- The On Fires in China
Australia’s True Independents Tour China
When most people think of an indie band on tour, they picture their friends crammed into a 20 year old travel van with captains chairs covered in cigarette burns and stained with things you’d rather not think about. Australia’s The On Fires up the ante, and travel worldwide on their own dime, without the help of a label of any sort. At the tail end of their most recent world wide “Chook Raffle Tour,” The On Fires played China before heading home.
China, which has only recently opened its arms to western culture, is the largest and most populous nation in the world, and is about as alien to most people as a trip to Pluto. Fortunately for the band new music is in great demand. The On Fires are a high energy party band made up of Marty and Max. Max Harmon is the redhead on keyboards with the easy smile, and Marty Xenoff is the guitarist with a commanding stage presence. Kent Aberle rounded out the group, filling the drummers throne. Max and Marty divvy up the vocal duties and together they tirelessly tour ten months a year, leaving fans everywhere they go. Max was good enough to share her observations on touring in a nation with a billion people.
M.A.Rivera: How did you get hooked up with the Shows in china?
Max:Because of a band t-shirt, actually! We were at SXSW inTexas and stumbled across a showcase of Chinese bands. We fell in love with Beijing punk band PK14 and the t-shirt Marty bought became a tour favourite, worn on stage around the world. Some months later a rushed packing session saw me throw out a plastic bag that I thought was rubbish – alas it had Marty’s PK14 t-shirt in it! I was embarrassed and determined to replace the t-shirt so I started emailing anyone I could find that had something to do with PK14. One thing lead to another and I found myself emailing a promoter who eventually booked a tour for us.
MAR: How were the audiances? Were they receptive to you and were there any obvious differences between Western crowds?
Max: There’s a big difference between Chinese and Western audiences. In the west we’ve seen everything and been bombarded with choices for decades. Sometimes Western audiences have a ‘hang-back-and-wait’ attitude; waiting for a band to prove itself. Our Chinese friends who have grown up with very little choice are ready and waiting for the first chord to be hit and then they go nuts! We met some other Western bands while we were touring inChinaand they likened it to the Nirvana ‘revolution’. There’s a true excitement inChina- it’s a happening place.
MAR: Was there one part of the show or a certain song they always responded well to?
Max: One of our surprises was a song called Hangin’ With The Living. Having played to non-English speaking audiences for several years now, we include plenty of singalongs using whoa/ooh type sounds. Hangin’ has a part in it like that and we were amazed to hear that line being sung back to us at a big festival inBeijing. The band quickly dropped volume so we could encourage the crowd to keep singing – I can’t describe what it was like to hear 50,000 voices singing with us! That song became a tour favourite – we got the same response at every show!
MAR: Off stage what part of the trip did you enjoy most?
Max: A highlight for us was a city calledChengdu. We stayed in an old-town section where low-rise traditional Chinese buildings have been saved and restored. It’s beautiful: carved timber architecture, cobbled streets, tiny street stalls all over the place, coffee shops and funky designer shops full of fabulous shoes, clothes, and toys. Our drummer Kent met a tattoo master there and after our show had an all-night session getting a traditional Chinese warrior tattooed onto his arm. It was bustling, colourful and afforded us a glimpse of life in traditional China.
MAR: Best memory of your time there?
Max: Food!! In addition to the wonderful flavours of China we had one gig where hardly anyone turned up. It was so disappointing after the overall success of the tour and I got momentarily depressed while I wondered what we could do to make the 10 or so people feel good about watching a band in a big empty room. We solved the problem by bringing everyone on stage with us. It was incredible! The audience members were SO excited to be on-stage – so close that they were tripping over guitar pedals and standing on the drum riser. We played facing in – as in a circle with our backs to the empty room. We were able to get pretty physical – jumping together, flinging arms around each other, dancing and laughing. We made their night and in return, they made ours. In stark contrast to playing festival crowds, this was the show that was a stand-out on the tour for me because we turned around a dud situation into a night where we made incredible connections. We made great friends that night!
MAR: Do you want to do it again?
Max: Hell yes! We’re already planning our next tour in May 2012, right after we’ve been back to theUS again. We can’t wait to get back toChina!
MAR: How do you say “Are you ready To Rock!” in Chinese?
Max: You say it with a big fat rock chord and arms outstretched to the crowd!