“I Don’t Feel Like I’m Being Watched… But I Am”: Round Eye’s Craig Englund on Life as an Expat Freak
March 6, 2018 | By James Greene, Jr. [L-R: Gil, Mac, Craig, Livio, Jimmy Jack]
Disciples of the Orlando punk rock scene surely remember Craig “Chachy” Englund from his time in the frenetic and fraying outfit Libyan Hit Squad. That was many moons ago (back when there were only six Fast & Furious movies). These days Craig is living in Shanghai and playing in an even more discordant group, Round Eye. Comprised of several emigrants, Round Eye has made a splash in China’s nascent punk scene by touring the mainland a few times over (as well as many neighboring countries) with their brash, sinewy sound. Simultaneously, the group has cemented a reputation for helping arrange visits from high-profile Western punks including The Boys, D.O.A., and the FUs.
Round Eye’s most recent album, 2016’s Monster Vision, contains more traditional punk rock songwriting than the Lynchian bleat of their 2014 debut, but the general feel is still grimy, hot, and surreal. Craig recently took a moment to speak with No Recess! about life in China, punk in China, and recording with legendary Black Flag / SST Records founder Greg Ginn for the Libyan Hit Squad / Round Eye split EP Full Circle.
NO RECESS!: Quite often you’re hosting punk bands from North American and Britain over there. How long is the process to get a foreign band into China?
Craig Englund: Shit, it’s long. It takes about seven to eight months. You have to register them as artists with the government, submit [a certain amount of] lyrics, provide video of band members… it’s illegal for any foreigner to play music in China without a license. Our band gets sponsored by a club, officially, so on paper it looks like we’re employees of the club. So we try to do that with other bands we invite here. The government has to approve everything, though.
NR!: Does it usually go smoothly or do you have a lot of problems?
Englund: 95% of the time is great, then that 5%… we were banned by the Minister of Culture in 2015 when we brought over [British group] The Boys. We gave an artist free reign on flyer design and… they drew a girl menstruating the tour dates. And the girl’s drawn as a Young Pioneer, which is like the Girl Scouts over here. So they shut down all our gigs, sent people to the venues to cancel everything. We had to have “tea” with the Ministry.
NR!: Like you sat there while they read you the riot act?
Englund: Actually, no. It was weird. They didn’t address it directly. They talked about everything but the flyer — the weather, the news, whatever — but all the while they were turning pages of a file about us. I could see the file had pictures of me with a dildo, pictures of me dressed as Santa Claus, et cetera. Eventually they were like, “You know you can’t do this kind of stuff here.” They basically just tapped our wrist. I was shittin' bricks. I sound calm now, but I thought for sure I was getting deported. So after each venue received a cease and desist from the government, we took the tour underground. All the bands over here practice in bomb shelters or basements from World War II, so we had the shows there. Invited 60 people a time. We did that three times. Vice magazine got involved and filmed the shows. You can see ‘em online.
NR!: Was there any concern on your part about getting into deeper trouble?
Englund: Oh yeah, but I felt like, “I’m probably gonna get deported anyway, so I might as well go out with a bang.”
NR!: How do you feel in general being from the U.S. and living in China? Does that worry of the government touch other aspects of your life?
Englund: Well, I have a love/hate relationship with China. The States is such a violent country right now… well, it probably always has been. Here, you can walk down the worst street at 4am and have no problem. I look at a cop here in China and I don’t feel the same way as in the States. I don’t feel I’m being watched… but I am. And I always have to give my papers to cops. I have to register everything I do. It’s like needing a visa for everything. Also, on a moral compass, the whole humanitarian thing here is pretty disheartening. There’s a whole Muslim province, no one really knows about it, and they're oppressed big time. The Tibetans? Forget about it. You need a whole other visa to get over there. It gets pretty heavy. I guess every country has their burdens. But the punk scene here is great. Back in Orlando, there are a lot of cliques and a lot of holes people wanna put you in. That’s not the case in Shanghai. Punk is such a new thing out here… in the States people have become so jaded with that shit, it’s been around so long, whereas here people take genuine interest, especially in live events… they didn't have that 21 years ago.
NR!: How did you come to China in the first place?
Englund: My band Libyan Hit Squad — it was 2010, and we just finished recording [the song “Full Circle”] with Greg Ginn. And, you know, the economy was going down the shitter, there were no fuckin’ jobs, degrees were worthless. Our drummer had lived in China a few years earlier, like in 2008, and he told me I had to check it out. “Oh, it’s so great, you gotta go.” I was like, “Really?” I didn’t think about China at all back then. Then he passed away, which was terrible. So I decided to go check it out and never looked back.
NR!: I’m sorry about your friend. My condolences. What was it like working with Ginn?
Englund: Working with Greg was a pleasure. It was really awesome. He was super nice to us. He's the reason I got back into music. I was done with music at that point, but I also loved what we did with him and I wanted to put it out. Libyan Hit Squad only worked with him because he wanted to play with us. He was a fan. And I had heard all the stories about him. I think we got along because I didn’t ask him about Black Flag. I talked to him about baseball, jazz, collaborating together… anything but the SST nostalgia. When we played together at Common Grounds in Gainesville, people would come up and ask him to sign SST stuff… I could see he has a disdain for it. So I didn't ask him about Black Flag. I wanted to ask him about all that shit — I wanna know about The Process of Weeding Out, Slip It In, all that stuff — but I didn't bring it up.
NR!: How did you get the nickname Chachy?
Englund: Oh, it’s just what people in my family have always called me. They’ve never called me anything else. My mom’s Dominican, it’s just a name they give to people.
NR!: So not a Scott Baio reference?
Englund: No! I thought it was for a while, but I asked my mom about it and she said no.
NR!: You ever worry people will think you’re a Baio super fan?
Englund: That’s why I spell it with a y. Never with an i!
Watch Vice footage of the underground gigs in Shanghai with The Boys