It’s 7am in Taiwan — a very un-rock and roll hour unless you’ve been up all night — but the three members of Taiwanese indie rock band Sorry Youth are wide awake, ready to talk about their upcoming visit to Canada.
The band’s drummer Afredred is fluent in English and leads the interview, consulting with his bandmates and translating at times. Lead singer and bassist Giang Giang and guitarist Weni chime in from time to time, adding to Afredred’s responses.
Their Canadian tour includes performances at TAIWANfest in both Vancouver and Toronto and will be the first time they visit Canada as a band. Giang Giang visited Montreal Jazz Festival eight years ago, but none of the band members have experienced Ontario or BC.
Sorry Youth is enthusiastic about their latest album, Brothers Shouldn’t Live Without Dreams, which has been a long time coming. Brothers is decidedly indie –– drawing broad influences from blues, alt-rock, ska and traditional Taiwanese folk music. Epic ethereal interludes combine with driving percussion and moments of classic rock and roll.
The band met as university students in Taipei 10 years ago and released their first album, Seafood, in 2012. Their second album came out five years later. But despite their name, Sorry Youth aren’t apologizing for the wait. After their first release, the band weren’t able to be full-time musicians. They took day jobs, writing the material that would become Brothers Shouldn’t Live Without Dreams in their spare time. That’s where the album title comes from, explains Afredred.
“We’d like to try to tell our audience that you have to stick to your dream and try every possible way to achieve your dream,” he says. “This is how we’ve tried to do it for the past 10 years — we have to work, but we will try to play music after work or on weekends. I think that’s the reason we try to express the ideas of dreams in the second album.”
The album melds Taiwanese culture with Western sounds. The distinct cymbals, oboes and plucked instrument sounds of traditional Taiwanese Beiguan music expand into classic indie rock on one song. On another, sax and trumpet punctuate dreamy vocals. The band isn’t shy about experimenting with different styles. They write their lyrics in local Taiwanese language, which is its own act of rebellion given Taiwan’s history.
“Taiwanese local language iwas kind of oppressed from the government,” says Afredred. Speaking Taiwanese was banned from 1946 to 1986. When Chiang Kai Shek’sNationalists lost China’s civil war in the 40s, they fled to Taiwan,set up their own government andperceived traditional dialects as a threat to cultural unification. Everyone was made to learn Mandarin, and fluency was required for employment and success. Despite the ban being lifted, it remains a fight for Twianese to be heard.
“Language is a really important part of our music,” Afredred says. “Besides the language, the lyrics we are saying, we want to stress the Taiwanese unique culture and local social issues and the story behind those issues.”
Beyond the symbolic rebellion of using a once forbidden language for their songs, Sorry Youth also address social issues, inequality and activism through their lyrics. “Heroes of the North Sea,” for example, is decidedly anti-nuclear.
Their Canadian performances will go further. Visual artists will join the band onstage, uber-creative designer Xiao Zi Liao — whom they’ve dubbed Milkfish Man –– and installations by lighting and animation artist “Super Tai” Wen Cheng Lee.
“We want to make more unique Taiwanese elements more visible to society — to the world,” says Afredred.
The band said they’re excited to introduce Canadians to a kind of music they’ve potentially never heard before, but also to showcase art that captures the spirit of Taiwanese scenery, and the social issues at the heart of Taiwanese social consciousness. Afredred cites the recent same-sex marriage win as an example.
By fusing different influences they hope to give youth around the world a new way of connecting with traditional Taiwanese culture. “We think it’s kind of a pity,” Afredred says. “Because that music is very interesting, very organic, and we think the music should be passed from generation to generation.”
Sorry Youth hopes they’re creating something new while still honouring the old. Listeners can get a taste of Taiwanese culture and an impression of the hopes, dreams and sorrows of the next generation. The band is hopeful that as a multicultural society, Canada will be able to connect with their music and gain a new understanding of Taiwan.
According to the band, Canada may have something to teach them about Taiwanese culture too.
“A lot of Taiwanese people live in Canada and we are looking forward to talking to them,” the band says. “To know their lives and to know how they see our show.”