First he released a Gangnam Style video, then he hobnobbed with Elton John. It was perhaps inevitable that sooner or later Ai Weiwei (艾未未) would dabble in music. However, few would have predicted that his genre of choice would be heavy metal.
The outspoken Chinese artist is releasing an album of metal-tinged songs, with music by the rock musician Zuoxiao Zuzhou (左小祖咒) — a friend who was briefly questioned during Ai’s 2011 detention.
“I really loved it. I had to make so much effort; I have never known music before. I’m really very passionate,” said Ai, who wrote the lyrics and sings.
The artist said his interest in music was piqued during his 81-day disappearance, which supporters said was state retaliation for his activism. Officials accused the company handling his affairs of evading taxes — later hitting him with a US$2.25 million tax bill — and said his case was unrelated to human rights.
“To tell you the truth, I never listened to music. Then, during my detention, the guards were so bored they kept saying to me: ‘Can you sing a song?’” Ai said. “I felt so sad I couldn’t sing any except the revolutionary ones we had to learn when we were growing up ... It would have made the time seem much shorter. After I came out, I realized I had never really listened to music or sung, so I decided to make an album. I know so many artists and musicians, and they were really supportive.”
Ai said the album was being mixed, but he had no idea how to distribute it and would have to ask John for advice.
The British singer dedicated a concert in Beijing to Ai last year, prompting authorities to harden their line on performances by foreign artists.
The star has been an inspiration for Ai.
“I was impressed by his very warm heart and passion, and the expression of the music, so that gave me a clear push for making my own album. I will send it to him and ask his opinion. I haven’t asked him for advice — I will surprise him,” Ai said.
The eclectic recording contains nine tracks.
“Some are like heavy metal, some are more punkish and some are more pop,” Ai said.
He did not cite specific musical influences, but recalled listening to Laurie Anderson during his days in New York in the 1980s and soaking up the dance tracks when he lived above a disco in the city.
“I saw the place in daytime and thought it was so cheap,” he explained ruefully.
Ai will provide his own cover art — still a work in progress, he said — and film a video, though he declined to promise more dancing.
He is already at work on that difficult second album, which sounds somewhat closer to his new friend John’s oeuvre.
“It’s more like love songs; it will be softer than the first. There’s no heavy metal on that one,” he said.