Shanghai. Seven PM on a cool Tuesday evening. Somewhere on Xietu Road, in a hip setting that hides behind an abandoned lobby, El Chen is about to take the stage. Only this time she’s not playing. She is, appropriately, telling a story. She is telling her own story.
This happened nine months ago, at one of many such events hosted by the collective ‘Unravel’, a group that promotes storytelling in its purest essence. By way of introduction, El asked the audience if there would be – among that many people – a fellow musician she could play with. This was meant for comic relief, a way to break the ice, since the story and the setting had little to do with music. But Charlie T picked up the ante and as he was walking out, he approached her to say: “That was a moving story – and by the way, I AM a musician, if you ever need one”.
The rest was a series of encounters that spawned three months and way too many drinks – although not nearly as many as the eventful decisions that started to unfold. Starting on a tiny rehearsal room – hidden in plain view atop the city -, and culminating on a grant that would take El from Shanghai to New York – a poetic happenstance that mirrored the move from New York to Shanghai that Charlie had undertaken two years earlier. In between that fateful night on Xietu Road and the car that took El to Pudong International Airport, there were cocktails at Union Trade, deep confessions at Atelier, a hungover feast at Tres Perros, the shooting of a video clip and and as many sessions at Insight studios (the big room on the terrace now) as the two could pack.
What is left is this collection of improvised moments with El on piano, meandering over the electronic landscapes built by Charlie, as the two rushed against time to distill the essence of three chaotic, life-altering months. Coming from entirely different musical backgrounds, the songs on Volume 1 find the odd pair articulating the emotion of life through the most basic meaning of the word ‘collaboration’: An exchange, an amalgamation of different points of view. And a fitting corollary to a story that started to ‘unravel’ – pun intended – on an evening about storytelling. A chapter on a bigger plot, if you will, and at that, a damn fine good one.