When he gets on stage, Alex Zhang Hungtai, a.k.a. Dirty Beaches, seems like a deranged rockabilly star from an art-house flick: black motorcycle jacket, shiny pompadour, manic Roy Orbison–esque vocals. Sure enough, the 31-year-old's camera-ready look comes from movies like Wild at Heart, one inspiration for his conspicuously soundtrack-like lo-fi debut, Badlands. Released last March, it became a word-of-mouth sensation following a breakout South by Southwest performance and blogger praise; lately, Dirty Beaches songs have been everywhere from Robert Geller runway shows to jeans commercials with Paz de la Huerta. Now Hungtai is readying a second album and an EP he calls a love letter to New York. But that doesn't mean the neo-greaser musician, who has also lived in Taiwan, Shanghai, Honolulu, Montreal, and Vancouver, intends to settle down soon. "I'm built for the road," he says.
Here, Hungtai shares his nine all-time favorite film inspirations:
Days of Being Wild, 1990
"I started to view things differently after seeing this film. With this film's soundtrack playing on my headphones, I often daydream of other worlds."
Rebels of the Neon God, 1992
"Rebels marked the beginning of my fascination with motorcycles and night driving. The nighttime motorcycle scene in this film, along with the dark eighties-synth soundtrack, evokes the highways and neon lights of Taipei."
Stranger Than Paradise, 1984
"This is an example of a movie where the music transcends context, genre, and taste. I've been a Screamin' Jay Hawkins fan since seeing it."
Buffalo '66, 1998
"Buffalo '66 introduced me to the works of Vincent Gallo. The man has an amazing career. I don't care what other people say about him—to me, he's the epitome of a self-made man."
Wild at Heart, 1990
"I had already seen Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, and The Elephant Man by the time I saw this film. The humor totally blew me away. It's my favorite Lynch film and probably the one that influenced my album Badlands the most."
"A great sci-fi film noir by the French New Wave maestro Jean-Luc Godard. Beautiful cinematography and amazing use of architecture in cinema."
The Naked City, 1948
"One of the great films from Jules Dassin and one of the main inspirations behind Night City, an instrumental album I released in 2010."
Happy Together, 1997
"Because of this film, I got into tango, Frank Zappa, and Astor Piazzolla."
Soul Brother No. 1, 1978
"If you haven't seen this, you should. This live performance of James Brown and the J.B.'s in their prime will leave you breathless."