Ed. note: Several years ago BLURT had an ongoing series about up-and-coming and under-the-radar artists, “Best Kept Secret.” It was extremely gratifying to be able to uncover these musical diamonds in the rough, and to subsequently expose them to our readership, particularly when it was an overseas band that had virtually no presence here in the U.S. beyond, say, a MySpace page with some nominal information and maybe a track or a video. It’s fair to say that since then, international boundaries have crumbled with the ascent of multiple social media platforms; in 2016, all it takes is a namedrop, a Facebook link and a mouse-click to help jumpstart a viable young career. Just the same, it remains deeply satisfying for yours truly when one of our writers comes across a genuine talent that we feel is well-worth introducing to you, so this is the perfect juncture to re-boot the “Best Kept Secret” series. Meet Beijing’s Twinkle Star, a dynamic and tuneful four-piece that, as you shall read, came to the attention of our China-based correspondent Jonathan Levitt via random circumstance. Immediately smitten, he subsequently advised me that we should do a piece on the band. When some of their records arrived in the mail a couple of weeks later, I agreed 100%: this band has talent, and tunes, to burn.
So much, in fact, that we’d like to offer a copy of their album The End of the New Beginning to one of our readers. Send an email to BlurtMag123@gmail.com and tell us why you think you deserve it. Make sure you include your snail mail. Best answer snags the CD. Okay, take it away, Mr. Levitt…..
BY JONATHAN LEVITT
China has a ride hailing app similar to Uber called Didi. Late last Summer they were running a promotion on their carpooling service, so I thought, why the hell not give it a try? I press “send” and then a few seconds later receive a text message that a Lexus NX is heading my way to pick me up. What, a Lexus? I was expecting an Escort or a Jetta. Is this an oligarch elegantly slumming amongst the hoi polloi?
I head downstairs and the car with tinted windows pulls up. I must admit I find it a bit menacing, wondering who the hell drives a Lexus and yet is open to carpooling with people? I get in and we begin to shoot the shit and, lo and behold, the driver and his girlfriend happen to be in a local band called Twinkle Star, well known amongst indie rock loyalists in China.
It became the start of a great connection for me to a cool Chinese band.
“Can you believe the first ride we offer happens to be a Music Writer?”—or something to that effect—Is what they tweeted that evening on Wechat, a Chinese messaging service. What follows is my brief interview with Zhang Shuai (Jack), guitarist/vocals for Twinkle Star.
BLURT: How long have you guys been together? Has the lineup changed in that time?
SHUAI: We’ve been together for 6 years. We’ve changed drummers a few times since we started. Our current singer is our former bassist.
Please introduce the members of the band to our readers.
Our singer, Kelsey Zhao, is also a member of the well-known Chinese band, “New Pants”. My name is Jack Zhang I’m the guitarist, and our drummer is Gao Wei, we’re both Midi Rock School graduates. Then we have our bassist, LC.
Cite some of your major influences on your music both Chinese and Western?
We’re influenced by so many American bands, such as Taking Back Sunday, The Used and Paramore. There’s a Chinese band from Hong Kong called Beyond, they are the Chinese Beatles.
Have you guys played America?
We haven’t played in America, but we really want to go there, if the chance presents itself.
What are some of the bands that you’ve shared the stage with？
All Time Low, A Day to Remember etc. We are honored to have played a show with Saosin.
I notice you’re a bit of a collector of guitars and equipment what is your favorite guitar and amp that you use?
I use a lot of AMP before, such as Marshall JCM800 or Mesa Boogie, but I found the PRS Archon recently and I really love it. My favorite guitar is a Fender Custom Shop 1960 Strat; I’ve changed the pickups.
What sort of music are you guys listening to these days?
We’ve been listening to a lot of pop punk recently, such as the new album by Simple Plan, they were nominated for a Grammy this year. [Below: watch the band perform a live cover of New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle.”]
Do you think the Beijing music scene has changed a lot?
Yes, there are more and more music festivals now but the quality isn’t that great. Bars are finding it harder to survive, which means less venues to play in.
What has the reception to your music been like in Japan when you’ve played festivals?
Yes, our music is popular in Japan, they love us. The Japanese audience is great and very professional!
How old are you guys？
The singer is 29. The guitarist and bass player are 27. Our drummer is only 21.
Do you guys have day jobs or are you full time musicians？
In addition to making music we also sell stuff on the web. LC and Gao Wei teach music.
What is your dream concert if you could play with anyone you wanted?
Taking part in the Warped tour is our biggest dream right now!
Any plans for a new album and any chance for a stateside release?
We are currently recording new songs, and expect to release a new album as well as tour China this year.
Anything else you guys want us to know?
We love the USA, especially American Rock and roll. We hope one day we can tour America and let more people hear our music.