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Interview: The Consulate General’s Alexander Chen

theconsultegeneral Interview: The Consulate Generals Alexander Chen

Boy in Statics Alexander Chen just released a new album under a new moniker, The Consulate General. We talk to him about his new home in Sweden, Person Number, and of course, lettuce.

SICK OF THE RADIO: Sweden is quite a contrast to California. What made you decide to move to Göteborg?

ALEXANDER CHEN: I’m trying to explore different pockets of the world while I can. I actually grew up on the East Coast in New Jersey, so Gothenburg’s drastic seasons are closer to home for me than California. I still wasn’t really prepared for the epic nature of the winter-to-summer change though. From complete darkness to this unbelievable sunlight. Very surreal.

SICK OF THE RADIO: Besides the obvious comparison to Slowdive, what other bands would you say influenced you on Person Number?

ALEXANDER CHEN: I was listening to a lot of Magnetic Fields at the time. Probably a bit of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone too – I’ve always admired his storytelling style. The batch of songs actually grew out of listening to Roy Orbison one afternoon. The original direction was to write a very classic pop album. That’s where songs like “Half-Day Honeymoon” and “Sweet Solano” started out. Eventually it evolved into more comfortable territory, but I think that influence is still there. I usually try to start with a more left-field influence.

SICK OF THE RADIO : You work with so many amazing musicians on this album. How did that come together?

ALEXANDER CHEN: I’ve been fortunate to meet many wonderful musicians during the past few years making music as Boy in Static. Antoine Bedard (from Montag) and I actually only met once in real life. We liked each other’s music and emailed a lot, doing remixes for each other. We met by chance when we were both on tour in Japan, in a hotel lobby. John Chao (from Misha) and I haven’t met in real life, but I enjoyed his music and asked him to collaborate. Working on “Lonesome Sunday” was probably the most involved collaboration musically. I sent him a skeleton of a song, and he really fleshed it out into a very layered production, even putting his own twist on the chord changes. Ryan Fritch and I just met at a hip-hop show in Oakland. Simon Scott (from Slowdive) emailed me because he enjoyed the first Boy in Static album. I am a huge Slowdive fan, so I naturally was very flattered, and eventually got the guts to ask him to collaborate on ”17th Street.”

SICK OF THE RADIO: You have such a beautiful collection of eclectic sounds backing your vocals. What’s the most unique/strange instrument/sound-maker you used on this album?

ALEXANDER CHEN: The strangest sound source is on “Liesa Lietzke” – it uses public domain samples from a head of lettuce being ripped apart that I found. Viola is my main instrument, but I enjoy making it squeak and squeal in noisy, atonal ways, like on “Sweet Solano.” The first song, “What Time Is It Now” uses the pedal from my piano in my childhood home as a kick drum. “Lonesome Sunday” has basic 80′s drum machines, but I used some plugins to try to transform them into earthquake-like rumbling. “Brandon Olsen” is made entirely from a simple toy piano, with the percussion generated from hitting it in strange ways, then processing those sounds.

SICK OF THE RADIO: If you were forced to choose your favorite song on the album, the one dearest to your heart, which one would it be?

ALEXANDER CHEN: “Have You Seen My Girl” is the most emotional, confessional one for me. I find it more difficult to listen to for that reason, but that one is special to me.

SICK OF THE RADIO: Are you fluent in Swedish yet?

ALEXANDER CHEN: Definitely not, unfortunately. I’m spoiled out here because everyone speaks English fluently. Ironically, I’ve been working on refining my Mandarin skills while living out here. Seems I should focus on that first (my parents were born in Taiwan) before taking on a new task.

SICK OF THE RADIO: What bands are currently on rotation on your iPod?

ALEXANDER CHEN: Why?, The Walkmen, Fever Ray, Jay Jay Johansen, and a few older albums by Nina Simone and Depeche Mode. Enjoying recent releases from my friends Mint Julep and Cars & Trains too.

SICK OF THE RADIO: If we cross our fingers and make wishes on stars, will that guarantee you’ll tour really soon?

ALEXANDER CHEN: I would love to tour soon. No plans yet, as it’s always a bit tricky putting things together, but I will keep my fingers crossed too.

By Amanda Chatel

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