If Dirty Beaches transferred the sounds from Badlands onto a physical canvas the results would still be the same, a Dirty Beach-covered in people’s junk and grime, a strange and surreal place surrounded by cavenous holes and ravenes, with one tall, solitary figure, crooning into the wind. The protagonist to this hopeless tale is Alex Zhang Hungtai, the lone ranger in this plane of 50’s drawl and phantom pop. Alex is a Vancouver resident, who has also lived in Montreal, Toronto, Honolulu and Taiwan, and it’s this displacement, and the images left to him of his rockabilly father, that characterises most of the project. Clearly there is more here than retro nostalgia, so Black Tar talked to the man himself about life on the road, the confines of Lo-Fi culture and D.I.Y food poison remedies.
BLACK TAR: Hi Alex, could you briefly introduce yourself and tell us about Dirty Beaches?
Alex Zhang Hungtai: Dirty Beaches started as a one man project in 2005 after I moved to Montreal, it has since evolved to many different incarnations.
BT: How is the tour going?
AZH: Tour is going great, we just had a few bumps in the beginning with equipment malfunction (fried ax adapters…) and me getting food poisoned, but nothing a little apple cider vinegar can’t fix. (special thanks to home girl Frankie rose for the home remedy)
BT : There are a lot of references to travel and general motion in you music. Is touring something you enjoy/ romanticise?
AZH: I think the previous answer kills the mystery and romanticism behind it. Touring is hard work, but I love it and rather do this than any other job in the world
BT : Black Tar saw you play in London last year with a saxophone player. Would you ever consider permanentley expanding the ranks of Dirty Beaches?
AZH: Yeah the live line up has been changing constantly, I’m currently on tour as a 3 piece electronic band, hoping to transition into form in prep for the next album. it will always change depending on the ideas that come.
BT : How do you write and record your material?
AZH: It changes depending on the accessibility of the type of equipment I can assemble that’s within my budget. I’ve recorded on a shoebox tape recorder, computers, protools, etc. environments vary from my apartment, friends kitchen, basement, to a proper nice studio in Italy.
BT : Do you view the lo-fi and tape culture as an artistic preference or a financial restriction to how you want your music to sound?
AZH: Def a financial restriction. All my friends and I would kill to record in a nice studio, and work with a sound engineer that’s not a cunt, with Wurlitzer, fender Rhodes, organ, vintage amps / mics/ mixing board & record on reel to reel tape. Who wouldn’t want that? But again, who can afford that.
BT : In interviews you tend to get asked about the cinematic qualities to your music. How important is this to you? The visualisation of your music?
AZH: I never really put much thought into it until people started to bring it up more frequently in interviews. But yes it does have a lot of correlations.
BT : Can you tell me about any new material you have coming up? If so, how does it differ from the stuff on Badlands?
AZH: Yeah I’m really excited about the new materials, mostly working w drum machines, bass, keys, oscillators this time. Taking a break from samples.
BT : Who you digging at the moment?
AZH: My friends in Montreal : Femminielli, and Tonstartssbandht.
BT : Finally, hopes/plans/dreams for 2012?
AZH: Would love to tour eastern Europe, south Africa, south America and Asia.
Words by Alex Hall