Interview with Dadado Huang.

—Revisiting Hard Days is like gazing at an eternal part of Dadado Huang's life where he sings the white paper of youth that exists outside of time.

Dadado Huang was born in the 1980s when Taiwan’s economy was taking off, the arts and culture were booming, and the country was about to undergo major political changes. He grew up in Taipei as well as the metropolis in Taiwan; however, he didn't like to call himself an urbanite. His music career began with the release of his debut album Hard Days in 2007. The 15th anniversary edition for the album was released in June last year. The re-recorded songs "25 Years Old'' and "Blue Sky" reconcile and tune the music made by 25-year-old Dadado into a mellower story, but what remains unchanged is the clear melody of the guitar sounds within, which still reflects his straightforward personality. He sings about the stories of love, those salad days of immature youth, and the beauty and bitterness that have not yet been written.

Throughout the conversation with Dadado, he shared his passion for storytelling. When he mentioned listening to his favorite hip-hop and rap music, he explained that rappers are storytellers that operate freely with rhymes from different angles to tell a story or a certain past event. They draw a circle around a theme to shape the story and rap it into poetry. It sounds just like what Dadado does with his music, only not in the form of rap. It appears that his music is a process of constantly sorting himself out and ruminating on the past, and it is also reminiscent of Woolf's The Diary of Virginia Woolf: 1925-1930: "At the moment I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realizes an emotion at the time. It expands later and thus we don't have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.”

Metropolitan lurking in the dark

—It has been six years since your last album Insomniac released. Do you already have a vision or a sound in mind for the new album you are planning to release this year?

When starting the production of the new album, I found that I didn’t seem to have any particular sound in mind during the process. I really like city-pop, hip-hop, and rap music from the 90s. However, it seems that I still end up making "Dadado-style" songs when arranging the music. Yet I think there should be some fusion of different styles for my new album.

—What kind of music have you listened to in recent years, and does it affect your current creation?

I've been listening to hip-hop a lot, most of which is in the style of the 90s and the east coast, and I really dig some rhymes that are from the west coast. Applying rap with rhyme as a way to tell stories is really compelling to me.

In addition, I used to listen to a lot of classical music in high school, and I liked Bach and Chopin the most. I also listened to some music such as Mendelssohn, Debussy, etc., but the depth of listening was not as deep and fascinating as Bach and Chopin to me. Speaking of Debussy, his music is really timeless. I have only learned to appreciate his music in recent years. It is very poetic and abstract, and the arrangement is actually somewhat similar to current pop music— especially the chords—which makes it accessible and relatable, and very beautiful. I didn't know how to appreciate Debussy before because I liked the music of Chopin that expresses strong emotions without reservation, and Bach's almost rational tune with a kind of brilliance in it. Both have a sense of extremes.

—The theme of your music has always been to connect with the various, everyday fragments of life, and to some extent, it is actually to open up about a part of yourself. Have you always felt comfortable with being open to people about these parts of yourself? Or has it changed since you began making music?

The first time I started writing music was during my freshman year. I never thought about letting others listen to my songs— I just enjoyed doing it. At that time, I occasionally participated in competitions held by the guitar club in college or got to sing as a resident artist at tea shops. The songs I performed in competitions were all composed by myself. Because my guitar technique was poor, I would lose if I covered other people's songs (laughs). I remember that I won a competition during that time, and the judge was the famous singer-songwriter, Ma Chao Chun. I was quite surprised that writing music and winning an award is a real thing. I had just started writing music and had only written one song. That song, “Existence”, was later included in my first album Hard Days.

I think the part of me that has changed over the years is probably reflected in the lyrics. As for the motivation for writing, it seems to be the same as when I first started writing songs. When writing lyrics, I don't worry about offending others, or being too "naked." If I did, I really wouldn’t be able to write songs at all.

—Have you always felt comfortable singing your own songs from the very beginning?

Super comfortable. This is quite interesting because the difficulty I have is actually performing my music. It took me a long time to get used to being on stage, but I have always felt comfortable publishing my own works. It wasn’t until 2010 that I began to relax more about performing on stage.

There are many factors that make me uncomfortable; I may feel nervous about not being fully prepared, or that I’m not good enough. After all, it is not easy for me to face the crowd. The preparation process for performance is actually full of pressure for me, and I will constantly doubt myself. Now I am much more relaxed facing the audience, although I still feel nervous before going on stage. But as soon as I get on stage, everyone starts cheering, and from that moment on, I’m at ease.

Being happy or unhappy -
it is closely related to this city

—When the 15th anniversary edition of your debut album Hard Days was released, you once mentioned that "the things you are doing now are a bit like saying goodbye to that young self." When you reviewed the songs from your debut album, does it mean that you also revisited yourself making music at that time?

9 out of 10 musicians I know don't look back and listen to what they did, but I can be cool and composed with the music I made 15 years ago, which is interesting. Time seems to dilute everything—including shame, self-doubt, etc.— and you will feel that your younger self was kind of cute. I also feel that I have not changed much, and I've been wondering if I’ve been in a state of no progress since I was 25. Am I supposed to be happy about being myself? Or should I be sad that I haven't made "progress"? Sometimes, when I look back at the diary I wrote when I was in the military and compare it with the words I would write to my friends now, I see that the way I use words is exactly the same. This makes me anxious.

—Continuing the question above, you chose to release the 15th anniversary edition of Hard Days at a time when it is now a post-epidemic era and everyone is still trying to adapt to various changes. Is there any other significance for you?

In fact, I didn't make too much connection between this special release and the pandemic. It just happens to be the 15th anniversary. Instead, the connection with the pandemic will be in the next new album. My music has been labeled with a city-like vibe, but I've always felt a bit ashamed of myself as an urbanite because I don't like urbanites. The songs I write are just "very Taipei." Over time, I accepted this fact and didn’t try to overthrow my own identity. I grew up in Taipei; everything that makes me happy or unhappy is closely related to this city, so I don’t try to escape it, and I don’t insist on making myself feel very homegrown.

Mature means
getting used to
something happen

—The song “25 Years Old” shows that your younger self was vast and hazy when you first entered society, and you reinterpreted your own song 15 years later. How would you interpret or define the so-called "youth" and "maturity" that you associate with now?

I think being mature is just being used to some things. When people are younger, they might get angry or react drastically to certain things. 10 years later, they develop a certain degree of understanding, even though they might still get angry and at the same time feel powerless to change what happens in this world. In my opinion, maturity means becoming eviler, which means caring more about yourself, dealing with some things more smoothly, and then convincing yourself that it is better to do so. Then mature ones would say, “it is better to do this,” even if it is not necessarily right.

Young ones would say, “I think this is the best way to do it.” Being youthful is being absolute; "just do it this way, and I am right." I still have a youthful attitude, but with the maturity to think "doing it this way might be better" as well. I don’t always want to deal with the dramas that come with saying “I’m absolutely right.” Speaking of it this way, maturity is really pitiful, although compared to people of the same age, I am pretty immature enough (laughs).

—Adults may think that it is dangerous that young people to go on the streets and fight for justice, so their maturity says, "doing it this way is better for us." If you had a choice, would you choose to go to the streets, to speak up, or not to take any action?

The recent low ebb of my life in 2019 actually had a lot to do with the movements and revolutions that took place in Hong Kong. I felt quite powerless when such things happened in this modern time. I was even hoping that I could forget that feeling of powerlessness. When the documentary Revolution of Our Times was in theaters, we went to see it and felt as if we were reminding ourselves of these recent histories from the images in the movie that were captured from the news. I felt ashamed at that moment because you think about having the ability to do something, but you don't want to jump entirely.

—You shared that the music-making process mostly revolves around the axes of "solving problems", "documenting life", "thinking it through", "being a bystander" and "loving yourself" at a lecture you did for 1500 Sound Academy. The essence of your creation seems to be related to reflection and introspection. Do you think you are a person who constantly examines himself?

I usually let go of the present until I understand why I am happy or unhappy at that moment. My creation is indeed constantly combing the thread of my life. For example, songs like "Raining Nights", "Insomniac", and even "Shangrila" all share the same ideas for me, but with different perspectives from when I wrote them at different times. For example, "Raining Nights" was written when I was younger, and I held on to the idea that I wanted everything to be fine, which was more positive. "Insomniac" is filled a bit with helplessness. The same thing written in the three songs is all about doubts, but at different ages, so my state of mind was different at those moments.

—From the first album Hard Days to My High School Classmate, Raining Nights, and Insomniac, each album is like a portrayal of different stages of your life, with different youth-oriented aspects as well. What do you think the upcoming new album will look like?

If I could really say what the new album will be like— maybe it's about the next phase of my life, my identity, or who I am after 40. I spent some time in Changbin for a week last spring. The sense of freedom there felt different from the city and made me think, "maybe living here and farming is not bad". Later, when I returned to Taipei and started performing and doing all the events, I felt as if I was escaping from Taipei afterward, so why not change my perspective and try to like the way that the city is? There is always something to like about everything, right?