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Getting To Know: China Aster

Your recent track "Memories" has been described as a blend of wistful dream pop and synth-pop, stuffed with '80s synths and cut-glass vocals. Can you dive deeper into the creative process behind transforming the original guitar-based dream-pop/shoegaze track into the more upbeat and electronic tune it became?

Songwriting is usually accidental and reactive for me - something I’m doing for myself when I’m tired or in a bad mood. But when I record and produce, it’s intentional and I’m usually in a better mood. It’s also when I socialise the song; I start to think about the listener. The end result is often a juxtaposition of sadness and joy - minor chords but funky beats - which I think is apparent in ‘Memories’. I think it speaks to the joy of addressing and hating what makes life awful.

Louder Than War and have praised your work for its pop hooks, lyrical wit, and sardonically clever themes. How do you balance the incorporation of complex themes with the accessibility of pop music in your songwriting?

I feel like the themes are only complex if thinking is triggered and thinking about my lyrics isn’t necessary, not for everyone anyway. I relate to artists like Gang of Four or John Maus who are sometimes associated with actual critical theorists, but I wouldn’t say any of us are didactic. The ‘complexity’ is probably because the themes emerge out of a critique of capitalism and its social norms, and if the critique is good, it probably isn’t intuitive.

I was the first in my family to go to university, so I’m aware of the inaccessibility of academia, which obscures some of the best ideas. The ideas that inspire my work are as accessible as pop, in principle, but thinking and pop correlate to different speeds. Thinking is slow and tricky; pop is the opposite. But I believe the two can complement and be accountable to one another.

The influences of '70s and '80s sci-fi aesthetics are evident in your music, drawing parallels to both "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and Grimes' "Visions." How do you approach mingling these inspirations with themes of recollection and surrealism in your work?

For me, many ideas of the past were not exhausted by their own time, they have a kind of utopian surplus that can be salvaged and even realised. Science fiction is full of these ideas - many of which do become reality. I think I look at music in a similar way. What I don’t think my music is about is nostalgia - none of it comes from a wistful interest in the ‘70s or ‘80s. And it’s not about recycling what people find pleasurable to hear. I want to be original and relevant like other musicians. With respect to surrealism, that’s just always part of a good idea - good ideas are ridiculous.

With a background in fine art and philosophy, and drawing inspiration from figures like Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, how do these influences shape the thematic and lyrical content of your music? Additionally, how does the pseudonym "China Aster" reflect your exploration of hope, optimism, and political action through your music?

Not every problem I experience is a social or political one but many are. Framing my problems in this way wasn’t intuitive to me. It’s something I learnt, largely via self-teaching. Marx and Freud are relevant just because they spent a lot of time thinking about the problems I identify with. 

The name ‘China Aster’ comes from a flower which is nice. But China Aster is also the name of a character in a Herman Melville book. The character goes into debt with a friend and dies. Whether directly or indirectly, debt is something that everyone is subject to. So, in one sense the pseudonym strives towards a universal condition. However, the name also makes me think of the hope that the communist star once represented in China - ‘Aster’ comes from the Greek word for ‘star’.

Having supported acts like Jamws, Oh Baby, and FHUR, and now gearing up to support Runrummer alongside Phantom Isle, how do you prepare for live performances to convey the intricate layers of your music to a live audience? Are there specific elements of your studio recordings that you aim to replicate on stage, or do you approach live performance with a different mindset?

I don’t have much of a choice right now because I can’t afford a band or the practice space that we’d need to rehearse. So I use a backing track, but play live as many parts as I can. I think it’s good for the place that I’m at right now because it means that I’m replicating the studio sound that a lot of new listeners might be hoping to hear. I do feel a bit of pressure to make up for the lack of the energy that a live band might bring, but I enjoy trying to be as entertaining as possible. I usually strive towards an agreement with my audience that I can just vibe and then it’s all good. 


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