Commissioned sets and collaborations are one of the hallmarks and main draws of Roadburn festival. Sometimes the match ups are long awaited or a stylistic no brainer, and sometimes they are instead borne of friendship and shared history.

Such is the case with 2023’s upcoming collaboration between Elizabeth Colour Wheel and Ethan Lee McCarthy of Primitive Man, whose friendship has cemented across a string of shared stages and line ups, and who will present perhaps the most musically unlikely collaboration of the festival.

Does it exist on a continuum between ECW’s infectious noise-grunge and Primitive Man’s volcanic terror, or will it be something else entirely? We sat down with Lane Shi Otayonii of Elizabeth Colour Wheel to ask about this, the road to Roadburn, and the future of the band.

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There has been a gap in activities for ECW, given Nocebo came out in 2019. Last summer you started playing shows: Oblivion Access, bills with Litvrgy and Primitive Man, and then Peace Simulation, what made it the right time to pick things up again?

So it was 2020 when we’d originally planned to play at Roadburn, but nothing happened because Trump had just put on a travel ban, right before our flight. After that, I went back to China for a year and a half, which put a stop on us temporarily. I came back in March 2022 because we had that two-month tour, and since we did that things have been pretty nonstop.

Is the band your focus now, are you looking at another busy year?

Yeah, ECW will always be a part of my practice, and we’re all friends in the band, so that will never change. For my own sanity, I always work on my own practices too, because I think for anybody that's creative, it's important to be able to output at a pace that works for you, through any ways that you can find.

You’re active in several different creative arenas: your solo album was released just a couple of months ago, you're also closely linked to the art world as well. On a given day, how do you decide which discipline is right to pursue?

It all depends on the synergy of where I am and who I can work with. I had another band before ECW, and that fell apart, which is totally fine, but I have never stopped making installations or moderated this need that I have to continue pushing creative output. Elizabeth Colour Wheel is a group of people that I've found really welcoming to work with, so we started and never really stopped, even though we were very far apart for a while, in terms of literal distance, US and China, etc. There's a flow dictating which direction I will go, and I will never stop trying to create as many things as possible. I can't really say in the moment which way I will choose or prioritize, because that's not what's on my mind.

Do you find - whether it's the installations you create or the bands you're a part of - that they impact and enhance one another? Do you bring pieces of yourself from one world into the others?

Definitely. There are a lot of mediums that I'm still trying, I'm travelling to different places, under different circumstances, with the goal of finding my own element, and using it to delve into my work, to become inspired. For example, ECW is a crew of people, all friends, trying to make something happen, tour together, have a good time, and support and help each other as we can. For me this is very rare, to not only have friends, but to have friends that can work together, it's another level you need to think about. I see that as a meeting as well, it's a social practice. For my solo performances and installations, I have a lot of ideas that I need to output. Back in the US, I have pitched lots of ideas to many galleries, but never found a home for my ideas. However, back in China there's this curator from the Contemporary Art Museum in Shanghai, and she gave me a budget to do one of my performances. This is the sort of thing I was talking about in saying do whatever comes your way and make the best out of it.

You touched on the difference between typical friends, and friends that you can be productive alongside and work with. That is a rare thing!

Yeah. Sometimes a friend can be a really good person that you just play ping pong with, right? That's fine. You love them just the same.

On the band's collaboration with Ethan Lee McCarthy at Roadburn. You guys have played a lot of shows together in the recent past, and I was doing the geography math, because you guys are from Boston originally, and he's from Denver. It makes me wonder what the origin story of your friendship is, how did you meet?

One of our band members, our guitar player Ellie, had a friend who posted something about Elizabeth Colour Wheel online, which Ethan happened to see. I think he connected with us back then, initially just to book ECW. His work with Primitive Man, and Many Blessings, and Spiritual Poison, has always been inspiring to us, so to be able to tour with Ethan and see those bands is an honor for every one of us. It's really nice to drench ourselves in that sonic world every night and to be able to do this with some of our favorite people.

On those kinds of bills, where you don't have four bands that sound the same as one another, you always hope that people will welcome that diversity, was that the case in touring with Ethan?

Yeah, absolutely. Ethan is definitely the kind of person that attracts an audience who welcomes creativity with an open mind.

The collaboration that you're doing at Roadburn is the hardest of all the commissioned pieces to predict, given the musical range of the people involved. Did you know what it was going to sound like when you started writing?

No clue! Nothing at all you know, a couple of guesses, but nothing more until we really sat down together and worked some parts out, which went really well! And it's only getting better, since Ethan's flown into Providence for a couple of practices

Can you share any clues as to what's in store?

Let me think about it. Well, it's gonna be a journey of music that puts two figures together - an angel and a devil. So that's the main image of the collaboration. For now, the rest is up for people to imagine.

Who's at the top of your list of acts to watch at the festival?

Duma and Deafkids, and I really wanted to see Mai Mai Mai, but they're playing on the 19th which I don't think I will be there for, which is a pity, and Maud the Moth, she's another singer that I really hope to see. And of course, there's a couple of friends playing like BIG|BRAVE. It's a good time to hang out with old friends, and it's a good time to potentially make new friends, it'll be wonderful.

Of all the festivals I've been to, it’s the friendliest, there’s a positive atmosphere.

A festival of friendship yeah. Wouldn't it be funny if there was a festival that did the opposite, a festival that breaks everybody's friendships? (laughs)

I think I've been to one of those (laughs). How has it been working with Walter and Becky and the Roadburn team?

Fantastic, awesome people, heartwarming, and they really take care of the artists. Roadburn really helped me with my visa, which has always been a pain in the ass for me as a Chinese passport holder and national. And as we’re doing the commissioned project, they're able to cover our flights and hotel, all of which might not sound too important, but it definitely addresses one of our struggles as a band whenever we consider stepping onto a tour or playing a festival. So having the opportunity to do this is definitely elevating for bands like us.

What comes after Roadburn for ECW?

After Roadburn we have - most importantly - a record to record, a new record! Finally, whoa-waa. People have been talking about it for so long. You know, we've been putting a lot of effort into pulling a record together, post pandemic, obviously we don't all live in the same city, I don't live in Providence, so it's been a little bit of an adjustment, but we've been writing it and some of the ideas are new, and very different; it’s full of experimental stuff. We've been trying to play around with instruments a lot, and trying to figure out the songs that we want to bring to the album, and there are surprises! So I hope everybody can hold on a little longer, it's going to be fantastic. We will be recording in May.

Is there anything to add for the benefit of the audiences coming to see any of your shows at Roadburn?

Yeah, there's a couple of pictures of us and Ethan that are really funny, I hope that Becky shows you those! Personally, I've had some revelations about music lately, especially in the heavy space. I think that ECW has always been on the edge of a lot of music genres and not entirely, you know, it's not heavy metal. We're closer to something like ‘heavy music’, I've always felt like we're still sad punks. that's the best way to describe us and we enjoy being happy with that reality; this is who we are, and we bring the best of us to audiences and to the people that have been supporting us.

Sad Punks! Love that. I spoke with Ben from Helms Alee not so long ago, and he said something similar: they're obviously a heavy band, but they don't necessarily feel at home playing a Maryland Deathfest.

Exactly, you know, if I want to collect a couple of empty beer bottles afterwards, sure! But that's the risk people take sometimes, and the hope of light is that some people will enjoy what they see. When styles and acts become really solidified that's cool, and maybe people respond well to that, but when things are really in flux and changing, I think people recognize that there's a group challenging themselves. So I hope that people see that we are always changing, and that our changing is the only thing that isn’t changing!

That strange contradiction in heavy music in which it's cool to go against the grain and challenge preconceptions, but only in the right way!

Yes! Yes. We've encountered a bit of that. But we've also had so much good luck. And, you know, we have so much appreciation for that. People like Ethan and the touring party that we had before, have always been so supportive, and appreciative. And I only have thanks to give.

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Elizabeth Colour Wheel and Ethan Lee McCarthy play their collaborative set at Roadburn festival on April 23. Elizabeth Colour Wheel play on April 21. Otay:onii play on April 22.

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