Welcome to Interview², where we ask industry insiders to interview each other, giving you – the reader – amazing “buy one free one” value.
Ahead of their performances at Urbanscapes, we asked KL’s indie guitar charmers They Will Kill Us All to interview Singapore’s punk rocksters Plainsunset – and vice versa. The bands talk about the differences in their city’s indie music scenes, how to father hipsters and the internet at large.
Edwin Raj (They Will Kill Us All) interviews Jonathan Chan (Plainsunset):
Hey Jon, you guys have been around for donkey years but haven’t achieved mainstream success. How do you persevere to keep on doing this with no returns? What’s the incentive?
I guess this sort of forces you to ask yourself why you do it. I’d have to say, the chicks. It’s all about the chicks, yo. No chicks, no band. But the fake answer would have to be that we enjoy the process. Putting new songs together, putting the band together to plan and write, and people’s reactions when it all comes together. Of course, it’s no lie that we’re at least partially extroverted and enjoy the attention. But the real answer is still the chicks.
Do any of you have kids? What’s it like juggling band duties and fatherhood? Is it doable?
Sham is a dad. He’s got two adorable ones that are hipsters-in-training. All they need are empty specs frames. In all our cases, it’s marriage and day jobs. In his case, you add the daddy role. He still finds time to cycle, I don’t know how. Time management is the key, I guess. But I recognise that once you become a dad, everything else starts to sit back.
Sometimes it becomes easier to be self-absorbed, because in blogger land you frequently consider your public image more.
I was recently in Tokyo and realised how smart devices have steered humankind to disconnect. What’s your take on this?
In some ways they help you stay in touch, in other ways they become an embuggerance. The net has become a rallying point for many who are like-minded, and in some ways, not for good. Double-edged sword, as always. Sometimes it becomes easier to be self-absorbed, because in blogger land you frequently consider your public image more than someone else’s real opinions and debates become academic. That’s the draw and curse of the net. Disconnecting depends on your personality type. Loners can become more alone, but sociable folks become even better connected.
Where can I find an affordable vintage Fender Jazzmaster in Singapore? What’s your go-to guitar store?
I think there’s no such thing as a cheap Jazzmaster in Singapore, but you can always pick up a decent second-hand one if you look. I nowadays pay very little attention to gear as a whole, partially because Johnson and Andrew from Gibson Guitars in Singapore take care of me well. Goosoniqueworx does me for my main drive/boost pedals. I’ll still look up amps/modulation pedals and the odd copy guitar just for the variety of sounds. I’d usually visit Peninsular Plaza under Equatorial Hotel and Bras Basah complex, just to see what’s new and go toy-shopping. When you come over, give us a call. We’ll take you around.
I’ve lost track of what’s “in”. Post-modernity dictates that there is nothing new that has not been done before.
What advice do you have for new acts in Singapore/Malaysia on staying relevant and relatable in the music scene?
Hardest question in the world. Adaptability is the toughest thing to have. In some cases, I feel that if you’re out of vogue but that’s your instinctive style, don’t bother to change but stay true to your own instinct. There comes a point when trying too hard is just pretentious.
We’ve had the privilege of being involved for not that far off 16 to 17 years and on average, things change over every five or so years. So now, I’ve lost track of what’s “in”. Post-modernity dictates that there is nothing new that has not been done before, so I wince whenever I meet a young band that says they’re doing something new and different from everybody else.
I listened to the greats and noticed something. Some questions came up: U2 – why is the War or The Joshua Tree album still a classic? Springsteen – has his sound changed? Is he still recording new material? What made them great? They’re just being themselves; he’s just writing from the heart. Look at Metallica, performing through both Malaysia and Singapore. Creeping Death still makes my arm and neck hairs stand up.
If there’s anything I’ve learnt from them, it’s to play with heart and conviction. You can always tell the trendies from the ones that mean it.
Jonathan Chan (Plainsunset) interviews Edwin Raj (They Will Kill Us All):
If you could collaborate with any band in Singapore, who would you guys choose?
I Am David Sparkle. In fact, KILAS [drummer Zahir Sanosi’s design moniker] designed our latest T-shirt for sale on Woolcrafter, owned by our guitarist David.
Let us know the current rig that you are using right now.
My current rig is a Tele (which David bought in Singapore in the ‘80s), a 1975 Fender Twin Blackface. Pedals-wise, I trust my Fulltone OCD version 2, Strymon Blue Sky Reverb, Xotic EP Booster, Empress Tremolo and Boss Digital Delays.
Why did you guys choose that particular P. Ramlee song to cover?
We predicted that all the other bands would choose the more popular P. Ramlee tracks [for the P. Ramlee tribute show organised by local radio station XFM].
“Sepanjang Riwayatku” from the movie Sesudah Subuh was one of the last films he produced/acted before his death. The idea was to present the track to embody how miserable his final days were, hence the atmosphere and vibe created. The Malaysian legend who died penniless was my inspiration. What irony.
I’ve been working behind the scenes in local media for the past 12 years, and seen acts rise and fall to disappear.
Why is your drummer so cute? And why is his bike so expensive?
I think because he smiles so much, that adorable look kinda sticks perpetually. Why is his bike so bling? The man is just serious about gear.
We notice that there is an actual industry for local music in Malaysia with support for bands on TV, print, and events with telcos and brands, etc. That’s way ahead of where Singapore is at with local independent music. How do you think that came to be for Malaysia? And/or if our perception is wrong, do correct us.
Yes, you’re right, but that’s initiated by the artists who resonate to create an audience before getting attention by the media.
I must say, we have loads of hardworking artists here like Joe Flizzow and monoloQue that have stood the test of time. I think the real challenge for any act is sustainability. I’ve been working behind the scenes in local media for the past 12 years, and seen acts rise and fall to disappear. I envy Singapore because your government is aware, and willing to support the local arts and music scene.
Plainsunset and They Will Kill Us All will be performing at Urbanscapes festival, 23 – 24 November at Malaysia Agro Exposition Park (MAEPS) in Serdang.