Classically trained Sydney electro-pop artist RAINBOW CHAN chats to HATTIE O’DONNELL about YouTube benders, nostalgia, and why she named her first acoustic guitar “Sexy Alexi.”
First off, why are you called Rainbow Chan?
My parents gave me that name at birth. No, they are not hippies. I’ve met other Rainbows in my life, actually. And to put it into perspective, Hong Kongers often have very adventurous names. I have a cousin called Fish who changed her name from Example. I’m not kidding.
What prompted you to start making music?
My grandma in Hong Kong would send us mixtapes for family car rides. Dad, Mum, my three sisters and I would squish into a five-seater (yes, illegally fitting two children into the middle seat) and sing along to these cassettes. My sisters and I would battle each other by identifying or making up the vocal harmonies on the tracks. But I’ve always had a love for music and dancing around. My first crush was Canto-pop star Aaron Kwok and his lyrics were (apparently) my first words.
What inspires you to continue to make music?
Megan Clune (Musical Alaska, World’s Only Zine) recently introduced me to UbuWeb, an enormous database of avant-garde artists and works. There are streams of rare albums, lectures, radio shows, and poetry recitations on there. Knowing how much amazing material is out there and slowly exploring our rich musical history is enough to keep me driven. Besides the experimental stuff, I’m a sucker for heaps of incredible pop tunes too. Just last night, I went on a YouTube bender with my friend and revisited some Kylie, All Saints, Spice Girls, Kandi, etc. I think it’s the mixture of embracing nostalgia and creating something new through music that motivates me.
Where do you get your hair cut? (Seriously, it’s so majestic, please tell us.)
A place in Chinatown. The hairdresser always asks me if I have a boyfriend. I think he wants to set me up with his son.
What’s the weirdest album you ever bought?
I bought a record in an Adelaide Vinnies called The World Vision Korean Orphan Choir Sings Christmas Music. The cover is super unnerving and there are many children staring wistfully into the distance. They are wearing traditional robes and standing in front of a temple. It had a strange Orientalist and paternalistic vibe that I wasn’t so comfortable with so I had to check it out.
What’s the weirdest musical instrument you’ve ever played?
I played ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ on the carillon at Sydney University once. It’s such a majestic instrument but I find the way you have to hammer it with your fists makes it slightly comical. I think I’d prefer to hear my Arvo Pärt from the outside rather than hearing and seeing it being played behind the scenes. I also learnt that the bells have a strong overtone of a minor third and that’s what gives the carillon its poignant and melancholic sound.
Do you ever give musical instruments/other inanimate objects personalities or names?
I don’t anymore, but I will admit that I named my first acoustic guitar ‘Sexy Alexi.’ The motivation behind the name is vague now but I think it might have been because I liked Danny Raco’s character Alexi Poulos on Home and Away at the time. You know what’s weird though? I’m pretty sure he dated Ada Nicodemou in real life, who played his sister Leah. There must have been some mildly arousing Freudian role-play thing going there. I hope so anyway.
What plans do you have for world musical domination?
Everything I’ve been working hard on is a just lead up to the day when I can rock a headset wireless mic and be accompanied by a smoke machine at all times. Besides that, I plan to keep learning from and making music that moves me. If I’m lucky, others will want to listen to it. I’d love to collaborate with visual artists and dancers in the future, and be involved in film compositions too. I don’t ever want to be complacent.
What’s your favourite song in the whole wide world?
It would have to be ‘La la la Love Song’ by Toshi Kubota. It was the theme song to a Japanese television called Long Vacation about the relationship between a struggling pianist and an older ex-model. The song is saccharine, funky and has the sweetest theremin synth melody ever. It also features Naomi Campbell (yes, that’s right) whispering the lyrics “Wanna make love, wanna make love. Hey baby. Wanna make love, wanna make love song [sic].”
What’s the strangest video clip you’ve ever seen, and why did it stick in your mind?
Tony Tonetta’s ‘Pressure Zone.’ YouTube it and see for yourself. It’s NSFW but there is something really intriguing and catchy about this old guy’s crass and creepy song. I don’t think he’s being ironic either. He sings about sexual fetishes and his tracks pertain to an abrasively lo-fi, almost Country and Western sound. It’s subversive, stupid and fascinating.
Where do you like to make music most?
I’ve taken a liking to making music in airports and hotels. These non-places have a sense of clinical emptiness to them that I find quite poetic. We only pass through them so they are places of transience and flux, containing little history or memory. As I’m usually limited by midi and source materials that are already on my laptop, I like the challenge of making something from found things and finishing the work within a time limit. I’ve written really quickly and usually with a strong focus in these places.
What is one of the most anomalous events from your past?
There are simply too many. However, one that stands out is how much I was in love with my fireman/soccer player uncle as a five-year-old kid. I would say to his girlfriend, now my aunt, “He’s mine,” and glare at her. There is a picture of me as an extremely grumpy six-year-old in my family home, taken on the day of their wedding a year later. That’s pretty weird, right? Maybe I picked a safe story.
Finally, five tracks that you’re into at the moment?
Cassius Select – ‘Rete Avec Ou’
Miharu Koshi– ‘Parallelisme’
DJ Rashad – ‘Show U How (feat. Spinn)’
Sui Zhen – ‘Pipe Dreams’
Death Grips – ‘Big Dipper’