Dirty Beaches: A Nomad Musician Starts Over (And Over, And Over)

By NPR Staff

May 26, 2013

Alex Zhang Hungtai is a musician who has spent his life drifting from home to home. His parents were children of communist China, and since setting out, he's lived in places as far-flung as Honolulu, Montreal and most recently, Berlin.

Under the name Dirty Beaches, Hungtai makes washy, dreamy rock music that often feels nostalgic. Hungtai's whole last album was dedicated to his father; he was inspired after finding out his dad had been in a doo wop cover band during his youth in China.

"What was left of that was only a picture," he explains. "There was no recordings; he didn't tell me what songs they played. It was just a photo that I found."

But seeing his father in that photo was magnetic.

"He was wearing a suit. And he was surrounded by three guys — two backup singers and one guitar player. And he was the one in front, standing in front of the microphone," he says.

The experience moved Hungtai to look back at the rock music of the 1950s and '60s. The resulting album, Badlands, was at once disconnected and intensely personal.

Hungtai's new album as Dirty Beaches is a twofer: a double-disc set called Drifters / Love Is The Devil. He spoke about it with NPR's Jacki Lyden; click the audio link to hear more of their conversation.

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