Spotlight // Dirty Beaches
Alex Zhang Hungtai of the band Dirty Beaches is not a man who wastes words. If you’re familiar with his music, this will come as no surprise. His songs are filled with more instrumentals than lyrics, all of which is very deliberately arranged. Bunch was fortunate enough to snag fifteen minutes of his time to talk about his new album and life on the road.
How did you get your start playing music?
I think it’s just like any other musicians where they just play for fun and hang out with their friends and stuff. But it became more of a serious life decision I made after I quit working in real estate and at age 25 basically worked minimum wage jobs and played music. I just realized the 9 to 5 wasn’t for me—I’d rather have less money and live happily then participate in that rat race.
What kinds of bands were you in?
I was all over the place. The first band I was in when I was 19 was like a metal band. Then later on, one my roommates was a jazz drummer, so we were doing weird experimental improvisations and noise. And then I was in a weird indie rock band in Hawaii. I don’t know, I’ve played in so many different bands.
Where did the band name Dirty Beaches come from?
It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just easier that way, instead of me giving you some weird personal story. Then it’s gonna sound pretentious so let’s just keep it at it doesn’t mean anything.
Anyone who particularly inspires you?
I really like Wong Kar-wai. I really like Jim Jarmusch. They’re film directors. I just like how they keep evolving and they don’t really look back from their catalog and they just make the films they want to make instead of trying to please people.
Can you tell me the story of your latest double album, Drifters/Love is the Devil?
I mean essentially it’s part one and part two, kind of like a movie. And they are two perspectives of the same story, you just see it from a different angle. On the Drifters side it’s more of an existential look at how we want to be portrayed as musicians and kind of like our lifestyle revealed. It had a lot to do with the lifestyle choices that we make.
And the other side of the story is not about glamour or anything. It’s actually really sad because with this kind of touring lifestyle we chose to live, where we’re surrounded by strangers all the time and we don’t have time to see our family or friends, any kind of relationship you have is bound to be doomed just because you’re on the road all the time. It’s more to end the story like that—it’s not all honky dory, with us drinking hard and getting fucked up and meeting beautiful women.
How do you think your nomadic lifestyle informs or influences your music?
Anything you do in life will ultimately influence how you make your art and what you create. So for example, if you have children, that’s going to affect how you create because you have a time schedule that’s very sensitive. It all correlates to each other, if you have a baby or not versus if you’re married or where you live, all these little things have a play in ultimately what influences you. It affects me a lot. It’s hard to generalize.
Traveling is very hard cause I don’t think I’m at the point where I enjoy it for novelty sake. It’s more like I go there to learn something. I’m going to new places because I’m intrigued by what I don’t understand and I think that’s the main reason why I keep moving and keep traveling because there are a lot of things I don’t know and I’d like to see more of it and learn more about it.
To learn more about Dirty Beaches, check out www. dirtybeaches.bandcamp.com
Photography by Lizzy Okoro. Words by Barbara Sueko McGuire.