The Fever Machine release La Chupacabra

In Shanghai, a city where the independent music scene is characterized more by noise, lo-fi garage rock and ambitious, navel-gazing experimentalists than guys with Gibsons, multinational outfit the Fever Machine are a welcome rarity: a shit-kicking rock and roll band that lays down meaty, no frills riffs with psychedelic overtones.

On Sat, Nov 24, the trio will unveil their latest offering, “La Chupacabra,” a two-song 7” slice of whoop-ass that combines the swirling, spacey elements of psychedelia with melodic hooks and progressive song structures that harness the raw power and grime of stoner rock and proto-metal without buffering out the dents. It’s a refreshing back-to-the-basics listen in the face of the increasingly-complex experimentalism that is being generated by their peers at a blistering clip.

Prior to the Beijing release party, we caught up with guitarist/vocalist Dan Shapiro to pick his brain on releasing music on vinyl, the band’s DIY ethos and growing up in suburban America.

Genjing: How did you become involved in the country’s music scene?

Dan: I moved to Kaifeng in Aug 2006 after playing in rock bands in San Francisco and Boston and roadie-ing for a few years. It was a short stay and after eight months, I moved to Shanghai. I basically met Fabien (bass/vocals) at the old Yuyintang warehouse the first night I went out. Within a couple weeks, he invited me to jam with his band HuHu MaMas. From there, we started the Rogue Transmission and after that band dissolved in 2009, we drafted Miggs (drums, vocals) to start the Fever Machine in early-2010.

Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve been involved in music in some capacity, so when I moved to China, it was just natural that I’d start a band and get involved in booking shows, promoting and the like.

Genjing: How does the band go about recording, releasing and booking shows?

Dan: We put out a four-track demo in 2010, a basic, simple affair without much overdubbing. In 2011, we recorded and released our full-length, Living In Oblivion. It was a challenge and we really tested the limits of what recording, mixing and mastering hardware is available in China. While the album was recorded in China, we ended up completing the mixing and mastering process in Quito, Ecuador.

After that, we went over there to play, which was really gratifying experience since the album was mixed there. Honestly, I thought we wouldn’t record in 2012, but when Nevin started Genjing, we had a couple of songs that were perfect for a 7″ and that’s how “La Chupacabra” came about. Using some experience that we gained from the first album, we recorded in China and mixed in Ecuador, but this time we took the mixes to New York where Alan Douches from West West Side Music mastered everything.

The album was made on three different continents, but I guess that works since we ourselves are from three different continents. Actually, the pressing was done in the Czech Republic, so that’s four continents.

We have never worked with a manager: Fabien and I have been involved with Chinese rock since 2007, so we’ve met a lot of people that reach out to us, which makes a manager unnecessary. We’re quite organized.

Genjing: Why the Chupacabra theme? What’s the story behind that?

Dan: We came back from Ecuador speaking all sorts of crazy Spanish. La Chupacabra just kept coming up in conversation—I’d just blurt out random Spanish nonsense. Then one day I saw a dead hanging goat on the street in Chongqing with some blood dripping out of its mouth and the whole thing just came together.

Genjing: How did the Ecuador tour come about? I know that Miggs is from there.

Dan: Yeah, Miggs set that up. It was a random thing, actually. Miguel was going home to visit his family and Fabien was going to South America to travel. I said if Miggs could hook something up I’d go out there too, so we ended up playing at Ecuador’s biggest rock festival in Aug 2011, right after our first album came out.

Genjing: What was that experience like?

Dan: It was an amazing breath of fresh air to play in Ecuador: the local bands there were all really great and we had a great response. Miggs, Fabi and I all played in bands in our home countries before coming to China, so it wasn’t something new to play out of China—but it was our first show out of China together and that was a phenomenally-inspiring experience. After Ecuador, we stopped through Los Angeles and San Francisco to play a couple more shows.

Genjing: To what extent is the Fever Machine a Chinese band? When you tour abroad as a band from Shanghai, does the audience have expectations for what a “Shanghai band” should be and are they surprised to see a band of expats?

Dan: It’s tricky being in a local-foreign band. Back in 2008, no Chinese promoters wanted anything to do with foreigners. By 2010, however, they did a complete about-face and we got offered tons of gigs. Within China, we’ve been promoted as a French band and as an American band, but we’ve never really claimed that.

In Ecuador, I think people were pretty surprised that we weren’t Chinese. We showed up at a press conference and the media seemed a bit confused—especially when our “Chinese” drummer was an Ecuadorian dude laying it down in Spanish.

We are not Chinese and we don’t claim to be. Our music is a bit difficult for a lot of people here to digest, but this is where the songs were written and this is where our band started. Honestly, it’s a tough question to answer.

Genjing: Aside from the name of the record, did the experience in Ecuador influence its sound and overall vibe?

Dan: I think going on the road just made us tighter, but the sound of the band was already developed by then.

Genjing: How does this record differ from your last?

Dan: This is a completely different recording. For starters, it’s a 7”, so it’s much shorter. The full-length was us finding our niche. Those songs are all over the place, and by the time we wrote “Don Pedro”—the last song to come together on that one—we had found our groove… our sound.

Genjing: How would you describe the Fever Machine sound and philosophy?

Dan: I don’t think we really have any other philosophy other than being loud, heavy and righteous. Three dudes playing loudly. We really blend rock, punk, and metal, but we’ve gotten way more into psychedelic elements—sort of making the sound bigger and spacier. We got together in 2010 and it’s been almost three years of writing, rehearsing, gigging, touring, recording and releasing.

Genjing: Any particular influences?

Dan: Individually, we all have much different influences, but as a band, we want to be a little more refined than the more punk/garage bands we were in before. For “La Chupacabra” and “Careful What You Wish For,” I think there’s clearly a lot of Sabbath and Them Crooked Vultures in there, but I’ve never been one to really ape influences or quick to say we sound like anybody.

Genjing: Why did you decide to put out a 7”?

Dan: I’ve known Nevin for years and we wanted to find a way to work together. We first met in 2007 when he was playing with [punk-rock outfit] Bu Hao Chi. At that time, I was putting together the first Halloween Rock Tribute with the Misfits and he mentioned that he did a similar show in Beijing—I guess we kind of became friends right there.

He and I have booked several shows together: I helped promote Demerit, who he manages, in Shanghai, and he has booked a handful of shows for the Fever Machine and the Rogue Transmission.

It’s always been a very positive and productive experience working together, so when he mentioned releasing something on Genjing, I knew I could trust that he’d do everything on his end to get our songs out to a bigger audience.

I always wanted to release something on vinyl, so it was an easy choice. We’d wrapped up Living In Oblivion in 2011 and we didn’t really have any intentions to record, but we ended up with a free night of studio time at Downtown Sound while we were in LA and we demoed “Careful What You Wish For.” We never used that demo, but the experience in the studio got us all thinking about recording again. While we didn’t want to have to write an entire full length, we did want to find an outlet to release these two songs: the 7″ was the perfect way.

Genjing: Care to tell dish what “Careful” is about?

Dan: It’s about being young and dumb and putting yourself in risky and compromising situations. I come from the suburbs originally, so there was a lot of seeking danger out of boredom that led to some pretty irresponsible behavior [pause]. I condoned it then and continue to condone it now.

Genjing: I was also raised in the ‘burbs.

Dan: Yeah, it doesn’t completely suck aside from what people say—but growing up in between New York and Philly, there were many opportunities to do stupid shit and I seized many of them.

Genjing: Same here!

You can catch the Fever Machine live in Beijing on Sat, Nov 24 at Temple Bar: 9:30pm, free. Support comes from Devils at the Crossroads and Never Before. First 60 people get a free copy of “La Chupacabra.”

The Shanghai gig is set for Sat, Dec 1 at Yuyintang: 9:30pm, 50RMB, with support from Banana Monkey, Spill Your Guts and others. First 250 concertgoers get a free copy of the record.

Much thanks to Josh Feola from pangbianr for his contributions to this interview.