Joshua C. Love and Proximity Butterfly honor Sichuan earthquake survivors and victims
Perched atop the main stage at the Nanjing International Music Festival, facing a crowd of roughly 3,500, Joshua C. Love, 34, frontman for Chendgu-based progressive rock quartet Proximity Butterfly (变色蝴蝶), is a shaman, a dreadlocked musical healer who is exciting the audience with his banshee’s wail and heavy, psychedelic guitar riffs, leading festival-goers in a hypnotic aural experience.
A fixture in the Chinese rock scene since 2003, Ohio-native Love and Proximity Butterfly have carved out their niche as one of China’s premiere hard rock bands.
With their latest release, "Reprieve: The Auspicious Occurrences of Dr. Chen's Past Lives" ("Reprieve" in short released from Maybe Mars), the Sichuan band are paying homage to the devastating 2008 Wenchuan earthquake that shook the nation, claiming over 68,000 lives.
“There are a lot of people still severely crippled by what the earthquake did to schools, hospitals, homes ... [and] there is a great compassion for the people hit hardest by the events,” Love explains.
“["Reprieve"] is a story based upon being in Chengdu during and throughout the Sichuan earthquake, along with the spillage of issues stemming from its result, [and] all of the emotions people might have been experiencing during the few minutes of rumble that day.”
Prior to the fire
We only want to work with artists that are deeply connected to the local music community ... for us it just seemed that Proximity Butterfly was there.— Nevin Domer, Maybe Mars label
While the origins of "Reprieve" clearly reference the May 12, 2008 seismic shock, Love and Proximity Butterfly’s story dates back to 2002, when the then-graduate student of epistemology fled US soil for China on a volunteering mission, due to what he describes as “worry about the condition of American thinking.”
After establishing himself in Chengdu as a teacher of philosophy and literature at Sichuan Normal University, Love, who previously fronted Cleveland jam outfit Samsara, began to lay the framework for Proximity Butterfly.
He recruited Canadian bassist Heather Judson (the two have since married and have a two-year-old daughter, Aetheria, together), Chinese drummer Chen Duxi, and Canadian guitarist Robert Tanner to complete the lineup.
The band would later go on to record and independently release 2005’s "God’s Love of Guns and Whores," 2006’s "Arcana" and 2008’s "Poltergeist: Cinerarium."
- Listen: Sound track "Tiptoes of Shiva" from Proximity Butterfly's latest release "Reprieve"
“As a songwriter ... most of the song ideas and concepts are his, and his ideas are usually pretty keen,” says Tanner, who has recently re-joined the band after a three-year hiatus.
“Joshua is an extremely genuine guy, and the fans pick up on that. [He]captivat[es] crowds ... he's always been like that," Tanner adds.
Antikythera falls short
Away from the studio, Proximity Butterfly tirelessly toured through the under-developed Chinese indie circuit, earning a solid reputation as a stage act.
By 2008, four years removed from their 2004 live debut, Love and company made the bold move to sign with well-respected Beijing label Modern Sky, inking a deal with the short-lived LUDI imprint.
Record contract in place (a first for a foreign indie group in China), the band entered the studio for their most ambitious endeavor to date, 2008’s "The Antikythera Mechanism," a sophisticated effort that was greeted with mixed reviews; Painkiller Magazine reviewer Hua Cui named it “album of the year,” despite The Beijinger’s Simon Frank claiming that “the goods [Proximity Butterfly] peddle consist of meandering, bombastically epic rock that devours every misshapen influence it comes across.”
- More on CNNGo: Gallery: Modern Sky rocks on
And while the band’s hopes for the album’s release were initially high, they ran into a great wall when the label failed to push "Antikythera" or help the band tour behind the LP.
“I'd been calling the label about why we hadn't seen a single bit of promotion for the whole month we were pushing things out,” comments Love.
“[Modern Sky] didn't do anything for us regarding touring . . . [and] after many contract breaches and the inevitable hollow promise, we eventually got to the album release date and stood in Beijing to a completely under-promoted show and still no album. It was embarrassing.”
Maybe, Maybe, Maybe
Undeterred by the sourness of their brief dance with the record company, Proximity Butterfly, for a very short period, took a time away from musical activities while Love and Judson welcomed their newborn daughter.
Re-focused, the band re-convened in Chengdu, this time joined by Wang Yong on drums and Cong Pai, formerly of Beijing garage quartet The Scoff, on lead guitar, to write and record "Reprieve."
Originally intended to be a completely independent affair, an album that Love describes as “reaching into the classical touch of our time, opening the gate of the soul and creating a ballroom of welcoming images and sounds,” "Reprieve" (which was produced, mixed and mastered by Love) was eventually shopped around China, quickly attracting the attention of Nevin Domer of the Beijing-based Maybe Mars label.
“I had heard a little about this band from Chengdu but didn't know much about them ... what followed was full blown guitar psychedelica,” states Domer. “We only want to work with artists that are deeply connected to the local music community ... for us it just seemed that Proximity Butterfly was there.”
Pillars of Creation
With the May 2011 release of "Reprieve" already a wrap, Proximity Butterfly have, according to Love, produced an album that “reach[es] deep into the hearts of people so that you could know the passion and seriousness and integrity of all of the things that we are.”
- Listen: Sound track "The Sex" from Proximity Butterfly's latest release "Reprieve"
While the success of the album is still pending, Proximity Butterfly have embarked on the first leg of their national “Pillars of Creation” tour and remain committed to their long-standing mission of converting unsuspecting Chinese listeners into loyal fans.