RGM Interview – Shanghai Treason

Hiya folks thanks for joining us in the virtual RGM lounge again, grab a brew and take a seat.

Introduce us all to the members and your musical history?

Thanks for having us, really happy to be here doing this! So I’ll start with the easy one – I’m Alex, I’m the drummer for Shanghai Treason! I joined the band after our guitarist Tom played a solo set with my other band. He told me he’d been trying to start a Celtic Punk band with a few people and they were struggling to find a drummer. I headed down to a practice and found out these people were our vocalist Sam, who I’d known from his work as a promoter, and our multi-instrumentalist Hardy. We kept meeting up and writing songs but we couldn’t find a bass player until one night we met Joel working behind the bar at Yellow Arch Studios, and found out he played bass! We started practicing with him and our lineup has been the same since!

We recorded our debut EP, started releasing music, then headed out on a couple of tours all over the UK, including our first gig supporting Buzzcocks in Manchester! It was the best reception any of us had seen to our own music and spirits were incredibly high, and we were ready to bring the band to the next level. And then COVID hit and put a standstill to all of that, but thankfully we’ve managed to continue working on the band, and now we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, we’re more than ready to hit the ground running the second we can!

It’s been a bit of a wild last year, how have you guys managed to pass time and stay sane during lockdown?

We started off by making a covers EP which we recorded ourselves and sold on BandCamp, with all profits going to the NHS, which was a really fun, cool project to keep us occupied. After that we started writing new songs, and eventually ended up with a full album ready to go! We finished the songs and rehearsed them together once restrictions were lifted, then recorded it all before we went back into lockdown! So we were incredibly lucky how things worked out there timeline-wise. I think it would be really easy to give up and let things slide due to lockdown but we were giving a couple of opportunities – to have our record produced by Dan Booth and Luke Wheatley at Arch Audio, and to work with Black Dingo Productions on the release! It was a dream situation for us despite everything and I think it gave us the drive and enthusiasm to get something done despite the absolute shit show of a year it’s been! 

How positive are you feeling now we are in 2021?

Let’s say cautiously optimistic? We’ve got an album coming out and we’re starting to look at getting some shows booked in again, and it’s the best things have looked in a long time in terms of us actually coming out of lockdown! So I’m incredibly excited to see the past year of work finally start to pay off! But equally I don’t want to get my hopes too high, who knows if we’ll be back in lockdown again soon, it wouldn’t be the first time unfortunately. I’ll let that healthy bit of cynicism keep me in check til we see something more concrete in the coming months. 

How has 2020 effected your mental health?

Personally, I’ve found it difficult to go from playing music in some form most nights a week to having the majority of a year where you can’t play shows or even get in a rehearsal room together for most of it. I like to be busy working on something constantly or I get a bit restless, I need that kind of constant forward momentum to stay positive, so it’s not been the easiest year. It’s quite hard to motivate yourself without that end goal to work towards I find but I feel very lucky that we managed to get a whole album written and recorded. I’m grateful for the opportunities we’ve been given and that we’ve had the drive to work on stuff throughout the whole pandemic in whatever form we could, that definitely had a hugely positive effect on my mental health. I can’t imagine what it’d have been like without it! But now we’re at the point we’ll start seeing our work pay off, it’s a really exciting time! 

As an experienced group/collective, drawing on your experiences, how does the industry feel today compared to 5 or 10 years ago?

I think you have to be smarter today, especially in terms of social media and how you release music. Everyone is bombarded with so much shit online I think any current artist needs to try and regularly post and release meaningful, engaging content or you get lost in the noise. We’re lucky to have gained attention from people online, but it could be so easy to lose that. It’s not enough to just write songs and throw them out, play a few gigs, that’s just a part of it these days, and I don’t think there’s any way for a new band to reject that and be relevant in today’s world, regardless of my personal opinions on any of it.  You have to get on board with it.

In terms of releasing music as well, it’s changed a lot thanks to streaming. I think like some of my favorite albums don’t have singles or videos released from them.  That seems crazy to me now. Every album coming out seems to get 5/6 singles on it now and it makes sense in today’s world. If you release a 12 track album, most people will only hear the singles off it, so traditionally 2-3 songs. You’re wasting the majority of your work that way. And I know the full-length album is said to be a dead format by a lot of people, but I think it can still work, you just need to give the focus to a lot more tracks on it so it’s not a wasted effort. We play in a genre where the album is still a valued thing, but equally, we need the big singles to draw in an audience who isn’t going to listen to the whole thing as well as the hardcore fans. The advantage of this I think is filler tracks can’t cut it anymore. You need to strive to make every song worthy of that individual focus even if they fit together as a larger piece of work. If you can do both, I think you’re onto a winner!

What’s your favourite song right now from another band currently on the circuit?

Not a band as such, but I’ve gotta give a shout out to my boy Josh Foers here, he releases music online under the name J-Fo Music. It’s Hip Hop kind of stuff with a lot of neo soul, jazz, funk and electronic influences. I love his work and it’s a unique sound I don’t see anyone else creating at the minute! And he produces everything himself, which is pretty punk rock. Check out his track Crystal Clear if I have to recommend just one!

What useless talent do you have/ party trick? 

I have a compulsive need to fill my head with useless information about any artist I enjoy. I can’t just listen to it I have to learn everything about every aspect of it and watch every interview. Which I’ll bring up any time I’ve had a drink no matter how unwarranted. Does that count? It’s a party trick in the sense that it’s good for making people wish I’d go home and stop ruining the party.

What was the most fun you have had on stage?

100% gotta be our headline show at Corp in Sheffield! It’s a venue I’ve played before but never headlined so it was definitely an experience in that sense, one of the biggest headline shows I’ve personally ever played! And we had the whole room going crazy, it was such a fun, energetic show. I remember us playing our song Drowning Heart and looking out at the crowd, and everyone was jumping round for the whole 3 minutes, that image will stay with me forever! 

What was the worst experience on stage?

I don’t think Shanghai have had a bad experience yet thankfully, dodged that bullet somehow so far! But in a super early, pretty shitty band I was in when I was about 16, we were playing in some random pub in Mexborough to about 5 people at 3 in the afternoon as part of a failed all dayer. We weren’t a heavy band but we had a few sections with some screaming in. All the other bands were indie bands so don’t know why we were booked. So we’re about 2 songs in and we get to one of the screamed parts and most of the few people we were playing to left, walking right in front of the stage while we played, and being a family friendly event, the couple of children watching started crying. Can’t say I blame any of them.

Tell us something about each member that you think people would be surprised about? 

Our lead singer Sam, when it comes to promoting the band and booking shows, the guy’s a walking talking encyclopedia of venues and promoters!  His experience in that is invaluable. If every band had a member with that knowledge they’d go a lot further I can guarantee! Our guitarist Tom Jackson – as well as being a great guitarist he’s the only member of the band who doesn’t drink. And I don’t know how he copes with the rest of us sober. He’s the youngest but probably the most grown up member of the band! Our multi instrumentalist Tom Hardy is an insanely talented songwriter in just about any genre he wants to be! He can play just about any instrument and I’m incredibly jealous of that! The speed he can pick up how to play a new instrument, and get straight to writing parts on it that blow our minds, is really crazy! He’s also an insanely tight studio musician, playing all those ripping banjo parts perfectly in like no time at all. I don’t know how he does it. Our bassist Joel is probably the nicest guy on the planet. He used to work as a zombie scare actor at an air soft centre but quit after one shift cause it hurt too much. One of my favorite bassists to play with for sure, every friend I have who knows anything about music has nothing but great things to say about his playing, I have no idea how he has the stamina to play like he does in our faster songs!   

Tell us a funny story from backstage?

Once we were backstage at a show in London, in early March 2020, talking about how all this COVID stuff wouldn’t affect anything long term and making all our plans for the rest of the year, expecting it to blow over pretty quickly. You’ve gotta laugh at or else you’ll cry.

Name a four piece band made up of legends – who would be in it? (drummer, bass, lead singer etc)

My versions of legends might differ from a lot of people, but if I had to choose – Chris Hannah from Propagandhi on guitar and Brendan Kelly from The Lawrence Arms on vocals – those are my two favourite songwriters, always write such cool songs and always have something important to say, so I think a merge of the two would create something really cool. Bass wise, someone like Geddy Lee from Rush, I love the way the bass carries the melody in their songs and isn’t just filling out the bottom end. Drums wise, someone like Ilan Rubin, cause the guy can play anything and I don’t know if there’s a drum sound I prefer than what he gets out of his kit! 

Who would you like to work with on the circuit right now?

I’d love for us to play a gig with the band Roughneck Riot. They’re a Celtic Punk band similar to us, so I think it’d be a great fit! I think with this genre, you tend to get bands who are at their roots a folk band, with the extra aggression and energy of punk, or you get stuff more rooted in the punk side of stuff, but with your folk instrumentation on top of that. They definitely seem like they draw more on the fast, melodic punk side of stuff to me, which is what I personally enjoy listening to a lot, and I feel is relatively similar to our take on the genre, so I think a gig  with the both of us would really go off!   

What tips do you have booking tours and managing the travel?

Be in a band with Sam Christie. He’s great at it. But seriously, I think doing things yourself is the most important way of booking tours. If you want to play a city, but can’t find a promoter it doesn’t matter. Find some bands, make friends, find a venue, and book your own shows. You take control that way, and you make the contacts for yourself, and every time you do it you build up your list of guys to work with and learn more so you’re always improving and progressing as a band. It’s a lot of work but it puts the power in your hands and it opens up so many opportunities, you just have to make them for yourself.

Travel wise, I’m the only one in the band that doesn’t drive, so either take my lazy route out and sit there in the back of the van sleeping til you reach the venue, or make sure you all split the driving so no one person is always shattered before you even reach the venue. Book shows close to each other in a route that makes sense – don’t be going from Brighton to Edinburgh and skipping all the cities in between.

Right now, whats pissing you of the most? (Cant say the virus 🙂 

Lots of musician’s negative reactions to the kind of music younger kids are enjoying these days. Like I understand I’m not the target audience for this stuff and I’m fine with that. I try to look at everything, whether I enjoy it or not, as something I can learn something from, whether musically or from a marketing perspective of like ‘why do people enjoy this and how can I apply that to what I do’. To get that actively angry about it just rubs me the wrong way and seems incredibly close minded. So I can’t stand that kind of attitude. But equally I can’t stand people trying too hard to appeal to that younger crowd that just makes me cringe. Particular when it’s like a trend hopping kind of thing. I think the way to have a sustainable career is to do something you’re passionate about, find the audience for that, hone in on it, and work hard at it. And people will see that and recognise it. Putting your energy into worrying what other people would enjoy, either way, is just a waste.   

Tell us about a time when you had a proper reyt laugh while you were all together?

Probably our last gig before lockdown – we played the Banshee’s Labyrinth in Edinburgh, one of my favorite venues and cities to play! Such a cool venue, it’s supposedly an old haunted building if you believe in that stuff, but a really good vibe either way, it’s got all these different floors with different bars, and even a little cinema in it playing old horror films. I remember hanging out there and seeing Edinburgh together being a really fun time! 

We recently reviewed your last single. How did you feel the review went?

I loved it! Appreciated the kind words and the last interview you did with Sam was a great read! It’s great to see people understanding exactly what we’re about!

I hear you have a new single brewing, what can you tell us about it?

Yeah we have a new single coming out called ‘Emerald Causeway’, it’s the first single off our album coming out this Friday (12th March), just in time for St. Patrick’s day, fits the Celtic vibe pretty well! It’s a real energetic, catchy, powerful first single and a perfect representation of our take on the genre! It came together really quickly as part of the second group of songs we wrote and recorded for the album, and I’m really excited to get it out there for people to listen to. Shout-outs to Dan and Luke for producing it and Luca from Black Dingo for the killer mix of it!


How was the recording process given the various restrictions the UK has been under of late?

We travelled down to Arch Audio in Mansfield over the summer for our first few sessions once restrictions were lifted. We had these songs more or less finished writing wise when we came down and we blasted about 7 out over a few days. Due to social distancing we had to travel down in smaller groups for different days, so I don’t remember there being any day the whole band was there which was a strange one, but overall it went smoothly!

The second group of songs was recorded just before things got rough again. I think we recorded 6 this time. These were written a lot quicker and we really felt the pressure but a lot of our best songs came from these sessions in my opinion! Due to the time constraints and not being able to practice in person any way near as much as we usually would, these songs really took on a life of their own in the studio, and Dan and Luke’s input was invaluable. It was hard work and not an ideal situation but in the end, I think it really paid off, and I’m incredibly happy with the final result! 

What are your plans for the year ahead?

Release more singles, put out our album, and hopefully get to play some tours and festivals towards the back half of the year! We really want to hit the ground running and make up for all this lost time. And get to work on new music too! I feel we’ve really hit our stride writing and playing together, we’re still a relatively new band but I think we’ve all got a feel for each other now and know what our strengths are, individually and as a group. Hardy (our multi instrumentalist) showed me some demos he’d been working on and there’s some gold there, I can’t wait to get to work on it!

Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?

Support your favorite bands, labels, and venues! The smaller ones are the backbone of the industry yet seem to receive the least support, and without them, the whole thing crumbles. It means more than you could know and in times like these, any support you can give is invaluable if we want there to be anything left to go back to when all of this is over!

And check us out on social media, keep an eye out for more new music and shows when they can happen, and get in touch, we love to hear from you and can’t wait to see you all in person once live music can happen again!

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