An Interview with Chinese Underground Rock Musician Zuoxiao Zuzhou (左小祖咒)

On China Beat, Tim Hathaway interviews underground musician Zuoxiao Zuzhou about his recent collaboration with Canadian band The Cowboy Junkies:

TH: Can you explain why you have such a distinct singing style? What reactions has it gotten?

ZXZZ: I’ve always wanted to make art more intimate and use a singing style that’s relatively easy to communicate with and to distill my art. But you know, when it comes to the aesthetics, most people stop at the level of enjoyment or its purported educational value, so there are people who say they like what I do. Others admire it. Others are indignant. There’s all kinds of reactions.

TH: How did you meet Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies?

ZXZZ: We’ve never actually met, nor have we ever directly communicated because we speak different languages. For the last two years a rock critic named Eric Chen has been our go between and helped us communicate. I’m very thankful that Cowboy Junkies thought high enough of my work. Their cover of “I Cannot Sit Sadly by Your Side” has been better received than my own version.

TH: How do you compare their sound and style to other Chinese musicians? Who do they remind you of?

ZXZZ: Cowboy Junkies’ form is similar to Xu Wei. There’s just a touch of that in there. Xu Wei also does folk, but Cowboy Junkies do a different kind of folk. They can be fairly heady sometimes. They consider me a folk artist as well. I think I’m actually a bit more wild than that.

TH: Why did you agree to work with them?

ZXZZ: I heard a kind of benevolence in their music. They are very creative artists and their love for music is almost beyond imagination. They really know what they’re doing when it comes to making new music.

Later, Hathaway asks Zuoxiao Zuzhou, who is also an artist and writer, about his friendship with Han Han and Ai Weiwei:

TH: You said you had dinner once with Ai Weiwei and Han Han. When was this and what did you talk about? Can you compare your personality and work with theirs?

ZXZZ: Han Han and I have admired each other for a long time now but we never actually met until last summer. I introduced him to Ai Weiwei that day, and they admire each other’s work too. I thought I should let them do most of the talking. Han Han and Weiwei spoke mostly of social problems. I spoke with Han Han largely about domestic life and interests. We could have gone on forever.

I’ve known Ai Weiwei for 16 years. I met him when he came back from New York’s East Village and came to Beijing’s East Village to hang out. We have a really close relationship. I stayed with him the whole time in 2009 when he went to Chengdu to present evidence for Tan Zuoren. I’m the guy wearing the hat on cover of the documentary Laoma Tihua [老妈蹄花].

Ai Weiwei and Han Han’s thinking have very strong logic, and their writing is clean and agile. They conduct themselves a bit more rationally than I do. I’m more carefree and emotive. I rely more on my instincts to create and do things. I don’t use plans. Also my age is right between theirs. Weiwei is about 12 or 13 years older and Han Han is that much younger. I’m honored to have them as friends and we get along well together.

Listen to and download the Cowboy Junkies’ song A Walk in the Park, on which Zuoxiao Zuzhou sings back-up, via Amazon here. And watch a performance by Zuoxiao Zuzhou below:


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