‘…a real labor of love’ | Interview with The Spice Cabinet

The recipe for success: You have the classy grooves with an old school touch, a spoonful of nostalgic melodic themes and some continuous change of rhythmic patterns and mood. Read our discussion with the band!

  • Describe your sound in three words please!

Terry Hsieh: Adventurous. Carnivorous. Pastiche (Like a post-modern musical T-Rex).
Alex Cummings: Daring, supercharged, nutritious
Anthony Vanacore: I. Don’t know! (Not trying to be a smart ass. I really don’t).

  • Could you tell us a few things about how the band came together?

Terry: When I was a student at Oberlin, we had a LOT of great music ALL the time. Really, all the time there was just an insane number of talented musicians in the conservatory, but also we had Robert Glasper, RJD2, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Esperanza Spaulding, etc. coming through regularly. We had more concerts than days of the year, at Oberlin. So that musical mash, so to speak, really informed my interests—I was a jazz trombone major, but my interests extended beyond jazz. Fast forward to my move to Beijing, I was really interested to put together a band that was similar to the crazy house parties we played back in school—nobody wrote charts—we just played instrumental hip hop licks and pop covers with no lead sheets in these sweaty basements for hours on end—the kind of parties where the floor might plausibly cave in from all the bumping and grinding going on. I wanted to recreate that for the Beijing scene, but I knew that I was going to have to do something different because the musical lexicon of the scene, the style and the types of people who show up are all from place to place, to some degree. So I started arranging pop songs for us to be able to read onstage, and things kind of grew from there, in complexity of the arrangements. Fast forward to now where we’re about to put out this brand new album of original music, finally, and you can really see how much the band has matured and grown.

Alex Cummings: I came into Spice Cabinet already in its full form in 2017 joining the front line horn section on alto sax for a gig at Modernista. After we recorded the first album and a few personnel switches I switched to tenor.

Anthony Vanacore: I met Terry in 2015 when I moved to Beijing, we first started playing in the jazz scene here mostly, then later on told me about this project, we’ve been playing ever since.

  • The Spice Cabinet is a band with numerous members all of whom are very talented in what they are doing. How easy is it to mix your different influences and creativity smoothly?

Terry: I (Terry Hsieh) write all the arrangements but I do strongly value the input of everyone else, so I write knowing who I’m writing for. It’s not just me scribbling stuff out. I usually have an individual in mind, when I write a song or hear a line. On another note, though, on this upcoming album, Derrick Sepnio, a long-time collaborator and good friend, really added that touch supreme to this record with his production experience and musical prowess. We work really together—I hear the arrangements and get most of it out, and Derrick just takes it to the next level, in the box. The ideas we feed off of each other end up sticking pretty hard. I think the key process is always being open to changing something that maybe you think is essential to a song—sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you first imagined it, but rarely in any of these songs did the first concept or idea “stick” : it was just a huge amount of revision and growing these musical ideas into fruition.

Alex: Very seamless – I just take everything that I know and supercharge it because it’s a high energy group especially in a live setting. The music that’s played is familiar territory for me with the right element of surprise!

Derrick Sepnio: The process was very organic and effortless actually! We are all about merging all the sounds and influences that we love into a bigggggg boiling hotpot like the famous hotpot chain in China called “Hai Di Lao”! yeah we love Hai Di Lao .

Anthony: It’s very smooth, everyone is cool and its a very eclectic sound, so theres a lot of room to try stuff and experiment and just go for it.

  • You have recently released the album ‘The Adventures of Pie Boy’. Would you like to introduce it to the audience?

Terry:  Adventures of Pie Boy is a very special album for me, for a few reasons. Obviously, we’ve all had a lot of time to do kill during quarantine. After I landed in Taiwan for my last gig (in FEBRUARY) I basically realized I was going to be here for a while. When Arai Soichiro, a producer and a good friend, offered me the chance to do this album, he said “Make the album you always wanted to make.” And boom! I was off—I really started to amass ALL of the musical influences that I have had in my life, from the day I was born, until now. There’s too much to name, and it might be even more fun for people to kind of figure out what I listen to be reverse engineering the record. I also recruited Derrick to help me refine the sound, and the vibe—to make it something that’s unique to the medium—not just a “live” album so to speak. And this album is the result of 9+ months of sitting in a hotel room, drinking 7-11 coffee and tinkering at my piano and computer. It’s a real labor of love, I guess. I hope people like it!

Alex: Be ready for an explosive ride through musical plateaus climbing to high peaks and staying up there to enjoy the view!

Anthony: It’s a great creative work by Terry, he put a lot of heart, work and time into this.  All of this is very evident in the final result.

  • Name one other band that you admire and see as ‘competitors’ at the same time (and why!)

Well, I don’t usually try to look at other people’s bands as competitors, so to speak, seeing as we’re really all kind of ships in the night trying to bring our ideas to life, but probably the band I see as the most similar to ours is the Huntertones. They really have an awesome arranging sound, and the group is SO tight, musically. I love listening to their latest album, and just marvel at their arrangements. It really takes a group of talented horn players to play voicings that tight, and I really don’t know another instrumental bands who’s horn lines sound that good.

  • Pick one of your songs that you love the most and tell us where do you imagine people listening to it.

Terry: Big Bots Battle in the Blue is a totally crazy song that I wrote in my hotel room in Taipei. It’s on the upcoming album: the concept is 80’s/90’s mecha anime, like Gundam—I really wanted a fusion J-Rock sound with some more modern elements like trap and a feature for a strings section. I lifted a Viennese trichord from my college theory textbook about Webern, and used that as a theme through the breakdown at the end. It was a pretty epic song to write and even more ridiculous to record since we did it ALL separately from different places across the world.

Derrick: Pie Boy Moon Bone  is totally a bedroom song: and they will soon re-watch all the classic 60s and 80s Hong Kong kung fu movies over again

Alex: I think Dali Girl is one of those tracks you can listen to anywhere. A cafe, road trip, out on the porch, a 70s themed house party.

Anthony: I like Sugoiu Smash! It’s funky and got lots of groove stuff that you can dig into. Also, there’s quite a bit of humorous stuff in it which makes it fun to listen to.

  • Your music has a nice groove. What’s your favourite funky drop you wish you had composed yourself?

Derrick: Cissy Strut by The Meters
Terry: In The Stone, Earth Wind and Fire. That break at the end is insane!
Alex: Probably Cold Sweat, by James brown

  • What are the band’s plans for the near future?

Terry: I guess we’ll continue to write and record from quarantine. I’m trying to release new music once a month or every two weeks, depending on if I can get a schedule running with the group. I want to do another album soon, and also try to do some more covers and singles!  

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