there’s some blank areas. The opportunity to join them came up in June 2011, just as I was finishing up as drummer for punk gimmick band, Dude. It was Tom Mattessi (of This Town Touring) that told me they were looking for a drummer, and specifically a foreigner. I met them during the week leading up to my last gig with Dude and hung out. I initially found them very chilled and down to earth which surprised me. My ‘audition’ was my last gig with Dude at your first Dazefeast festival. They came and watched, and after the show told me we start rehearsing next week. If only it was always that easy!
3- How did an old school rock guy adapt to a Chinese punk band?
Haha! Yes I love my AC/DC and Metallica etc, I’m definitely old school with what I listen to most of the time, and how I played drums back in Perth years ago. Coming to Beijing changed that a bit for me. Different scene, and also joining a band like Dude where most of their songs were double time at 200bpm. Very fast punk drumming, which I was entirely unconditioned to. That got me out of some old habits and opened me up to some (slightly) different styles. Dropping the tempo by about 50bpm when joining SUBS was quite welcomed by me. So it was kind of a mix between what I was playing with Dude and what I was playing with many bands back in Perth when I was younger.
Although stylistically I’m much different to the rest of the band, or any other member they’ve had in the past, I didn’t find it that difficult to adapt, due to the chemistry we had. I’m not a very schooled musician, and have always played entirely intuitively, thus playing with a band like SUBS where there’s so much raw emotion felt quite natural. It was still a technical push for me, however, as I am quite simple in my approach to drumming. Wu Hao also helped push me out of old habits and got me listening to a wider range of music. I can say now that I do have a lot of music in my collection that’s less than 10 years old!
4- There’s a new album being released soon. How much of your input is on there, songs and lyrics wise?
The lyrics were all written by Kang Mao, which I’m pretty sure has always been the case with SUBS, but she writes them all in her mediocre English, so I’ve often had to edit them for her. Even then it was a challenge as she’s writing in English whilst thinking in Chinese, so the message is not always clear. It keeps it interesting, I guess.
With regards to song writing, I contributed a bit to the arrangements, but Wu Hao and Kang Mao did most of that. They’ve been doing it together for a long time and know what they want, and they’re just a lot more experienced with song writing than I am. Several of the songs on the album we’re working on did begin with a drum groove which we’d built a song around, which is not uncommon.
5- You’re playing with SUBS, Jeroen is with Second Hand Rose, Jonathan is with P.K. 14…. is there a trend of foreign drummers with local bands? I don’t see that with other instruments other than maybe Nico who was with Voodoo Kungfu.
I’m the wrong guy to ask for that, as I’m just not that involved in the scene. Maybe it’s just due to the general high demand for drummers in this city. But I do notice that many Chinese bands here like to have the token foreigner in the band. And maybe that arrangement works best on stage with that person sitting at the back of the stage, just laying the beat. Who knows? Maybe the stage presence is more aesthetically balanced that way.
6- You’ve been with the band for a while now. What are 3 of the best memories and 3 of the worst experiences related to being in a Chinese band?
Ah, the pros and cons of being the ‘foreign guy’ in a band. Well my experience with SUB has been a lot of smiles and laughs and crazy crowds… coupled with a lot of frustration. Here goes.
1) It brought understanding a foreign culture to a whole new level. I feel so fortunate to have had this unique experience that I could only have dreamed of previously. I thought travelling and living overseas for a while would have only meant working as an English teacher, with a bit of sightseeing and of course some spontaneous, unexpected adventures, but nothing like joining a famous punk band and touring all over the country as their drummer.
2) Fans here are generally just really cool, and down to earth. SUBS fans can get a bit crazy, but they’re a cool group. Kang Mao seems to scare away all the attractive women, mind you. But that’s still a good thing as I’m a committed man 😉
3) The shows. We’ve had some crazy crowds of the past couple of years, and I’ll always look back on them with fondness.
1) Lack of transparency, and really having to dig for any information. I also find poor organisational skills and general short-sightedness is a common factor here.
2) The language barrier. Believe me, I really have studied Chinese hard in the last 12 months or so, but despite my progression it didn’t seem to help much. And although Kang Mao’s English isn’t bad, there’s still a lot of poor communication. I really hope their next drummer speaks better Chinese than I do. For everyone’s sake.
3) This is really my time to vent! Kang Mao’s fucking make up artist that follows us everywhere. The most annoying, obnoxious guy I’ve ever met, and he’s been nothing but detrimental to the band’s image.
7- Talking about the good and bad.. what was the process you went through when as a band, you went from a 4 piece to a 3 piece and dumped the bass?
That was a difficult time and took a long time for everyone to adjust. Poor communication and short-sightedness as mentioned above meant a lengthening of this period of adjustment. A lot of embarrassing situations could have been avoided had there been better preparation. As the drummer, a lot more responsibility was assumed on me to hold things together. I’d never played to loops before, so that took a lot of getting used to. I’m all the better for it, though, and can lay a groove with a loop with ease now. I gained a lot out of this.
It was a steep learning curve for Kang Mao, too. She’d never really played an instrument before and was used to being free to prance around the stage screaming (which is what she does best) rather than being restricted to the responsibility of playing a keyboard at the same time. Her timing was really bad and still needs a lot of work, which made it hard for me.
Nonetheless, we simply persisted and did as many shows as we could and eventually started making it work. I’d still have a bassist back in the band any day, as the band is nowhere near as powerful without one. I think both Wu Hao and Kang Mao had to realize that they have to be more technically consistent themselves if they wanted to make this 3 piece arrangement work properly. Any learned musician should know that it’s not just the drummer’s responsibility to keep the time.
From an artistic point of view, however, I do respect Wu Hao’s decision to take a new direction, and I thought it was pretty brave in that respect. That’s one of the qualities of this band that I like best. They always want to push their sound in new directions and avoid stagnation.
8- Word association: for each one of the following, write down the first thing that comes to your mind.
* Kan Mao – Talented mafan
* Wu Hao – Quiet guy, big guitar sound
* Punk – Misunderstood
* Dark – Stout. Coopers Stout!
* Polka Dots – Never!
9- How many lyrics to SUBS songs can you sing along to?
1… 2… 3… 4… erm. That’s all. I can never understand what Kang Mao’s belting out.
10- what is the best show you think you’ve played and the worst one?
There’s a long list of amazing shows I can remember, but what seems to come to mind the most is our performance at Mao’s for the 2012 Le Fete De La Musique festival. It was just the atmosphere that night, largely thanks to the goodwill of such an event. Everyone was so happy. The venue was packed and everyone just went crazy. We fed off them, and they fed off us in one vicious cycle.
Sorry, but I have to mention a 2nd. Midi Festival in Shanghai in May this year. We just nailed it (I think we’d finally gotten the hang of being a 3 piece by this time). I think due to the fact that we’d played Beijing Midi a few days before when the power was cut off halfway through our set, we were rather pissed off about that, so we released the fury at Shanghai and the crowd ate it up.
The worst one? I think it was our debut show as a 3 piece at Dos Kolegas about 18 months ago. We were terrible, unprepared and people were walking out. Our confidence was at an all time low around then.
There it is folks… I’m thankful to Carl for being so candid and will forever be indebted to him and SUBS for being there 2 dazeFEASTs in a row and even having an impromptu jam with me during one of my birthdays.
Friday night at Temple, make sure you show up and give him one hell of a send off!!! I know i’ll be there front row in the middle of the smoky pit… And i hope to bump into you there!!! Let’s make it a night to remember.