Beijing duo Naja Naja: “A very large part of our music is instinct. We like to keep it very raw…”

Handmade collage by B.

We love duo Naja Naja from Beijing! They have no big ambitions beyond making music for fun; one of the very best reasons that often produces the most interesting and exciting music. Their music is a cool combination of motorik rhythms, post-punk, electronic bleeps and blips, indie and melody culminating in an off-kilter retro-futuristic sound. We caught up with bassist-vocalist-artist Gou Gou and guitarist-vocalist-beats programmer Yuhao on the day of their debut EP being released outside of mainland China. This is their first interview outside of China too!  

It’s an exciting day, your debut self-titled EP is out in the world.

YUHAO: Yeah, I’m glad we set up today to talk. We released it in China (Bie Records) at the end of last year but for overseas Wharf Cat Records help us to release it today. We’re glad to see that now.

Currently, one of you are based in Beijing and the other is in San Francisco, right?

GOU GOU: Yeah.

Y: Previously we were both based in Beijing, I moved to San Francisco this year for work.

How did you first meet?

GG: We first met actually in another band called Last Goodbye in Beijing.

Y: There were four people in Last Goodbye but it ends up me and Gou Gou have really similar tastes, so after a few years playing together we decided to start a project with only two of us. We don’t have a big ambition, it’s just for fun for the two of us to make something fun.

That’s one of the best reasons to make music. What does the band name Naja Naja mean?

Y: Naja actually means snake. We chose this name because we think it’s adorable, it’s not about snake that’s adorable, we don’t really care about the literal meaning but how it sounds and how the characters work is also a duplication, and we like many bands with duplication like Yin Yin, Django Django and Ratatat. We think this name is cool. 

You mentioned that you have similar taste in bands; what are some of the bands you both love?

GG: In the early years we listen to indie music bands more, but this years I have more appreciation for disco, like italo disco. 

Y: A few years ago, we both like post-punk. There’s a band called Snapline, it’s a band in China. Lately we like some artists in the 80s or old stuff like disco and other electric genres.

What’s the music scene like in Beijing?

GG: This year many club and live houses close…

Y: Yeah, because of the pandemic.

GG: Many bands are preparing some tours in China but it can’t go on.

Naja Naja started making songs for the EP by sending tracks back and forth to each other?

Y: Yeah. Because when we started this project the pandemic had just started. We were locked in our own home and we started to do some work on our computers and we send our ideas to each other to see if we can develop something based on the other’s work. That’s how our first songs got developed. Later the pandemic becomes less severe in China and we could go to some places to do rehearsals and to polish our songs, that’s how we write those songs in those years. 

What was the first song you wrote together?

GG: ‘Sunset Shopping Centre’.

That’s the instrumental track?

Y: Yeah, that one.

Do you have a favourite song on the EP?

Y: I would say ‘Running Dog, Floating Elephant’. 

What’s that song about?

Y: That song is written by Gou Gou, so maybe she can talk about it.

GG: [Laughs]. The name of this one comes from Japanese art festival. The first time I met this exhibition there was a big wall with some Japanese words on the wall and a very small English version behind and I see this…

Y: There were some words put together and some of the words were ‘Running Dog, Floating Elephant’. Gou Gou thought that maybe a scene can be developed from these words because it seems interesting. She thinks they’re like a dream or is maybe a weird scene. The idea is from the words, she just think about it and developed the song.

Cool. I really love the song ‘Dong Dong’. It’s got a really fun video for it too. Where did you film it?

Y: We worked together with Bie Records for the EP. Actually it’s filmed in their office. We planned a party and we invited our friends there. We celebrated the release of the EP on that day with our friends because we did a lot of work with them. We performed a few songs where they can dance with. The music video is just to record this celebration or party. 

It looks like it was so much fun!

Y: [Smiles] Yeah, yeah. I think that maybe some of the best memories for me in the last year, because we have been through such a lockdown and everyone is in their home, and we got this opportunity to be together and celebrate something that we worked together with and make it released. It’s a very good memory for me in the last year.

GG: Me too!

Did making music and art during the pandemic help you get through it?

Y: Yeah.

GG: No. 

Gou Gou, you did the art for the EP cover?

GG: Yeah. I draw the cover, I paint the cover.

Y: She made a lot of versions, different ones. She made a completely different version each day during a week. There are five to six. Finally we chose this one.

EP art by Gou Gou

What made you chose the one you did?

GG: Instinct. 

Do you use instinct a lot when you’re making music?

Y: Yeah, I think so. A very large part of our music is instinct. We like to keep it very raw instead of very polished. We wanted to keep our first feeling, our raw feeling of it.

How long have you been making music for? You mentioned that you were making music before Naja Naja.

Y: Naja Naja started from 2020. Before that we wrote some things by ourselves but I think we never released what we wrote completed stuff, ideas.

GG: For me, when I am in high school I start to like indie music. At that time I would be the Hit magazine and download the music from the internet. I will listen to more to bands from other nations but not the Chinese bands, but when…

Y: [Translates from Chinese to English for Gou Gou] She has started to listen to more local indie bands since college. 

For me, I think there’s a trend in China when I was in high school, there are a few years where pop-punk was very popular in China, especially American pop-punk like Sum 41 and the Offspring; that’s the first time I started to listen to different genres other than pop music. After that I started to listen to more genres and find music by myself on the internet. There was a time when I like post-punk very much and post-rock. It was a time I started a band in college.

Any challenges making your EP?

Y: What we thought would be a challenge was the recording and mixing. At that time we don’t have much money to record and find someone to mix, but later we thought ‘Let’s just try recording at home.’ We tried learning how to mix ourselves, we just did it. We found it turns out that it meets our expectations. It’s not a challenge anymore. 

There is a fun fact that we buy some microphones, some of them are little expensive, we thought it should be good, but it turns out that we used those microphones to record our vocals but the sound was too clean. When we hear our demos, we think that our demos are better because they have some, a little overdrive with the sound. Later on we decide to just use the low-end device to record some of our vocals. 

What is the song ‘Tunnel’ about?

Y: I think there is a person which enters this tunnel, but they could not get out from it. They go through a very long way and think they will come out the end, but actually it’s just another start of this tunnel, so you just have to loop in this tunnel and you never come out. It feels like something we think, ’Is this the end of something?’ But it actually turns out that it’s just another start.

Is that why you put the song last on the album? Because it’s the end of something but the beginning of something else.

Y: Yeah, yeah, that’s it exactly. We thought we must put this song at the end, we feel it was right to do. 

GG: It is my favourite song in this EP. The first time when it come out as a demo, I think it is very special because when he ask the lyrics in this song… I just like it.

Me too! We ordered the vinyl record version.

Y & GG: Thank you!

Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves?

Y: Gou Gou is a designer. I am a software engineer. 

[Translates for Gou Gou] She has many interests, she likes drawing and has a lot of friends and she likes to talk to her friends a lot during her day. She mentioned that I am the exact opposite to her; that’s an introduction for myself [laughs]. 

GG: [Laughs].

What’s next for Naja Naja?

Y: We are planning for a full album. There are a couple of songs we are writing. We have already recorded some. We’re also working on a project, it’s like a connection of our music and our work, because I’m a software engineer and she’s a designer, we are working on our web art stuff so people can interact with it. We will put some of our music into it. It’s like a game with our music.

That’s so exciting! We can’t wait.

GG: Yeah.

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

Y: Gou Gou says she loves the puppy on Gimmie’s instagram! 

Thank you. We love puppies. Whenever we’re asked for a photo of ourselves for a press thing we always send people a photo of us with the Gimmie dog head over our heads, because we don’t want things to be about us, it’s about all of the bands and artists that we feature on the site and in our print zine. Often when people do magazines, someone is the face of it, sometimes people use it as a vehicle for themselves to be known as a somebody, for their ego, but we’re not interested in that. It’s all about the music and art.

GG: Yes. And, the puppy is adorable. 

It is! Everything we do, we do on instinct, like you do too. 

GG: I think it is very meaningful. 

Absolutely. We do it because we love it. 

GG: It’s very cool! 

Y: Thank you for doing this interview. It’s the first time we do it overseas. We are very excited to have this talk with you. 

NAJA NAJA’s Bandcamp HERE. Follow Naja Naja @najanaja_band. Naja Naja self-titled EP out via Wharf Cat Records (US) and Bie Records (China)