Thursday, 3 July 2014

A Ying(hao) to our Yang

By Lee Joon Lei

Despite its initial obscurity, Singapore’s “only Chinese Heavy Metal band” is starting to warm up the local music scene with its unparalleled concept.

Young Yet Traditional: Ying Hao, the frontman of namesake band Yinghao sings in a bar at Music Matters Live 2014. PHOTO CREDITS: MARCUS MARK RAMOS

Let’s face it, the hardest part of starting a band is most likely trying to find a workable yet unpretentious band name that doesn’t shortchange your lofty ambitions. And over the years, there has been a whole slew of tragic examples to take heed from. Some names are clumsy and generic, while others run like forgettable tongue-twisters that leave rookie emcees scratching their heads.

If there’s one inescapable truth about local band names, it would be that there will always be at least one on the set list that is embossed with some obscure French or Latin shorthand that most people have trouble pronouncing, let alone understand.

Some laugh these names off. While other, more concerned parties lament the Eurocentric adoption of Western languages and express worry for the country’s traditional cultures that are fast-diminishing at the hands of our generation.

And it is with this sense of urgency that 23-year-old Tan Ying Hao embarked on his latest musical project, a Mandarin and Hokkien metal band whose conventional sound is infused with that of traditional Chinese instruments.

Formed in October 2013 and going by the confident moniker of Yinghao, the singer has been turning heads of late with his audacious brand of music that breaks the monotony of a Western-dominated genre.

“Preserving my Chinese roots is something that is huge to me, and the band’s language and sound are a reflection of who I am. As a songwriter and musician, I think that it would be more interesting and fresh to others if we brought out our own ‘unique difference’, expressing them in our music, rather than sticking to the same formula all the time,” said the frontman of the band.

Citing bands like Testament and X-Japan as influences, the band marries the accessibility of radio-rock with the technical freedom of 80s-influenced heavy metal, allowing the technically gifted bunch to switch between soaring guitar runs, dizzying drum fills, and that signature oriental vocal-style that has been getting them unprecedented attention.

Casper Francis, the band’s keyboardist, commented, “I wouldn’t say that singing in Chinese or Hokkien gives us an advantage in the conventional sense, but I guess it does help people remember us easier. They might not remember our names but they will remember us as the band that sings in Hokkien because that’s what sets us apart.”

Because of this, Yinghao has enjoyed a fairly great start to its musical endeavours. Apart from the successful launch of its debut ‘Black Panther’ EP earlier this month, the sextet has also played at Music Matters Live 2014 and appeared on local Chinese radio station, Capital 95.8FM.

“It was encouraging to see 100 supporters turn up to show their support during the album launch; it was a hard-rocking, head-banging session and we had a lot of fun!” remarked Ying Hao.

He added, “The radio station wanted to interview us as they found the concept of our band and the fact that we have a Javanese Guzheng player very interesting. It’s nice to see the Chinese stations supporting local Chinese music and we were very flattered by their interest.”

But it has not always been smooth-sailing. Because of their unique musical approach, the band feels like they might have been overlooked for certain shows, with some organisers unwilling to gamble on the pulling power of this new concept. However, they remain optimistic that these teething problems are only short-term.

“We may have missed a couple of opportunities due to the nature of our band. Perhaps people need a bit more time to get accustomed to our brand of music, and we hope that we will get more opportunities as time passes,” expressed Nathan, the band’s bassist.

It may have only been mere months since its inception, but Yinghao is already looking towards the future. And with the band’s unapologetically oriental name and mandopop-esque album art, there'll be no prizes for correctly guessing where the band plans to be headed next.

Ying Hao stated, “We are looking at expanding into markets like Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, where they are more accustomed to mandarin. We see our future fans as a good mix of those who like old school rock and those who are into Chinese music.”

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