Interview with CHTHONIC bassist Doris Yeh
In the midst of a hefty touring schedule, CHTHONIC bassist Doris Yeh set aside some time to answer some questions regarding the band’s ideology, rapport, and ultimate success.
Think back to the early days of Chthonic, particularly the mid to late 90s. What do you feel was your strongest method for getting recognized over the other bands?
There weren’t as many metal bands in Taiwan during that time, so we were noticed easily. We think it’s because the stories we talked about in our music are related to Eastern Asia’s history as well as mythology, and that helped our music resonate with many fans.
As the 2000s came to a close, the band not only achieved massive success in Asia, but also Europe and the United States. At what point did you start to extend your reach internationally?
We decided to set our markets overseas from 2007, and we’ve been playing in some big music festivals, such as Download, Ozzfest, Bloodstock, Fuji Rock, Summersonic and so on. We played the main stage in Wacken Open Air in 2014 in our third time there. From touring all over Europe and the United States many times, all these festivals and gigs around the world combined together, and that was the key to making our music go wide and build up a stronger fan base for us.
One factor about your band’s music that I took immediate notice of was your integrating multiple languages in songs—from classical Taiwanese in early releases, to Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, and English later on. Was that factor simply meant as an experiment, or did you consider it more as a key to broaden your audience?
Among our works, one of the most important elements is the spirit of Taiwanese history and mythology we talk about in our music. Thus, we first use Taiwanese, our mother tongue, to directly deliver our ideas at the very first place, and then translate the songs into English and other languages to make sure that an audience who cannot read Taiwanese could get a clear panorama of what Chthonic is singing in our music. The key concept is to spread the Taiwanese spirit out, but it is also helpful when introducing our music to a new audience.
During your tours with bands around the world, are there any bands that have impacted you, not only as a musician, but on a personal level?
We’ve had the opportunity to tour with Arch Enemy many times in both the US to Europe since 2002. Arch Enemy is a great band and it was a pretty good experience to tour with them. They are incredible, and very powerful and professional on stage. Looking back to the first time we toured with Arch Enemy back then, it was also our first time playing in a Western country. We were very nervous at that time. But after years of experience, we shared our ideas with each other and grew up much. The process was really amazing for us.
How do international audiences respond to your live performances, especially given your revolving visual aesthetic over the years?
I think we are really lucky to have generally positive responses to our performances and music. Some of our international fans were keen to know more about what we said in our lyrics, so they started to learn the Taiwanese language as well as the history of Taiwan. They have also brought some Taiwanese flags with them and colored their faces like our members to show how they supported us. These are really fantastic things to help cheer us up.
Your latest album, Timeless Sentence, is an admirable complement to your metal sound, even with its predominant acoustic nature. Interestingly, your live performance of those songs featured a similar spectacle to your metal shows. On the other hand, what kinds of feelings did you experience that differed from being in the typical metal setting?
Timeless Sentence is actually the first acoustic album of Chthonic. We started doing the acoustic tour in Taiwan in 2013, and that led to doing a show on MTV Unplugged. Last year, we were invited to give an acoustic performance at the Fuji Rock Festival. In the beginning, we thought it would be energy-saving to play more acoustic than metal. Normally after playing metal shows, all our members are sweaty and tired, but when playing acoustic shows, we all sit well-behaved without any headbanging (laughs). However, after so many acoustic gigs, we found that we were born to be metal heads. We really miss playing metal shows!
Lastly, what do you consider your greatest achievements as a band?
We had the 20th anniversary concert of CHTHONIC last December in Taipei landmark Liberty Square, and successfully gathered over 20,000 audiences to take part in the concert. As you may know, the concert is a full fan-funded campaign. We launched the funding campaign last September and got great response at beginning. After the success of funding, we started to concern about how to design a great performance. We also worried that the rain or bad weather would stop fans to come. Fortunately, our fans were really amazing. The Liberty Square was full of people and got really crowded.
The success of this concert also led to the victory of our vocalist, Freddy Lim, in his election for congressman. He is now the first rock star to enter into parliament in Asia. It is an incredible achievement for CHTHONIC, and we strongly believe it is a direct result of what the influence of our music has had on the youth of Taiwan.