With Rock-A-Bop right around the corner, we managed to catch up with Shanghai music lynchpin (being the most prolific producer on the local scene) Adam Gaensler to talk about his blues band Hellhounds, the lack of blues music in Shanghai and some of the other exciting bands in the city.
SH 24/7: Could you breakdown the band for us?
Gaensler: We're a four-piece blues band. I'm on guitar and vocals, Tony Smith is also on guitar and a bit of vocals, Brian Duke is on the drums and normally our bass player is a guy called Nate Mallon, but he's away at the moment, so we've got a guy called Juba filling-in. Juba will be playing at Rock-A-Bop. Tony and I share lead guitar and rhythm guitar duties; it just depends which song it is. We were approached by B.O, as he really digs blues and stuff like that.
SH 24/7: How long have you been playing?
Gaensler: Not long. I think it was September or October of last year when we started playing together. The short story is that Nate and I used to play together in another blues band, called the Georgia Sand Blues Band, which just ended when the singer went back to the States. He came back for a visit in maybe September of last year, and we just had so much fun doing it again, so we decided to do it without the old singer and put together Hellhounds.
SH 24/7: Where do you guys practise?
Gaensler: JZ School. Three of us (Gaensler, Smith and Duke) are JZ School teachers, so it's pretty convenient for us.
SH 24/7: Do you guys write music there, too?
Gaensler: It's all covers. It's old school blues covers.
SH 24/7: Who do you cover?
Gaensler: Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, Allmand Brothers, Hendrix, Bo Diddley. Can't think of any of the others, but Howlin' Wolf is very well represented. Also a bit of Robert Johnson in there. It's mostly just authentic 50's and 60's blues. There's a bit of Albert Collins in there, too.
SH 24/7: Are your history's all firmly planted in blues?
Gaensler: We've all done diverse things, but it all comes back to blues. Everyone is pretty into their blues.
SH 24/7: What influences the songs you cover?
Gaensler: Just the songs we like. We send out emails with song selections and links to the tunes. The really cool thing about the blues and going to get a stand-in bassist is that it's the blues. That makes learning the set relatively easy. All of the songs have the same chord progression, but their or sublte variations to each one. Some songs have different grooves, different rhythms, different stops here and there, and some have different formats. But the basic chord structure of each verse is the same. Even if you're new to the band, once the song is two bars in you kind of know where it's going to go, it's no sweat for us.
SH 24/7: Do you plan on writing any originals?
Gaensler: Nate's got a few written that he wants to bring to the band, and I've thought about it a little bit, but it's not a full occupation of my focus, it's just a fun project. We love playing blues, it's really fun to play, so we're not thinking too much about it. We're focusing on rehearsing and sounding good and playing well, but it's just a fun thing that we're doing.
SH 24/7: Have you all been in bands previous to Hellhounds?
Gaensler: We're all experienced players. Duke, the drummer, is a full time musician. As I said, it started as me and Nate having played before, and wanting to do it more. However, for the other three of us it's a sort of natural extension. We're playing music all day in a teaching capacity, and blues is just so much fun, it makes sense for a bunch of guys who all teach together to play together. It's nice to have camaraderie like that at work, too. We've all done diverse things, but it all comes back to blues. Everyone is pretty into their blues.
SH 24/7: What are some other blues bands in Shanghai?
Gaensler: There's the Cotton Club crew. They are pretty solid, but they really only play at the Cotton Club, and the odd festivals. Maybe they do other things too, but you never really see them anywhere else. Aside from them, I don't really know. That's also part of why we really wanted to do it; there is no one else really doing it. Blues is not just fun for us, but - if it's done right - it's fun for the audience as well. So we thought, "Here's a niche we can fill, no sweat."
SH 24/7: Are you planning on recording anything?
Gaensler: We haven't planned on it. If things go really well, like if we get great reception, and we start to rehearse these tracks of Nate's, or if I write something, sure, we might record. But it's not something we're currently thinking about. As I said, the real focus of this band is just to play music, and have a good time, and have a good time with the audience.
I don't really see any purpose in recording an album of blues covers. The originals are good enough, and it's nothing no one has done before. I don't honestly think we are bringing much new material to the whole genre. We're just playing music and having a good time. We're not trying to be some original thing, we're just a blues band.
SH 24/7: How has the reception been at the shows you have played?
Gaensler: There weren't that many at the Shanhai one, but the O'Malley's one was great. We were on last, and there was music and beer flowing all day long. The two bands before us in the evening, one did three sets, and the other did two sets. All covers as well. And the crowd was just lapping it up, so when the last band finished, they were just ripe for the plucking. This guy came up to us in a panic, and asked us what we were going to play. "It's covers right? It's stuff we can sing along to? It's Nirvana and stuff like that right?" And we told him it was the blues, and he was a bit confused. But the whole show went really well.
It was packed and everyone was tanked up and rowdy, so it was great. It was a late night, but it was a lot of fun, and very well received. It was really encouraging after our first gig at Shanhai, playing to a relatively empty room. It was great to play the tunes to a big audience, and very encouraging for us.
SH 24/7: More broadly, what other Shanghai bands are you keeping an eye on at the moment?
Gaensler: Stegosaurus?, I'm recording their new album at the moment. That's going to be pretty cool. All my mates too, like Rainbow Danger Club and Friend or Foe. They'll both have some new material coming out soon. Death To Giants and Death To Ponies as well. It's been kind of quiet recently, apart from the JUE Festival recently. The Song Dynasty is another band I'm a big fan of. They're doing great things right now. They just got back from a two week tour in the States.
And I've got my own project, we're having a CD release soon. That project is the Illumin8tors, the rock opera. That's probably what I'm most excited about. I've been working on that for a while, and we're going to have a launch in about a month. We started recording it in November, and finally finished up the mixing and mastering like three weeks ago. We're launching May 6th, with a show at Mao Livehouse along with The Horde. Its the same show that we did last year, but I'm really excited about the record release.
SH 24/7: Who did you work with on that project?
Gaensler: Dave and Estelle, who used to be in Hotter Than Teppanyaki, Becca Smith, who used to be in Break for Borneo and also used to be in a band with me called the Dove Tail Joints. My wife is in it, and a bunch of other people really. It is a really exciting project.
SH 24/7: So what are your thoughts on the Shanghai music scene going forward?
Gaensler: It's exciting. It's bubbling you know. We just did that compilation that we released in January (We Are Shanghai Volume 1). The digital release has 20 tracks on it, and we had to pare it down for the CD release because it was just too long. But we're going to start taking submissions soon for Volume 2. There is so much happening, it's just a shame that there is no real infrastructure and there are no labels in the traditional sense, and there is no money or market for it really either.
There are great things going on, but there is not a huge audience for what we're doing. It's just kind of us in the rock scene, we're just kind of doing it for ourselves, but there seems to be something missing. It's just such a small scene, no matter how awesome your album is, or how good you are as a band, it's hard to break out.