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The Star Online: Entertainment: Music

Sevencollar T-shirt revisits a classic

Posted: 03 Feb 2014 08:00 AM PST

Alternative rock outfit Sevencollar T-shirt set to roll out Drones 10th anniversary showcase.

AS far as anniversary celebrations go for local alternative rock albums, there is none far more deserving than Sevencollar T-shirt's second album Drones, which was released in Nov 2004. The Klang Valley-based band is due out for a 10th anniversary celebration for the Drones album at No Black Tie in Kuala Lumpur this Thursday.

Drones, which is arguably Sevencollar T-shirt's (SCTS) most coherent album, had its OK Computer-inspired experimentalism, existential anxiety and atmospheric post rock twists. But with songs like Renaldo Moon, The Boohoorah Theory, War Is Over and The Summary, the band also succeeded in evoking a more marked melodic range.

"It's going to be a bit of challenge to recapture the mood of the Drones songs," said Sevencollar T-shirt frontman Duan ahead of the upcoming showcase. "We haven't played some of these Drones-era songs in years. That's why we're starting with this small No Black Tie show ... not too much hype. This will be the first of a few Drones-driven shows this year. For this Thursday, we want to revisit the 'rock club' days. Just a normal rock show. A chance to play the entire album and more. No string section (laughs)."

Apart from Duan, the band's line-up (with an average mid-30s age bracket) includes guitarist Ham, bassist Keng Lee and drummer Adil Ali.

With recording sessions done throughout 2004, the 11-track Drones album was described by the band back then as a "peaceful and fun time in the studio."

The album was produced by the band and Jeffrey Little (who also engineered the album) and was released through Laguna Records. Entirely self-financed by Laguna and the band, Drones was mixed by local music scene veteran Roslan Aziz and mastered in the United States.

"We really hope to get Roslan to the No Black Tie show this Thursday. His contribution to the Drones album was invaluable," added Duan.

Drones also marked Roslan's first foray into alternative/indie rock territory and also drummer Adil's first recorded output with SCTS, following former drummer/founder member Mokthar's departure from the band to concentrate on running his own music label in 2003.

Despite the Drones album being out of print, Duan said there are no plans for a remastered album reissue or vinyl edition.

Formed in 1997, the band's other albums include the debut Freeway, Dreaming & Broke (2002) and The Great Battle (2009). Last year, SCTS released a new track Ordinary Life. — Daryl Goh

n Sevencollar T-shirt's Drones 10th anniversary showcase takes place at No Black Tie, 17 Jalan Mesui, off Jalan Nagasari, Kuala Lumpur. Opening act is Go Gerilla. Showtime is 9pm. Tickets cost RM40 (available at the door). More info: Band updates:

Memorable Laneway Festival

Posted: 03 Feb 2014 08:00 AM PST

Good music and a chilled backdrop; Laneway Festival 2014 had all the makings of a memorable indie event.

I WILL honestly say we had a rough gig," said American indie rocker Kurt Vile at his side-stage press conference. "That's how we get better, unfortunately. We have to make semi-fools of ourselves in front of the audience. It makes us stronger."

That's what he thinks, at least.

It's hard to say if any of the concertgoers actually noticed Vile and his band, The Violators, fumbling on stage because they were too preoccupied with being lost in the sheer romance and faux wanderlust of St Jerome's Laneway Festival in Singapore last weekend.

What started as a Sunday afternoon bar event a decade ago in Melbourne, Australia has now blossomed into an annual international indie music festival. The Singaporean installment held at Gardens by The Bay was merely the first of the festival's seven stops this year. The tour will move on to visit cities in Australia and New Zealand.

British rock band Daughter was initially meant to be a solo project by lead vocalist Elena Tonra before she made friends with guitarist Igor Haefeli and drummer Remi Aguilella at a college film-writing course.

British rock band Daughter was initially meant to be a solo project by lead vocalist Elena Tonra before she made friends with guitarist Igor Haefeli and drummer Remi Aguilella at a college film-writing course.

Hipsters and non-hipsters from all over the Southeast Asian region flew in to the island nation to watch their favourite bands perform on three different stages. Organisers estimate that at least 10,000 people flooded the festival grounds to witness acts like American neo-psychedelic dream pop artist Youth Lagoon, Australian alternative rock band The Jezabels, English electronic duo Mount Kimbie, English post-punk revival rock band Savages, American electronic music producer XXYYXX (yes, that's his name) and American-Kiwi rock act Unknown Mortal Orchestra.

Several times throughout the one-day festival, it felt like the bands merely served as background music to one large party. With the iconic Marina Bay Sands as their backdrop, attendees were simply making new friends, taking photos, sharing drinks and chatting away. Others tried to sneak backstage to steal a glance of their favourite musicians.

Before becoming the lead vocalist of Scottish synthpop band Chvrches, Lauren Mayberry pursued a career in writing and now has a Master's Degree in Journalism from the University of Strathclyde.

Things started getting a little louder at nightfall however, with the audience cheering on Scottish synthpop band Chvrches (pronounced "churches") and dancing along to the deejay set by English music producer Jamie xx.

The crowd, however, got wild when American all-sister group Haim started their set. Although the band has only released professionally-produced music since 2012, the multi-talented sisters have been playing together for years and have already made a name for themselves in the music industry. They have worked with Grammy-nominated producer Ariel Rechtshaid and are managed by Jay Z's Roc Nation agency.

It seemed that the sisters were as excited as the audience and would not stop jumping around. Este Haim, the bassist and the oldest of the trio, said that it was the craziest show they had ever played.

"Coming here was such a far-fetched thing for us," she said. "We never imagined in a million years that we'd be able to perform here (in Singapore). So to be able to come and play here and have people know the lyrics to our songs is insane."

The members of British rock band Daughter were not nearly as noisy as Haim. Lead vocalist and guitarist Elena Tonra's voice shivered every time she spoke on staged and it looked like she was about to have a panic attack. She said that it was a mixture of being in a new place, the pressure of having to perform well and the fact that they were part of an amazing festival line-up that brought on the nerves. Nevertheless, the crowd fell silent and watched in awe as Daughter's slow beats and Tonra's haunting voice vibrated through the evening breeze.

"To be honest, most of the time when we play it's sort of trance-like," said Tonra as she described how she performs so well even though she's nervous.

"You get so involved with what you're doing and it's like a moment where you're in a bubble and everything becomes slightly blurry. And looking at our feet a lot as well helps."

British electronic music producer and singer-songwriter James Blake received his first Grammy nomination this year for Best New Artist.

The highlight of the night however was English electronic music producer and singer-songwriter James Blake. Thousands of festival attendees stayed at the venue for a full 12 hours just to watch him play, sample, loop and tear apart about a dozen different musical instruments and gadgets.

The 25-year-old Grammy nominee seemed perfectly aware of his talents and of his adoring fans. When asked about his career, he coolly said, "I like the way things have progressed. I get to travel around the world with my friends. I'm very happy."

HeyMun set for the bright lights

Posted: 02 Feb 2014 08:00 AM PST

It's time for singer-songwriter HeyMun to take her international plaudits to a new level.

IT may not be obvious from the off, but HeyMun is one of those artistes inextricably attached to her craft. She's able to absorb good and bad energy like a sponge and put it in songs – she sings what she means, and she means what she sings, as cliched as that may sound.

Credit where it's due, though, because it must have taken something to knock the judges off their feet with her submission, By Sea, to the American-based Unsigned Only songwriting competition (by the organisers of the International Songwriting Competition) – the winners of which were announced in September last year – bagging the award in the folk/singer-songwriter category. The competition accepts entries from unsigned artistes the world over and has had a stellar panel of judges, including the likes of John Oates (of Hall & Oates fame), Darryl McDaniels (of Run DMC) and Rosanne Cash. Naturally, this is a big deal.

And riding that wave, she recently returned from performing at the CBGB Festival in New York City, which keeps the influential club's spirit alive. The original club was the performance space for the likes of Talking Heads, Television, The Ramones, Patti Smith, Blondie and many more.

"For me to be able to go there as a Malaysian to play an hour's showcase in Manhattan at Arlene's Grocery is really an honour. The festival is such a coveted event," enthused HeyMun (first name Tan) during a recent interview, intimating that she was particularly thrilled since The Strokes had played the same venue in 2000.

While she managed to take in performances by music's elite there, watching the likes of Wallflowers and even Lisa Loeb, it's her success in the Unsigned Only competition that continues to reverberate. And as far-fetched as this might seem, HeyMun describes it as an overnight incident. Her world may have been somewhat confined to sitting at home, strumming the guitar and writing songs, but the buzz has reached fever pitch, which she describes as an "explosion."

Lucky for her, she's had home support all the way through.

Sigh no more: 'Ultimately though, we are all born unique and this experience is like a snapshot of where I'm at right now,' says HeyMun, insisting all songwriters are gifted with their own voice.

"I put a lot of thought and consideration into my music, so to get Malaysian support was simply overwhelming. I feel the love," she said, barely able to wipe the smile off her face. Apart from answering e-mail from fellow hopefuls and sharing her experience, she had Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng tweeting to congratulate her on her achievement.

The Petaling Jaya, Selangor-born singer has been based in Sydney, Australia, since she headed Down Under in 2006 to further her education, eventually graduating with a Masters in Film and Digital Image from the University of Sydney. And on that fateful day when she opened her e-mail to learn of her victory while back in Malaysia, she just had to go out to celebrate.

Did the champagne flow? Not quite.

HeyMun did it urban Malaysian style. "I had a Milo dinosaur and rojak at a nearby mamak," she said.

Not everyone's made for competitions though, because having a creative piece of work analysed and critiqued by a bunch of people can be a harrowing experience, but few things faze HeyMun in the artistic domain.

"Songwriting is an organic process for me. I just try to be brave, let it all out and express myself. I've never placed boundaries around myself."

And that's probably why grabbing the bull by its horns has served her well.

And to think she was a burrito away from missing out on her prize is a scary thought. The story goes that after mixing concluded on her debut EP from last year (produced in Australia), she contemplated heading down the recording studio's stairs to devour the Mexican favourite, but opted to sit behind the piano to try out another song. And so, By Sea was born.

The bubbly 28-year-old remains grounded with her creative process though and communicating with fellow contestants has only allowed her to grow and spread her wings.

"Ultimately though, we are all born unique and this experience is like a snapshot of where I'm at right now."

And the roots of the person she's become go all the way back to the time she was a child hanging around her grandmother's record store on Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur, or "chee cheong kai", she highlights the locale's colloquial name.

"I listened to old Chinese songs that my mum's mum used to play, and the best part was, she played anything she wanted," said HeyMun, conceding that she got a leg up right from the start, acknowledging that music was always going to be a central theme in her life. Popular music made its way through her consciousness by way of her father's interest in The Beatles and almost incongruously, German rock band Scorpions.

While music was always around her, it wasn't until three years ago that she pursued creating some of her own. The thrifty purchase of a A$99 Yamaha acoustic guitar set the wheels in motion for her musical exploration. So, how much does she credit the guitar for her new-found musical talents?

"A lot. I still have it. I played my first 'G' chord on it and wrote my first song on that guitar, too. I love it so much," she said, barely able to contain her appreciation for her trusty instrument.

It's easy to understand why she gravitated to the acoustic guitar. Not only is it the most commonly used writing tool in popular music, but her hero also uses it.

"I watched Bob Dylan perform in Sydney and it was just fantastic to watch him stay true to his craft after all these years, and still constantly evolving. When he performs, he is simply navigating through his emotions," she revealed, name checking Neil Young as an influence as well.

She has equal respect for home-grown talents like Az Samad, Reza Salleh and Paulo Delfinio.

HeyMun writes about what's in her heart and what she sees around her. She's quick to acknowledge that we're all products of our environment.

"I put a microphone to my heart and also just follow my internal compass. For someone like me, it's an advantage that we live in a multicultural setting, which invariably equips us to handle the assimilation process better when we take our music to a foreign land."

She might just be making her mark, but HeyMun is able to recognise the big picture: "Ideally, I'd like to leave something behind that can be appreciated, and be inspiring. Ultimately, I want people to know that this is possible for anyone." Her second, twin single, Sailor, is already making the rounds and gaining airplay in Australia. And even before the dust has settled, she's unleashed her newest single, Youth, based on footage from her CBGB Festival jaunt and her visit to Nashville to meet the founders of Unsigned Only. And hot off the press now is her new self-titled EP.

It looks like it's only going to be a matter of time before HeyMun starts blazing trails, if she isn't already doing so.


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