Interview : Laang – English

Haitao Yang, founder and guitarist/singer of the taiwanese Terror Black Metal Laang allowed me some questions to introduce his work and Xinteng, the band’s new album.

Xinteng album review

Version Française ?

Hello and first of all thank you very much for allowing a moment of your time. Could you please introduce yourself and the band Laang for someone who doesn’t know you yet?
Haitao Yang (vocals/guitar): Thank you for taking the time to speak to me! My name is Haitao Yang and I am the frontman of Laang. We are a Post-Black Metal band originating from Taiwan, and play music representing a story of trauma and an experience of death.

The word Laang can be translated by “obscurity”, but what does it represents for you? What is the link with your music?
Haitao: The name Laang is the Cantonese pinyin spelling of Leng in Mandarin Chinese, meaning “Cold”. I chose the Cantonese spelling so that the name would be more easily remembered and pronounced by Western audiences. To me, the word “cold” embodies the bleak feelings of mourning and fear I write about in our music, and further represents the mental state and disposition of an individual who has lived through trauma.

You describe your style as “Terror Black Metal”, which is the output of your near-death-experience. What does it mean for you? Is it easy to sing and think about it even years after it happens?
Haitao: “Terror Black Metal” was the best term I could find to represent the emotion I am conveying with the music of Laang. The point of the term is to capture both the dark, violent trauma and the misery and melancholy in one word.
It is honestly not easy. Even though I have come such a long way during this time, there are some traumas that no one can ever truly heal from. The difficult part of recording these albums is the vocals because this is when I have to be vulnerable and actually represent these emotions. It can be a painful process. 

Your second album Xinteng is about to be released, maybe you already have some feedback? Are you satisfied with what you’ve done on this album?
Haitao: I think I am satisfied! I can be a bit of a perfectionist sometimes so it’s hard to know when to call something “complete”. There are some things I think I could change, like if I hear a voice crack in the vocal line. But at the same time, because of the nature of my music I think it’s important to represent these raw feelings. And if I was in an emotional state when recording that caused my voice to break, then I feel it makes it a more genuine performance than something that is “manufactured”.

It is the first album since you decided that Laang will not be a one-man project anymore. Why did you take this decision?
Haitao: Initially I wanted Laang to be a one-man project because I worried that the personal nature of the music might be altered if more people were involved. But now I think that it’s important for the music to have a diversity of musical ideas applied to make the music more interesting to listeners. Not every musical idea that I have will be a good idea, and if the music will benefit from having more people with great ideas then I think that’s a great thing. It will also make live performances better!

What does it change for you? Is it easier to compose with other people? How does the composition process happen?
Haitao: It changes the speed that music will be completed at. I work very quickly, but with more people involved it can take longer as we need to exchange ideas and experiment more. The composition process generally starts with me writing all the melodies on a piano, which I’ll then expand into the orchestrations. Then I’ll record all of the “live” instruments myself, but the drums and basslines are only temporary as ideas. I’ll send the recordings to the other members to replace with whatever parts they want. Willy is a better bassist than me, and Wanling is a better drummer than me, so I trust that they will make the music better.

How did you choose the two band members to create music with?
Haitao: I always wanted Willy to be our bassist. He plays with Bloody Tyrant, a phenomenal Folk Metal band in Taiwan who really inspired me to make Laang. When I decided to add more members to the band he was the first person I asked, and I was so glad that he said yes. Wanling was a drummer for a Post-Rock band in Taiwan and after speaking a little it seemed like she would bring a great set of new ideas to the band that really excited me. 

The first singles to be revealed were Wo de Piaofu Shiti and Dongshang, why did you chose those ones? Do they have a special meaning for you?
Haitao: I chose these songs because I think they showcase the range of emotions on Xinteng. Wo de Piaofu Shiti is very much a song about giving up hope and sinking into despair, and represents the melancholic, almost doom-driven side of the album. Dongshang is on the other side, about emotional pain and turmoil, and is much more aggressive as a result. I feel that this song most accurately represents my own emotions and feelings of any song on the album, and I thought it deserved to be promoted as a single. 

I noticed that the beginning of the album is really dark, and sounds somehow becomes a bit brighter, even if it’s still melancholic. How do you build this atmosphere?
Haitao: I’m so glad you noticed this! The goal here was to represent emergence from darkness into the light, or more literally emerging from a near death experience and reconnecting with life. Yongheng de Yu as the final song represents this final emergence, though it is bittersweet as the struggle still continues. I tried to represent this with changes in production and playing techniques, adding many detuned and dissonant chords and atmospheres in the earlier songs, but gradually adding more melodic progressions and chords to the music as the songs progress. I also changed my vocal technique, making it more of a pained scream in earlier songs, while more of the “shout” heard on our first album in later songs.

Some songs are also more majestic, with orchestrations, keyboards… how do you decide to embellish some parts?
Haitao: I actually love making orchestrations. I write orchestral music for video games and movies, so any opportunity I have to add these sounds to Laang is exciting to me. All of the songs have these orchestrations, but on songs that are lighter and more melodic I can let the orchestras take a more prominent role to lead the music. I think that they can add a new level of emotional depth to the music, so I try to use it to emphasize and expand on the melodic themes. 

Why did you decide to sing in Mandarin Chinese instead of more used languages, like English?
Haitao: I wanted to represent Taiwan specifically with Laang’s music. So many Asian bands write songs in English if they want them to be successful in Western countries. Even Chthonic records two versions of their albums, one in English and one in Taiwanese just to market it to different audiences. But I don’t think that culture should have to be compromised to make the music interesting to other audiences. So I wanted to proudly present the music of Laang in Mandarin. One song on this album (Hoest) is actually sung in Norwegian, the other half of my heritage. Many have commented about my awful Norwegian accent when I pronounce Mandarin, so maybe this will sound more natural. Haha.

When and how did you discover Metal music? What is your best and your worst experience as a musician?
Haitao: My first exposure to Metal was the song Right in Two by Tool when I was 13. I became a big fan of many 90s Metal bands. When I was 15 I discovered Alcest when I saw a poster saying they were playing in the city I lived in at the time. I looked them up because I thought the art looked cool, and this ultimately led to my discovery of Black Metal.
My best experience was probably when I was asked to compose music for my first Hollywood film. I was amazed that after years of trying I had finally gotten the opportunity to work in this industry. My worst experience was when the first Laang tour was cancelled due to the political crisis in Hong Kong causing all our flights to be cancelled. I lost a lot of money, and I was disappointed to let down everyone who was excited to see us perform. 

Do you remember the first time you played an instrument? When and how was it?
Haitao: I had played some instruments passively for a lot of my childhood because I grew up around musicians, but the first time I “really” played an instrument was when I began playing guitar when I was 12. I was instantly hooked and wouldn’t put it down. I bought a very cheap used Schecter guitar and a broken Peavey amp and it has been my main hobby ever since!

Which bands could you quote as Laang’s main influences?
Haitao: Alcest, Harakiri for the Sky, Katatonia, Agrypnie, Chthonic, Bloody Tyrant, and Woods of Ypres.

The world was taken down last year by the Covid-19 crisis, how did you face the situation as a band? Did the crisis had an impact on the album creation?
Haitao: It’s been so terrible seeing how many people have died of the virus, and how so many continue to make it worse by ignoring the severity of the situation. We were very affected by COVID. We had a co-headlining US tour with a band we REALLY like booked, and that had to be cancelled before we could even announce that it was going to happen. The album Xinteng itself was also actually complete by June of 2020. However, because of issues with shipping and CD manufacturing factories being affected by the virus we were actually not able to release the album until now. 

Even if the future is still uncertain, do you have plans for the album release or even after?
Haitao: We will release the album on Talheim Records on September 30th which will come out in digipak format. We should have some additional merchandise coming around the same time which hopefully everyone will enjoy. I am thinking of creating my own hand-blended Laang teas as merchandise that are made using all Taiwan-grown tea, just as something a little different from the typical Black t-shirt merch. We are also planning live performances, if the pandemic will allow it! 

How is it to listen and play Metal in Taiwan? Is it well accepted by the country, and by your entourage? How is the local scene?
Haitao: Taiwan has a small, but dedicated Metal community. I’m sure it isn’t anywhere near as big as the Metal scene in France, but there is a great community of familiar people who will go to any Metal performance that comes. Many people are musicians, and there are so many excellent bands. Unfortunately many are not heard outside of Taiwan. Since Freddy Lim of Chthonic serves in Taiwan parliament this has also given great visibility to Metal music in the country. The prime minister even gave a speech at one of their performances! 

Do you have hobbies aside from music? Do you also have a job, or does your music income allow you to live?
Haitao: Aside from music I have a passion for drinking tea, raising Luna moths, learning about science, reading, and playing video games. My “day job” is I am a PhD student in biology. Aside from that, I teach guitar lessons at a local music school and I work as a freelance music producer writing music for film & video games, and doing mixing & mastering for different bands. I hope to be able to one day make a living from music work. I’m going to keep doing my best and maybe one day I can!

Maybe you already heard about the french Metal scene? Which french bands do you know and like?
Haitao: ALCEST! Haha. Of course Amesoeurs and Les Discrets comes with that too. I also really like Les Chants Du Hazard, Blut Aus Nord, Anorexia Nervosa, and Year of No Light. One day I’ll come see Hellfest, I actually think they have better lineups than Wacken!

What if I ask you to compare Laang’s music with a dish? Which one and why?
Haitao: A food dish? That’s a difficult question. In light of the new album art I will say jellyfish. Cold, painful, half dead, not commonly enjoyed, and mostly enjoyed in Asian countries. Haha.

Do you plan to play live someday? With which bands would you love to play? I let you create a tour with three bands of your choice and Laang as opener!
Haitao: Yes! We actually will be announcing our tour next month! It will be in a new part of the world co-headlining with a band who are great friends of ours. We’ve also been asked to play at a festival in Germany sometime, if possible we hope to have a full European tour booked to make this happen! Hopefully the pandemic will properly end so it can happen safely.
My dream tour would be with Alcest, Harakiri for the Sky, and Bliss-Illusion. If bands could come back from the dead then Woods of Ypres would be included too. 

It was my last question, so once again thank you very much for your time! Last words of this interview are yours!
Haitao: Thank you so much for your support, I really appreciate it so much. Our album Xinteng will be out September 30th, and I truly hope everyone reading this will be able to connect with our music and we can form this connection. To borrow the words of my good friend Remy from ESP, “Stay humble, stay kind, and stay in touch!”

Album premiere: September 29th, 2021

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