Interview: Basement Queen

With ample amount of fuzz and sultry tales of women out for blood, Basement Queen, the bass and drum duo out of Beijing, relish the tropes of hard rock on their debut Her Revenge. Calling to mind more modern acts in the hard rock revival scene such as Muse and of course, Queens of the Stone Age, the duo, made up of Gu on bass/vocals and Wang Wei on drums,  seem to be having a hell of a good time, adding layer upon layer of fuzz as they bask in their psych-laced twist on stoner and hard rock. Fun, sexy and oozing with a rugged attitude all too rare these days in rock and roll, the band will be swinging through Shanghai this Saturday, March 16th at Harley’s Back Room as part of the latest 8 Hour Rock n’ Roll Club. 

liveCNmusic: Your affinity for hard rock, blues and stoner music goes deep – who are some of your musical heroes? What were you raised on? Can you pinpoint the moment where your life changed musically – a song or moment where your mind was blown and changed forver?

GU::Like every born-in-the-90s kid in China i grew up listening to Jay Chou & other 2000s mandarin pop. Over the years I have shockingly found many times what a strong influence these C-Pop is to my own writing – especially to the nuances of melody.

But there have been a few turning points that are still so vividly engraved in my memory:

When I was in elementary school I was a nerdy kid who reads newspaper dinner time everyday. One day I saw this full page picture of a pale but gorgeous white guy with the title: Scandals of Michael Jackson, King of Pop. I found out about his actual ethnicity much later after I fell in love with the music. That’s when I started to listen to western music.

I gradually turned to more rock consumption as a teenager, just trying to be a bit different from the mainstream of Eminem-mania in my high school (although i was able to sing most of songs word by word – that really helped my English). From The Beatles, Bon Jovi, Queens, then Guns n’ Roses. I decided to pick up an instrument after listening to Appetite for Destruction on loop for a whole year.

Years later when I was struggling to do a hard rock band without sounding too outdated. My day job required me to help with a fan event on a boat on Huangpu river. I was asked to “play some music and test the speaker”. So I played the album on top of my Spotify home page. That was Villains by Queens of The Stone Age. 30 seconds later I was asked again to “play something else listenable”. But that 30 seconds ended my struggle. I’ve found the sound that hits me hard enough to throw away my les paul guitar and re-learn rock & roll.

liveCNmusic: It took me a while to realize it was just two of you in the band – mainly cause of how full-bodied your sound is. Was being a two-piece always the plan or did it just turn out that way? What kind of freedom does being a two-piece band give you on and off the stage? What are the drawbacks?

GU:Thanks so much for the kind words. There wasn’t a choice back then but I think it comes naturally.

My original idea was to form a 5-piece GNR style 80s hard rock band with me being the rhythm guitarist. It’s easy to find lead guitar, because apparently everyone wants to be Slash. But it’s very difficult to find bass and vocal. 

We had to find a way to practice. While looking for temporary solutions I discovered Royal Blood. At first I wasn’t so crazy about the music, but I was real interested in the gears & how I can use this idea to solve the practice problem, so I started shopping.

While I digged deeper into the history of such set up, I found out that there are actually quite a few 2 piece bands out there, and the research eventually led to me the world of stoner music. Gradually the music started to be influenced by the gears – connecting one string instrument to both low & high end really left no space for big solos. There seemed to be no reason for anything else but the drums. 

Regarding the pros & cons of being a 2 piece, I think at this very moment there aren’t much pros…actually I imagined that we could be a plug in & play, full of raw energy band. But in reality I’m writing like an orchestra but performing with only 2 guys. The complicity and sheer weight of our rig is overwhelming for the travel party. 

But nonetheless I’ve got no intention to add more people, as much as many people suggest me to. I am a loyal worshiper of limitation – freedom is expressed to its extreme when dancing in fetters. 

liveCNmusic: I think too often bands are too tepid or scared to lean into the sleaze and sexiness of this kind of rock and roll. Do you find your self as confident or forward as you come across in your music? What is it about the music you make that’s so irresistible?

GU:Going through my music influences I think one can easily tell that rock music to me is about sexiness and other excessive Hedonism. I simple thought that rock & roll, as the derivative version of blues, should be themed around sex. The whole punk or post punk movement never influenced me. I can only write what I like.

But writing in seriousness surely has its own beauty. As a matter of fact I love 万能青年旅店 to death. After China’s era of poets met its sudden death, people who have something to say retreated to the music scene as a hideout. There aren’t many other forms of expression that are indulged with such freedom.  

It’s only that personally I’ve got nothing to say. I’ve spent my life thus far mostly in Beijing/Shanghai. I’d be a total phony if I’m talking about how life is hard. Also I’m quite literal in my life already, to the extent that the most suitable job for me is probably cult leader. So for the musical part of my life, I simply want to play the kind of music that used to throw me a micro party in my brain, and try my best to provide the same experience to my audience.

While saying nothing sophisticated has become the thing I want to say, I refrain from any unnecessary explanation, including translating or even displaying the lyrics. So most people don’t know what I am talking about.

liveCNmusic::Speaking of the meaty sound you’ve obtained on your debut – what was the recording process like? What’s the secret to capturing and retaining that perfect fuzz on record? 

GU:Thanks so much! I will try my best not to be too geeky about it:

First of all as a two piece the recording process was absolute hell. Drums were usually done one day per track. Then I proceeded to record the rest 40-60 parts in a song… 

Through the process we have the idea that one sound texture can be used for one song only. That came from the limitations we have: there is only one string instrument and we have to work harder on production so people won’t fall asleep after 2 tracks. I think we have successfully increased it an average of 3-4 tracks before falling asleep.

There were times when we were not happy with the sound and we’ve forced it through for a while, we eventually couldn’t live with the compromise. Then we had to delete couple weeks of work and do over. That was during covid so it took us 1.5 years to finish the recording session….

Shout out to our recording & mixing engineer Li Xuan @ Green Village studio. This guy is one of the rare engineers in China who knows what this kind of music should sound like. And he was patient enough to let us 2 rookies record till we are satisfied.

liveCNmusic: Her Revenge is very much themed around women – often taking the role as a harbinger of doom – bringing its protagonists (or antagonist depending on where you stand) to ruins in one form or another. How much does this trope spill into your real lives?

GU:I’m trying not to elaborate on any literal elements for 2 reasons: 

1. Not saying anything sophisticated as I mentioned above. 

2. My wife gives me hard time every time she hears about those stories behind.

But anyone is free to interpret as they please. It can be a feminism thing if you want ,or male chauvinism. 

One thing I can say is that all the lyrics are based on 10% real life experience + 90% imagination. So when I revealed some of the original idea to my bandmates they had a good laugh.

liveCNmusic: How’s the scene in Beijing doing these days? Any notable changes? What are your go-to spots for inebriation or a wild night on the town? Some other notable bands in the stoner/hard rock/garage world we should keep an eye on – I know Sloom Weep usually has a pretty good ear for this world?

GU: I don’t think I have ever been in the scene…I stay at home all the time and if I need I would just go to a pub & drink by myself.

As for other bands…

In terms of like-minded bands, in Beijing I think Ooz Zoo is pretty dope. They are a guitar & drums duo playing hard ass stoner rock music. Much crazier & rawer than us. 

Vanishing Queen is our besties in Shanghai, they have a more indie twist to it and the aesthetics speaks for itself.

Another non-stoner related band we all like is 迷心. They are doing some very good quality music & I was blown away when I first shared the stage with them.

I would also like to shamelessly promote our alter ego Desert Boogie Dorama (aka D.B.D). D.B.D is formed by me and Wake of Ramblin’ Roze during our depression during Covid. It’s us 2  plus Wake on the guitar. We really free ourselves in D.B.D and made some under-the-influence music.

liveCNmusic: Will this be your first time outside of Beijing? Are you excited to come to Shanghai? Any plans for a tour in the future?

GU: I’m actually Shanghainese. Went to Beijing for college and settled there.

I always have mixed feeling about Shanghai because I don’t think I fit in there. It’s been 10 years since I left and every time I’m back, the metro and many other things have changed. 

But as much as I’m alienated from my hometown, I’ve came to realise that all the key moments of my musical life in the first question happen to have happened in Shanghai. 

Hopefully I can meet some local friends from this coming trip! 

We will be starting out first ever tour in April this year. But unfortunately our budget can’t afford a stop in Shanghai. So if you can’t come to the tour, be sure to catch us this time!

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