Usually when we interview an artist, they’re on a press junket to talk about their new album, or in town playing a show. When we caught up with Chthonic frontman and Taiwanese parliamentary member Freddy Lim last month, it was for neither. Lim was in the United States not to represent his band, but to campaign for Taiwan to be added into the United Nations. His election into the Parliament as a representative of a new political party, the atply-named New Power Party, was unprecedented. With his party only a year old, he was also here to educate about his new party. We spoke to Lim about his rise to political power, what the metal scene is like in Taiwan, and about the band’s forthcoming film, which features Lamb of God frontman Randy Blythe.
I’m here campaigning for Taiwan’s membership of UN, Taiwan is still not a member of the UN. It is quite odd but it has been a very complicated history and problem and not fixed yet. China always tries to boycott any country that tries to join Taiwan into any international organizations. So that’s why I am here. And also I hope that the story of Taiwan no matter the audience want to know the music of Taiwan or the culture of Taiwan or the politics of Taiwan. Through my story I can let people know.
So you are a spokesperson basically for Taiwan.
Yeah, as a metal head and also as a parliamentarian.
Does it seem like you guys are any closer to making it into the UN?
Its not that easy. It’s more to share the voices of Taiwan, especially that my party is new, only one year old. But the party has been the third largest party in Taiwan. And according to the research, me and my other two colleagues in my party are the three most popular parliamentarians in the parliament. We are strongly supported by the young people, so we hope that the politicians in the US can understand the new will of Taiwan because the older people in Taiwan may have differences in lots of views. The young people are actually very united and stand for Taiwan to join the international community and to fight for our own rights and also contribute what we can contribute to the international community. So yesterday I have met with some congressmen in the US Congress in DC to share all the voices of the Taiwanese young people and the relationship between the US and Taiwan have always been very strong. So the first thing is to let our friends in congress know that we appreciate the support from the US. We want to strengthen our relationship and also we hope that in the future that when there is an opportunity I hope that our friends in US and around the world can help this free country Taiwan to join the international community. That is why I am here, yeah.
So you are a third party, have there traditionally been two parties in Taiwan? Do you think there is any kind of parallel, do you know enough about what is going on in the United States?
Yes I know, United States there has always been two parties, two main parties. But it is a little bit different in Taiwan. Taiwan has two parties but I do not know how you can describe that in your interview but I hope you can. The two parties in Taiwan, one formed in Taiwan thirty years ago locally. The other one that dominates in Taiwan, which rules Taiwan for more than half a century, it is not local formed in Taiwan. Its been sent by the Allies during World War II from China. So they ruled Taiwan for just a few years, but they have been defeated by Chinese communists. They escaped from China to Taiwan to take over Taiwan, to rule Taiwan for seventy years. That is the history and these are the two parties of Taiwan. One from China sent from the Allies.
Seventy years ago?
Yeah, and we are the third party. And we hope not just to balance the two parties or be just the key party between the two big. No, we want to replace the one from China. So, we hope that it will be a productive relationship between healthy, two party politics in Taiwan.
The second party is relatively new though? How long has the Democratic Progressive party been around?
Thirty, thirty years old and we are only one year old. We have the same popularity, sometimes we are even higher than the one sent by China.
It seems like in America people there has been a lot of excitement about a third party. No one seems ready for it yet, which is why I find this interesting. So what came first, politics or music?
Music, definitely music, I started to play piano when I was four. Then I started to listen to rock music when… I bought Michael Jackson when I was ten I think. Then I started to listen to Bon Jovi and Guns n’ Roses and then heavier and heavier. Anthrax, Slayer, Megadeth, Metallica, Obituary, Death. Then all those extra metal things like black metal, symphonic metal, folk metal.
How did you discover music in Taiwan? Was it easy, was there a lot of western music coming over?
No, when I was younger we bought pirate cassette tapes. Taiwan had been ruled by marshal law for the thirty-eight years. It was the longest marshal law in Taiwan’s history. By that time the government did not want Taiwanese young people to know what music in the free world sounds like. They don’t like the movies or the music. You could only get it by pirates.
Was there any metal music in Taiwan?
By that time? No original bands. Most of them covered American bands and western bands.
Was Chthonic one of the first?
I think we are one of the first to write our own songs.
While you were in Taiwan, what led you to become a global band? Did you want to escape from Taiwan? Did you want to be an internationally famous band or were you just happy with being there? How did you get to the point of where you are now?
Because I had been inspired by the bands in the US and in Europe so I had always wanted to tour around the world. After we released our first album in Taiwan, we starteF to reach out and find some opportunities in Japan and in Hong Kong. We had an opportunity to play in the US in 2003. I think the best point was when we got the deal to play Ozzfest in 2007. Then we got some deals from different labels after that and then we signed with Universal London. From 2007 on, every time we release an album we can start to tour North America, Europe Japan and some Southeast Asian countries. That was like my dream come true because I wanted to tour around the world. When I was in high school my teacher said no way.
It wasn’t a reality back then.
Yeah especially from Taiwan, so my teacher told me to just forget about it and to do something realistic. So it really is something like a dream come true to tour around the world. With a lot of good bands like Lamb of God and Ensiferum and make lots of friends around the world.
What is the Taiwanese metal scene like now? Are there a lot of original bands?
Yeah now there are a lot of original bands, but it’s still struggling because Taiwan is kind of like a post-colonial world right now. The Taiwanese people do not really stand for our own culture. So not like the German bands or the Brazilian bands or Scandinavian bands that when they write songs based on their own culture they get used to it. But in Taiwan if you we write songs about our history our folklore our legends with our own instruments and pentatonic scales our music sounds like Taiwanese music. Some bands will feel like it’s not natural, metal should be like American music. They feel like Taiwanese culture is low class so they are still not used to using their own culture. So in Taiwan there are many original bands but they’re still struggling to figure out how to write their own songs.
How did you get involved into human rights and politics?
I think it was when I was like nineteen or twenty when I realized what I was taught in school was a lie because the party sent to Taiwan by the Allies, they control Taiwan and taught the wrong history Because Taiwan is part of Japan for fifty years so during World War II Taiwan was part of Axis power and China is on the team of the Allies. So my parents and my older relatives they joined the Japanese Imperial Army and fought against the Allies. Taiwan was bombed by the Allies but the party sent by the Allies from China they brought the whole Chinese history to Taiwan and told us that we were the Allies and fought against Japan. So we are bombed by Japan. So I totally misunderstood my parents, my grandparents’ history. I forgot how to speak to my grandparents in Taiwanese in school because Taiwanese is forbidden in school in the society in public.
Is that still happening?
No, it was happening until I was twelve.
Wow so there is relatively recent change?
So when I was in high school I was not fine anymore speaking in Taiwanese but the education still taught me that only low class people will speak Taiwanese so we were being taught and educated to hate our grandparents and I didn’t realize that. When I was twenty years old I realized that because the publication ban the laws have changed and because of censorship people have to submit what they want to publish before it is published. I was able to read a lot when I was twenty so I have read a lot of the true history of Taiwan. I was full of anger and feel like I’ve been cheated and betrayed, like my life of twenty years has been wasted. Then I started to think about what we can do to change.
In one way that I expressed my feelings with metal. I am very lucky that I listen to metal music so I have a way to express my anger. In the other way that I want to change I started to think about how we can change. So I started to join some social movements, protests, and be the volunteer of some NGO’s and to be the volunteer of some candidates against the government. Most of the time I was only a volunteer in the different movements, but in 2009 or 2010 Chtonic, my band, has already been well known in Taiwan, everybody knew I was a volunteer of Amnesty International in Taiwan and at the time there was a controversial issue in the Taiwanese section and I had been elected to be the chair of Amnesty International Taiwan to solve the controversial issue. I served as the chair of Amnesty International Taiwan for four years and I got more into the administration level of the movement not only a volunteer not only a protester not only an activist so that is how I got deeper and deeper involved in politics.
Did you think you had a chance when you ran?
I didn’t realize that I would run for office because there have been so many social movements, and I am almost forty. I feel like there are more brave young people. Many student movement leaders are my fans. I expected that they should form a new party, they should run for office, not me. I feel free to be a musician and support youth so youth should go. After the sunflower movement in 2014, I tried to convince them that you should run for office and I will support you, I will stand for you. Wherever you need me I will be there. But then I realized that it is just not realistic because they need to finish their school, they need to finish their military service, they need to finish a lot of their plans. So me and my colleagues in the party we decided to form a new party and then the young people can join us in the near future in our campaign. I did not think about if I would win or not. Most of the time I was just thinking about building a platform and letting the young people join our campaigns to do what they want to do. My executive office is one of the Sunflower Movement leaders and he was only twenty-five years old last year. I listen to him for everything about my campaign. He is fifteen years younger, but I said ‘I don’t know anything about the campaign either but you should use your younger thinking [about] how we should do things.’ So we never thought we would win we were just thinking about using new ways we could generate new feelings from the young generation. We know the key to win in my district, my constituency [was] to inspire those young people, because those young people they don’t vote. Then we should inspire not only them to vote. but to convince their parents to vote for me. That’s the key because that’s a very conservative KMTsupporting constituency. All of them they support the party sent by the allies so there is no way that you can change old people. So the only way is to convince their children and encourage their children to convince their own parents so I think we did that. We motivate them and successfully create that vibe.
So now that you are doing this, is the band taking a back seat?
I am still trying to find a balance. We are writing songs and apparently we will not be able to tour North America for two months, Europe for two months. There will be no way that we can do that. But I really want to play at least some festivals. So this is my first year and I am still trying to get used to the schedule, to find time, and hopefully next year. Also, we’ve almost finished the movie that we have Randy Blythe in. It will be in theaters, I hope, next spring. So hopefully next summer we will have time to play some American festivals and we can premiere the movie in the US as well and that will be a lot of fun. It will be a good time to let the Taiwanese voice out.
We hear some of your fans are asking when you’re going to use your screaming voice in the Parliament.
That is something that is always posted to our Facebook , “when can we see you roar in the parliament or scream.”
That’s happened before!
Yeah but not like death metal roaring or black metal screaming. So I don’t know about that, I hope not.
(Translator) That would be new for parliamentary record all around the world if that ever happened.
You’ve met the Dali Lama three times. Are you at the point where he’s like “Hey Freddy, what’s up?”
No, not really. He is not that kind of person but he knows me. He knew that I had been organizing the Tibetan Freedom Concert in Taiwan and had been in contact with Adam Yauch, but he passed away. I had always tried to help the Tibetan cause. The most important thing is that I always I am very fortunate that I know him. The Dali Lama is the man who carries the most heavy burden in the world on his shoulders, his six million brothers and sisters held hostage in China but he can still stay calm and full of joy and compassion and to share peaceful ideas with people and to protect Tibetan religions and languages and cultures outside of Tibet but try to remain the faith and let his people believe in the future. He is a person full of compassion and a brave human being. So always when I am in a rage I try to think about what his holiness the Dali Lama would do. I have a huge picture of his holiness behind my chair in my office. So I think that he is my mentor I have read a lot of his books and I always try to learn from him.
Did you talk to Adam Yauch when he was alive?
I communicated with him to get the Tibetan freedom concert to be held in Taipei in 2003 and he was a nice guy and passionate and always want to be supportive to different causes.
Tell me a little bit about the movie before we wrap things up.
That’s a comedy movie. The main character of the movie is Chthonic’s Driver. This is about a country set in Taiwan about a Chthonic fan who came into the city of Taipei because in his homeland farmland has been grabbed up so he felt that Chthonic is a very supportive, idealistic band. So he came to Taipei to look for Chthonic and he some how ended up becoming their driver. Then he realized that Chthonic is not as brave as he thought. So he felt that he needed to know Randy Blythe, as he felt that Randy Blythe is a rather brave man and I am not going to talk about the ending.
Was it easy to get Randy on board to do it?
Quite easy, he likes the script and he is always quite supportive of Taiwan.
Are there many bands that come out with movies in Taiwan or musical acts?
Yeah, there is a very popular rapper in Taiwan and some band members in Taiwan who also show up in the movie. It is very full of music and hilarious.
Is it political at all? Just from the description it sounds a little political.
Yeah a little bit political between Taiwan and China but basically it is a comedy. Do you have any other questions?
If a metal fan is coming to Taiwan, what would you recommend they do?
I think you should mention one thing. I think the audience, the readers of the website might want to come to Taiwan November 19th because I am planning to organize a one day festival full of rock and metal bands on that day, along with one hundred year old traditional festival in Taipei with gods and goddesses and ghosts with different stages and performances in the streets for three days.
Will you play?
I think I will play but not Chthonic play. Some Chthonic members will play and this is the first time that a festival which has been done for hundreds of years will introduce rock music into the religious. Because for a religious festival full of gods, ghosts and myths all kinds of ancient, traditional cultures, all of those images are actually very metal. Its in my constituency to say “Wow, this is cool shit, I should introduce modern music into the traditional culture.”
What else should anyone else visiting Taiwan who likes metal do?
I think they will like the Aboriginal culture. The many aboriginal culture are very brutal, very beautiful but very brutal history of mythologies and all of the metal heads like the mythologies. So come to Taiwan and they shall share fantastic diversity and fruitful stories in the different tribes in the Taiwanese indigenous people. We have lots of good wines and drinks. They will love it. All my friends like Randy like it.