Live China Music heads into the heartland of Yangpu where one of Shanghai’s best kept secrets resides – NEO Bar. And this winter we’ve assembled quite the lineup – a cold snap of a lineup full of post punk grooves, shimmering shoegaze reverb, and earth-shaking riffs that’ll shake you out of your stupor and have you dancing late into the night. On the lineup: special guests from Hangzhou – Tomorrow’s Salt. The post-punk outfit, led by former Wisdom Tooth singer and guitarist Li Wangnian bring forth razor-sharp melodies rich in lyricism and arrangements both tender and playful – unafraid to slow down the pace to an affectionate simmer before cutting loose with a jangly off-kilter chord progression that ratchets up the tension with each turn.
I’ve been closely following Li Wangnian’s career since Wisdom Tooth, but it wasn’t until his solo effort, Already Left出来了, released on Wuhan’s Sense Club Records, that I knew that the singer and guitarist was the real deal, brimming with ideas both musically and lyrically. And when Tomorrow’s Salt eventually emerged, it felt like an accumulation of the artist’s past lives and bands and I was sold. Since their formation in 2019, the band has caused quite a stir in the indie music scene here in China and it was a honor to ask the singer-songwriter some questions before their show at Neo Bar on Saturday, December 19th.
Q: You’ve been active in the Hangzhou music scene for years. Could you give a brief history on your musical upbringing? When did you know you wanted to be a musician? What kind of music did you find yourself gravitating toward?
A: After teaching myself to play the guitar I joined my first band in 2013. That first band was Wisdom Teeth, followed by Qie (Cut), and then a solo project of mine. And now it’s Tomorrow’s Salt.
I never thought about when I wanted to become a musician. Everything just happened gradually.
The world of music is too wide! I like good punk, post-punk, surf rock, 60s music, German taste, Wu Bai and Faye Wong, lots of Japanese music, the original soundtrack of Millennium Mambo.
Q: Tomorrow’s Salt seems like the next logical step in your sound – combining the sharp stark edges of Wisdom Teeth with the more melancholic and tender compositions seen in your solo work – how do you view your evolution as a musician and how your past work prepare you for Tomorrow’s Salt?
A: Thank you for your interpretation! I don’t know if there is any growth, I only know that life is always changing and time is passing. In Tomorrow’s Salt some song structures and lyrics motifs are continuations of previous ones. There are not many motifs that belong to a person’s life. Creative innovation is an illusion. We are only prying the same prototype from countless different angles.
Q:How did the band come together? Who are some of the other members in the band? Do you find you share similar tastes in music? How often do you all get together to rehearse?
A: I have known the Lou Zhu for many years and know that he is a good man. Jing Jing is also an old friend of Wisdom Teeth – the first comrade in arms. Niao Yu came in in a special way. First, she was just a friend online, then I found her decent music tastes and her practicing drums over Moments, so I asked her to try it. At that time, she was still a beginner, and she has made the most progress in the formation of the band. We usually arrange rehearsal once a week. From the afternoon to the evening, there will be a remote recording and arrangement of new songs.
Q: There’s something about the repetition of certain chords or riffs in your music that’s infectious – for instance the jangly riff and the looped arpeggio in 雨朵 – which slowly circles the entire track. While on the surface, it’s simple, almost minimalistic, in its structure, underneath there’s a lot going on. How does a song like that come together?
A: I really don’t know what I think – song writing doesn’t rely on thinking for me. Regarding details, I do like one thing – which is to make people hear more clearly with fewer changes.
Q: There’s something quite anxious about your music, particularly within the lyrics? Do you feel you’re an anxious person by nature? What themes do you see reoccurring in your music?
A: Anxiety! Thank you again for your interpretation, I do have an anxious physique. Coincidentally, I mentioned the “motif” before I saw this question. It’s too hard to generalize, if I have to describe it: Self-detained (“Slot Machine”, “Cross Hotel”), sinking and rejection (“Shanghai”, “Typhoon Club”), the peculiarities of daily life (“Laboratory”, “The Moon on a Plane”), Of course these are emotions – human emotions.
Q: This past summer you went on a pretty big tour. What were some of the highlights of that tour? What are some lessons you take away from being on the road and performing across the country?
A: The tour is mainly for food competition from all over the world. One lesson is that you must touch base with the venues on details like projection screen and merch booth in advance. For countless times, I forgot to say that we still offer merch. Brother Liu Peng complained that it was not professional.