Photo by Yang Xiaozhe
Rainbow Danger Club play their last show this weekend (for a while, at least), as founding member Jesse Munson is leaving town to go live in Texas. Over the past three years they’ve released two albums and two, three EPs, and delighted and beguiled audiences in Shanghai, Beijing, Wuhan and Hangzhou, as well as 15 cities in the US, with their baroque journeys into fantastical worlds of mermaids, cloud cities, lullabies and human cannonballs. Their latest album, Souvenirs, is available to download from Bandcamp here.
The Saturday show is an all-day thing with 16 bands playing from 2pm at YYT. Sunny days are here. Make it an all-day RDC love-in. Full info here.
RDC is made up of songwriter and lyricist Jesse Munson (lead songwriter and lyricist, vocals, guitar, piano, ukulele, synth, saw) and producer/arranger Dennis Ming Nichols (lead producer and arranger, vocals, bass, trombone, synths, piano, banjo, some songwriting and lyrics), with Micheal Corayer on trumpet and keys, Micheal Ford on drums and percussion, and Todd St. Amand on cello. Here Jesse and Nichols, list their favorite five RDC tracks. Consider it a musical history of the band. Take it away fellas.
Jesse Munson: Moon Song
"The idea of children floating up to the moon came when I was living in Japan. I was on vacation and was (illegally) camping on a beach in Okinawa. The moon was really clear and we had nothing to do but sit in the sand and look up. I remember hearing scientists say that the moon was closer to Earth and four times bigger in the sky during the days of the dinosaurs. I remember asking myself, 'What would it do if it came REALLY close? Would it cancel gravity for us on Earth?' From there, I remember thinking it was a cool idea for a children's story. I held that idea in my head for a few years. At some point in China, I wrote out the story in poem form, intending to be a poem. Then I just sang it to some old fashioned chords and it worked right away. It's the only song I've ever written where the words came before any idea of a melody or chords. I probably took 10 or 15 takes of the whole song to pick the one I liked best."
Babies Grow on Trees
"This song is really, really old, written in the spring of 2006, my first year in China. It was even recorded (albeit very poorly) for the Living Thin (my first band in China) record. But that spring the band broke up (everybody left), I broke up with my girlfriend of five years, and my dad had just died, so it was a shitty time. But I remember getting relief when playing guitar in a stairwell most nights, because in there everything just sounded so nice and echoey. So, the verse-chords came, and it was very spooky, and unlike anything I'd played before. The first image that came to my mind was sitting on the ocean, listening to distance voices calling from across the sea, and thinking "wow, that's kind of a neat image". The chorus melody is, to this day, one of my proudest musical moments, but it went wordless for years until RDC because I think subconsciously I didn't think I had a lyric that justified the awesomeness of that melody. For the lyric, I settled on the reference to 'Where Maps End', and a quote by TS Elliot because it seemed to be insanely bold and ridiculous enough to fit the glory of that melody."
"During this time I had been watching these old black and white videos (on Youtube) of an old-timey British ukulele fellow named George Formby who would star in these musicals and play his ukulele and sing. He had an enormous amount of songs that all had these perfect little turns-of-phrase. I remember thinking, 'Man, I'd kill to have written just ONE cleverly written old-timely lyrically strong jazzy song.' During this time, this F to C chord change had been floating around the keyboard and at band practice, and we jammed on it, but like countless other ideas it just stayed in the jam purgatory, destined to sit on a hard-drive somewhere. One weekend I thought, "Okay, let's see if I can do a George Formby thing." The hardest part was trying to find an interesting lyrical concept. I tried a lot of perspectives: A mental hospital, a pilot, a farmer, sea captain, but nothing seemed to work. At some point I thought, "A love song would be nice, but I don't want it to be a NICE love song." It was then that I remembered a book I had read about this mental condition that forces you to stalk people. The book was called Enduring Love. And from that idea the lyrics came quickly. The chorus and bridge took a lot of work to get right but in terms of hours spent thinking about it, it was one of the quicker songs to finish."
Once Upon a Time
"That verse melody came to me while playing ukulele in the park in Xujiahui. It was a gospel thing that just kept rolling around in my head all night, then after that for months. This song was a real struggle. It had so many false starts and dead ends that I almost gave up on it, but the melody kept coming back. The band, I'm sure, was sick of hearing all the different versions (I know I was thinking it'd never get done). Also, I started doubting it as a performable song because it was clearly not something that would work in a rock-band setting where loudness is the main attraction. Anyway, this song had been bouncing my piano and guitar for two years with countless demos. After a while it was clear that it needed a second part, so I Frankenstein’ed it with some other ideas, but nothing worked until I took the melody of an unrecorded RDC song about a mermaid and made it the chorus. Fittingly, that mermaid song was also created in the park in Xujiahui, so it's like two long lost brothers reunited."
"This song took about a year to complete. What took so long was trying out different styles. Take any good song and you can do it in a reggae way, a bluegrass way, a country way, a rock way, folk way, dance way. Nothing seemed to work. The band liked the swingy folk feel, so I wrote lyrics in a folky way. The lyrics are probably my favorite lyrics in RDC. It was a response to a feeling I had that I hadn't been writing personal enough lyrics — I was always doing a fantastical thing, or a magical thing, but I hadn't actually tried to express how I actually feel. Nichols is the eternal optimist, always looking on the bright side, not being critical. I’m obsessive and critical, so I wanted to write a song that represented THAT."
Drown the Creatures
"The chorus melody had been floating for many years before RDC. It came from walking by a piano after a talent show and just messing around for a second and I happened to play that melody (it’s just the white notes, because I can’t play piano very well). It was also in 5/4 time, which is strange for a pop song, so I knew it was kind of interesting and catchy. From that I knew the verse should also be in a strange time. I showed the band a primitive version of the verse/chorus melody and then it really got great when the drummer locked into it. The lyrics were difficult. I slated an entire week after work to focus on the words. So I decided to talk about a whole family — the father who fell of the Earth, the séance, the runaway brother, etc, and really try to tie it into other songs."
Dennis Ming Nichols: We Can Be Friends
“'Friends' was one of the first songs RDC ever wrote back in 2009. We were a bit more of a experimental-progressive rock back then and not as melody-focused as we are now, but elements of this era have persisted. This is a prime example of how gimmicky we were back then. I sang this song with a megaphone and our drummer Ford played the second half blindfolded. Cheap thrills. It’s been at least two years since we played this live. Perhaps we should have kept it. I don't know, but it was a crowd favorite at the time."
The Human Cannonball
"The melodies from 'Cannonball' have gone through countless re-imaginations. Originally, this song was a slow show opener. To start our early live shows (2009-2011), I played the bass guitar with a bow while running it through tons of delay and pitch shifts. At the same time, I taped some earbuds to my pickups. The earbuds were connected to a looped manipulated recording of cows mooing. Meanwhile, Jesse played a dreamy synth pad with one hand and used a slide on the guitar to play the melody of 'Cannonball'. Ford, the drummer, would slowly crescendo into an explosion of sound. Jesse and I would then commence alternately beating our guitar strings and a tom drum with a drumstick and cello bow. This was the first version of the track. Somehow, someway, “Cannonball” morphed into a bluegrass-inspired folk song. Go figure. Our friends Franco and Johnny of the Horde helped us out. Franco Rodreiguez is just your average Mexican-American bluegrass mandolinist living in China. Johnny Haru is his Kiwi compatriot on the cajon. The song will always remind me of the good times we had with the Horde and the RDC street performances on hot, humid summer afternoons."
Victoria and the Whales / To Where The Maps End
"These two songs are meant to be listened to back-to-back. Listen to the melody in 'Victoria.' That melody shows up two more times in our repertoire. A foreshadow, if you will. Those whale sounds were produced by playing my bass with a cello bow and a guitar slide. The melodies in 'Maps' existed at least two years before the song was recorded. Jesse and I spent several evenings arranging the parts and writing the lyrics. The lyrical themes of this song have been echoed in more recent songs, as well. It’s an essential part of the underlying narrative of our albums. 'Maps' also features our friend Micheal Arone (from Girls Like Mystery) on the piano and it’s my favorite song to play live.
"We opened every show of our 2012 USA tour with this song. The first recording we ever did of 'Attic' was actually of a live radio show we did in Austin, Texas. We had a guy named Vince Pierce on the string harp perform with us. Michael Corayer (RDC's trumpet player), Todd St. Amand (RDC's cello player) and I all performed with his band The Noise Revival Orchestra when they toured China, so I guess he was returning the favor. We liked his harp contributions so much, we asked him to record harp for the Souvenirs version. It’s probably my single favorite RDC song and reminds me of our memorable tour through the USA. There is also something conceptually significant about the synth arpeggio at the end. You have to listen to the whole album to get it, though."
The Country Way
I have to admit that 'Country' is a lark. It was never intended to be a serious song. Jesse actually wrote the lyrics with a buddy back in college as a joke. I think what happened was we were sitting around and Jesse was just playing these cheesy synth drum sounds along to an acoustic demo he did of that song. Something clicked in my head and I said we had to produce that song and drench it with 808s and irony. The harmonica solo that George Wyndham (of the Horde) laid down is sick. He recorded that solo in my girlfriend's closet using a hand-held ZOOM recorder. I recorded the banjo part at a house in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, while on tour using a hand-held ZOOM recorder. The house was owned by an American woman I met in Anhui Province and if you listen carefully, you can hear her dog bark. Jesse recorded the guitar and vocal part at the same time using a hand-held ZOOM recorder. I took these lo-fi elements and produced the crap out of it using Abelton and autotune. It was fucking ridiculous."
"Like I said, we never intended for it to go on the album 'Souvenirs', but Adam Gaensler, the guy who mastered the album, insisted that it did. And now I'm glad he told us that. The album version is a lot better than the EP version, and that melody that Jesse wrote is infectious. And now looking back, it does make sense that it made the album cut because our goal from the start was to meld electronic sounds with acoustic sounds, experimental with pop, seriousness with light-heartedness, beauty with ugly, lo-fi aesthetics with lush arrangements, rainbows with danger! It’s in our namesake. So in a very strange, messed-up way, it is the ultimate RDC song."
OK, and one more from us, this is a link to the latest and perhaps lastest RDC track, a goodbye to Shanghai called "Ironic T-Shirt". Click here to jack the upload into your ear logs.
RDC play Saturday at YYT. The show starts at 2pm and features 30-minute sets from a preposterously thorough line-up of Shanghai-based bands, bands from elsewhere in China, anyone who’s got love for RDC.
This is final line up:
2pm – X is Y
2:30pm – Himdong
3pm – Threshold of Forest
3:30pm – iAmalam
4pm – The Violent Phlegms
4:30pm – Friend or Foe
5pm – Naohai
5:30pm – Forsaken Autumn
6pm - yourboyfriendsucks
6:30pm - 30 minute - YYT-required break - DJ Boss will spin
7pm – Death to Quitters (very flexible - if the show is running late, we can easily cut time out)
8pm – Goushen
8:30pm – Round Eye
9pm – Battle Cattle
9:30pm – Stegosaurus?
10pm – Hellhounds (45 minutes)
11pm – Rainbow Danger Club
12pm - Acid Pony Club DJ set
50rmb on the door. Weatherman says hazy sunshine. Day in the park, busters. More here.