“My rock story began with Ai Jima.” Liang Long who was the lead singer at a Chinese rock band called Second-hand Rose. Wearing flash sequins uniform, he cried to the fans at “2014 Tango” music concert for rock. The crowd gone wild at the venue in changing lights of yellow and red with arms waving crazily in the dark air.
After the sensation caused by Liang and Second-hand Rose in 2000, fans called them an “amazing hand” stretching towards Beijing. The legend founder Liang has the ability to play rock, Chinese dance opera, Chinese Opera as well as compose. During the past 15 years, he has performed with eye-catching sculpts and disguised in female attire on the stages and sang out with his own voice from the bottom of heart.
Liang has created unique rock music with land and ethnic characteristics that has overcome all the difficulties to today and is now wildly recognized and admired by fans. From a security guard who was dismissed for fighting to a popular rock band leading singer, CMBN has more details about Liang and his music.
Escape from hometown
Born in Qiqihar, Heilongjiang Province which is located in northeast China, Liang was not fond of his hometown when he was young, especially the long and grey winter. When he grew up, it was a time that heavy industry laid off many workers and social stability was threatened by robbery. Because of this, Liang was determined to leave his hometown. It was not only because of the momentum to get rid of humbleness but also the attraction of rock that Liang came to Beijing. But he failed twice in chasing his dreams in the capital city and even forced to return to rural life of his childhood. However, it was the land that gave him the simplest and purest music inspiration.
Liang loved rock music when he was a little boy and regarded it as a kind of skilled, fast-beated and strong music. The American rock band Nirvana had great influence on him when their music was introduced to China. Nirvana’s style was a combination of “Grunge Rock” and “Underground Rock” and they entered American mainstream culture through alternative music. “I’ve never thought that rock music can become so freedom!”, Liang said, who was about 20 years old at that time and tried to add Bruce, Latin music into rock and roll.
His biggest dream in adolescence being studying rock music in Beijing, Liang wanted to play the kind called Freudian rock with philosophizing. However, his family could not afford the tuition. In 1997, with a high school degree, Liang had to find a job in Harbin as a security guard. Liang decided to earn the school fee but his low income could hardly make it. Out of a hurry, he planned to start a band in 1998.
Finding his fellow-townsman Sun Baoqi and another three in a city as drummer, guitar and bass player, he made a band. And he also arranged a job for Sun and the bass player when he was promoted to be the leader of the security team. “With three bread-earner, the band could survive.”
In the year when Harbin suffered a hug flood disaster, Liang brought his band to Songhua River and held a charity show for the soldiers who were combating the catastrophe. Liang remembered, “This was our first performance in front of the public and the stage was made up by sands. I sang three original songs and another three of Beyond. It was quite a joy for having a show, though the army audience had to follow their strict rules to sit and clap.”
This turned out to be the only performance of this band. Liang was only 21 that year! Then there was one night he drunk with Sun and they had a quarrel and fight that disturbed the entire neighborhood. Liang was dismissed from his job the next day and the band had to dissolve.
Out of work and with no penny in the pocket even a debt of more than 2000 RMB, Liang was broken-down. He joked, “We had to be supported by our girlfriends at that time. I borrowed 500 yuan from my girlfriend and returned to Qiqihar. I lied to my parents that a brother asked me to work in Beijing so I quit my job and went with him.”
Drifter in Beijing: bragging about the hard life
Liang came to Beijing in November, 1998 and began his life there. At that time, he stay with his friend called Cui Jingsheng who had a band. Though Liang played with them, chances were small that he could give a performance. “I didn’t want to sing in the bar back. I regarded myself as an artist and felt that the bar was not the right place for me. At last, my life in Beijing ended up with shortage of money and I went back to Qiqihar before the Spring Festival. These three months was my first time struggling in Beijing.”
With a bottle of wine and a bizarre performance art magazine in hand, Liang came to his hometown in abjection. To the worse, his girlfriend broke up with him which ended his last emotion tie to his hometown.
In the spring of 1999, Liang left for Beijing for the second time. He said, “I knew that I had to earn a living first, so I prepared some simple songs for restaurants which offered me 30 – 40 yuan a day. I worked two or three times a week that basically covered my food expenditure. But I was not experienced as to perform in a bar.”
The biggest problem for Liang was that he could not write a single song at that time. “I believed that even if Cui came to ask me to join in his band, it might be useless for I couldn’t do anything and my mind was going to collapse.”
As for Liang, poverty was bearable while brain drain was not. He even thought about giving up music. “The last thing that I had done was to play music on a wedding for 100 yuan, and then I bought an 88-yuan train ticket to Harbin.”
For saving face, Liang did not tell anyone and only mentioned briefly of his retuning home. Late at 3 o’clock at night, Liang was on a slow green train and brought himself some food with the remaining 12 yuan. He was penniless when arrive in Harbin and his friend did not come as planned, which broke him down mentally. Liang managed to spend the night at the train station with his luggage.
With an empty pocket, Liang bragging about his life in Beijing to his friends the first week, “I was like a missioner, who was invited to meal by others. They thought I was doing well in Beijing. ”
Liang was still confused at what he was going to do after a week, and then he happened to knew that there was a farmer called Su Yongsheng, who can both play music and sing. Su was involved in wedding and funeral performance, and most importantly, he had a big rural Kang bed, which means that Liang at least had a place to sleep if he worked for Su.
There being no alternative, Liang stayed with Su but doing nothing every day. As he remembered, he signed, “I brought a package of noodle when came to his house as a gift. But I was idling day by day. The only thing that I did was to eat when meals were done.
But these three months in the village calmed him down, he began to rethink all the way that he had come. He loved rock so much when he was a little boy but failed twice in Beijing. Under this circumstance, Liang suddenly had an inspiration and wrote his signature song Picking Flowers in the countryside field. He sang, “There was a girl who looked like a flower. There was a man who said you don’t need to fear. They became a family and had a son.”
After this, Liang wrote 10 songs within 19 days, and recorded the samples in a Karaoke bar, all of which took him 22 days. Liang was very exciting about this, “I finally figured out what I should do in Beijing and this was also what I wanted to express.”
An “amazing hand” stretching towards Beijing
Liang wanted to form a band again, so he connected to Su and a bassist Ma Jinbing, a drummer called Wen Heng. Liang was the lead singer and guitarist while Su is the So-na player. They decided to name their band. Referring to the names of others’, they found that bands that had a noun names became popular like Tang Dynasty, Black Panther, so they discussed to give a noun name.
Liang rethought about his former experience in Beijing. He regarded himself as “second-hand”. At that time cultures in Beijing were at the period of mutual imitation, including band style, fashion design, contemporary art and so on. Under this condition, “second-hand” was born with a bit of irony. And “rose” meant love and romance.
Combined “second-hand” and “rose”, Liang wrote them with Chinese brush. “I have practiced calligraphy and I wrote the name. I thought it was very beautiful and this was how we got the name.”
At the end of 1999 when Harbin held the second rock music festival, Liang sent his music to a musician, hoping to join in. He was asked to wait for the response. “I was very nervous. Three days later, I got a phone call which said that my music was very special and I could perform at the festival. How exciting was I!”
This was how the band got their first chance to perform. Later they also performed at another rock festival in Daqing, January 2000. A few friends saw Liang and their performance and invited him to Beijing for further development.
With great confidence, Liang decided to go to Beijing after the Spring Festival. However, the other members of the band could not follow him. Because Su had to work as a teacher which was a decent job in the countryside; Ma and Wen were too poor to afford the expense in Beijing.
Under desperation, Liang had to leave alone. They promised to reunite after a half a year. “As I calculated, 400 yuan was enough for one to live in Beijing for two months. And we can find a job later.”
However, those four brothers had a tremendously different life after that. The bassist had work of boiling the water and the drummer was selling mutton. With time passing by, the band was dismissed.
What about Liang? Actually, he was not as well-off as he thought. There was hardly any chance for performing and he lived in the second floor of a basement for it was cheaper. What made it different was that he felt more confident in Beijing with his own music.
One day, Liang was invited to replace a lead singer in the bar for two days. He agreed happily, “I could not sing much pop songs, and then the guitarist asked me if I had any original music. So I sang one. I was very surprised that he could play it and he was our guitarist Wang Yuqi.”
Liang appreciated Wang’s talent, and hoped to form a band together. But Wang said, “I’m not sure. You should pay me first, at least the transportation fee for rehearsal which was 4 yuan a time.”
On 13thAugust, there was an activity called “The first China vision rock festival” at a bar in Beijing and they invited Liang as a band with costume. “I was very exciting. It was later that I knew that the organizer invited us for there were not enough bands.”
However, it was this show that opened the door for Second-hand Rose. Though there were only about 100 people at spot, news went out that a funny band with shorts and slippers was very unique. And the band became well-known.
Liang explained, “This was a period when Chinese rock music was at the bottle neck with little new music. Therefore, Second-hand Rose brought something new for the audience and many regarded them as An “amazing hand” stretching towards Beijing ”
Their success also strengthened Wang’s confidence, and he promised to join Liang. Liang also met Niu Jiawei who worked for Moyan Label Company under Rolling Stone. Though Second-hand Rose did not sign with Moyan, Niu became their broker. “He helped to organize the band and to
complete it. From the bars in Beijing, we slowly went on the right track.”
In 2001, with Moyan divested in China, so Second-hand Rose terminated the partnership with Niu. They heard of a great broker called Huang Liaoyuan and met him. “We were drinking in a bar from noon to 5:00 pm. He was smoking and said to me, ‘You don’t need to find others, I will be your broker.’”
In 2002, Second-hand Rose signed with Huang and in November with Beijing Yizhijian.
After two years working with Huang, the band had a concert, a self-titled debut album, and a MV. Huang always thought that a band must be commercialized and marketized. But, in fact, marketization was not fully realized which resulted in poor revenue. They parted after two years’ contract.
“Once separated with Huang, I started to find other members. We wanted someone who was free of burden. Our bassist was a magazine man and keyboardist was a producer. I found such a band more stable.”
But soon new problem arouse that all the members were too busy to meet together. Another one was marketization. The big music companies intended to promote pop music so it was quite hard for us to get in.
“At last, the company had spent a lot of money but we didn’t think that was used effectively. When the contract expired in 2007, the band was at a standstill with no performance and rehearsal. I was very disappointed and even wanted to quit.”
Under this mood, Liang began to made friends with artists, drinking and making pictures every day. He did not write songs. At this point, the former guitarist Yao Lan came to Liang and hoped a second cooperation, he said, “You are a musician and you should play music. You don’t need to devote into art.”
After Yao found bassist Li Zhiqiang and drummer Sun Quan, Second-hand Rose reformed in 2008. Fortunately, it was a time when music festivals became popular in China, which offered more chances for them. And independent musicians earned much more, which means that the band started to tour and have shows to earn a living.
Though the band had financial security, Liang found himself could not handle all. He cooperated with Huang again and followed the advice of signing ModernSky.
The band had a stable income after that. Every year, ModernSky will hold over 30 concerts and invites Second-hand Rose to perform, which is the benefit of singing with a company. However, Liang believed that signing a label could not solve all the problems. Because it was more free than before and the band needs to find its own way, including the values and others.
Red and Green, brand differentiation
A few years ago, Second-hand Rose went to Shenyang for touring and found many people wearing red and green – a kind of traditional print in northeast China– in a bar. Liang found it very funny to tie a turban on the arm and hold a fan. He had never heard of it.
“I was so shocked but it was very cool. This was the idea that my audience gave me. So on our tenth anniversary, I bought 500 fans to music lovers and the concert turned out to be an ocean of fans. The stage and dancers were also red and green.”
That night, an artist told Liang that red and green is his art element, which cannot be replaced. Since then, both the stage design and miroblog has used it. Liang also applies it into the arts and exhibitions. In 2014, Second-hand Rose hired designer to make derivatives as clothing, furniture, jewelry, etc.
Besides, the development of the band is even more important. There are not so many experienced brokerage companies or brokers in the market and the change needs time and training. Therefore, at the end of 2014, Liang initiated the “Rocking life show” to introduce some early rocking stars to young people.
What Liang wants to do is a different band style. “I hope that Second-hand Rose could be a brand of northern China rock music. Now many bands have their own style and some even labeled them on purpose.”
Liang didn’t think that all the famous foreign musicians are artists, “I like Manson, who is not only a prominent musician but good at promotion. All the art forms can be regarded as commercial behavior. And a band should has its own in-depth thinking.”
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