Half Chinese, a Vancouver-based indie/avant-garde rock band, placed second in Shindig 2009, CiTR’s annual battle of the bands. Harrison Pratt, Enzio Verster and Danny Dakak make up Half Chinese. Pratt and Verster are an offshoot of the now-defunct Light Bulb Effects. They met Dakak when he moved in with Pratt in 2008. “We had lots of jam sessions and just fell in love with this man,” Pratt said.
“There was a musical foundation made between the three of us through just lots of outdoor jam sessions during those days,” recalled Dakak. “Then they invited me to play drums with them.”
Half Chinese mix up their instrumentation. They’ll trade off at bass and drums, and sometimes add in a clarinet or a mandolin.
“Yeah, like, we all have a different style of playing drums, for example. Like Danny’s pretty solid. Actually, Danny’s incredible actually. I like Danny’s drumming style.” To which Dakak quickly countered, “I’m not incredible. Solid’s fine.”
“Kay, fine,” continued Pratt, “He’s very solid. Then, when I play it’s different ‘cause, you know, you hold the sticks differently, you hit different parts with it, and it sounds different.”
They described their songwriting as a collaborative process. Someone comes up with an idea, and they each write their own parts for the song. They feel that despite their spontaneity, they’re all on the same wavelength. Their songs get written and rewritten, and evolve when performed them. “I love improvisation. I always push forward whenever we play. I value practice a lot, but improvisation just as much,” Dakak said.
Half Chinese aren’t shy to share their influences. “We really like Deerhoof … I think they’re one of the best bands going. I’m a big fan of Yo La Tengo, Built to Spill, Pixies. Pixies were the first indie band we were into,” said Verster.
“I wish I was as good as these drummers … the guy for Don Caballero [Damon Che], the drumming in Do Make Say Think—I wish I could do jazz drumming. I try to imitate it, but can’t. I just try to think rhythmically like that,” Dakak admitted.
When asked about their experience in Shindig, Verster was quick to note the high level of talent in the competition: “We were really surprised that we got second place, ’cause there are so many bands that are so talented.” It could have easily ended up differently because Verster is also a member of the third place band, Kidnap Kids!, and he had to choose between them for the competition.
Pratt described the ideas they had to get around the problem: “One of them was to kidnap the Kidnap Kids! and destroy them. Option two was to have Enzio dress up, to wear his mask, and have a secret identity on just for the competition and be Enzio for the Kidnap Kids! Third one was to just not [play with] Kidnap Kids!, fourth one was to not play with Half Chinese. So we had four choices and Enzio took the non-exciting one and just played with us without wearing a mask.”
Playing with a mask wouldn’t have been a new concept for the group. Their May 2009 show at Goonies was performed almost entirely in masks. “We made them like when we were… what, 16 or so?” Verster guessed.
“We made them initially for the lantern festival and became really attached to them. During that period of time—they really captured the essence of that time … Sometimes we don’t wear masks at all. Sometimes we bring them out for one song, depending on which one it is. We play our earlier stuff with the masks to bring back the same kind of feeling,” Pratt explained. Dakak doesn’t do the mask thing, though, because as he noted, “that was well before my time.”
Although they plan to complete an album in 2010—after all, they won recording time with their Shindig prize—they’re really just having fun doing what they’re doing now. The album will likely be a mix of existing work and new material. Pratt described their earlier sound as much lighter, but they’ll try to capture both sounds on the record, which will be titled We Are Pretending To Be. And they’ll continue to play live. Harrison said house parties are his favourite venue: “The thing is, you’re so close. When you have to fill up a whole room, it takes away from the high energy, so it’s more concentrated when you’re up close, and the sweat, it just smells good.”
The members are also very supportive of the Safe Amplification Site Society (www.safeamp.org), a non-profit society trying to start a permanent, safe, all-ages venue. The group has performed at many monthly fundraising events for the society to help out tThree people… Half Chinese. The math doesn’t quite work. I had to ask about the name. Harrison dug through his pile of vinyl and pulled out a record by the group Half Japanese.
“The band Half Japanese, they’re not actually half Japanese though, that’s the thing,” Harrison explained, “They started in ’75 and me and Enzio were really into them early on. There’s three reasons why we have the name Half Chinese. Well, it’s ’cause me and Enzio started it off and we’re both half Chinese. Number two: Half Chinese… H is at the beginning of the first word and E is the end letter, so if you highlight those, it’s Harrison and Enzio. Oh yeah, and we liked Half Japanese.”
Check out their MySpace site (www.myspace.com/halfchineseband), or get in touch with them in person to get a three-song CD.