This interview was conducted by Nolan Shigley at Cornerstone 2000. The first Fine China set at Cornerstone 2000 was our first show as press, and as we sat backstage watching them, our appreciation for the blue pass hanging from our necks became even greater. The show was also the first we saw at C2K, and it was an opening that would truly indicate what was to come.
Being the interview hound I had become, it was a must to speak with Fine China and find more about their anticipated release. I was fortunate to meet Greg Markov, who made sure the interview happened. Actually, during the thunderstorm that threatened the greatest evening of Cornerstone history (in my humble opinion), I ran into the guys sitting in their car listening to The Smiths. They asked if I cared to sit with them and chat, and the rest followed.
Nolan: These are the guys from Fine China. I guess just tell me about the album that’s coming out. It’s coming out September 13th?
Rob Withem: Sept. 12. That’s the date it’s coming out in stores. It’s called When The World Sings. It’s 10 tracks. What do you want to know about it?
Nolan: You guys don’t have any full LPs out right now. I know you did a lot with Velvet Blue.
Rob: Yeah, we had 2 EPs out with Velvet Blue. And a 7″ and a single. There’s not anything else.
Nolan: Are you guys going with Tooth & Nail just so you can get more mass-produced with it?
Rob: Yeah, Velvet Blue is a great label. it’s real small scale. We wanted to have a little bit better chance at making some money off it, be able to put some more effort into it. Do more stuff like this. Tooth & Nail kind of made this whole thing possible. So we just signed with them back in the fall of last year and we recorded our record in December through March. And it’s been done for quite a few months now.
Nolan: Is that going to allow you to tour some then?
Rob: Yeah, yeah we want to. We have some prospects for the Fall. We don’t have anything for sure set but we want to support the record.
Nolan: If you guys need a place to play, I can set you guys up with Lincoln. I was talking with the guys from S.S. Bountyhunter about that. We’re trying to, through Opus, trying to get some shows set up every once in awhile. The scene’s just getting really monotonous out there.
Rob: Nebraska? That’s where it is?
Rob: Cool, we’ll get in touch on that. Nothing’s finalized, we have a few prospects.
Nolan: Exactly. Is it different from past stuff that was on the EPs?
Rob: Yeah, we have a new live drummer, Thom. He didn’t play on any of the other EPs. So we have some more live drums on it than we did on the Rialto Bridge EP. More of a mixture, we integrated a little bit more. Songwriting’s a lot better, I think… The songs, as a whole, are way better songs. The recording, we did it at the Green Room, so we were real happy with the sound of it. We’re basically just really happy with it. The songs are all, in our opinion really good songs… hopefully, some classics.
Nolan: Who produced it for you guys?
Rob: Ronnie (Martin) produced it and Gene Eugene engineered it.
Nolan: He (Eugene) did a lot of Tooth & Nail stuff.
Rob: Yeah, a lot of stuff.
Nolan: And Ronnie’s doing a ton of stuff now with Plastiq Musiq.
Nolan: What are you guys doing now, after Cornerstone?
Rob: We’re going home. We have a few shows in Phoenix. We’re trying to play at least a few times a month locally, be more focusing on the indie scene. We don’t do many Christian shows. There’s not a whole lot going on there in our type of stuff. I mean, there’s really not even anything in the general scene there… there’s a pretty big indie scene and we’re pretty well-accepted in that.
Nolan: Obviously they know that you’re coming in as a Christian band.
Rob: Yeah, I think that when people hear we’re on Tooth & Nail, because Tooth & Nail is pretty well-known, they’re like “oh you guys are a Christian band.” We don’t advertise it… like, if someone were to see our show, they wouldn’t know. But they would see we’re on Tooth & Nail and that’s pretty cool. They’ll like say, “You guys are a Christian band?” and we can tell them we’re Christians… we can kind of see that as a way to witness to them.
Nolan: A friend and I, well, he’s in a hardcore band in Lincoln… and we just kind of get a different reception every once in awhile.
Rob: Because you’re Christians?
Nolan: Yeah, but oh well.
Rob: Yeah, it’s a form of persecution in a way. That’s a blessing from God, so that’s cool.
Nolan: He says that those who are persecuted for Him will reap…
Rob: We’re not evangelistic in the sense of musically, but in our life we’re to be witnesses for Jesus Christ, so that’s how we see that.
Nolan: He says that those who are persecuted for Him will reap…
Rob: We’re not evangelistic in the sense of musically, but in our life we’re to be witnesses for Jesus Christ, so that’s how we see that…
…I’ve been writing for the new record all summer. Our record won’t even be out, but I’m hoping to have all the songs done and we’re going to start recording sometime in the fall.
Nolan: So you haven’t even finished the songwriting process?
Rob: Well, I’m talking for the next album. This album’s been done for awhile. But I’ve been working all summer for the second release, just getting a head start.
Nolan: When are you looking at that?
Rob: They haven’t even said. I just like to have a lot of time to get the songs right, spend a lot of time on it. As soon as I can get those done, we’d like to start working on them.
Nolan: Well, I’m sure shows probably aren’t as big around Phoenix, and then you get to Cornerstone, and you’re playing in front of hundreds upon hundreds…
Rob: Yeah, this is by far the biggest show we’ve ever played. At any fest or anything… it was just huge. It was fun, we had a good time. It was kind of nice to have a few kids there.
Nolan: I’ve always noticed that in the last few years there’s not a ton of Velvet Blue that plays here.
Rob: Yeah, most of the guys on the Velvet Blue label all work and it’s never been something that they could afford to do full-time. Like us, we technically couldn’t afford it either, but you’ve got to sacrifice to do stuff like this. We’re not getting paid to do the fest or anything.
Nolan: It’s worth it, isn’t it?
Rob: Yeah, it’s worth it… you get your name out there. It’s a little uncomfortable… it’s not too fun being away from home but you just have to sacrifice and do it. And it’s fun playing a big show.
Nolan: You guys got a really good reception yesterday, too.
Rob: Yeah, I thought it went really well. We’re not an exciting live band to watch by any stretch, but I think kids liked the music. It was a real different set. Most of the other bands were just all the same.
Nolan: Yeah, but the gorgeous melodies, I liked your electronics a lot.
Rob: Yeah, we’ve been real happy with the way it just integrated live… it’s coming across real cool.
Nolan: What kind of set are you guys playing tonight? Same stuff?
Rob: We may add a couple different ones, but pretty much the same one. We’ll switch it up a little bit. I’m trying to think… we have a couple of songs that we’re not doing from the new album for the next couple of months, probably until the album’s out, so we’re holding off on those. You know, some hidden hits.
Nolan: Hidden hits? I bought that Farquar Muckenfuss, and it’s got about 50 hidden tracks on that thing. It’s a pretty crazy album… I don’t know if you’ve heard of them.
Rob: Yeah, I’ve heard of them… I’ve heard a ton of strange stuff from them.
Nolan: Yeah, Burnt Toast has got a lot of good stuff.
Rob: Yeah, they’re doing some decent stuff. That Scientific record, I really want to hear that.
Nolan: Are you guys into a lot of electronic stuff?
Rob: Yeah, I don’t really limit it to one genre. I’m really into songwriting, so I just like anything that’s got a really good song to listen to. But we’re obviously into New Order and a lot of older 80s electronic stuff. Newer electronic stuff… we’re really into Underworld right now. I like Beaucoup Fish a lot. It’s a really good record. I really into the new Flaming Lips album. I like that new Mercury Rev album a lot… Deserter’s Songs. Have you heard that?
Nolan: I haven’t heard that.
Rob: I’m really into that. Um… we’re obviously into a lot of 80s pop stuff just for the song aspect of it. That was an era of really good songs. The Smiths… we all love The Smiths.
Nolan: Morrissey… he could sing over anything, couldn’t he?
Rob: Yeah, great melodies… We’ve been into A-Ha a lot.
Nolan: I’m actually going to be seeing The Outfield in August.
Rob: That’s fresh…
Nolan: Yeah, they and Spandau Ballet are probably my two favorite 80s bands of all time. “True” is the greatest song of all time.
Rob: I don’t know if I know that song. (What follows is a humorous interlude as the members of Find China try to sing that song… trust us). It’s one of those I would know if I heard it.
Nolan: What is the favorite Smiths album?
Rob: My favorite Smiths album is The Queen Is Dead. The Smiths had a lot of singles that were great that never made it on albums, but The Queen Is Dead is by far my favorite Smiths album.
Nolan: Did you listen to any Morrissey when he went out on his own?
Thom Walsh: Yeah… Vauxhall and I is a great album. As far as solo stuff, that was his best. What was the big single off that one?
Nolan: “The More You Ignore Me.”
Thom: Your Arsenal, I mean, it’s not that good as an album…
Nolan: Definitely some good tracks on that. You guys into 80s movies then?
Rob: Pretty In Pink… yeah, some. Sixteen Candles. I like all the classics. Markov’s really into Molly Ringwald.
Nolan: Yeah, I’ve always had a crush on Molly.
Rob: I think every guy’s always had a crush on Molly.
Nolan: She’s not as attractive now when you look back, but when you were younger…
Rob: Has she been in any movies lately, in the 90s?
Nolan: Yeah, she’s been in a couple, but they’re not that good. I think she had her own series for awhile… Anything with John Cusack. Better Off Dead.
Thom: Have you seen High Fidelity?
Nolan: No I didn’t.
Thom: That one’s good. He’s like an indie record store owner.
Nolan: What about Being John Malkovich? He was awesome in that.
Thom: That was cool.
Nolan: Alright, last question. How did you guys get set up with Tooth & Nail? Did you approach them?
Rob: No. Ronnie was producing our record and I was working with him. He was doing Plastiq and he was scouting bands for Plastiq. Then Tooth & Nail wanted to put us on Tooth & Nail and not do it on the Plastiq label. This is actually a Tooth & Nail Records release. They liked it and wanted to put it out. We didn’t have to do much because of the connection with Ronnie, so it was cool.