I sit next to Loc and Son from Nhung Dua Tre — ‘The Children’ — in a crowded bar as they sling back their beers. Their faces show relief when I suggest we move downstairs. As we retreat, I think that despite their quiet demeanour, they will soon be making a lot of noise.
Nhung Dua Tre’s second EP, E.P 2.0, will be released this month. Their first EP from early 2016, Nhung Dua Tre Trong Ngo, immediately resonated with music fans across the country. Their sounds were driven and expansive. Their lyrics yearned for more, from their city and their lives, and their songs captured what it feels like to be young but aimless among the history, chaos and opportunity of Hanoi. They also play and make music that is a departure from much of the cultural output in this country. This is the sound of indie pop alt-rock, but with Hanoi flair. The lyrics are all in Vietnamese.
Sounds of the City
“We were born and raised here,” says Son, the band’s guitarist. “Our music and Hanoi are inseparable.”
But the band didn’t record new music for over a year after the release of their first EP.
“It is hard to be a musician here,” says Loc, the outfit’s vocalist and guitarist. “Most people are conservative. It’s hard work when people don’t understand why we need to make music.”
Looking away, Son admits that somehow, the band had lost their drive.
“We love the songs from our first EP but we were just practising our old songs, and only going to gigs only when people invited us.”
So what changed?
“When we tried to record this EP, life just got really hard, in a way none of us were ready for,” Son says.
The band faced meltdowns and complete breakdowns within the group, their relationships and their families. As the setbacks piled up, recording completely stalled.
“Some days we felt that everything in our lives was completely out of control,” he continues. “Those were dark days.”
Despite all the hardships, their new music kept coming out.
“When we got together, we wrote songs about the bad thoughts we were having,” says Son. “But we realised that making the EP was the only thing keeping us excited and inspired about anything. Playing these songs together as a band was the only thing helping us find a way through the mess of our everyday lives.”
The band’s devotion to each other comes out in their energetic live shows but also in their songwriting. Son explains.
“Our band is a family. We grew up together and understand and love each other. We are different but we are all linked together and care for each other. It’s a great dynamic for songwriting.”
The new EP, 2.0, will be released in mid-October in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City
When I ask Son what we can expect from Nhung Dua Tre’s second EP, he is clear.
“We talk about this all the time,” he says. “The new songs contain all the messed up, distorted and confused feelings we had trying to get our lives together. We can’t express those feelings in conversations. Not even with each other. We can only say what we need to say through these songs.”
Loc agrees. “I’ll stumble over my words and mess it up if I try to explain it. The songs are about hope and making the EP was an act of hope. I want people to believe that sometimes life is harder than you are ready for, but you can get through it.”
All four band members are introverts and sometimes it is awkward just being around them. But on stage they are charged and captivating. They make music that sounds like nothing else coming out of this country today. This is the sound of Hanoi alt-rock in 2017.
Nhung Dua Tre are launching EP 2.0 with shows in Hanoi and HCMC. First they play HRC on Oct. 15 and then they head to Yoko Cafe HCMC on Oct. 22. Doors are at 8pm. Tickets cost VND120,000. For more info click on facebook.com/bandnhungduatre/
A recent performance at Yoko in HCMC