New new wave
L.A.'s China Room gives peace a chance
China Room’s tour is off to a pretty crappy start.
The members are supposed to be traversing the entire West Coast, from their hometown of Los Angeles to Seattle and back. Instead, they’re broken down by the side of the road, waiting for a jumpstart, attempting to ward off parking tickets. Technically, they haven’t even left home yet.
Now is as good a time as any for an interview as frontman Nima Kazerouni and guitarist Joaquin Pastor pass the phone back and forth, butting in with new ideas and finishing each other’s sentences, which isn’t unlike the way the band plays music.
China Room’s first full-length album, Put on a Smile, They’re Coming Your Way, is crammed with musical ideas. Kazerouni’s voice recalls the soaring tenor of singers like Jeff Buckley and Muse’s Matthew Bellamy, while the band—which includes bassist Johann Carbajal, guitarist Vincent Mazza and drummer Greg Erwinn—walks a tightrope between postmillennial dance-punk and epic ‘90s Britpop. It all makes for a pretty dramatic affair. Songs like “Disco Chopper” rise above the radio-friendly pablum they might fall prey to in a lesser band’s hands—with intricate guitar riffs, busy (but tasteful) drum fills and a sense of dynamics rare in today’s pop music.
It would be easy to start another band poured into the Hot FM mold; say, another Killers knock-off. And though the songs are catchy and danceable, China Room avoids hamfisted simplicity on purpose. Pastor attributes this to guitarist Mazza.
“It feels like the band kind of views the first album as a really solid fresh effort—the sound is sort of sophisticating a lot,” Kazerouni said. “Vince had a lot to do with that … he feels like there’s a lot of crap that comes out of L.A., and even with this album he’s still not satisfied.”
Pastor chimed in.
“Vince is kind of like anti-stereotypical L.A.,” he said. “He’s so skeptical of bullshit. He shuns himself speaking bullshit. He fears bullshit in every capacity.”
China Room plays music that feels both fresh and familiar, from the epic pop of their album to what Pastor calls the “gypsy jazz/bossa nova things” that are creeping into their new songs and live shows.
Although Kazerouni admits being influenced by “all that proto-punk new wave,” he had a fairly eclectic musical upbringing—like most people of a certain age, he grew up on the Beatles and Beach Boys, but also Italian and French pop music of the 1960s, thanks to his musician father.
Kazerouni’s father’s story actually adds meaning to China Room’s existence. It’s members aren’t quick to bring it up, but the band actually occupies pretty unique musical and cultural territory.
“I was born in Iran during the time of the revolution,” said Kazerouni. “It was a really hard time for my family. My parents had to leave the country. My dad was in a rock band and he loved music; music was his life, and he had to leave music because of the war, because of the revolution.”
Kazerouni clearly inherited this passion for music, and he says he’s happy to be able to pick up where his father left off.
Given the recent tensions between the U.S. and Iran, then, this tour is perhaps exponentially significant for China Room, sponsored as it is by the Peace Alliance, a campaign to establish a Department of Peace in the U.S. government.
Sure, it’s just rock ‘n’ roll, but is it possible that China Room’s playing rock music may eventually, in some small, unknowable way, help prevent wars? That would be nice, but the band’s real goals are more modest.
“We want to make music that’s exciting to us and other people,” said Kazerouni. “Just the fact that we can make that happen is worth it. If we play a show and people get a feeling out of that show that they didn’t have before, that’s successful.”