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Quyech: Mischief Merchants on Trees, Artist Archetypes and Rules for Creativity

Thanks to a minor miscommunication, the three members of Quyech who participated in this interview (more on the fourth later) arrived at different times.

One had just woken up after falling asleep at 5am, preoccupied by various projects which were not to be discussed. One had been reading the parenting book 'Nurture Shock' after not sleeping at all the night before. The last to arrive remarked on the heat.

It seems in keeping with the spirit of Quyech to decline to specify who is who, and also to assure you that it doesn't really matter. Duc, Linh and Thang have been playing together for about eight months but have been friends for much longer. There’s no interesting origin story, they say — they were friends, they were playing at Linh’s house, and then they were a band, though they might not agree on what that means exactly. Their Facebook page says it’s something different for each of them: Duc’s thánh địa (sanctuary), Thang’s phòng thí nghiệm (laboratory) and Linh’s cuộc hành trình (journey).

“I think we kind of get the idea as in what our sound and our spirit and our art in general are, but at the molecular level we’ll still have competing ideas as to what to do,” Duc said. “And I’m grateful for that.”

Quyech released the music video for their song 'Độc Thoại' (Monologue) earlier this week. The track feels both dreamy and driven, opening with an unplaceable ticking sound that seems to pull Linh’s voice, wavering slightly, all the way through. The camera rarely stops panning across Linh, singing and playing bass, Duc on guitar and Thang on electronic drums; you follow the sudden zoom-ins and direction switches even as they make you dizzy. The song isn’t catchy as much as it is transfixing.

The music video for Quyech's first single 'Doc Thoai.'

A word Duc invokes frequently to describe Quyech’s ethos and the conversations between members is “mischief.” This explains some of the less-than-straightforward aspects of their presentation. For example, their name. Quyech is a Vietnamese plant “that no one knows or cares about.”

“I don’t even know what the plant looks like,” Duc says.

Quyech is not a fruit tree. It is not a shade tree. But it’s definitely a tree, not a shrub.

“It’s how a kid would draw a tree,” Thang says. “It’s brown and green.”

“It gets bigger as it grows,” Duc says. “I’ve done some research.”

“We kind of wanted to win a Google search battle between us and the name of the tree,” Thang explains. “So far the tree is winning,” Duc says.

Then there’s the fourth member. Before their show at DEN last month, the band wrote on Facebook that Quyech is a band of four, but only three people will appear on stage. “Our remaining member serves as our mascot (along with other important duties). In every show, he is the Quyech within Quyech. Nobody among us three on stage knows nor cares where he is.”

The fourth member is a human male who serves as the band’s mixer for their recordings and live shows. He is also their agent. Also, his identity is not a secret. His name is Trung. Quyech's Facebook page says it is Trung's 'yet another band.' They never asked him if he wants to appear on stage.

Quyech is playing at Hanoi Rock City tonight. Their Facebook event warns, “This event is actually a deathtrap. After buying the ticket (which, btw, will cost 150k VND, sold at the door), you'll be directed to a closed room at HRC, as usual. There, you'll be killed. We can't quite translate the next part effectively, so unfortunately you'll be left with that incomplete piece of information.”

Does any of this matter? Does it have something to do with the music? Is Quyech making a statement about the relationship of an artist to their audience? Do they want us to be thinking about this, or is all the mild intrigue merely a flourish, a whimsical out-and-back trip that drops you off where you started, prepared to accept the line with which Duc ended the notice for their first show: “Our jokes may be lame, our science may be bullshit, but our music will be out of this world.”

If it’s unclear whether Quyech’s “mischief” carries any larger meaning, it’s evident that the band’s members have been thinking, individually and together, about meaning itself. The group has had “some intimate conversations, honest conversations about what makes good art, what makes good artists,” Duc says.

There are two types of good artists.“The first type is the kind of artist who constantly asks, what else can be done that hasn’t been done? What conventions can I circumvent?” Duc wonders. “And they’re very cerebral in their approach, they approach it like alchemy. The second type of good artist is the ones unfortunate enough to be born with a very different mindset from other people — or are fortunate enough to channel that into good art.”

“It’s like Kurt Cobain saying, ‘I have all this pain. I feel pain all the time. That was the real anger in my music, it’s just an ulcer in my stomach and I’m kind of grateful for that',” Thang says.

“And he was fortunate enough to choose music as his mode of expression and we all benefit from that,” Duc says. “And that’s the unfortunate part—”

“Someday you’re gonna blow your brains out,” Thang finishes the thought. “Not me, I know that,” Duc replies. “The second type, they’re not alchemists, they’re like prophets...and yeah, our band is fortunate enough to have both.” Who is who, they won’t say.

Photo from Quyech's Facebook page.

Duc and Thang’s conversation about art and artists is older than Quyech. A few years ago, Duc was a member of Thang’s band Ngot. Duc left the band because he was going to grad school, as well as what could blandly be described as "creative differences" or, more specifically, someone’s judgment that someone else was making “shitty songs.”

Today, Ngot is a primary example of a relatively new phenomenon in Vietnam — a band finding its own way from bedroom rehearsals to local shows to steadily rising popularity that eventually reaches a level of national renown and semi-ubiquity (as I left the cafe after the interview, Ngot's song 'Em Dao Nay' was playing on the soundsystem). This is to say that Thang is famous. People ask for autographs, and how they can become like him, and what he eats. Every Ngot release is born with millions of fans. The tension here is familiar: how do you achieve that reality without letting it become the primary influence of your work? How do you get big without selling out?

In Quyech, his “laboratory”, Thang trades the role of frontman and driving creative force to play electronic drums and recordings of overheard sounds from places like hospitals. There are constraints, in that it’s not ‘his’ band, but paradoxically there’s more freedom because of that.

“For me the project is kind of like an exploration of creativity and what I believe in is that you’re more creative when you’re challenged,” Thang says. “So when you set up a specific set of rules on the way you’ll work, and you follow it, it’s good for you. The difficult part is to come up with interesting enough rules to keep to.”

As a sanctuary, a laboratory or a journey, Quyech plans to keep going, though also up for debate is whether that is the goal or the method. There’s another plan, too.

“We’re gonna be huge,” Duc says, and it’s not clear if the bravado is serious or ironic. Maybe he’s joking, and he means it.


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