Guitarist Jean-Sbastien Hry, also known as Zhang Si'an, lets loose
with some vocals. Photos Provided to China Daily
Above: Bassist Maikel, known for being a
solo expert, gets to grips with his guitar.
Bottom: Drummer Maomao keeps a steady
beat, but only when absolutely necessary.
Most Beijing bands aspire to be new indie kings, modern folk gods or 21st century rock stars, so it's not surprising that unusually-titled group The Amazing Insurance Salesmen (TAIS) has a strikingly different sound.
Comprised of vocalist and guitarist Jean-Sebastien Hery, bassist Maikel and drummer Maomao, the trio represents some of the very best musicians in Beijing. Though Hery finds success performing Chinese folk music with traditional instruments under the alter ego of Zhang Si'an, he also wanted a new band to reconnect with his rock roots of the 1960s and 1970s.
"We formed in the summer of 2009 and are inspired by bands like Radiohead, Pink Floyd and Frank Zappa," said Hery.
This is immediately noticeable from their distorted, almost Hendrix-esque rock sound. The songs flit between fast punky numbers and long, lead-guitar led numbers with the occasional bass solo.
With their combination of an old, yet progressive sound and top-level musicial ability, TAIS are an exciting band, but that doesn't mean they are to everyone's taste. Their song structures are purposely loose and there are few moments that could be called "catchy". If you love the more abstract Hendrix songs or have a CD collection full of prog-rock from the 1970s, you might love them, but if you like your songs verse-chorus, you could find the going rather tough.
This is part of their appeal though, as they don't let musical boundaries stand in their path of progress.
"It is a very special project for me as it has allowed me to return to my rock roots after 10 years of studying and focusing on jazz and folk music," Hery said.
This commitment to music, which is technically brilliant but not obviously commercially appealing, is why TAIS has gained a following throughout the arts and music spheres in Beijing. Many bands and artists recommend them when asked about their favorite locals, including photographer Marcusuke who took some of the pictures used in this article.
For those who want to listen to something different from many of the other bands in Beijing, who often sound like they belong in hotels, TAIS can prove extremely rewarding.
Maomao is undoubtedly one of the best drummers in the city; evident from his immaculate time changes and the constant movement of his Mohawk-shaven head. Maikel's bass solos are something few musicians in Beijing could accomplish and Hry has guitar-chops worthy of any rock band around.
Perhaps their biggest weakness though is the lack of vocals, although Hery's off-kilter delivery suits the style. If they are to move to the next level of success, their progressive sound needs to be refocused into truly memorable songs.
Despite the need for a strong voice, their sound continues to develop as they work on a professionally-recorded demo that will allow more people to hear their music.
"The demo is taking longer than we would like, but there will be songs available on our MySpace page soon," said Hery.
At present, the band appears to be more focused on honing their sound through regular gigs, as it is their love for musical progression and experimentation that drives them forward rather than any sort of fame in the traditional sense.
That said, the band "has high hopeswe want to record an album and break out, because we do feel this is a unique project and the chemistry is there."
They might not be the next Killers or Kings of Leon, this is what makes their music brilliant. It isn't a commercial or diluted form of rock but a progressive move that is as modern sounding as it is steeped in the riffs and fuzz-distortion of the late 1960s.
For more info on gigs and recordings by TAIS, see www.myspace.com/amsalesmen