Mongolian heavy rockers The Hu have found themselves stranded in Australia while on tour, after the coronavirus pandemic led to their home country closing its borders. In an attempt to make the most of the situation, the band have hunkered down in a studio in Sydney to record new music for their follow-up to debut album ‘The Gereg’, one of 2019’s more unlikely success stories.
There’s not much chance that even the most advanced algorithm would have predicted that blending metal riffs, traditional Mongolian instruments and lyrics sung exclusively in their native language, delivered using the ancient art of ‘khoomei’ throat singing, would be the route to take for massive crossover success. Yet the numbers speak for themselves: The Hu’s videos for ‘Yuve Yuve Yu’ and ‘Wolf Totem’ have now been watched 41 million and 28 million times respectively on YouTube alone.
The band also recently contributed an original song, ‘Sugaan Essena’, to the video game Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, with lyrics in a fictional language authentic to the Star Wars universe. The Hu hinted that they’re also using their new-found time to work on further Star Wars collaborations, saying to NME: “We’re a band of brothers united by music and our warrior spirit. In challenging times like these, we do our best to lift each other up each day. We’re also making the most of this time while in Australia by writing and recording new music. We’re working on material for our next album. We are also working on some secret stuff for a future Lucas Films project.”
Earlier this year, NME sat down with The Hu’s Jaya, Gala, Enkush and Temka backstage at London’s Electric Ballroom to hear more about the band’s journey to global recognition:
Is being in London a big contrast to back home in Ulaanbaatar?
Gala: “The culture and everything is different but, you know, this is the 21st Century. Everybody has a H&M, and there’s a Burger King in every country.”
How were you first introduced to metal?
Enkush: “I was introduced to metal music by my uncle, who was a Buddhist monk. Then my mother studied at a college in Russia and she would bring vinyl for me. I started listening to Nirvana first, and then Iron Maiden and Metallica and then eventually I got into newer bands like Lamb of God.”
Your producer, Dashka, was instrumental in helping you develop your distinctive sound. Do you think there’s a natural link between traditional Mongolian music and metal, or was it really Dashka’s idea?
Gala: “Even before starting the band with Dashka we always had metal in us. We would try to play Metallica songs on our instruments. This ‘hunnu rock’ which we started with Dashka is not just metal. It’s very dynamic. It can sound like metal, but it can also sound like classic rock and many things beyond that.”
How important are traditional Mongolian instruments to your sound?
Jaya: “It’s probably the most important essence of our sound. Mongolian music is the foundation of our music, we just gave it a Western twist. That’s why we use the Mongolian morin khuur, also known as the horsehead fiddle, the tovshuur, a lute, and the tumur khuur, which is a Jew’s harp. All those sounds together help us to create this unique sound.”
Why did you decide to call yourselves ‘The Hu’?
Gala: “This word ‘Hu’ is the root word for a human being, an intellectual being. In Mongolian, anything related to humans like: ‘son’, ‘daughter’, ‘person’ or ‘people’ starts with ‘Hu’. Even in English, ‘human’ begins with ‘hu’. The reason we chose this word for our name is because of its inclusive nature. We want to share our music with everybody, every human being, without any exclusion.”
So nothing to do with The Who. Are they well known in Mongolia?
Gala: “Our name has nothing to do with The Who, but we do love them. They’re a legendary rock band. Everybody knows the band, and we love and respect them.”
Your most recent single was about ‘The Great Chinggis Khaan’. How important is the history and heritage of Mongolia to the music that you make?
Jaya: “Our heritage and history is very important to us, as it should be to everybody. We wanted to tell our side of the story to the world because he is known as a warlord conqueror, but there’s another side to him. He was a visionary who brought the first diplomatic passports to the world, the first postal service, international trading, and most importantly, the first religious freedom in the Mongolian Empire, which was in the 15th Century. That’s a very progressive thing to have, and for that reason we wanted to focus on these kinds of messages. We respect our past generations because they’re the reason we’re here today. That’s why we always sing about respecting our elders and parents.”
You used the name of Khan’s diplomatic passport for your album, right?
Jaya: “We named the album ‘The Gereg’ so that this album becomes our own diplomatic passport. We want to travel to every nation and every country without restriction, so that we can share our message and share our music.”
What should the world know about life in Mongolia?
Jaya: “Mongolia is a very interesting place. For example, we’re a country that still has many people living in the same nomadic way that they’ve lived for thousands of years. When you go to Mongolia and go outside of the cities you can see people living that nomadic way of life. They’re herding their animals and moving around, living in a respectful coexistence with nature. That’s a beautiful thing.”
How did you feel when you realised that your videos were being viewed millions of times around the world?
Temka: “Firstly, like any artist we wanted to have a lot of success. However, the reality has exceeded our expectations. We’re so happy about it.”
What does the future look like for The Hu?
Jaya: “We’ve got a lot of things we want to do. We want to stay active as long as possible, release many albums and go all around the world to share our message and our culture as Mongolians. We want to become one of the legendary bands.”
The Hu’s ‘The Gereg’ is out now