Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Goodbye 2014!

Lost planes, massive floods and the economy taking a beating due to plunging oil prices, among other things have been the main headlines in Malaysia this year. It was also the toughest business year since I joined the family trade.

On a personal front things were more calm. My boy is growing up and talking back like a teenager even though he's only 6. As any honest parent will tell you, your biggest pride and joy can also be your biggest pain in the ass. I am just grateful I have a happy and bright kid who wants the most out of life.

Musically, I scrapped the acoustic album that I was supposed to put out. There were only about four good songs on it, so I scrapped the rest. I'm quite happy with the remnants of songs I held on to. Melodies are my thing and if it's melodically sound, I will put in the effort to see it through. Funnily enough, some of the discarded songs have merged into other songs I'm working on. That's the great thing about music. It is so malleable and open to change, especially if you have no one to answer to. So, in the future you can look forward to songs that are 6-8 minutes long. No, there is no release date. I've got other things to worry about for now.

Hopefully 2015 will be better than the past year. Surely, it can't be any worse. The benefit of growing older is that no matter what happens, you can tell yourself that you still have your health if you're still here complaining about it. That is if you take care of yourself. Please take care of yourself folks and don't take anything for granted. I'm just happy for the little things these days. Boredom and lack of drama is a luxury that I appreciate as I grow older.

Have a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Making a living

People who know me for my music sometimes ask what I do for a living because anyone in their right mind knows that writing original music and holding on to artistic integrity can hardly buy you a cheeseburger a day.

For more than a decade I have been involved in the family business of textiles trading. Before that I graduated from the State University of New York College at Buffalo, with a major in Philosophy. The truth is, I majored in Philosophy by default because I was undecided about what to major in for a long time, exploring all kinds of subjects until I was told by one of my education counsellors that I had enough credits from my Philosophy classes to fulfill the requirements of a degree. My father was already breathing down my neck at the time, telling me to graduate as soon as possible. It was around the time of the financial crisis of 1997 and he couldn't keep me there much longer due to financial constraints of having three other kids to support.



In haste, I declared my major and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts. I was actually a couple of semesters short of a double degree because besides Philosophy, I had taken a lot of major classes in Mass Communications and Broadcasting as well. I had spent over four years in the US without really knowing what I wanted to do with my life. Before I knew it I was back in Malaysia, helping run the family business at my father's request. 

So, what is it like working in a family business? Well, it's not easy, although it's better than working for some other third party. However, it is a common misconception that when you work in your family business, the business is yours. Nothing could be further from the truth. Honestly, you're just a trustee and there are a lot of mouths to feed. Your job is merely to be responsible for taking care of the entity that provides for a whole bunch of people. If you're lucky, you'll get your share of the profits, if business is good. Otherwise, it's the same as collecting a salary at any other place but with the added liabilities and responsibility.

I don't know any jokes about textiles traders because it is quite a humourless job but there are plenty of jokes about philosophy majors. Here are some of them:





Recently, I was cleaning out one of my drawers and found this, yellowing with antiquity. If you're interested in employing me, you can write in to the College to request for the official transcripts. I'm more inclined to refer to it as my Bachelor of Farts these days, since I haven't had much use for it since I graduated.   

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Alone in a Crowded Room



"What I must do is all that concerns me, not what other people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but a great man is he who in the midst of a crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude."
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Turning 40

My midlife crisis happened early. It was shortly before my son was born in 2008. I was about to turn 34 but felt a decade older. A couple of years before that, I had just bought a house and decided that I needed to put music aside and focus on the adult concerns of working, paying off the mortgage, investing wisely, and making the most of what I could while I had the chance. The band had drifted apart and I wasn't really that focused on writing any more new music.The novelty of having a number 1 song on the local charts of the country's hit radio station with TragiComedy had worn off. It was no big deal. I was grateful my glorified hobby could pay itself back but most local bands with decent recorded material had a chance to get on air back then. I'm just glad my father was impressed with that one decent royalty cheque that I received.

To cut a long story short, the midlife crisis was basically me giving up playing and writing after going through the whole cycle of releasing an album and playing the same few gigs promoting it. My guitar was put in storage from late 2006 till early 2008. In hindsight, I can't believe I didn't even touch the guitar during that time. That period felt really long at the time even though it was less than two years. It was like watching paint dry. Quite depressing. 

Only when I found out  my wife was pregnant with our son, did I start turning things around. I realised that I would need things I could share with him other than just materialistic stuff. What better thing is there other than music? That is when I started playing again, with more enthusiasm than ever. I even started putting in the hours learning new techniques and trying to do what I do a little better. For a guy who never touched a guitar unless he was writing something, it was a huge change. Nothing beats inertia and depression like focusing on something other than yourself. Learning to record on my own was also another liberating step. No more studios. I can do it all at home now and it costs nothing because I play every instrument and arrange the live drums on my own. 

Today, on the even of turning 40, I realise that in my mind I will always be the 14 year old who would rather sit in his room all day and play the guitar. You can never get bored doing what you love. Coming up with new stuff and trying to turn it into a song is second nature at this point. It is a neverending thing. The well is deep and I will continue drawing from it. The great thing is these days I get to share it with my boy. He's 6 years old now and loves music and writing as much as I do. Sometimes he walks around with a notebook writing down lyrics of songs that he likes and asks me how to spell words certain words that he's unfamiliar with. Chip off the old block, he is. I used to do the same thing. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

You Can't Buy Happiness...



Whenever I'm at a music shop trying out a guitar or some new pedals, the sales guy will normally ask me what kind of music I play. My usual answer would always be, "a little bit of everything and a lot of nothing." That pretty much sums me up because I don't have any particular type of music that I play exclusively. To be honest, I usually only use the guitar as a tool for songwriting, rather than a vehicle for anything greater.

The funny thing is that, when I do my usual Led Zeppelin type of riffing or let loose a few SRV licks in my own sloppily way, the sales guy will then ask me how old I am. Then he'll suggest a different guitar or pedal, as if I was born yesterday. Kids these days shred some John Petrucci or Paul Gilbert licks when they try out guitar gear, apparently. Old farts like me, on the other hand, are still playing riffs we learnt as teenagers.

To put it  in perspective, I was 12 years old when GnR's Appetite for Destruction came out. It was a great time to grow up. The mid to late 80's had great guitar bands that took rock and metal to a different place. Even your regular pop song on the radio had a melodic, semi technical guitar solo that added another hook to the already catchy song.

As I grow older, I have an even greater appreciation for the guitar. Now that I can afford better ones, the joy of playing is even greater because the easier the playability, the more likely you are to play and practice. Cheap guitars in the 80's, when I was a kid, were not easy to play, believe me. The fact that I didn't give up must have meant I really loved the instrument.

I'll post some photos of the guitars I have collected over the years soon. I've got quite a decent collection now. I'm thinking of thinning the herd a little bit to free up some funds to do other things. You can never have too many guitars but finding the time to play and appreciate them all isn't easy to come by these days.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Dude Abides



I don't know how many of you have seen the movie The Big Lebowski. It's one of those offbeat movies that you will either love or can't be bothered with. I saw it during the last year of my time in the US as a college student. I have seen it many times since then but the first time was memorable because the theater I saw it at in Buffalo, New York was near empty and I watched it alone because most of my buddies were more into the conventional fare.

The movie was a flop when it was first released 16 years ago but has since become a cult classic. I am glad my taste in pop culture and music is different from most people. In most cases, what I like has a delayed effect on everyone else. People usually come around eventually if something is good. I can name a dozen movies I loved that were flops but turned out to be cult classics later on.

People who love The Big Lebowski usually even quote the dialogue among themselves these days. There is even an annual Lebowski Fest in the US that fans go to like a pilgrimage. To some Jeff Bridges will always be viewed as "The Dude", despite being an Oscar winner and a brilliant character actor with dozens of brilliant portrayals to his name.

There is also silliness in the form of Dudeism, an online religion devoted to spreading the philosophy and lifestyle of the movie's main character, The Dude. It's aptly named The Church of the Latter-Day Dude. The quotes from the movie can fill up a whole motivational book, albeit a counterculture one. "The Dude Abides", although he does put his foot down when he has to.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Music update.

I have an acoustic album that is almost done. This time I've stripped it down drastically to a one man and his guitar type of thing. The last album taught me how to produce fully fleshed out songs on my own,with all the instrumentation and layers needed. As much fun as self producing the album was, I realised that some of the songs were not easy to pull off even with a three or four piece band. There were too many guitar parts and layers.

Apart from the acoustic album, I've also got an album's worth of songs that I want to do with a band. This time I'm restricting the guitar parts to what I can actually play live with a three piece. There is actually a lot I can already do in that context. It's just that when you record at home at your own leisure, you tend to hear parts and layers that need to be added to give the song something extra. I will continue doing that, but I'm going to keep the main integral parts and hooks as something that can easily be played live with one guitar. 

I have experimented with using a Loop Station pedal a little bit. It might well work at home but I am usually pretty sloppy and the opposite of technical when playing live. At home you have any number of takes. I can shred and play a little more complicated stuff these days but getting it clean and perfect might still take a while. So there will be solos but not too many self-indulgent ones. Mostly it is still about the songs and what I'm trying to say in the three to four minutes of running time. 

Will keep you posted. The release date will be mid year. I still have vocals to record. That is my Achilles' heel and my least favorite part of recording. I need to take some time off and work on it. Burning the midnight oil is something I can't do much of these days. I'm getting on in years...


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Honesty?

"Being honest will not get you many friends but it'll always get you the right ones." said John Lennon.

Some people may not equate saying how you feel with honesty. These people are usually surrounded by yes men and "friends" who will whisper sweet nothings and then talk shit about them all day behind their back. 

For me personally there is nothing I will say behind you that I won't say right in front of you...if I can even be bothered to say anything at all in the first place. Usually these days I don't say a lot of things out loud. It's not worth the hassle, especially with people you can actually avoid. Some things are better left unsaid. You are not going to change the world with your words, unless you're Martin Luther King or Gandhi. Even those guys weren't saints despite history saying otherwise, just because they were martyred for their troubles.

These days I like to spend all my time at home after getting home from work. I've always been a little antisocial but I'm definitely even more so now than ever. Don't get me wrong, I can talk your ear off if we're friends and I feel like it but most of the time I'd rather stay home and play my guitar or just hang out with my boy.

Why? What's wrong with me?

Well, depending on who you talk to there is either a lot wrong with me or nothing at all. I don't care either way. I've got bills to pay and a kid to entertain.



Monday, January 20, 2014

Focusing on the positives

I told myself earlier this month that I would put up a new blog post each week just to chronicle my thoughts leading up to my 40th birthday later in the year. I have already failed at that. It's the third week now and this is only my second post. Nevermind, I'll make it up.

The past few weeks have been good so far. My son started his last year of kindergarten at a new place. We moved him for many reasons but wanting a better student to teacher ratio was the main reason. It's ironic that his last year of preschool precedes his introduction to Chinese school where the number of students per class is enormous. We will deal with it one step at a time. I have faith that he will adapt wherever he goes. He has more confidence and personality than I ever did as a kid, so he will be fine.  

Personality wise my boy couldn't be more different than me. I was always shy and introverted as a kid whereas Siddharth always makes himself known wherever he goes. He is not a wallflower. Most of the time it works in his favor. At times however, he gets in trouble for it when he can't rein himself in from being too boisterous. 

One thing I'm grateful for is that Sidd finds joy wherever he goes. I can't take credit for that because that trait didn't come from me. I have always been predisposed to being miserable. His quick temper and huge appetite for good food however, is all me. On a positive note he's a natural footballer and a strong swimmer which is something that also came naturally to me as a kid. It's comforting to know certain good things can be passed down. 

Inherited traits aside, I've realised that kids get easily conditioned by their environment. We try to be as positive as we can about good behaviour while slowly trying to put a stop to the not so desirable ones. Gone are the days when you can just focus on what a child is bad at, which is what parents used to do when I was young. My lingering low self esteem issues as a kid can be tied to my parents never acknowledging the good and basically focusing only on what I was weak at and hated. That is the key to mediocrity. You will never be great at stuff you hate but there is a chance you will be great at the stuff you're good at and love.

Anyway, the approach I'm taking with my kid is that whatever he's good at, he can easily be great at, if he works at it. And if he can put in the effort to be great at what he's good at, surely he can do the same and be better at what he's weak at. That is all it is. Find a way to feel good about what you're doing and just do it. Save all the psychobabble for the quacks. 

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

2014

Happy New Year! I'm partial to even numbers, so the year 2014 seems agreeable to me. The whole of 2013 went by in a haze almost as if nothing significant happened. I was often unaware of what day of the week it was because the usual routine of work and parenting can put you on an autopilot mode. Every day seemed almost exactly the same. I usually distinguished the days by what after-school class I had to take my son to. 

My wife often says I live on my own planet, which is both fair and unfair. Although I live largely in my head - being socially inept and all - I also pulled my weight with the parenting. My boy and I really bonded with our stories and songs, although I couldn't tell you exactly what stories or what songs because there were too many of them. He is already writing his own nonsensical songs, even if it is just in his head, like I used to do as a kid. 

On the music front, I spent a lot of late nights "shedding", which most of you musicians will know is a term that is used for people who sequester themselves up in a shed and practice repetitively. Shedding can often lead to shredding, but I'm more interested in unique phrasing and good note choice rather than playing too many notes fast these days. Playing fast is easy as long as you have patience and a metronome. I don't have either.

I also accumulated more than 20 songs, of varying qualities and genres. I will listen back to them soon and figure out which ones are worth letting you guys listen to. It could be all or it could be none. I am forever trying new things so the stuff I recorded a year ago might not interest me that much when I have to mix it and make it listenable. 

What I have realised is that I love Gypsy Jazz and Django Reinhardt. Old blues guys like John Lee Hooker, Son House, Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson also made me delve into old blues a little bit. The blues I grew up with was Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn. That doesn't even scratch the surface. 

I also went back to Hendrix and Led Zeppelin for influence. Frank Zappa, Steely Dan and Rush were on my playlist too. I found inspiration in looking back rather than listening to current music. To be honest, I wouldn't be able to tell you what's good right now. In fact, I don't want to know. 

One thing I would like to do for  myself in 2014 is to improvise and record music without too much planning. The mark of a good musician is being able to adapt and play anything in a short space of time. Don't know if I'm there yet. We'll see how it goes. Right now I have to go read Peter Pan with my boy.