Two years ago, St. John’s musician Joey Basha fell in love with a Chinese guy at Memorial University, and decided to follow him home to Hong Kong and attend graduate school there.
The romance fizzled out pretty quickly, but he stayed in Hong Kong and started Milkteeth — a gritty three-piece folk band unlike anything the region had seen before, he says.
“We’ve been given a lot of attention based on the fact that we’re anomalous,” Basha says. “We’re really a freak band.”
In a matter of months, the band had gained a loyal following, among foreigners and locals. In October they plan to release their first record, a six-track EP called “Chance.”
After unsuccessfully starting with another lineup, the band came together with Jeroen Brulez, a graphic artist from Belgium who plays drums, and Theo Chan, a professional violinist. Basha plays guitar and sings.
“(Chan) is bringing a lot of folk elements from Chinese music, whereas I’m talking folk elements from western culture, like country and bluegrass and real rock and roll from the ’50s and ’60s.
“It’s very sort of interesting when you’re playing with people that are from entirely different backgrounds. They’re able to contribute things that you’ve never heard before,” Basha says.
Many of the songs, however, have been in Basha’s repertoire for years — the first track, “Shea Heights,” for example, which he wrote at 17.
“Why go home? Over the hill and home,” he sings. “When there are millions of cigarettes to be smoked.”
Basha, 24, said the music scene he is now a part of is very different than that of St. John’s. Playing music is seen as a rebellious career option by many in Hong Kong.
“We’ve been given a lot of attention based on the fact that we’re anomalous.” ... “We’re really a freak band.” - St. John's musician Joey Basha
“They’re not money makers in Hong Kong, therefore they’re not contributing to society,” he says of musicians.
But having foreign members has granted the band licence to explore topics that are taboo in the culture, Basha says. Two of the three band members are openly gay.
“We’re able to put out a bit of a message with regards to of equality of sexes and equality of sexual orientation,” Basha says.
“Most of the press we’re been getting in the past month … they’re sort of angle was that ‘they’re these young kids from varying countries in the world coming to a place that is very restrictive in terms of freedom of speech and they’re saying things through their music that normal people can’t say in everyday life.’”
Basha is not the only St. John’s musician to move to Asia and pick up where he left off.
Neil Conway, of the Discounts and Neil Conway and the Somethin’ Family, has a band in Beijing.
“(They’re) doing quite well. They toured Australia and China,” Basha says. Conway has invited them to play a show with him in November.
Meanwhile, in Seoul, South Korea, Adam Hickey — who fronted The Nordic Beat in St. John’s — is in another indie rock band with other Newfoundland ex-pats called Used Cassettes.
“We’re in the process right now of talking about touring with them,” Basha says.