Ching Ching
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Ching Ching

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE
Band Alternative Cabaret

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Julie LaMendola and Dan Gower sit in the pocket-size dressing room of Chelsea’s Vortex Theater, their youthful faces aglow from the miniature lightbulbs that frame the mirror in incandescent cliché. The pair is about to take the stage in a berserk musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol; Gower is playing piano, while LaMendola portrays a particularly loud Ghost of Christmas Present. While their fellow cast members shuffle in and out—applying makeup, kibitzing and, in the case of one older gentleman, dropping trou—the musicians turn away from the events of Christmas Present to discuss their main gig, the anarchic cabaret band Ching Chong Song.

“We just played a porn-film festival in Berlin,� LaMendola says. “They booked us because…well, we can’t really define exactly why.� The singer, 31, scrunches her brow in earnest bewilderment. “Our roommate in Berlin was a woman named Mouse who spun around on one knee and squirted milk out of her pussy and ass,� she continues. “When we got there, I looked through the [festival] pamphlet and was like, Okay, we belong here. But why?�

In truth, this Brooklyn duo belongs in a pornography festival no more or no less than it does in a rock club or a theater. Ching Chong Song is a genuine New York oddity, drawing equally from junior-high musicals and graphic performance art. LaMendola commands the stage with her nerves unhinged, one part rising diva, the other local loon. “Just the way she throws a glance at the audience could knock over ten bowling pins,� says Jason Trachtenburg, a longtime supporter whose Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players have taken the group on tour. “They have a real punk-rock attitude—but they put it into show tunes.�

This week, Ching Chong Song celebrates the self-release of its first album, Little Naked Gay Adventure, which was produced by electronic musician and feminist performer Kevin Blechdom. As with the band’s live set, the songs are presented sparely, supporting LaMendola’s large, brassy voice with little more than Gower’s piano and the haunted murmur of LaMendola’s singing saw. According to Blechdom, one song, “Roreesa,� also includes the sound of a “slurshing vagina.� And while such an instrument may seem at odds with the record’s sweet, slightly kitschy vibe, vaginal slurshing is very much in keeping with Ching Chong Song’s act. During the pair’s three years playing together, LaMendola has disrobed in concert, sullied stages with vomit and urine and, during one performance at Tonic, competed in a “masturbating olympics� with Blechdom. “Just knowing Julie has changed my whole perspective on the way to live your life,� Blechdom says. “These days, to be outrageous is to shop at Trader Joe’s. She [practices] a kind of social experimentation that’s more from the ’70s. It’s very calming. It’s like, ‘I can start masturbating right now—if it bothers you, that’s your problem.’ �

Nonetheless, most of the band’s antics are hardly vulgar. At one performance, LaMendola began applying lipstick, gradually spiraling away from her mouth until she was singing in demonic redface. The duo also relies on obstructions, a technique most famously employed by the filmmaker Lars von Trier, in which a set of unusual rules is imposed upon an artist. In this mode, a theater guru has instructed the pair to sing an entire song while giggling, auction one another off from the stage, and randomly impersonate Johnny Cash and Tori Amos.Of course, the most daunting obstruction blocking Ching Chong Song may be its name, a slightly anachronistic Chinese racial slur lovingly revived in recent times by Rosie O’Donnell. The musicians claim to have chosen the moniker simply for its onomatopoeic silliness—which was all well and good until they ventured onto a college campus. Last year, a show scheduled at Bryn Mawr was canceled following protests by a group of Asian-American students, while an NYU concert was picketed. “I really wish they had come inside and listened to our music,� Gower, 28, says. “They would have understood where we were coming from. We’re full of love! We’re totally not offensive.�

Oh, heaven’s no! “I wrote an open letter to Bryn Mawr,� LaMendola says. “I told them, ‘I would never call you a ching chong. I would call you retarded twats!’ �

Ching Chong Song plays Sound Fix Fri 18, Ukrainian Home Jan 24, Sidewalk Café Jan 31, Bowery Poetry Club Feb 6 and the Stone Feb 9.
- Time Out New York


Julie LaMendola wants to be Carmina Burana. “I’ve
always wanted to be an opera singer.” Her voice lends itself
to high drama. Along with Dan Gower, as the duo Ching
Chong Song, she sculpts songs of indescribable passion -
when they repeatedly sing “I live in a house and I want to
fuck my landlord,” with each repetition there is a change
in perspective, something slight, something funny or tragic
grows with the song. An audience listening to this leans
forward, searching for every nuance. It’s right there for the
taking. There’s nothing to hide: A piano, a saw, a boy and
girl singing. Sounds simple, right?
Wrong. Ching Chong Song is like nothing you’ve ever
heard in your life. They are complex. And they are not for
the faint of heart.
Dan Gower grew up in
Spokane. He went to college
for music composition and
became a fan of famed
Argentinean composer
Alberto Ginestera (look this
up - he’s worth a Google).
Also a big fan of the Indigo
Girls and REM, Dan moved
to Santa Fé for a year and a
half, was in a million bands,
and finally, last year, settled
in Bushwick. Meeting Julie
was a revelation. “It came
together really fast, and it was good right away. It wasn’t
arduous.” With his short, cropped hair and thick-rimmed
glasses, Dan looks like a composer. His piano playing is
tremendous – tender, vicious, and technically wowza. His
compositions are insanely complex and at the same time,
completely familiar. “Start Your Engines” has an off-kilter
ivory rhythm that most musicians would stumble over. Add
the serious vocals, really tight harmonies, and what happens
couldn’t be written on the page by even the most technical
writer. It’s sheer magic.
The smiles on the faces of these performers will tell you
how much they enjoy their process and performance. At
times tender (listen to “Who You Sleep With”), at times
dreamy (“Cigarettes”), their personality constantly shines
through. In “Old Man,” Julie mourns the loss of her friends’
love. It has a Kit Kat Klub piano, a Frankenstein saw,
and a moaning lyric that evaporates like glycerine into a
showstopping moralistic finale. Upon hearing a song that
travels as far as this one, a listener might think, “Is there
anything these two can’t make music about?”
It’s refreshing when incredible collaborators truly love
each other. On meeting Dan, Julie is more exactingly
graphic. “It was like my sphincter dropped out and my heart
dropped out of my mouth. It was like I peed my pants. I
got a blister from running to him, because I was running
to him all my life.” They met through friends. On their
first outing, Julie suggested a preferred pastime – sledding
down the concrete slope under the Brooklyn Bridge on milk
crates. Dan didn’t want to go. Julie remembers, “I totally
said, ‘If you don’t want to live life, OK... ‘” Dan laughs at
this reminder, as if to indicate this philosophy has pervaded
their time together. It’s another sign that their musical
revelation is a personal one.
That “Live Life” philosophy has taken Julie around the
world. She performs with her whole body, she’s one of
those free-spirit performers
who obviously could tell
you stories all night, but
instead just embodies them.
“I’m a drifter. I slept on
couches for ten years.” She
grew up in the Midwest and
was involved in theater and
music. She cites Daniel
Johnston, Lucinda Williams
and Afroman among her
influences. Why does she
sing? “It’s the thing I’ve
been doing since I was little
and I love it. It’s kind of
what I imagine praying would be like.”
“Being a piano player is tough, guitarists can play
anywhere.” Dan has an upright in his apartment, a hefty
piece of furniture that occupies one entire wall of the living
room. Dan just bought a toy piano to accommodate this
issue. “But it’s not the same.” When they played The Glass
House in Brooklyn after Dan Fishback’s excellent theater
piece, the toy piano was a hit.
While they both live in Bushwick, they’ve been getting
some East Village play. “I came to AntiHoot three years
ago, when I was passing through New York” recalls Julie.
“Lach was telling some funny jokes. I came back this year,
he’s telling some of the same ones. They’re still funny. It’s
so comforting. And sure, out of fifty performers someone
might suck once in a while, but that’s when you grab a
cigarette. There’s always something incredible to listen to.
It’s insane how good it is.”
On a late night in 2005, Ching Chong Song was the
revelation. Those of us lucky to be in the audience remember
it vividly. Lach, who founded AntiFolk and has been hosting
nights of music in the East Village since 1983, considers
it a watershed moment. “Halfway through their first song,

I knew I wanted to book them, I knew I wanted them to
play the AntiFolk Fest, they were just delightful. One of the
things that’s kept me doing this so long is that on a Monday
night, you never know when an act like Ching Chong Song
is going to show up and make it all worthwhile.” They have
moved from two songs on a Monday, to packing the room.
They begin a residency at Sidewalk on March 10 and play
every two weeks until they leave for Berlin to play some
shows and record an album.
How do they write? Julie sleeps with a tape recorder next
to her bed. “One song, ‘Rorisa,’ came totally from a dream.
She was eating sticks of butter and everything, I just woke
up and taped it.” Dan’s a bit more elusive. “I don’t think
I really know where the song comes from.” Dan’s talent
with the keys is matched by Julie’s adventurous saw skills.
There’s a horror movie element, but her saw isn’t a sound
effect - it’s an instrument. Julie solos on the damn thing.
And frequently, as they listen intently to each other, Julie
and Dan can finish a song in perfect tune. It’s miraculous.
Now what’s with the band name? From Wikipedia:
“Ching Chong is an ethnic slur directed at people of Chinese
nationality or ancestry. It is most frequently encountered in
the United States and Australia... In 1917, a ragtime piano
song entitled “Ching Chong” was co-written by Ted Baxter
and Max Kortlander.” Julie grew up with a player piano at
home, one of the rolls was “Ching Chong” and she loved
the song. There are also many offensive nursery-style
rhymes about “Ching Chong Chinaman,” some involving whorehouses and the spread of venereal disease. It’s not
hard to see how this might become a problem.
“The band name just came to me” says Julie. Recently
they started getting hate mail on myspace, from angry Asians
who think they’re insensitive (one letter went something
like, “My grandmother was called that her whole life....”)
Sick of the drama, on a whim, they changed their name to
Nung Song Sam. Really? I had to ask each of them why.
Julie’s response: “I made this girl at work cry. I don’t mind
feeling like an asshole, but I don’t want people thinking
we’re ig’nant. It means ‘One Two Three’ in Thai”
Dan? “It’s not malicious.”
So Nung Song Sam it is. For a second. The next morning
I received a voicemail from Julie. “Ummm, I think last night
we told you we changed our band name. Uhhhh, we were
really drunk. We’re still Ching Chong Song.”
Thank God. For a second I thought this wasn’t the
most liberated band I’d ever met. The songs aren’t afraid
to offend and nothing is off limits. Everything with these
two is honest, just like the interviews we had. It’s a totally
appropriate name. Their onstage presence is like a party, like
a jolty piano roll on an old Wurlitzer. You have to see them
live to understand. Their shows are like good sex. When it’s
done, you catch your breath and wonder if it could ever be
that good the next time. With these two, the songs and the
shows always are. Don’t miss them. Ever.
- Urban Folk


Ching Chong Song is an unconventional duo comprising Julie LaMendola, who sings and plays the saw, and Dan Gower, who sings, plays piano, and if you catch him on the right night, wears a piano tie. Their songs are vocally driven and unfalteringly spare; this conjures an atmosphere that's compounded by Gower's habit of leaping up from his bench to join LaMendola at center stage, where the two alternately sing into and away from the microphone. And while the singing saw is tyypically employed for spooky color or as a kitschy showpiece; here it reverts to its essence: a rudimentary instrument powerful enough to cut a listener to pieces.
There is, crucially, one more factor at work. Though a humble duo in rank and sound, Ching Chong Song, which has been playing around town for about a year, boasts more attitude than bands thrice its size. Like some nervy old carnival performer, LaMendola strikes a balance between diva in the making and sideshow weirdo, commanding her tiny stage with a chutzpah befitting Radio City. It's an entertaining act that has few peers in New York clubs, yet Ching Chong Song does belong to a familiar artistic tradition: the American high-school musical. As a consequence, an element of obnoxiousness invariably leaks in; at this point in Ching Chong's Song's short span, however, any brattiness is overppowered by the homeade charm of offbeat performers, clearly thrilled to be putting on a show.
-Jay Ruttenberg

- Time Out New York April 6-12 2006


Kitschy and loopy, one is never sure whether Ching Chong Song is being honest or genuinely demented. Backed by the whaling, strange shrieks of a saw, Julie LaMendola and Dan Gower are a true act to behold. The music is far from conventional and is almost a bit too hyperactive at times, switching from one crazed tone of voice to another and often immediately changing tempos. It’s confusing, surely, but they are an interesting band to see live if only for their eccentric personalities. Some call it “odd cabaret,” while they themselves call it “subversive anti-folk.” Whatever the case, they certainly pull off the key element of uniqueness: Being strange. - Reporter Online


About 20 students lined up to protest a band that performed at NYU last night, calling its name racist.

The band - Ching Chong Song, whose members are white - was the opening act for the Valentine's Day event held at the Shorrin Auditorium in the Kimmel Center. In response to the criticism, the band met with the students, apologized during its performance and changed its name.

The event was organized by the Program Board, a student-run group that arranges entertainment for the NYU community.

The Asian Heritage Club responded to the band's booking by handing out flyers at Bobst Library with Google and Wikipedia definitions of "ching chong" - the term they found offensive - and then protesting its use outside the event before the doors opened, according to Stern senior Lily Yuan, who had a large role in organizing the protest.

"The name, Ching Chong Song, did not really relate to any of the lyrics in their songs," said CAS junior Frederick Wong, a member of the Asian Heritage Club. "So we thought it was completely unnecessary to have a racist name."

David Kinniburgh, the music chair of the Program Board, said he was afraid there would be controversy, but happy the offended students spoke to him so it could be addressed.

"I knew something was going to happen," he said. "I'm really glad they approached me."

Bryn Mawr College canceled the band's show on its campus in December because of similar complaints. Kinniburgh said he knew of the cancellation when he booked them to play at NYU.

Yuan said the Program Board had no idea what the term entailed, so she and other members showed them some articles about it.

Kinniburgh said he chose the band because of its music.

"They're a band full of love and have a really great message," he said.

During the band's apology, it invited the members of the club into the auditorium to speak.

Still, Wong said he believed the apology was insincere. He said the singer, Julia LaMendola, tried to cut off Yuan when she spoke, and Yuan "really had to press to continue what she had to say."

"The audience was really trying to figure if they should be applauding," Wong said. He added, "It was not what we had hoped to get from the band."

The members of the band, which will now be called Church of Lurch, said they never intended to offend anyone. LaMendola said she had no idea the name was offensive when the band came up with it.

Jeff Lewis, who is a friend of the band members, said the phonetics of the name matched the style of music they play.

"The sound 'Ching Chong Song' sounds like a zany collaboration of sounds," Lewis said.

The band originally started getting complaints in November, pianist and singer Dan Gower said. He said the name wasn't changed until now because of "all the action people have taken."

Wong said he was happy the band changed its name, but the use of the slur brings up a greater issue.

"It's really breathtaking when someone says the N-word," he said. "Why does that not apply to ching chong?"

Despite the incident, Yuan said the people on the Program Board "were supportive, and they understood where we were coming from."
- Washington Square News


By Julia LaMendola
Ching Chong Song

I was trying so hard to keep quiet about being asked to gracefully bow out of a verbal contract Ching Chong Song had to play at Bryn Mawr. But here’s the thing: some members of the Asian Society put a lot of pressure on the school to cancel us because of our band name, so much pressure that the organizer asked if we could just forget about it. I gave my phone number and email address, and extended invitations to come to our shows, and not heard from anyone from the asian society.

If we allow the things that we question to fuel anger, guilt, jealousy, hate, or revenge, then we are dismissing layers of truth. Growing up a child of a gay parent in a tiny town, a poor second-generation Italian girl, I also have experience with the nuances of language. And give me a break you stupid twats.

Let’s not use misunderstanding as armor against the complicated nature of life. Don’t polarize shit when there are so many shades of sexuality and ethnicity to appreciate. I am mad that I was asked to back out, just another way the small-scale mirrors the large-scale of “shut-your-mouth-you’re-scaring-me” tactics are infiltrating our f’d up sweet spunky youth. By the way, “ching chang chong” is what people in Germany call the game rock paper scissors, and stupid petty retards is what I’m calling you.

We are not our parents, we are not our friends or teachers, we are not our religious upbringing, and we have the choice every moment to listen, to approve of ourselves, to see what’s going on around us. Why don’t you call me? Why don’t you listen to my music. (Oh, and I also know you requested a techno band instead.) Is this really what a strong woman’s college wants going on asking bands to back out of contracts because of their (non) offensive band name? Why don’t you ban Margaret Cho and Sarah Silverman while you’re at it.

Let our band be what it is: a gay and omni-sexual duo that writes song about life and it’s crusts and death, and most of all love and open-eyed Acceptance.
- The Bi-College News Online


Discography

Everything is for The Babies:May 2009
Produced by Kevin Blechdom.

Little Naked Gay Adventure: November '07
-Produced by Kevin Blechdom and mixed by Safety Scissors, the release reviewed on the front page of the music section of Time Out New York

What's The Matter? Doom Doom Doom: September '07
-includes recordings from a radio show in Germany featured on Cologne radio for up and coming musicians.

Live at the (Stone) Church of Lurch: December '06
-recorded at the stone church on tour with the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players

Never Rrong: September '06.
-self produced songs featured on a live Manhattan Public Access show, Checker Phil, all albums sold on olive juice music and cdbaby.com

Photos

Bio

The melifluous Ching Ching will remind you of Judy Garland, and their live show asks the audience to come over the rainbow. In candid and unapologetic fashion, the band addresses audiences with melodic singing, unconventional instrumentation and the fearless energy of pure talent. This hardworking and oft-touring band plays everywhere, from the underground New York scene to prestigious clubs throughout the U.S. and Europe. Ching Chong Song believes that the courage to dream, acceptance and hard work are the keys to happiness and stop at nothing to get their music heard by as many people as possible. Ching Ching wants nothing less than to "change the world".
They are delighted to be called "…a genuine New York oddity." fresh and honest melodic songs with original writing and energetic performance are geared to the audience with an appreciation for engaging entertainment. They have functioned very well as a DIY band for 6 years booking many tours in the U.S. and abroad, playing regularly in NYC and getting the attention of reputable publications such as The New Yorker for their virtuosity and by the Villiage Voice for their band name. Their touring in Europe got the attention of two record labels Elephant Sounds in Paris, whose aesthetic leans toward field recordings and chaos and Acuarela, who recently booked them at the Primavera Sound Festival and also Tanned Tin, two of the largest music festivals in the world.
Because of they're instrumentation,which is very simple-piano, vocals, singing saw and sometimes a ukelele Ching Ching has an other worldly feeling which is reinforced by using costumes and dancers sometimes.
Dan Gower and Julie LaMendola met on the lower east side of New York City. Now they are guest performers at the Burg Theater in Vienna, touring a contemporary musical with a theater company based in NYC.

We Sing Songs To You About You: Album, Brooklyn, New York-2011
Ching Ching was commissioned to record an album with artist Kevin Blechdom by Parisian record label, Elephant and Castles. The label focuses on non-traditional and often experimental musical aesthetics. This album was released in March 2011.

Primavera Sound Festival, Barcelona, Spain-2010
Ching Chong Song was featured in a showcase for Acuarela, a record label that books and promotes bands in Spain, Portugal and Italy. The Primavera Sound Festival concentrates on showcasing up and coming artists alongside well established bands.

Tanned Tin, Castellon, Spain-2010
Ching Chong Song made their Spain debut at this festival. Audience response was overwhelming, sparking the label Acuarela to showcase Ching Chong Song at the Primavera Festival and to sign the band to their touring roster.

Danau Festival, Krems, Austria-2009
A music festival that celebrates/promotes established and fledging artists who integrate art, film, theatrics and music. This performance was a collaboration with several artists (Volker Zander, Kevin and Blevin Blechdom, Irene Moon, Lucas Abela, and others) that began a European tour called Slaughterin Slobbersville. This was a large scale performance with costumes, sets made from cardboard and utilization of found objects in each space performed.

Everything is for the Babies: Album, Brooklyn, New York-2009
Ching Chong Song's self-released, full length album, made in collaboration with Kevin Blechdom. The record has sold more than 1000 copies, and Ching Chong Song has been touring in the U.S. and abroad to promote it.

Time Out New York, New York, New York-2008
TONY covers events around the city and is a cultural guide to the arts. In a full page feature and review on the front page of the music section, Ching Chong Song was highlighted as an important element of the New York music scene and named as a top up and coming artist.

The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, New York, New York-2008
Ching Chong Song performed at this landmark church as part of a re-dedication ceremony.

Little Naked Gay Adventure: Album, Brooklyn, New York-2008
Ching Chong Song's first professional album, self-released. It has sold more than 1000 copies and Ching Chong Song continues to perform pieces from it on tour.

Checkerboard Kids, New York, New York-2008
Featured on Mannhattan Public Acess Television show. Ching Chong Song performed several songs for a live taping of this T.V. show. This bi-weekly broadcast features artists who are off the beaten path.

Art Basel, Basel, Switzerland-2007
Art Basel, a highly competitive international art fair, is known as the Olympics of the art world. Ching Chong Song was invited to perform a full set as a part of an art project by Portikus, an art exhibition hall in Frankfurt Am Main.

Porn Film Festival, Berlin, Germany- 2007
The Porn Film Festival is a celebration of the most dynamic pornography in the world. Ching Chong Song was hired to provide musical entertainment for the press, guests and producers.

Ladyfest, Rotterdam, Holland-2007
Establishe