If the Vietnamese music industry was an aquarium, then which species would Cá Hồi Hoang be?
Main vocalist Thành Luke blurted out that answer immediately, and we bursted out laughing.
From Chương II (2015), Gấp (2017), to the latest album Ngày Ấy Và Sau Này (2021), Cá Hồi Hoang band has lead listeners to experience all kinds of sounds and emotions in their music. The series of five music videos released weekly of the songs in Ngày Ấy Và Sau Này (2021) also received a lot of attention for its interesting storytelling.
Flowerhorn cichlids are colorful, and have exceptional visuals. Working in the creative industries, Cá Hồi Hoang is not afraid to try new things. For this reason, I believe the band is really the flowerhorn cichlids of the Vietnamese music scene (besides the reason of “wanting to try being an expensive fish” that member Thành Luke told us).
We met Cá Hồi Hoang to discuss their latest album, which was completed during the pandemic period and took a year and a half to wrap up. With the members - main vocalist Thành Luke, guitarist Nguyễn Thanh Minh, and bassist Bùi Khắc Đạt, the conversation also revolved around what they have left behind, which was the spirit that created Cá Hồi Hoang back then, and even hereafter.
Why do the songs in Ngày Ấy Và Sau Này sound so sad, is it because of the pandemic?
Minh: The songs were all composed by Thành Luke, and he’s a bit… special. When he is happy and feeling well, he would compose “sad” music.
Thành Luke: … Because when I’m sad, I play games instead of writing music. Without the pandemic, this album would even be … sadder!
What is the reason for continuously releasing music videos (one MV per week) from the time the album was released?
The original idea was to make a movie based on the book that Thành Luke wrote. But the cost to do all that was too high, so we could only make music videos. In this MV series, we created a universe for the characters Bin and Maru, whom we have introduced through the album Hiệu Ứng Trốn Chạy (2019). And these MVs were made to further tell and finish the story of those characters, which also was our desire since a long time ago.
Where did the idea for Ngày Ấy Và Sau Này come from?
Thành Luke: There wasn’t any specific idea, as I wrote music everyday. I got the inspiration to compose from everywhere: when I was in the kitchen, when I was on the street, or when I was lost in memories.
For example, I wrote the song Phòng Trống (Empty Room) when my house was being repaired and I had to clean up. I sat between the mess, remembering how I used to fall down from my motorbike in this house, then I just composed the song.
There are songs where I wrote the harmony first, then organized the lyrics later. When I understood what kind of energy radiated from the harmony, finding words to put together was not too difficult. For the song “Cứ Để Ngày Mai”, I already shared with Đạt the demo. Then the lyrics were fully organized only 10 minutes after I completed arranging the harmony. Besides, there were songs that I had considered the lyrics for about a whole month before composing.
(At that moment, I asked if Cứ Để Ngày Mai (Leave It To Tomorrow) were inspired by any Gen Z ‘meme’, and Thành Luke just laughed out loud.)
After a long journey of working in the music industry, did Cá Hồi Hoang give up on anything to get to this position now?
Thành Luke: “Give up” sounds like a big deal, but there was a turning point that we couldn’t forget.
There was a time when we entered a record label, then opted out.
The reason for entering was similar to any other band. We had a bit of a reputation, and the label was well known. For a year, our band continuously experimented to see if both sides could find any common ground. We hadn’t signed any contract yet, just tried out everything in music.
Record labels in general worked very professionally, even reaching a level of perfection. But that perfection, in the end, didn’t give us the Cá Hồi Hoang band that our members want to become.
Any other thing that you left behind?
Đạt: For me, it must be the time… when I quit my full-time job. It was in the period that Thành Luke just talked about. At that time, the band faced a lot of difficulties, so I decided to do so. I quit my full-time job to… later quit the record label.
Minh: In the early stages, the members of Cá Hồi Hoang were still unfixed. So for me, letting go of someone in the band was always something that made me most regretful.
What do you all get after those abandonments?
Thành Luke: I got to know how it works between the record label and the band. I gained experiences, learned more things. I learned to deal with things more systematically. And most importantly, I learned the value of freedom. I would never do anything that makes me lose my freedom again.
Đạt: I have the chance to stay by the members’ sides, so we can continue to release albums and music videos. And I have 5 cats now. Before when we started working with the record label, I only had two. What is left at this moment for me is the most precious “gain”, so I don’t think too much about what I have given up.
Minh: Thanks to those changes in the members in the past, we got to be the Cá Hồi Hoang band of today. We always tell each other to “Put the members before the band”, and that’s the warmest thing that we have gained.
From the album Hiệu Ứng Trốn Chạy (2019) to recent release Ngày Ấy Và Sau Này (2021), how have you all changed?
Thành Luke: The most obvious change is… I gained weight (“Hey, did you just nod your head, I saw it!”, Thanh cracked a joke). I stayed at home more because of the pandemic, and I also finished writing a book.
Đạt: I noticed clearly how I’ve changed in musical thinking, and with my playing technique every time we practice together. It’s always fun to realize that. I stayed at home a lot during the pandemic too, so both my cats and I easily “went crazy”. I miss the feeling of performing and interacting with the audience.
Do Cá Hồi Hoang plan to build a certain musical portrait?
We don’t try to make music that we think the audience will like. What’s important is composing the harmony, the melody, and the lyrics that the band prefers.
We respect emotional honesty. We don’t tell people to be like this or that. With sad music, people can reach the end of their sadness. Then they could feel happy again.
Every Cá Hồi Hoang’s song contains a story. It’s not entirely Thành Luke’s story, nor is it entirely someone else’s story. The story in each song, you will realize what it is about if you listen attentively.
This might make us become a little weird, but we didn’t mean to make it like that. Everything comes naturally. And the band doesn’t think too much about “who are we” anymore. We just focus on making music.
When is a song “good enough” to publish?
Minh: A song which we made together and gave each other feedback along the way, is good enough. The moment when we gathered to record a song was always the most perfect.
How do you all overcome self-doubt in making art?
Đạt: Don’t doubt, ever. I have my members by my side, so why would I be afraid, right? I just believe that we will do well.
Thành Luke: The biggest doubts during the making of the album Gấp (2017) caused us to ‘almost’ disband, and leave that as our last album, our last memory together. Having overcome those times, we don’t doubt anymore.
Enough talked about ‘Ngày Ấy’ (the Past). So in ‘Sau Này’ (the Future), what will Cá Hồi Hoang be?
Minh: We often say that Cá Hồi Hoang is something that will last forever. Quit making music in the future? Absolutely not. Quit playing together? Also definitely not.
Five years, or even ten years from now, we will still play music, make music, and grow old together.
And now, enjoy Cá Hồi Hoang’s latest release Ngày Ấy Và Sau Này:
Adapted by Thao Van