If you’ve been in Taiwan recently, you may have heard some of IO Band‘s modern rock songs blaring on the radio, seen an MV or two, or maybe even caught one of their performances around Taipei. What you may not know is that 3 of the band members grew up in Burnaby, BC, forming the band in 2004.
IO Band is no stranger to the music industry, having already received tons of previous recognition. In 2010, IO received their biggest indication that were on the right track, being nominated Best New Artist and Best Band of 2010 at the 22nd Golden Melody Awards.
I caught up with IO Band while they were in Vancouver recording a few tracks at The Den Studios to ask them about the evolution of IO Band, what their experiences performing music in Taiwan have been like, and their new album, which was released early December, called “After All, Am I The One Who’s Crazy?”(到頭來瘋的難道是我).
Could you guys describe some of your background and how you got started?
Cody: I started this band in high school, around Grade 9. At the time we were just a bunch of friends wanting to play together at the high school Asian cultural festival. At first it was me and two other friends who have now moved on from the band. The second year that we played together, I got Angus to come. He was a classmate of one of my bandmates at the time. At the time, Angus was a shy, introverted guy – at the time, he didn’t sing yet. A few years later, I met up with Hans again. He’s my elementary school classmate and we went to different high schools, we sort of lost contact. In Grade 11, I found out he was this super cool guitarist, in this Visual K rock band.
He would do Visual-K, J-Rock, he would do all the makeup, he would look like a girl (laughter), not Cosplay, but he would put on makeup and look cool.
Hans: Visual bands were in back in the day, the late 90s.
Cody: We’re talking about a long time ago (laughs).
Hans: At the same time, in Taiwan, Sho was also doing this!
Sho: Yeah, ten years ago, my band was pretty famous. In Taiwan, in the year 2000, my band was called Lucifer. (Laughter)
(Funny because Sho is a devout Christian now, and has since repented. Sho has since left the band.)
Cody: They were both visual guys. After hanging out and playing music for about 5 years, when we got into university, we became busy with other things in our lives. At the time we had about 6 or 7 bandmates, and we weren’t playing very seriously. People were coming and going for their own personal reasons. Our band lost some motivation and its reason for existence. We stopped playing for awhile.
What year was this?
Cody: This was around 2004 and 2005. We completely stopped play for a year or two. Well, we played at a few Chinese singing and songwriting competitions, but nothing really to shout about. After about two years of this, I started listening to some different music, and the passion came back. I asked Angus and Hans, “Hey, let’s jam this song!” It was a song called Judith by A Perfect Circle, a really cool song. It just blew my mind. One thing led to another and then we eventually started playing more seriously again. After awhile we started joining a songwriting competitions again. We had played before but did not win anything. We had learned a lot since then, so we were like, “let’s try it again at Song Quest 12.”
Cody: That was the year we met our bass player, who also had joined the competition, Alex. He was a singer and bass player, so he was exactly what we were looking for.
Hans: Actually, it’s more like, we had a master plan, a scheme to be like, “Hey let’s try jamming” in attempts to lure him into our band. Realistically, we really wanted him to be in our band. Eventually, he joined us.
Cody: We had heard of him a while ago, while he was playing with another band. The scheme worked and he decided to join us. At this point we decided to go for it. We were reaching a certain point in our lives where if we felt if we didn’t try, we may not get another chance. At the time, I met Hans and Angus who were very gifted singers and songwriters, and we had all the pieces. We decided to record a demo in Vancouver at Turtle Studio in Whiterock, where we did a bunch of mixing and we actually did the music and recording at the Armory, a very famous studio around here in Vancouver.
Angus: That’s what we did in preparation for Taiwan. We had a demo, and we hoped that Taiwan would pick us up and we could go from there, and hopefully have a full release.
Cody: We went to Taiwan after the demo was finished.
You guys have been credited with creating, “Sino Rock.” Can you elaborate on where this came from?
Hans: Cody came up with this term.
Cody: Well the term Sino just means Chinese. They’ve got the “K-Pop,” “J-Rock”… I thought that “Sino Rock” was a cool term that had never been used.
“Rock Music” here and Asia has a different connotation. How do you feel your type of music is perceived in Asia?
Cody: You should ask Sho, because he was a fan of ours before he joined the band.
Sho: Well, I think the songs are very “heavy” but not loud. They’re comfortable to listen to in terms of attack and punch, but still very special. The Chinese lyrics mixed with modern rock is something special in Taiwan. A lot of people, like me, when they first listen to IO say they feel very special. [The music] affected me very strongly.
Hans: I think in Taiwan, they don’t do much rock stuff, not even pop-rock stuff. Here in North America, so called “pop-rock” goes very far [in terms of meaning]. Sum 41 is sort of pop rock, Avril Lavigne is pop rock, a lot of other artists can also be labeled pop rock. In Taiwan, the image of rock usually exists as the 80s version of Rock, like Bon Jovi, Guns n’ Roses, that’s rock in Taiwan. When we come back with stuff we listened to growing up, and influenced by stuff that we like, like Foo Fighters, 30 Seconds to Mars, U2… it’s something new for the majority of Taiwan people. Our music surprised a lot of people who didn’t grow up listening to a lot of Western music.
When I listen to some of your songs, I notice there is some English and Chinese. When you write across languages, how does that affect your language, and what do your fans recognize. I know that you guys come from a dual background and culture, does that affect your writing?
Angus: When we write, a lot of times, we have a difficult time figuring out whether to do it all in English, Chinese… we’re still trying to figure out what is the best balance. Most times we just try and go with the flow. I think it’s gotten us to a certain place – English has an impact of not defining exactly what we’re trying to say. People are able to listen and feel the music, where they don’t have to worry too much about the lyrics. Like “Zhen Shi” has been a very strong song for us – a lot of people say they have a certain feeling when they listen to it. I don’t know if it’s because of the mix of English and Chinese. I think when we write, you can’t say everything you want to say in one language anymore. Anyways for me, I feel like I’m not good at any languages anymore (laughter). We just do what we can.
Hans: I think English gives us a different way of singing. Chinese singers have very different styles of singing, and maybe more tonal. I think Angus sings quite differently from a lot of singers. Sometimes we want to sing some lines in English because it fits the melody better.
What’s your inspiration for your songs? Where do your ideas come from?
Hans: We’ve got many different ways. Sometimes, ever since I got my smartphone, I’ll just record a hook somewhere, and go home and try and expand on that. I could be watching a movie and you’ll see something and be like, “Wow, I feel it.” Movies are pretty good at building up images… whenever you feel something try and expand on something.
Bands can have explosive exposure in Asia, but in North America, they can still be virtually unknown. We’ve seen that PSY is huge worldwide now. I think it’s funny that no one understands Korean… but it’s huge here. Do you think this was a one-off thing, a joke, or do you see this being something that’s changing?
Hans: I don’t think this is a joke…for me, how I interpret the PSY phenomenon… well, first of all, it’s really entertaining to watch. Musically, there are a lot of hooks in there for people to remember. Certainly, there are a lot of English words in there for people to remember. I think another part that might have helped him in North America…Koreans are very supportive no matter what the industry, and since there are a lot of Korean-Americans, that may have helped in local communities as well. That’s just a guess. A couple years ago there was Far-East Movement, and they started from Asian Community Roots.
Anything people should watch out for from IO Band?
Cody: We’re going to keep what we did best in our first album and EP, and the Sino Rock sound we set out to do. This time, we’re going to incorporate more of the ballads that people enjoyed, and also we’re going to try and do more urban sounding songs, like when you hear PSY and the modern stuff, we’re going to try and do that too and see how people react. Maybe it’ll be on the radio here as well! (laughter)
Angus: Look us up on Facebook, and I hope one day, we can come back do some shows out here in Vancouver.
Cody: Hopefully we can put out a record in North America some day.
– END –
*This is an abridged interview originally done for AX3 Battery. See the full interview here.