Ride Into the Sunrise with Shallow Levée - Men's Folio
Lifestyle, Arts & Culture

Ride Into the Sunrise with Shallow Levée

  • By Charmaine Tan

Taiwanese indie-rock band Shallow Levée has finessed their sound to touch gently, but linger as a long-lasting, heart-hitting ringing — the four piece speaks to Men’s Folio about music, life, and where they are headed to next.

Many of the bands that we have doted on throughout the years probably started out as passion projects by teens as well, a gathering of likeminded, naive creatures who found harmony within each other’s desire to express and create. No expectations, just good old fun of enjoying music together for the social glue that it was. That was essentially how Taiwanese indie-rock group Shallow Levée got together in 2016, making music that was first loved by their hometown Kaohsiung, then the rest of Taiwan, and later, an increasing number of young people in places like Korea, Japan and Singapore — all finding solace in their gentle-coloured, warm-toned, tunes of honesty.

Singing original compositions in both Mandarin and Hokkien, the group’s drive-worthy songs indulge in the same nostalgic atmosphere one might come across in coming-of-age films that seem to represent the giant repertory of Taiwanese New Wave Cinema. Equal parts real as it is dreamy, the band — made up of Yi-Ling (vocals/guitar), Tang (drums), Patrick (bass) and Hongcha (guitar) — seek to be a mirror for others and themselves, using the unique Taiwanese lived experience and conversations encircling society and the environment to connect youth from all over the world.

Ahead of their third time performing live on our little red dot — the first in 2019 as part of the Huayi Festival of Arts at the Esplanade, and last year at Lion Studios as part of their Asia tour — Men’s Folio cosies up with the quartet to talk a bit about their creative process, navigating a career in music, a new album, and which of white or black bak kut teh is more superior.

Can you tell us the story behind your band name “Shallow Levée”?
Yi-Ling: We are all from the harbour city of Taiwan called Kaohsiung, and we really wanted to put our hometown’s image into our work, including the band name. The word “浅”, meaning “shallow”, comes with the Mandarin character radicals which stand for water, while “堤”, meaning “Levée, represents the idea of protecting the land. We felt that this was a beautiful name to put together, and it took us about two hours to come up with it after a band practice!

How did the four of you come together and decide to start the band?
Hongcha: The band began with just Yi-Ling and Hongcha, but all of us knew each other in the first place. After a show, we met with Patrick to have some beef soup in Tainan and over dinner, Yi-Ling randomly asked Patrick if he would like to join the band as we needed a bass player. 

Patrick just said: “Sure! You guys sound weird, count me in!”

We played like this for a few years and our former drummer left, and our old friend Sam sent us a touching letter that said, “Let’s make some good music together”, and the four of us have been playing together from that moment till now.

Yi-Ling

What is the band’s creative process like? I understand Yi-Ling usually writes the songs, and then the rest of the band does the arrangement. Have these roles changed?
Patrick: We still arrange most of our songs this way, but recently we tried to do it the opposite way, where we made the music first, and Yi-Ling wrote the melody and lyrics after. This was our single ‘Leave Me Alone’ (不要烦). It’s really fun to play!

What is one of the biggest challenges the band has faced through the years? How did you overcome them?
Tang: I think the biggest challenge is finding the balance between the artistic side of our music and the market demands. We always want to keep on making music that we love, and continue playing at the biggest stages. We’re still working on it, and we won’t stop.

Having experienced critical recognition since 2017, what’s motivated the band to stay hungry and creative?
YL: I think because we are all from the second city in Taiwan, we always want to prove something, and we are never satisfied. We want our voice to be heard, and our name to be remembered.

Tang

I’ve noticed that the band derives a lot of inspiration from facets of Taiwanese lived experiences – what attitude or spirit of living in Taiwan are you trying to capture and how do you think your music embodies that?
YL: What we want to say is that when life is uncomfortable, we will think of the best. When life is comfortable, we want to help others around us. That is the spirit of Taiwan, and that is Shallow Levée spirit.

Has this focus shifted? I know a lot of artists like to toggle between introspection and looking outwards for inspiration. What are you guys interested in now and is it different from when you guys first started out?
H: The focus is definitely changing through times. In our first album, we looked inwards, thinking about the relationship between self and society. For our second album, we looked back at our teenage years, and right now, we are focusing on spreading positive messages and having fun.

Patrick

Are there stories that you guys want to talk about that you haven’t yet? What has been on your minds these days?
YL: As a woman, I have grown a lot over the years, and I want to encourage more people from disadvantaged situations as well.

Who are some artists you guys look up to and why?
H: There are many artists that we look up to, such as Wilco, Kendrick Lamar, Olivia Dean and Erykah Badu. One thing in common is that these artists care about their community and they always stay true to who they are.

What’s next for the band? Are there any considerations for cross-genre exploration and experimentation?
T: We’ve always wanted to try some different kinds of music, and play with other musicians. Let’s find out in our new album next year!

Hong Cha

What’s the most unforgettable tour experience you’ve had as a band?
P: I’ll never forget our first tour in Singapore and Malaysia. We experienced the longest drive from Singapore to Malaysia, and had a debate over black and white bak kut teh. Oh man, I miss that trip!

What do you hope for Shallow Levée’s place in the future of Taiwanese music to be?
YL: We aim to become a legendary band from Southern Taiwan.

If you could give just one piece of advice for an aspiring music act, what would it be?
T: Believe in yourself!

Once you are done with this story, click here to catch up with our May 2024 issue.