The Taiwanese outfit filter American influences through a kaleidoscopic lens.
If Sunset Rollercoaster is a name that you are familiar with at present, it is of considerable likelihood that you are either well versed in indie rock, in all of its forms, or spend more time than is healthy scouring the endless abyss that is YouTube. The Taiwanese six-piece band’s affections lie with artefacts of American music such as Motown and P-Funk, and whilst comparisons to city-pop would be easy to make their musical efforts are distinctly them.
In 2016 the sextet were the subject of a viral hit in the form of ‘My Jinji’, a song that traverses from the realms of thoughtful, slow-paced and appropriate for soundtracking a dance at the prom to a 3 minute long passage that employs swirling saxophone, guitar solos and heavy washes of synthesizers to continually expand upon a repeated motif that would leave even the most composed brain feeling like a mound of cosmic slop at its peak.
The band has had a fractured existence however, taking a five year hiatus between the release of their debut Bossa Nova and the Jinji Kikko EP that followed to focus on distinctly different projects. Singer/guitarist Kuo’s attentions turned to several other bands including Forests, a project that encapsulated a dark, industrial sound in stark contrast to Sunset Rollercoaster and further showcased the eclecticism in his tastes.
Now, the band are set to return once again with an Abbey Road mastered full length release entitled Cassa Nova which was previously teased on Valentine’s Day with ‘Cool of Lullaby’.
We caught up with Kuo in the days running up to the release of his new album to discuss the group’s influences, touring in the USA, the recording process behind their new project and more.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did you first get in to playing music and what are your earliest memories?
My mother is Christian so I was brought to church when I was child. That’s why I had some opportunities to play instruments, to praise the lord. I got into the worship band when I was in junior high school and then I started to put more effort and focus in to playing guitar and bass. I also got chances to jam with the band during the praying time but you know, it’s not like a rocking moment, we need to give the audience chilled/spiritual feelings, so it was more like jamming background elevator music.
Can you give readers a brief overview of Sunset Rollercoaster, how the band formed and who plays in its current iteration?
The band or the concept of the band started in 2009 which was a time of electro music and Myspace in Taiwan. The name Sunset Rollercoaster came from the Apple app which is built in to Macs called Photo Booth. It’s a preset and we used it for Myspace. Me and Kevin were our first form as an electronic duo. After a while ZL joined us as a drummer, then we jumped to 60s garage stuff from electronic music. Then we released our debut album Bossa Nova in 2011, though before we started the tour the band stopped because of some personal issues. It was about 4 years of hesitation, after I disqualified from military service due to my eye sight I wanted to put the band back to the game. I wrote a couple of new songs, asked some friends to play with the band and together we recorded the Jinji Kikko EP in the Winter of 2015, then released it in the Spring of 2016. The lineup now is comprised of myself (Vocals/Guitar), ZL (Drums), Hungli (Bass), Gump (Keys), Birdman (Drum pads/ Percussion) and Haoting (Sax/Guitar).
The band’s sound has shifted considerably over the course of two releases. What are some of your main individual and collective influences, and do you feel that anyone in particular has had an impact on your sound?
It was a trio when Bossa Nova released and more like a 60s and 70s garage band. After we had Gump playing keys and Hungli playing bass we moved towards more 80s soul, R&B and AOR sounds. But the artist who influenced us the most is the godfather of bossa nova, Antonio Carlos Jobim. His album Stone Flower had a really big impact on our sound.
Comparisons have been made between your music and the city-pop movement of the 1980s. What are your thoughts on the comparison and are there any artists from that era of Japanese music that resonate with you personally?
I would say that we were just getting on the city-pop revival wave at the right time, but we did not have intentions to emulate the style of music. I even started to listen to more city-pop after Jinji Kikko released. I thought we were just mixing soul music and psychedelic music together, just a bit more synth heavy.
After I digged into Japan’s city-pop genre more I found out it mostly stemmed from the new wave band YMO in the 70s. The members of YMO all became the biggest producers during the city-pop era in the 80s, respect.
How’s the music scene in Taipei? Has the capital influenced you as the band has grown?
Compared to the world, Taipei is not a big capital city. The music scene in Taipei is like a really big family, everyone knows each other, the scene connects tightly, it’s really mashed as well. Friends who play music that I know all have different bands/projects running at the same time.
Taipei definitely shaped us, but I can’t really describe how it has. Maybe it’s the noise of the scooters, the afternoon rain in the summer, the humid air, all the drunken nights with friends in the street parks of Taipei. They’ve all done their parts and sneakily fused into our music.
There was a five year gap between the release of your debut and the EP that followed where you took time to focus on other musical projects. Did you always have intentions to return your attention to Sunset Rollercoaster?
I personally have a couple of bands/projects going. I play bass in an experimental electronic band called Forests. I play guitar in a Mandarin folk band called Come On! Bay Bay! and also in a band with alternative folk singer Anpu. I joined these bands after Sunset Rollercoaster stopped. There was a time I rarely wrote songs because I was too busy touring with bands but I always have the desire to write my own stuff. In Taiwan joining the military service is our duty so when I was waiting for the call I had time to finish writing some ideas that had been running in my mind for years. Those are the songs featured in Jinji Kikko. I can’t really say I always had the intention to bring back Sunset Rollercoaster, I just knew it was the time when it came.
Tell us about ‘Cool of Lullaby’.
Cool of Lullaby is about the awakening of love. It was me having a monologue murmuring some cheesy stuff like Barry White would do, but it was not going that smooth. Because I don’t have that kind of low and sexy voice I decided to try something else. I asked my friend Benji to do the monologue in French and I chose the paragraph from The Little Prince that depicts the prince trying to wake up the rose, which I mixed with the jazzy chord progression and disco beats. For me, it’s an imagination of trolling romance like a 90s Hong Kong romantic comedy movie.
In March you will release your second album Cassa Nova. Can you tell us about the writing/recording process for the album and what some of the influences for the songs were?
I finished most of the songs before we went in to the studio. We tracked everything live first and then our producer Yuchain chopped those recordings in to slices/clips. We played with those clips to form new arrangements then we returned back to the studio and recorded everything again.
The main influences on the album were Prince, Dâm-Funk, Gaussian Curves, Gigi Masin, Terry Riley, Shuggie Otis, Ned Doheny and the first animation singer in Taiwan during the 90s Hi Baby.
Is there a confirmed release date for the album?
Yes, it will be released on March 14th in Asia. It will be released in other regions soon.
Can people expect a physical release for the album and/or tour dates in support of the release? We would love to see you in the U.K.
Yes, it will be released on vinyl, cassette, CD, and digital formats.
We will start a tour of China this March, followed by June dates in Japan and Korea. We would love to go to North America, South America, the U.K., Europe and Africa if we have the chance. Oh my god, we are so greedy.
In 2016 you played tour dates across the United States and Canada. How was the experience?
It was pretty fun and intense. We drove from Seattle to LA, it was crazy. We met some friends and also made some new friends during the tour. The tour inspired some of our new songs as well.
Your music (notably on video uploads of ‘My Jinji’ and ‘New Drug’ by YouTube user alona chemerys) has had an incredible reception on the internet. What are your thoughts on the shift from buying physical copies of music to online streaming and purchasing digitally?
I think it’s the future, even our money system is more digitalised now. The future is full of challenges. If people only listen to music through streaming it means that artists might lose incomes, but it’s also easy for people to get to know new things from all around the world which means that the potential market is bigger. I can’t say if it’s good or bad, it will take some time for people to find a way to strike the balance, to treat artists and audiences more fairly.
What do you think the advantages of being a musician in 2018 are?
Technology really helps, from making music to promoting the music. If music is good, it’s almost unstoppable. People around the world can easily hear it.
Do you have any tips to aspiring musicians?
I’m not sure if I have tips. I only know I really enjoy making and playing music, having good times with friends.
Be honest, be brave and be open minded to your own music, I guess?
To wrap things up, what have you been listening to recently and are there any particular artists – local or otherwise – that you think people should check out?
I’ve been listening to a new band from Indonesia called Kurosuke these days. For me it’s so easy, nothing fancy and I don’t know why but it just goes so deeply in to my heart.
Cassa Nova is available for streaming now with a physical release coming soon.
Words by Sam Wilkinson.