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New York's Burning Star Core

C. Spencer Yeh is a funny guy from Taiwan who plays violin and was christened with a stage name. He’s also responsible for Burning Star Core, an instrumental "project” that sometimes involves other people and sometimes is just...

C. Spencer Yeh is a funny guy from Taiwan who plays violin and was christened with a stage name. He’s also responsible for Burning Star Core, an instrumental "project” that sometimes involves other people and sometimes is just him purling into a microphone that’s plugged into a delay pedal while a keyboard plunks over a racket that could very well be someone throwing a toaster in a bathtub filled with drowning baby opossums. But that’s kind of an unfair description, because a lot of his stuff is really serene and delicate in a way that makes those two words not sound gay. Also, he lives in Cincinnati for some ridiculous reason.


VICE: What did you do last weekend?
C. Spencer Yeh: I watched the new Indiana Jones movie on Memorial Day.

Oh yeah? I’ve heard some pretty diverse opinions. What did you think?
Well, within the first ten seconds there’s a CG groundhog. It’s pretty lame. It looks straight up cartoonish, with this surprised expression like someone walked in on it taking a shit or jerking off. Other than that, Cate Blanchett had a totally awesome haircut. In terms of big blockbuster movies where people suddenly become superhuman pieces of rubber, I thought Die Hard: With a Vengeance was more believable than Harrison Ford getting knocked around or leaping across an exploding whale. But that doesn’t actually happen, so it’s not a spoiler.

Well, heres a spoiler for you: How did you come up with your cool fake name?
It’s my real name. I was given two first names when I was born. The C stands for Chihfu, but it’s actually an outdated way of spelling it. It’s some phonetic transliteration of Mandarin in English. If I were born nowadays the C would actually be a T or a Z. Embarrassingly, I figured that out from this girl I was dating. She was some caucasian broad taking Mandarin Chinese, so it was extra humiliating.

Burning Star Core is your baby but most of the time other people have been involved. Who have you been working with lately?
Currently, Robert Beatty and Trevor Tremaine of Hair Police. To some degree this dude Mike Shiflet is involved.


Have you ever called him Mike Shitlet?
No, but I called him Shit Cutlet once. That was before we were friends, and maybe that’s what kind of delayed me really getting to know him. They’ve been the people who I’ve worked with for the last few years. Before that, there was this core trio with two other dudes until I fired them.

Why did they get the axe?
I don’t want to air our dirty laundry, but we played this particular set and I gave whatever instructions, issues, and expectations. It’s kind of like that TV show Hell’s Kitchen‚Ķ [whispers] The only reason I know about that show is because I was at the gym and it was on.

I don’t really know what you’re talking about but you sound embarrassed.
I was at the gym, OK? Is that cool to say? I kind of feel like it’s on par with taking a shit or a piss, like there’s all these varying degrees of privacy that are expected or there’s a level of discretion involved. Some places are just like a ditch, and everything goes on in there, you know? I was touring in Europe recently, and I think it’s awesome to go into a toilet stall and have it be closed from top to bottom, so you feel like you’re in this enclosed chamber by yourself. It’s not like in the US where there’s this huge gap at the bottom.

Have you thought about trying one of those sensory deprivation tanks?
I think I could do that. There’s this space in Cincinnati where they put on a lot of shows called the Art Damage Lodge. It’s an old Masonic temple and upstairs they have this weird isolation chamber. I never checked it out but it’s always a key feature for people coming through.


Have you ever seen that movie Altered States? I think it would be kind of cool to go into one and come out this primeval man-beast that leaps from buildings who does whatever pops into his antediluvian head.
Yeah, but that could be pretty fucked up because you could also tumble out as half a starfish or some other mutation. It seems like there’s this empty promise that, if you mutate, it’ll come out on the positive end. I’ve always been kind of a sci-fi fan, but not as much as my older brother. For every six books he read, I would read one, and it would just be the mutant sex scene where they’re like flying through the air and it’s all "I’ve never felt this way before,” but it’s like this ball of fire thing that’s talking. For a ball of fire to say that, it must be some really sweet humping.

Are you into other types of nonsense, say astrology?
Sure, why not? Maybe it’s an agnostic answer, but you can’t really articulate some of the things that happen based on the hundreds of millions of variables that can affect you physically. If you believe that your brain is a physical machine, it can be affected. It’s totally true because you’ve seen videos of people getting their exposed brains poked with needles and the person’s arm flaps or they start jerking off. Or their left eye winks rapidly. So on top of that, you throw in all sorts of shit, like animals freaking out when a storm comes. All those things lead up to the fact that, "Yeah, something is happening, and I don’t know what it is.” I’m a Cancer.


Oh yeah? Well apparently, "It’s a great day for brainstorming and letting your mind wander. You never know what you might come up with. See if you can find a like mind or two so you can work together on mutually interesting issues.” What do you think of that?
Hmm, I think it’s like this conversation we’re having right now.

Fair enough. Last thing I want to say: I love chili, and I think Cincinnati’s chili rep is a giant scam. It’s not even real chili—it’s more like Bolognese sauce with chili powder dumped in it. Are people in Ohio retarded? It grosses me out.
You’re right. It’s like this Greek meat soup, and it’s rumored they put all sorts of shit like chocolate and cinnamon in there. Then they always pour it over spaghetti.

See, that’s what I’m talking about. It’s totally a sauce, not chili.
Well I haven’t had it in a while, but I do admit that there are times where I’m like, "You know what, I do want that. I do want some of that C-H-I-L-I—chili.”

Burning Star Core’s newest album, Challenger, is out now on Hospital Productions (CD) and Plastic Records (vinyl).

Click here to check out Spencer's massive back catalog at his website.