Originally published in the pages of The Malay Mail during the wake of Drone’s release Now that the band will be releasing their third set The Great Battle, it’s only appropriate, well, for me at least…
NO MEDIA EXPOSURES. NO RECOGNITION. NO MONEY. IT TAKES MORE TO STOP BANDS LIKE SEVENCOLLAR T-SHIRT TO STOP DOING WHAT THEY LOVE DOING THE MOST
LOCAL English music.
An act of self-indulgence, a waste of time and money and a fad among the grown ups that might soon outgrew them.
Much have been said about our local English singing acts since it “broke” into the popular music scene, thanks to the surprise success of Old Automatic Garbage back in 1994.
Today, local English bands sprung out like mushrooms after the rain. Acknowledging its existence, two awards – Best Local English Album and Best New Local English Artist – were introduced to Anugerah Industri Muzik (AIM) in 1996.
From underground music, we can now hear, watch and read about our local English bands in the mainstream media.
Anyhow, despite all the exposure, sadly, until today, not much understanding of it has been developed.
Many are still under the impression that these bands are second grade imitators of their westerns heroes.
Yes, a lot of the bands that have been getting the exposure from the mainstream media, like it or not are copycats, but not known to many, these bands actually represent a small portion of the bludgeoning local English music scene.
Look deeper, one can easily find a lot of other talent that are way better, more original sounding and most importantly, passionate about the music they have been producing. One of these bands that would fit into the description perfectly would be Petaling Jaya’s shape-shifting indie rock quartet, Sevencollar T-shirt.
The name Sevencollar T-shirt may not be familiar to a lot of us but at the grassroots level, it is one of the bands that many local independent music enthusiasts would rely on for innovative homemade music.
Since its formation, it has done and achieved a lot of things that a lot of other acts (mainstream or fringe) could only dream of. And in the wake of the release of its second album, the envelope-pushing and creatively challenging Drones, the story of the band (so far) deserves to be told and be heard.
The band was formed back in 1997 by guitarist Muhammad and frontman Duan together with bassist Nik Justin and drummer Faizal.
The band’s early releases, The White Demo (1997), With Guns in Our Hands (1998) and Smiling Simulator (1999) didn’t really offer anything that are musically interesting but after going through a line-up change (Nik Justin and Faizal were replaced by Fidi and Mokhtarizal), the band’s musical direction swerved to a different direction.
The result of this can be heard on its next release, a self-titled five-song EP in 2000 where elements of Jeff Buckley’s guitar works and Dave Matthews Band’s jam-band-ness were slowly being introduced into its music.
Also, in the same year, the band’s song, Thank Quake – a progressive jazzy-rock jam was included on the notable local English music compilation, Family Day,
In late 2001, the band announced that they’d be working on its independent debut album and producing it would be renowned producer Greg Henderson (Ella, Anuar Zain).
It may not be that big of news on a bigger scale but for a relatively unknown band, having award-winning producer like Greg Henderson to produce them is definitely something to shout about.
When the album was finally released in 2002, it turned out to become one of the exciting albums to be released that year. Toning down its shape-shifting melodies, adding in richer instrumentation and revving up the level of emotions in its vocals department, Freeway, Dreaming and Broke was one of its kinds.
There was a problem though; all the elements somehow did not meet at one point, thus making the album a bit chaotic and loose.
The band’s “quieter” and shorter songs like Glory and Meaning and Breathe anyhow did found a place among local music enthusiast then.
Despite the positive reviews and praises coming its way, things were not really all well within its camp. They were on the verge of becoming one of those bands that cut an album and disappeared completely.
“Things in the band were kind of mixed up. All of us wanted to move on but everyone was moving at different pace and direction. The tensions were building up bit by bit. At the end of the day, everyone kind of lost their drive,” recalled the band’s chief songwriter/vocalist/guitarist, Duan in an exclusive interview with Buzz recently.
Towards the last quarter of 2003, the band announced that its drummer Mokhtarizal would be quitting the band due to personal reasons. His last gig with the band was on Dec 20. It was on the same day, the band met producer Roslan Aziz.
“Musically, he didn’t say much, but he did mention something about us to learn more. He also hinted that if we want to record, feel free to give him a call,” recalled Duan.
Roslan, who was known for his works on Sheila Majid’s Legenda and Zainal Abidin’s self-titled debut, has offered his assistance to help a band he just heard of. There must be something great about the band until it persuaded him to come out of retirement.
Two weeks later, Adil, a young drummer who never had any experiences playing with a band before was roped in to take over Mokhtarizal’s position.
“The first time he rehearsed with us, we felt that he wasn’t that good (laughs). But he could pick up the songs pretty fast. Most importantly, his style of drumming kind of put all the song ideas we had into perspective,” Fidi added.
Adil was the missing link to most of the half-completed songs the band has written.
Having completed the last piece of the jigsaw, the band announced that they would be working on a new album, early this year – a darker, intense and shorter in length album in comparative to the epic-like
“It was difficult process. For the first album, we basically had all the songs written back to the days when we first started but for this one it’s more difficult because we have to start from scratch,” Duan recalled.
Ideas for songs were developed at its own Lab Rat Studio for more than three months before the band headed to Greenhouse Studio to record the basic tracks of its new album, Robots.
“For this album more time were spent on discussions than in the rehearsal studio. Once we have an idea, we would look for supporting ideas that would support the first idea. We kind of set a very high standard this time around. Let’s say one person is not happy with an idea, we would immediately throw it away. Only when everyone is happy about an idea, then only we develop it further,” Duan said of the time spent at their Lab Rat studio.
“When we headed into the studio, we went through another lengthy process of perfecting the songs, which is something we’ve never experienced before. It’s good because along the way, we learnt and discover about a lot of new things that made us all excited again. It was so exciting until it reached a point when the album was completed we felt like going back into the studio and work on our next album,” Muhammad explained.
Having Roslan around in the studio while they were recording was a boost and a pain (in a good way that is).
“He’s a hilarious person who is very particular about quality. Initially we felt a bit awkward because, for God’s sake it’s Roslan Aziz! He didn’t really interfere with the recording process but he did give us a lot of tips and ideas to enhance our songs,” Fidi recalled.
“For that, we respect him because he’s very open with ideas even he knows about things more than us. He made efforts to understand what the band wanted,” Duan added.
“When it comes to quality, he’s the man. We played him some of the parts that we’ve already recorded on our first day in the studio together. After hearing what we’ve recorded, he told us to re-record everything all over again,” Duan added with a laugh.
“We felt that we’ve already did our best, but for him our best was not good enough. That made us more determined to prove to him that we are not a lousy band,” Fidi said.
After months of late night and weekend’s recordings, the album was finally completed in September. Unlike its debut, Drones captured a band that was on the verge of its creative maturity.
Unlike the rather chaotic Freeway, Dreaming and Broke, Drones is well-calculated, precise and loud. Drones made Freeway, Dreaming and Broke sounded like it was a band-members-only compilation of out takes. The creative transformation was enormous.
“I think it was the fact that we grew up a lot while working on this album. We became closer to each other and we communicated a lot more this time around. On the last album we hardly see each other but this time around we would meet up almost every single day,” Muhammad said.
“While working on the new album we found out that there are a lot of things that we could do with our music. I believe Drones is our first step to things to come. We seriously want to expand our music,” he added confidently.
When checked whether the band realised that chances of music of its nature to be accepted or be heard by the masses are like next to none, frontman Duan gave the best answer.
“We know. Since day one we understand that there’s no way you can make a living out of this. But we do what we do because of our passion for music and personal crave for creative satisfaction. If not, we would be writing Malay songs by now and quit our full-time jobs to make music.”
“If there were any money that would come along the way, it’ll be a bonus, if not life goes on. We will keep on progressing with what we love doing the most and hopefully to keep outdoing ourselves along the way,” summarised Duan.
Music by off-kilter bands like Sevencollar T-shirt, Damn Dirty Apes and Lang Mang may not be easily digested and of various qualities but to those who’ve been longing for the so called new sound of Malaysian music, these bands deserve a chance to be heard.