Bred in the local music scene, Turtle Giant and Thud have made serious international waves. Both gearing up for new releases, we catch up with them to find out how.
Turtle Giant – Made in MO
Cathedral Café: the chill out corner on the pebbled Rua de Se, Macau, where locals and expats alike cruise in on their motorbikes after work, and the artistic gather to wind down. Look a little closer, you might notice a member or two of Turtle Giant, the band that grew from seed to blossoming, international flower while living in those very streets.
Formed by brothers Beto And Fred Ritchie (who, at the time of this interview, was settling into his new home in LA), and rounded off with pogonotrophic vocalist António Conceição, Turtle Giant has appeared on lineups at some of the most prestigious festivals in the world. The infamous SXSW in Austin, Texas, presented them to eager audiophiles alongside Iron & Wine and The Zombies on the KEXP stage in 2013, with help from the exalted Seattle radio station itself. The trio has performed at almost all of the major indie festivals in Asia, including Clockenflap in 2013 and Spring Scream in Taiwan, as well as supporting Unknown Mortal Orchestra at Grappa’s Cellar last January, and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in Vietnam just weeks before.
With recognition widely cultivated in the North American music scene, where college radio and NPR sit on the throne when it comes to launching new talent in the alternative industry, Turtle Giant in fact spent most of their time together in Macau after winding up there together in 2012. “I don’t think we fall into the category of a band that’s influenced by Asia in the way that we produce. We do our songs based on the kind of music that we like.” says António, a cigarette between his finger and thumb. “But being in Macau – it was easy to get together, and just write and be together. In a bigger city – for example, when we were in the US – we’d find it hard to get everything together, time-wise, money-wise, getting a rehearsal spot, etc.”
The band, as with so many local indie acts, are in agreement that Hong Kong and Macau is limiting in terms of live performance. “It’s awesome playing in Asia,” António notes, “but not many people here are craving the music we play as much as other markets do.” Beto stands optimistic about the future of indie music in Asia. “If there’s a band that really identifies with the people, then I think it can break into the mainstream,” he says. “There are already bands like Carsick Cars in Beijing who have a pretty good fan base in China; especially in Beijing.”
After rising into the spotlight after energetic single ‘We Were Kids’ spread organically across social media and music platforms in 2012, Turtle Giant is well trained in the life of a modern, burgeoning indie band. António brings to light an interesting perspective: “The continuous process of being able to play shows is what gives a band more buzz. Since we don’t have that many chances to play together anymore, everything kind of goes down again. So you have to build everything up all over again.”
At the time of publishing, the trio will have released their latest LP, Many Mansions I, and it’s safe to say we can expect new Turtle Giant tour dates towards the end of the year. Raring to go for a while, the LP was delayed as a result of, in António’s words, “some fucking extraordinary plasma burst at the equator, that made it so the stars and the zodiac didn’t work in our favour.” The lips of a lyricist decoded: Beto had a baby, Fred moved to LA, and times just weren’t right.
Recorded in a theatre in Macau, essentially as a live performance, Beto comments: “it’s a different recording technique; we recorded it almost live, all playing and recording together. We’ll probably go back to doing that style, because we can make the music faster and we really like the live sound and feelings you experience when playing together.” If the two singles released so far, ‘Golden Summer’ and ‘Business Suit Morning Struggle’, are anything to go by, the record is a demonstration of the trio’s live chemistry, interspersed with hints of Spanish rhythm, ambling steel strings, and earthy, anchored dynamics. Though according to António, “there are still a lot of surprises inside.”
Thud – Made in HK
There’s an air of collective modesty in the group, which is charming, and respectable considering the circumstances. Thud is essentially a paragon in Hong Kong’s alternative sphere. Unlike the vast majority of bands, who are worn down by limitations in Hong Kong’s music scene, Thud have found their way into the international eyeline.
“Hong Kong is a very small place,” Kim says. “We don’t have enough people here to form a fanbase for every musical genre.” The hazy, Slowdive-esque echoes in Thud’s first releases, ‘Lime’ and ‘Venture’, slot the band fairly safely into the world’s resurfacing shoegaze scene, though multi-coloured guitar flourishes and pop-like harmonic progressions push them more towards the ‘dream pop’ category – a term that the members of Thud seem to prefer. But in Hong Kong, Kim believes that it’s close to impossible to build an audience in any non-mainstream genre: “The people that go to the more alternative gigs here are always the same group of people.”
But this seems pose no threat for Thud, as their raw talent continues to market itself across the Internet. Last year, in an effort often unrewarded to upcoming bands, Kim sent some emails to music blogs and major music magazines after releasing ‘Lime’. Within weeks, publications as major as British music magazine NME returned positive feedback to the band, complimenting their proficiency as newcomers on the scene in print and online reviews. “None of us have really had experience in marketing a band before,” Andy says. “We’re just facing things as they come.”
At this point it’s looking likely that Thud could become a proud musical export for Hong Kong, and their shared principals show that the band has all the makings of a long- term, grounded act. “You have to be careful with relationships with your bandmates under pressure,” Kim says. Sky chimes in: “This is actually myfirstband,butI’velearnedquickly that you have to have respect for each other.” Wang: “We’ve learned to keep communicating with each other. Luckily we’ve all had the same creative direction,” and Andy concludes: “Yeah, we definitely all want to carry on playing this dream pop style.”
With the eyes of the media turned on them, Kim, Wang, Wai, Sky and Andy have a delicate road ahead. From this point on, their success depends on how carefully they tread as a team. The next step is the launch of their new EP, which they compiled with commercial viability in mind. Andy explains, “it had to be quite commercial, so we put ‘Lime’ in there.” Wang adds, “We have four songs and one remix of ‘Lime’ by Max from Yuck. It’s a very chilled version of the track.” Kim again: “We have enough material for an album, but we had to be selective.”
The band’s support slot for London-based scuzz pop band Yuck at Hangout in April is just one of Thud’s major Hong Kong appearances. An opening set on at Clockenflap last year was their first gig – ever. Thud is clearly meant to be in the spotlight, and we can’t wait to watch them succeed.