trauma cat tsai shen

Review & Interview: “Tsai Shen” by Trauma Cat

Trauma Cat released their second single of 2022, “Tsai Shen”, on April 1st, but it’s no laughing matter. The song makes you ponder life’s meaning while touching on the fragility of it all in an understated way. 

“Tsai Shen” starts off with a beautiful guitar introduction before some light percussion. It’s calming, almost haunting. The lyrics invoke the Chinese God of Fortune to tell what happens next and there are four “lucky numbers” that are echoed throughout. What is the significance of these numbers? This is the question we are left with. The numbers appear in the music video in various ways that depict a possible future or present. 

Speaking of the music video, you should check that out now. It is quite a psychedelic experience from the colors used to the effects. It definitely fits the vibe of Trauma Cat. Still, my favorite part of this might actually be how it ends. It kind of echoes the beginning in that it features the guitar, but it’s a much more powerful rocker vibe. Like a good story, it’s always nice to have the same beginning and ending but have it mean something completely different each time. I feel like that is what happened here with the guitar solo.

All this to say that you should totally check out Trauma Cat, especially “Tsai Shen” as the band is a pleasant surprise of an enigma. Don’t believe me? Read on for our interview with one of the band’s members, bassist Roman Pando. As always, be sure to follow their socials to stay up-to-date with the band.

Q&A with Trauma Cat

Q: We love the vocals on “Tsai Shen”! What was the inspiration behind the song?

TRAUMA CAT: Thank you! My voice has historically been described as “smooth,” with a pleasant high end and “wannabe crooner” vibes. I’ve also been compared to the archetypal “nebbish sidekick in a Disney movie.” 

Lyrically, “Tsai Shen” is sort of an ode to my 29th year. I wrote it a few months into turning 29, in Q4 of 2021. I am now 30 and doing fine, but boy, was I dreading the start of that new decade. The anxiety of closing the proverbial book on my 20s had me rather compulsively seeking meaning in otherwise insignificant details. Namely, I did some half-assed dabbling in numerology. The severity of any value ending in “9” has always kind of spooked me, but something about “29” felt particularly heavy as I prepared to enter my 30s.

The number 29 appears in the song as part of a string of “lucky numbers” that the speaker finds inside a fortune cookie whilst eating some Chinese takeout in bed. This actually happened to me. The other numbers I found in the real-life cookie are 1, 3, and 38. I got to thinking, again rather foolishly, about the meaning of those numbers. Together, 1 and 3 make up 13, which we all know as the “unlucky” number. Then I looked at 38 and thought, “Is that when I’m going to die?” 

Most of the songs I write for Trauma Cat are about death in some way. It’s never meant to be grim, though. With “Tsai Shen,” in particular, I’m doing my best to reckon with the inherent liberation of death. It’s absurd and hilarious, really, that the only certainty of life is death. Everything else is improv. In the song, the speaker invokes the “Chinese God of Fortune” to make sense of his ominous lucky numbers.

In Chinese culture, that being (also known as the God of Wealth) is called Tsai Shen. It’s all very dramatic and tongue-in-cheek; a joke. Writing “Tsai Shen” served as a reminder to myself that there’s no real reason to freak out about when or how Death will come to us. In fact, I think doing so is ultimately unhealthy, and only invites Death sooner. As human beings, we have this collective instinct to know as much as we can, to chase truth and to become “experts” in an effort to be one step ahead of fate. But that’s pretty futile! Sorry!

Q: You’ve dealt with mental health issues. How does this song affect you emotionally and mentally?

TRAUMA CAT: There’s a simplicity to “Tsai Shen” that gave us a lot of breathing room with the arrangement both in our rehearsal space (where we do the bulk of our full-band writing) and in the studio. I love when that kind of thing happens. Some of our other songs are far denser and more intricate or technically demanding, but with “Tsai Shen,” all we had initially was a phone demo of Ralph playing this eerie, sparse fingerpicked chord progression on guitar. The band “jammed” on it once or twice before I took it home, tweaked it a bit, and wrote a vocal melody. It became clear in the studio that the narrative is the heart of the song, so we retained that minimalism in the instrumentation to let the vocal shine.

Our producer, the elusive St. Julian P. Dingus, suggested we add some synth pads to give the tune more atmosphere and texture, but beyond that we kept everything confined to the classic trio configuration. There is the finale, though, which I’m particularly fond of — that gratuitous guitar solo serves the humor of the song and also nicely puts Ralph’s chops on display.

Q: Can you walk us through your creative process?

TRAUMA CAT: Wow, what a question. And here is my tired response: It is different every time. Trauma Cat, for better or worse, are an incredibly industrious outfit. We’re always writing, and we’re always capitulating to the Gods of Content. It is at once energizing and exhausting. Where we succeed, I think, with apologies to the poor souls who are listening to and watching our shit, is in experimentation.

On paper, I could tell you that I or Ralph will bring a song sketch to the table, at which point the three of us (including our non-verbal drummer, Rutger DiBoyere) immediately start molding it into a full product meant for consumption. Then we’ll go to St. Julian P. Dingus and produce the thing. That’s it. That’s the process. In the interest of maintaining some level of mystique, though, I’ll keep my cards close and say there’s something ancient and secret that the three of us do together which sets us apart from other “bands.” It is intangible, intrinsically weird, and of no consequence to you or your readership. (Sorry.)

Q: What do you currently have in the works?

TRAUMA CAT: Lots of stuff. There are a few more singles coming down the pipe in 2022, and while we’ve heard murmurs on the internet that we may also be releasing our second full-length album, we can neither confirm nor deny that at this juncture.

In the meantime, the sordid lot that call themselves our “fans” have plenty to munch on outside of our music. For starters, we’re being attacked by a mysterious media company called “Vaux News,” which is producing a “dox-u-series” about us called “The Truth About Trauma Cat” (and posting the episodes from our own YouTube and Instagram accounts, no less!). In response, we’ve launched an official podcast dedicated to debunking Vaux News’ ridiculous claims that we’re some kind of AI-generated deepfake. The podcast is called “The Truth About The Truth About Trauma Cat.” Let me take this moment to beg your readership to please consume all of this content so as to grasp the gravity of the entire situation. We’re kind of in a crisis.

Q: How did your band members initially come together?

TRAUMA CAT: Musicologists far and wide have long speculated on this, but I’ll give you the scoop. I was working as a music journalist myself in the post-industrial hellscape of Syracuse, New York, when I met Ralph Kojig, who’d been performing in another local group. We maintained a “friendship” and soon enough Ralph invited me to play bass on some of these other songs he’d been writing. Eventually, we started liking those songs enough to want to incorporate ourselves, as it were. We launched a campaign to find a drummer, and ended up with Rutger, who’d also been playing in Ralph’s other band. The three of us have been making noise together for around four years, with Trauma Cat really establishing itself pre-COVID in 2019. We’re sorry, but we’re still going, baby!

Q: If you had to pick one album to take with you on a desert island, what would it be?

TRAUMA CAT: “Black Sea” by XTC. Ever heard of it?

Reviewed & Interviewed by Dana L. Sullivan





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