The Chairs talk dreamy songwriting, story behind album ‘Shangri-La Is Calling’

Angela Lim, Life&Arts Editor

The Chairs present a ‘60s and ‘70s psychedelic-infused kaleidoscope of songs, guided by their experiences and the media they consume. Imaginative, mellow and poignant, the Taiwanese indie rock trio go soul-searching in their 2022 LP Shangri-La Is Calling.

The Daily Texan sat down with the band after their South by Southwest performances to discuss their album and creative processes.

The Daily Texan: All of you joined the same band club in high school. What were your first impressions of each other?

Jing (lead vocalist, guitarist): We were all introverted back then. We didn’t have many conversations at first. We just played on our own and sometimes were like, “Hey, hi.” That could be one of the reasons (we stayed) together — because we’re not like all those extroverted people.

DT: How long have you three known each other?

Zhong (lead vocalist, guitarist): Probably half of our life now.

J: Since the first year of high school, so 15 to 16 years, and now, we’re almost 30.

DT: You sing songs in four different languages. How do you decide which one to use in your lyrics?

J: We don’t think that much. When we’re composing a song and the melody (is more) suitable in English or Chinese, then we just do it because these are the most familiar languages to us.

Z: (Our) Japanese (lyrics) are written by Benson.

Benson (bassist, vocalist): Most people learn a second or third language from (watching) series. … We do learn English in school (too), but Netflix, YouTube (are big influences).

DT: How do you guys collaborate on a song together?

J: Me and Zhong both write songs. When we come up with a song, it’s simply just (composing) melody and strumming guitar (first). If there’s a clear image, we make a more complete demo, and then we discuss together to see how the song will be.

DT: What’s the story behind your 2022 album Shangri-La is Calling? What themes does it tackle?

J: The writing process was (during) late 2019 (to May) 2020. The pandemic was still everywhere. We were trying to tour, but it wasn’t easy. Sometimes it was depressing, but it was a good time for us to rethink a lot of things and (what) we’ve been through (in life, whether it’s) the pandemic or personal issues. It’s an intimate album to us.

Z: It’s about the issues (in the) deepest part of our heart.

J: Some childhood trauma — but maybe it’s not that serious — love life and philosophy (of), “How should we look at this world?”

DT: What songs do you find most memorable from the album?

B: “Maybe It’s You (也許是你拯救了我).” The lyrics repeat and go on, and the melody is catchy.

J: Mine would be “Orion’s Belt (獵戶座的腰帶),” which is written in Chinese. It tells you to accept yourself, have an open mind and not be afraid.

Z: I choose “Shangri-La Is Calling” because the intro guitar strumming reminds me of ‘70s rock.

DT: Your discography has songs called “Paris, Texas (巴黎德州)” and “Lonestar.” What messages do they deliver?

J: “Paris, Texas” is influenced by the movie “Paris, Texas (1984)” and a Japanese animated movie called “Millennium Actress.” “Lonestar” has nothing to do with the Lone Star State, but I thought it was a cool idea (that) everybody is a lonely star, and we know nothing about each other — but we are spreading signals, and sometimes you just wish someone else would catch yours. It’s like I’m calling out to all the lone stars on this planet. We’re not alone.

DT: What styles of music do you want to explore in the future?

J: Our songs are mellow and suitable for when you’re a little tipsy or doing household chores, but we’d like to explore something more rhythmic, faster and upbeat for people to dance to. It’d be a mixture of genres. We like surf rock, psychedelic rock and modern indie music.