Four Quarters’ Live@YP set may have been softly sung and intimate, but when their guitars are plugged in, they’re a ferocious force, blending influences from across the alternative rock spectrum. Lead singer and guitarist Zubin Isaac and bassist Andrew Shearer talked to Young Post about their new EP, Songs About Girls, as well as their influences, and the HK scene.
You’ve just released your first EP Girls; could you tell us about how it came to be?
Zubin Isaac: Several songs are two years old – they were supposed to be recorded with my last band but we never managed it. I didn’t want to waste all that work. The whole thing is a bit tongue in cheek, because it’s called Songs About Girls, but most aren’t actually about girls. Only one song is actually about a girl; Rita and Mila are about medication and stuff I had to deal with in high school. But we play them so much, it’s almost like they’re real people now.
Andrew Shearer: Angels is actually about a [particular] girl, but some of our friends mistook it for another girl and then she misunderstood the whole thing. That was horrible.
ZI: People thought I’d asked her out, she’d rejected me and I’d written the song in spite, and I was like “What?!” Oh, and we chose the name for the song Tiffany because it uses a sample from the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
It’s clear Brand New [US rock band] are massive influence. Who else are you inspired by?
ZI: Brand New’s definitely the biggest influence, but this album didn’t really sound like their music. Though some of the lyrics from Angels were pretty closely inspired by their song Moshi Moshi. Otherwise, La Dispute, Old Gray, The 1975… I think aesthetically we ripped them off the most. I stole my hair from Matthew Healy [1975 singer].
Is that … a mullet?!
ZI: Yes, I’m bringing back the mullet.
How did you end up playing bass, Andrew?
AS: I come from a metal background, but listen to lots of jazz and reggae. All my basslines are more complex than all the other parts.
ZI: That’s good because I write all the songs with just an acoustic guitar and vocals, then Andrew’s good at coming up with basslines and making the instruments work together.
AS: I get inspiration from musicians like Tosin Abasi, who plays eight-string guitar for prog band Animals as Leaders. He uses a mix of jazz, classical and blues styles, so I try to use that in my own playing.
What’s the reception been like for the new EP?
ZI: To be honest, I’m a bit disappointed, though I’m really excited that we did it. Luke Chow from indie bands Hungry Ghosts and Kestrels and Kites has a small studio here. He produced, mixed and mastered the whole EP. He told us straight away: your expectations for the recording process may be high, but when you get in the studio, things aren’t so straightforward. It felt like just getting something out of the way, it was a start. No one has said “I hate this. I think you should stop music.”
AS: Reception has been positive, people have been supportive. But it’s not The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me [Brand New album].
What about the artwork?
ZI: The artwork was done by a photographer called Katie Tsang. We told her what we wanted and she worked with it.
Did you find it hard taking songs from the stage to the studio?
AS: Yeah, I dumbed down the stuff and made it simpler. It’s really hard to copy everything I do live.
Where do you see yourselves in the next six to 12 months?
ZI: I have the next EP planned out. It’s going to be four songs and much more interesting and different. No one had strong opinions about the current EP, so I want our next one to be more divisive.
So is music the way you vent your emotions?
ZI: Yes, it has to be something I care about. It’s like, the refugee situation is tragic, but it’s not something we’re involved with so I’m not going to write a song about it. But if my best friend hates me, it’s personal so I will write about it.
Do you find it easy to recreate those emotions when you’re performing?
ZI: Yeah, I’d definitely say it’s an emotional experience. I’m not just going through the motions and playing the songs. For example, our song Annabelle is about a New Zealand girl I met on Reddit. I’d vent, she’d help me out and we became friends. One day she just stopped replying, which was disappointing. I can still relate to that experience: when you need someone and put a lot of trust in them and they give up on you. I’m on a gap year, so it’s very difficult to keep in touch with friends at uni abroad. When I play Annabelle, it’s not a love song – it’s a song about my friends.
What do you think of live music in Hong Kong?
AS: It’s interesting because lots of bands are underground and you don’t really see posters advertising local shows. Our Volcom concert at Hang Out the other week was one of the biggest moments for our band. It would be good if lots of bands had that every day, because there are no big [Hong Kong] bands that have made it big worldwide.
ZI: I think people are too cynical, and for a long time I was the same: I didn’t want to get involved in music because I thought there was no scene. My advice to readers wanting to make music is that you have to have self-belief, don’t worry about being able to sing well, and put yourself out there. Chris B from The Underground has the right attitude, as she tries to help people out, and works with you. You have to reach out to people.
Any other advice?
AS: If you don’t play an instrument, start learning. I only started playing guitar and bass a year and a half ago. Zubin was my guitar teacher, and now I’m better than him because I practise every day. At school, I spent all my free periods playing guitar. Being in a band gives you something to work towards. Stopping’s the worst thing you can do. It’s like being a shark: if you stop swimming, you’re dead!
ZI: But don’t think “I’m gonna play this gig then I’ll have made it.” One of my favourite bands, Atlas at Last from the US, don’t have that many fans. But I’m a random kid on the other side of the world and I love them. So it’s not black and white: like, either you play at home or you’re a rock star. Most of our gigs have been pretty bad. Progress takes perseverance.
Two years ago, I didn’t sing and had been told my whole life I couldn’t. I wanted to sing in Year Seven, so these girls were like, “OK, sing.” And I sang, then they all started laughing. I realise now you just make a decision, say “I’m a singer”, buy a leather jacket, then everyone’s like “Oh I guess he’s a singer.” You don’t have to be Adele: just go for it.