Renminbi

Renminbi

BandAlternativePunk

A minimalist indie rock trio comprising guitar, drums and keyboard, Renminbi is what might result if Sonic Youth and PJ Harvey took speed at a Mogwai show.

Biography

"You're standing at the edge of an abyss, about to jump in, not sure where you are going to end up."

RENMINBI (REN-MIN-BEE) is describing the arresting surge evoked by "The Shore," the opening track from their long-awaited full-length debut album, The Phoenix. But that description also describes the go-for-it-all spirit of the album and the band. And the leap of faith has been a successful one. "The Phoenix" is not a random title, after all, but one that symbolizes Renminbi's sense of rebirth and hope.

Co-founders Lisa Liu (guitar) and SMV (keyboard) have been operating Renminbi for a little more than four years. Liu's driving, thrusting, adventurous guitar explorations find a balance in the sometimes earthy, sometimes ethereal keyboard stylings of SMV. Augmented by a rotation of powerful, precise drummers who know how to dance to Liu and SMV's beat, the permutation has resulted in a new sound and vision for a power trio in the 21st century.

Renminbi's music is both a journey, and inspired by journeys, geographic and personal. Visits to her family's homeland in the early 2000s were transforming experiences for the Chinese-American Liu. Lisa's first trip connected her to her roots and resulted in the name for her new band: Renminbi is the currency of the People's Republic of China, whose denomination is the yuan; a replica of a 100-yuan note graces the cover of "The People's EP," Renminbi's 2003 debut. The title of the next EP, 2004's "The Great Leap," is a pun that plays on the theme of Mao Tse-tung's modernization plan for China's agriculture and industry known as "The Great Leap Forward." And there are visual puns deployed by SMV in her role as graphic designer: enshrouded on the cover of that second EP is the Golden Gate Bridge, as regal as it is notorious as the site of many of its own great leaps.

"I got the name of the band when I went to visit my paternal grandmother," Lisa says. "It was the first time we'd met, and even though we didn't know one another, our bond was so deep. I felt a reconnecting of identity, like I was made whole from the visit to China."

Later, the outlines for the songs on The Phoenix would grow directly out of the emotions Liu felt when her maternal grandmother, who helped raise her, passed away in 2004. "A lot of these songs came out of that feeling of loss," she says. The dark, dissonant foundation of "LGMF" is one example: The acronym stands for "Let Go Move Forward," representing Lisa's struggle with the stages of grief. The final section of the song is a musical representation of that letting go and moving forward, as the sound brightens and a cathartic release is achieved.

But don't go looking too deeply into the lyrics for evidence of that loss. What makes Renminbi so distinctive and powerful as a band is their reliance on sound to express emotion. There are sparse lyrics and some singing on about half of Renminbi's songs. But Lisa and SMV don't determine whether there will be words until a track is written and rehearsed. "Lyrics come late," SMV says. "Lisa will introduce a song, we'll try to flesh it out musically, and then we get a feeling whether lyrics will bolster or detract, get in the way." On The Phoenix, six of the 11 songs have some vocals; five are purely instrumental, including a newly recorded version of what may be Renminbi's most towering track, "A Delay," a version of which had also appeared on "The Great Leap."

The painstaking craftsmanship of Renminbi's music is reflected in not just the choice of words, if words are chosen, but in the way the voices are arranged. Most of the songs with vocals on The Phoenix--"Siobhan," "Lachine," "Caveat" and "Fight Song"--use the band's distinguishing variation on the "call and response" style.

"In all four of those songs, Lisa and I trade vocals, with one person's singing being a response--sometimes quite direct, sometimes less so--to the other's," says SMV. It is a technique Renminbi has been refining since that first EP. "We've found that the tension and sense of conflict created by these 'vocal volleys' reflects the tension and conflict so often found in our music," she continues. "It also allows the listener in on private conversations. People will always read our personal relationship into the lyrics, but generally they are not about us; rather, they are imagined scenarios between fictional, or composite, personalities. Again and again, we seem to be drawn to and inspired by the way truth shifts, depending on who it belongs to. Different angles."

There is one "Caveat." In the song "Caveat," Lisa and SMV take the unusual step of singing together, in the soaring chorus. "A rare moment of seeing things the same way," they say, although that may itself be a rare moment of overstatement.

Another revival from a still-obscure catalog: The album's closing track, "2012," appeared on The People's EP. "We wanted it to have a second life in a better [studio] setting," Lisa says. "Refine the

Lyrics

Lachine

Written By: Renminbi

I

Overhead I saw it come and then I
Watched it float
It floated, floated over (x 4)

II

When I saw when I saw when I saw when I
When I saw it coming (x 2)

Repeat I

III

Then you came then you came then you came then you
And then you stopped it (x 2)

IV

Yes I do I do I want it (x 7)
Yes I do I mean I want it

V

And then you came I saw you came and then you
And then you stopped it (x 4)

Discography

The Phoenix - LP - 2008
The Great Leap - EP - 2004
The People's EP - EP - 2003

The Phoenix has received extensive play on college/specialty radio, including respected stations such as WKDU, WREK, KTCU, WMSE, Indie 103.1 and many others.

Tracks from all three Renminbi releases stream on Church of Girl Radio (www.churchofgirl.com)

Set List

Renminbi typically plays a loud, sweaty 40-45 minute set made up primarily of originals, but with one or two covers thrown in for good measure. The band has been known to tackle songs by Sonic Youth, Spacemen 3, Hole and Liz Phair, among others.

Renminbi can play up to an hour and 15 minutes should the venue desire a longer set, and is always willing to do quick & dirty 20-30 minute freak-outs, too.