Some of the best live rock music in Saigon is made by the band Ly Le Quyen

If you’ve gone out looking for live rock music in Ho Chi Minh City you’ve probably come across the band Ly Le Quyen (www.facebook.com/lylequyens), or as they say it in English because of phonetic similarities, Little Wings. If you haven’t and you’re interested in rock music, you should. This rock trio consists of Ho Quang Hung on guitar and vocals (Fender Custom Shop Rory Gallagher Signature Stratocaster), Huynh Bi on bass (Fender American Standard Jazz Bass) and Nguyen Huong Bao Hieu on drums (DW collector drum kit with Sabian HHX cymbals).

The current iteration formed more than three years ago in September 2015 and has been performing gigs ever since, fusing elements of rock from the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. As Hung describes it: “It’s a mix of rock n’ roll and the new wave sound of the ‘80s we grew up with, like Tears For Fears, but also the Beatles from the ‘60s or Nine Inch Nails from the ‘90s, so it’s a mix of styles. Mostly we like music that creates imagery, that kind of thing, so music that tells a story, sort of like it’s the soundtrack to a movie. Music that creates imagery is more interesting to us, and we mix it with kind of a raw sound from psychedelic music from the ‘70s. Of course we do covers, but we rearrange some of them. Like, we’ll take a Steve Miller Band song like Abracadabra and rearrange it and give it a more modern sound.”

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From The Beatles to Nine Inch Nails is quite a diversion in rock styles, as the members of Ly Le Quyen acknowledge, with each bringing various influences to the group. Bi explains his influences, “I started by playing guitar with a traditional rock n’ roll style. I mostly liked blues or funky music. The guitarists who influenced me were Jimi Hendrix, Joe Satriani and Slash. I started playing as a guitarist, but when I joined the band I switched to the bass, so I play the bass with more of a guitar style.” To which Hung adds, “So Bi plays it like a big string guitar, not a bass. Each of us has different influences, but for me it’s things like the guitar style of Jimi Hendrix or newer sounds like Nine Inch Nails that have been a big influence.”

Mentioning Jimi Hendrix as a primary influence has to be at the top of the list for any rock guitarist’s list, so does that mean Hung does a lot of soloing when he plays? Does he shred, if you will? He smiles and replies, “Actually, no. The one who is always doing the soloing is the drummer. I think he’s the most educated one in the band, because Bi and me, we are self-taught musicians, but Hieu, he is professionally trained.”

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Hieu, whose music school Musicology in Thao Dien we conducted the interview in, is a classically trained percussionist. “I started to learn music from the conservatory of music, playing symphonic music with an orchestra for six years, like timpani or the xylophone, before going out and playing more pop music on a drum kit. I then played on a TV show for six years as part of the house band, backing up many of the most famous singers in Vietnam, as well as getting work as a session musician. Then after that I met Hung, and we just like rock so we stuck to that.”

Ly Le Quyen plays mostly covers, including tunes from bands such as Tears for Fears, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Beatles, David Bowie and Nine Inch Nails. For example, they cover NIN’s Terrible Lie and Head Like A Hole. “I think Nine Inch Nails has their own sound, so it’s great material,” says Bi. However, there are a lot of layered sounds to a Trent Reznor-produced song that seem difficult for a live rock trio to make. “We have a kind of music station we use for the synthesized backing tracks. Before we had another member who added those layers, like sound effects, but he left the band so now we control the backing tracks and sound effects,” explains Hung.

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When they perform it’s in English, the language of the songs they cover, but also the language they’ve chosen for their originals, yet they typically get a mix of foreigners and Vietnamese who enjoy their music. Hieu clarifies, “It depends on the place we play,”

So, where can you catch them? “We’re regulars at Yoko, Acoustic and RFC (Rock Fan Club), but we also play some other places for events, but those three are where we usually play. We play one or two gigs a week. Usually you can find us at Yoko on a Friday night, often quite late, from 10 or 10:30pm until midnight,” says Hung.

While the performances are not enough to make a living from, that isn’t their motivation says Hung: “It’s mostly just about having fun. It’s not about earning money; it’s more about living, more about energy for us. We really love the music and each other as brothers. So we have an agreement about how to do things so whenever we have a problem we go back to the agreement to solve it. For us, it’s fun when you do it right.”

Images by Vy Lam