“I say what I mean.”
When an interview begins like that you know it’s going to be a good one. Contemplative, straightforward, and well-informed — something that doesn’t necessarily come across in run of the mill music coverage.
Lamb of God vocalist Randy Blythe is lending immense star power to Taiwanese black metal band Chthonic’s movie Tshiong (衝組). How did the frontman for one of America’s biggest metal acts land a role in a cult comedy halfway across the world?
I chatted with him the day after he arrived in Taipei to help promote the film at its premiere.
Tell us the story about how you got to know Chthonic.
We met on tour, Ozzfest 2007, I believe? Ozzfest gets kind of hazy at times. They were on the 2nd Stage and a friend of mine, Chris Johnston was driving them (regrettably he passed away a few years ago), and they were the first Asian band to be on Ozzfest.
And you know, I thought it was interesting they had a henna [erhu] player and I was checking them out like ‘who is this crazy Asian black metal band’? It’s just not something you see all the time, so I just started talking to them. Afterwards we would barbecue every night and cook out. There was a holiday coming up, a Taiwanese holiday…I think it’s the holiday of the hungry ghosts?
Oh yeah, Ghost Month!
Freddy and Doris told me, “It’s our holiday and we make all this food for the ancestors, and then everybody eats, and we’re gonna cook up a bunch of food over at the second stage.” Because we were always grilling steaks and hot dogs and stuff, they were going to do it Taiwanese style.
I said, “Awesome!” because I love Asian food. I eat it all the time, my wife is half Chinese.
So I went over there and just ate and ate and ate and ate and we just became friends. One thing that really interested me about Chthonic was not that they are just this Asian metal band, but the reason behind the aesthetic. The use of Taiwanese mythology, and the look and words, and the use of traditional instrumentation to further their political views about Taiwanese independence. I come from the punk rock scene and politics is a big part of music in the punk rock scene, and I thought it was really cool that they were doing that.
What was also fascinating to me was that when they would play, there would be all these people from Taiwanese American associations wherever we went would show up, because they’re a Taiwanese band. So you would see like an 80 year old Taiwanese man in a Chthonic T-shirt at Ozzfest, and that’s not something you see often.
So I was like, these guys are really cool; they are very smart, very talented people. And we just became friends, you know. And I respect that they have something to say, they make music that has substance to it, you know, it’s not just “Arrh! Heavy metal!”
Some time later, they had a DVD filming at Sing Ling Temple in Taiwan, and Freddy sent me an email saying, ‘Hey man, if you want, we’ll fly you over here to sing one song with us in an ancient temple in the mountains of Taiwan, and then you can just cruise around on vacation for a week, and you can bring your wife. Do you want to do that?”
And I said, “Yes, Freddy! Yes I do.”
So my wife and I came over here, spent two or three days with Chthonic, did the show at Sing Ling Temple, which is really cool, you should go if you’ve never been there. It’s a historical place, the site of a battle, so, very very cool. The show was great, people were throwing ghost money, and we played outdoors in this crazy temple in the mountains.
My wife and I then spent like 10 days cruising all around Taiwan. Like, we went to Alishan, we went to Toroko Gorge, all that good stuff, and we just hung out.
A couple years later Freddy and Doris sent me another email they said, “Hey, we are making an action movie, do you want to be in an action movie?”
And I said, “Yes! Yes I do.”
It’s like every time they ask me if I want to do something like, come over here and eat food with us on the side stage, come sing with us in the temple, come be in a movie, it’s awesome! So whenever they send me an email, I just want to write ‘yes’ automatically. ‘Yes, I’ll do it.’ And so here I am.
So you mentioned that your wife is half Chinese — what part of China?
Her mother was born and raised in Shanghai, and she left cause, you know, Chairman Mao started…
Haha yeah! So she left when she was like eight or nine, and hadn’t been back in…I don’t know…sixty or some odd years. My wife has never been to China, and ; snever met a lot of her family. I told her one year, “You need to go to China with your mom, your mom’s getting old and I’ll send you two to China.”
They were like, “Do you wanna come?” and I’m like, “No, mother and daughter should go do this first.” So they went back to her mom’s apartment where she grew up in Shanghai, and there’s an old man living there in the apartment and he still had the bill of sale from my wife’s grandfather when he sold the building to that guy.
She got to go back up in there and see stuff she hadn’t seen since she was a little girl.
You said you come from the punk rock scene, which is very political, right? Do you support Chthonic’s views regarding Taiwanese Independence?
I wouldn’t have appeared in the movie if I weren’t!
I don’t know if I’ll be allowed to play in China again after this movie comes out [laughs]. I mean, we [Lamb of God] weren’t allowed in China; Lamb of God tried to go to China for like, eight years or something, and they wouldn’t let us in because they thought we were this evangelical Christian organization because of the name.
And finally we got the show booked in Beijing and Shanghai during the time of the World Expo. We got there and we got the permit to go to Beijing, but they cancelled our Shanghai show; I guess because they didn’t want heavy metal there or something, we don’t know why. Eventually the last time we went back we went to Beijing and Shanghai.
Oh so you have played both cities.
Yeah it was cool. I would definitely go back to play China again, and especially since I have family there, you know.
When I went there the first time I was glad my wife had already gone there because…I didn’t want any of my political views to prevent her from ever being let into the country. But so far it hasn’t, I mean, I don’t know what will happen with the movie.
I think, I mean…Taiwan is its own country. Yeah, why wouldn’t the people that live here want to run it? That makes sense, you know. In America, if England all of a sudden said, “Hey, we want to run America again.” We would say “Screw you. This is America, not England!”
And it’s the same thing here.
The history of Taiwanese politics is very complex as you know. I’ve barely wrapped my head around it. When I was here last time I talked to a guy named Andrew who is a writer, and he explained a lot of it to me, what with Chiang Kai-shek moving here and all the stuff that happened at the end of World War II.
So I know about Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek fighting, war broke out, they stopped fighting, World War Two ends, they split and Chiang grabs all of China’s gold reserves and cruises to Taiwan, declares himself ruler of China from Taiwan…so yeah, it’s really bizarre.
Taiwan doesn’t have a UN representative right? Because nobody knows supposedly who owns Taiwan.
Did you come here during the last election?
Yes! It’s crazy to me, all these people cruising down the street screaming and yelling and that stuff. I mean, it’s not my place as a foreigner to say these people should rule Taiwan, or those people should rule Taiwan, you know?
I can say what I believe, which is that the people who live here, the Taiwanese, should rule Taiwan in whatever form that takes. So what Freddy and Chthonic are about makes sense to me.
(This interview has been edited for publication. Feature photo by Jimmy T’s Photography)
Tsiong opens everywhere in Taiwan on December 29. See below for more info:
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