It was a poorly painted little portrait of the Queen. Zhang Shouwang gazed at it confidently, as if it were a masterpiece. But the indie rocker’s poker face couldn’t convince his friend, artist Guo Hongwei.

“I think I was better at bluffing early on, because he didn’t know me at first. But now I have to be more careful,” Zhang says of the way he and Guo have bonded. That friendship wasn’t cemented by the painter’s cover art for Carsick Cars’ latest album, 3. Nor did it occur as they perused galleries over the years and discussed the work on display. Instead, the pair became truly acquainted over cheesy pictures of queens, kings and jacks during their weekly hands of Texas Hold ‘Em.

“I’m the better bluffer, I usually win and take at least 50 or 100 kuai from him,” Guo says with a laugh. “I win so much it should make him go to a temple and pray.”

“He has a good sense of humor. Maybe I should go to a temple for better luck,” Zhang says ruefully before describing how he busted his foot while horsing around on stage this past fall, an injury that forced the Carsick Cars to cancel a major European tour and postpone the release of 3 until this week (his maligned foot seems prone to such pain at this point—he suffered a similar injury before recording the album as well).

Zhang had to fold, and cut his losses. But that also meant he could cash in on some unique winnings.

“Before that I had a tour schedule that seemed glamorous. But it was too much. I didn’t have a moment to think about what I was doing,” Zhang says, adding that sitting around with those swollen toes gave him new opportunities. He would lie in bed and snap oddly angled shots of the walls and shadows outside his apartment window. “It gave me more time to take strange photos and study them. And it also gave me time to think about my music and my future.”

Taking a peaceful reprieve and creating amateur visual art of his own helped Zhang appreciate Guo’s work all the more. The indie rocker was drawn by the warm, organic colors in the painter’s peaceful woodland scenes.

“The cover art for the last two Carsick Cars albums was very modern, contemporary and industrial. So this time Shouwang wanted something closer to nature and humanity,” Guo says of how his paintings’ appealed to Zhang. After much discussion, he decided to paint three beetles for 3. “It’s quite suitable. Because if you live in the city and a beetle was on a tree in the street, you probably wouldn’t notice it as you walked by. We don’t realize the relationship we have with nature.”

Zhang’s desire to escape fast paced urban life inspired not only his choice in cover art, but also the music itself. He says 3 is more melodic than any of Carsick Cars’ previous work, and features more personal lyrics.

It’s been a productive period of introspection. But it wasn’t solitary, and Zhang didn’t have to play those cards too close to his vest. Now Guo is dealing Zhang another hand flush with inspiration: a photo collage of his paintings which he will string into a film. Zhang will provide the score.

“I’ll put a clip or a piece of wood on the piano strings, so when I hit the chord it’ll make these weird sounds,” Zhang says. “Guo, has such a different view of art and sounds. We learn together, and find new ways to make sounds and visuals together.”

Carsick Cars’ release show for its new album, 3, will be held at Yugong Yishan on Friday, Feb. 28 at 10pm. Tickets are 100RMB at the door, 80RMB presale. For more information click here

Photo: Carsick Cars

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