Thursday, December 31, 2015

On to 2016....

As another year comes to a close, I choose not to reflect too much on what transpired in 2015. The most important thing is that everyday is another chance at life. Not repeating past mistakes is already a sign of growth. Don't sweat the small stuff. Love the ones who love you and don't waste energy on things that bring you down. In life, we're lucky if we have a handful of people who care about us. Be good to them.

I have decided that life is all about what you're doing at the moment and who you are in that moment. In the course of a day you are a son, father, husband, a Boss, an employee or any number of things. You are different things to different people. However, the most important thing is who you really are in your head, because how you feel determines how you will treat others. Feel like shit and shit might hit the fan in the wrong circumstances. I have had episodes I'd rather not talk about, where I did things I shouldn't have just because I was in the wrong headspace. 

No one cares about your demons but you. In fact, you shouldn't care about them either, lest you keep feeding them with your baggage. The most important thing I have learnt lately is that you can plan as far ahead as you want but don't focus on anything more than what is within your control for now. That will give you a little more sanity and make you more pleasant to those around you. 

All I can hope for in the new year ahead is that I live in the present and make the best of it because as short as life is, it can also feel awfully long if you think too much about things beyond your control. Don't put that kind of pressure on yourself. Just wake up everyday and take it as it comes. I've got no other resolutions other than that, although losing a bit of weight might be beneficial to my health. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Guthrie Govan and Tommy Emmanuel

If you're a guitar player, Guthrie Govan and Tommy Emmanuel need no introduction. However, if you don't have a clue about what's going on in the guitar world these days, perhaps you can Google or YouTube them and find out. Like most things in life that are not designed for mass consumption, it may not be your cup of tea. Although, I fail to see how good music may not be an enjoyment for you. In my opinion, when it comes to the guitar, both these guys are masters at what they do. Their repertoire of songs will leave you in amazement.

Tommy Emmanuel's show was midweek, five days before Guthrie Govan's guitar clinic. It was my second time seeing him perform, the last one being a couple of years ago. As usual, his energetic one man band performance brought the house down. It was a smaller venue this time around and you could almost feel the music and his acoustic guitar vibrate through you. His joy while playing was infectious. Only he and Eddie Van Halen can smile through a two hour set and make sure everyone does too. It's amazing that one man and his guitar, standing alone on a stage, can entertain an audience for a full two hours without a break. There wasn't a dull moment in the whole show.

He gave the same advice as last time about practicing the instrument. It's about repetition and you have to do it alone...not in front of your family members or friends. No one wants to hear you play something a thousand times over until you get it perfect. You don't wanna get discouraged by them getting sick of you playing something before you have even mastered it. I need to pass that advice on to my son, who normally gets discouraged if we don't tell him he sounds great instantly when he plays something.

Guthrie Govan's solo album is my favourite guitar album of the last decade and his work with his supergroup "The Aristocrats" is mindblowing. His first visit to our neck of the woods, the weekend after Tommy Emmanuel's show, wasn't for a full concert but rather a guitar clinic/workshop. It was well worth attending. His thoughts and explanations about his approach to the instrument were enlightening in many ways. We all know he can play the hell out of the guitar, which he proceeded to do with a few tracks from his vast repertoire. The highlight however, was the question and answer section part of the afternoon. He is the opposite of the monosyllabic and inarticulate hippy that he claims he looks like. The tone and substance of the stuff he talked about can only be compared to a philosophy professor trying to put across esoteric ideas in an accessible way.

Of course, there is nothing esoteric or mystical about playing the guitar. You can get most of the answers you need from YouTube or Google these days. However, nobody is more eloquent at explaining the intangible than Mr Govan. He has a gift with words that the normal mortal doesn't and it's no surprise that he was an English Literature student at Oxford before he decided that becoming a guitar wizard was more fun. He has been travelling the world, displaying his brand of sorcery and garnering disciples ever since.

One of the most important things I took away from the experience is that you should focus on the most basic things first, like being able to play what you hear. Conditioning the ear has been forsaken these days. Most people are engrossed with the tactile aspect of the guitar, which is to be technically proficient by learning visually, through tablature and videos rather than by ear. He made a joke about knowing people who can play long and complex Dream Theatre songs but wouldn't be able to play "Happy Birthday" when the need arises. His point is that if you can't even play something simple by ear at the drop of a hat, all the other stuff is just pointless.

Hearing a song or idea in your head and being able to play it instantly is the same as forming thoughts in your head and being able to articulate it well when you speak. A native speaker of the language doesn't need to think about it. It will come naturally. Therefore, you should make communicating on the guitar the same as speaking your native language.

He also shared a lot of his other views and ideas including something interesting about how Miles Davis introduced modal jazz to get away from the complex changes in jazz music. You can stay on that one chord instead of always moving. That's why modern jazz fusion exists. You need people to think outside the box. Playing the wrong notes is fine, a long as you know how to land back on the right note after your excursion. Stuff like that...

I won't go into detail about what was covered in the clinic. Not everyone is a guitar geek. Neither am I, to be honest. The guitar is just a vehicle for me to let out my songs. However, I get inspired by gifted people who are able to do brilliant and tasteful things on the instrument. Guitar wizards like Guthrie Govan don't come by everyday offering their wisdom. Thanks to John Lau for bringing him over. It was very enjoyable.

For a proper write up of the workshop you can visit Az Samad's blog. If you're in the guitar community here, you will be aware that Az is one of the best fingerpickers and educators in this country. He did a great job covering all of the important stuff from the clinic.
Here's the link:

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Health is wealth

I'm back to working on music after a hiatus during the middle part of the year. There was a health crisis in the family. I'm glad to say that everything worked out for the best and things have returned to normal. Health is wealth. We take it for granted when we're busy chasing after other things. Make sure you and your family don't do anything at the expense of what is really important in life. It could all be over sooner than you think.

Mental health is equally important. Life may be short but it could feel incredibly long if you're not happy or struggling. We all need to do whatever it takes to pay the bills. However, apart from that, do what makes you happy even if it's only for short period of time everyday. You may need to stimulate your mind and creative juices rather than just be another cog in the wheel of everyday life. Having someone who sees the good in you also helps but you have to realise that happiness is a personal thing. No one can give it to you. You can't suddenly just choose to be happy and suddenly all the black clouds - or rather the haze that has engulfed us recently- will suddenly blow away. 

The luckiest people are those who are too busy to ponder existential problems. Their goal may be to make millions or billions of dollars or to chase whatever dreams they may have. If they are lucky, they will get what they want and life will be perfect. However, experience has shown me that human beings are rarely satisfied even if they have everything. Only those who would be happy regardless of whether they have a little or a lot in life, will find peace. If your happiness is subjected to variables, then it's out of your hands. We came into the world with nothing and we're going to leave empty handed too. As long as you don't leave chaos or carnage in your wake, you would have done alright.

Saturday, July 11, 2015


I have been writing and rewriting a lot lately. Not all of it has been music related. I love working on new things on the guitar but recording has become a chore because of some technical issues that set me back in the past few months. There will always be new material accumulating but late nights and the ability to sacrifice sleep is beyond me.

Lately, I have been editing "The Middle Road to Nowhere", a book I started years ago. Editing is as important as writing to me. Detaching yourself from what you have already written and returning to it after some time will give you more perspective on what has already been written. If you are objective enough about your work, you can make it a lot more coherent and readable. Not sure if I'm succeeding or failing but the book is getting shorter. It was a little over 400 pages long. Dozens of pages have been cut.

It is not so much the content that needs editing and reworking but rather making what is already there more concise and engaging. I'm from the old Hemingway school of writing where it is the story and subject that matters, not how skillful and impressive the writer is with his language. The content needs to hold up. The way you write is just the vehicle through which it is being told. "A Farewell to Arms" and "Old Man and the Sea" weren't dense and convoluted. That was what made them great.

I also have to admit to having some artsy pretensions of being like my favourite writers like Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski. If you have read books by these guys you'll understand where my worldview comes from. I can relate to their restlessness and the whole unfulfilled artist thing. The books they wrote were like journals but they were actually fictional accounts of true events, in which the writer is part of the story. I live vicariously through the characters in their books.

I started getting into the Beat Generation of poets and writers when  I was a college student in the US during the mid 90's. That was what made me change my Broadcasting and Communications major to Philosophy. I was already taking one too many upper level elective classes like Existentialism, History of Ethics , Zen Buddhism, Philosophy of Language and a bunch of other heavy subjects to qualify for a major. I don't regret taking those classes and listening to lectures by my professors. The average person isn't going to be able to explain Nietzche of Kierkegaard to me in a more a more engaging and coherent way.

While editing my old work, I have also started writing a new book. The working title is, "The Layman's Guide to Exorcising Demons Through Songwriting". It started off as a book about the basics of songwriting for people who play guitar and want to write songs but aren't super talented or virtuosos at their instrument. I'm actually writing it for my son. Being able to write songs and channel my angst through song has gotten me through tough times. You don't need to see a shrink if you have an outlet for your inner turmoil and have the presence of mind to rationalise things. It is cheaper than paying someone a lot of money to listen to your problems. So far, it is turning out pretty nicely I'm happy I have something else to write about. It is all a labour of love. The day will come when I wll release all of it. Till then....

Friday, January 30, 2015

Dark Blue.

First track for 2015! There will be more to come. I'm clearing the backlog of songs this year and then going back to the drawing board. Need to learn new things and play other types of music. There is so much to learn when it comes to music but at the end of the day, it is what you use that matters. I'm a song oriented guy.

I might get a band together to play some of the new songs live because the new material is fun to play. However, I've played as many bad gigs as I have good ones in the past, so I'm not just gonna jump at any chance to play. At my age, I don't need to play for the sake of playing. I can do that at home for my own pleasure. We will see how it goes.

Putting together a simple power trio would be good, if I can find a solid bassist and drummer. I recorded the songs in a way where I can pull off all the parts with just the rhythm section backing me. There is just one guitar playing most of the parts. Some of it is double tracked but other than that I kept it simple. My previous album was full of self indulgent guitar parts and layering. I wanted to avoid that this time around.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Swimming Upstream

Back in 2004 at the Musiccanteen Christmas Eve Gig at Mont Kiara

There is scarcely any passion without struggle. Swimming upstream may be tough but some fish do it anyway. It is what keeps them going. For me, being on autopilot and paying bills while looking for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow usually rings hollow. I can't do it. However, even that can be a passion for some people, no matter how meaningless it eventually becomes.

I have never mixed what I'm passionate about with what I have to do to make a living. My view is that, you don't have to compromise if something is a labour of love. There is no better reward than just being able to do it. I know people who have turned what they love doing into a business and have ended up not being able to enjoy it much anymore. There are exceptions, of course. However, a business entails that you cater to the needs of customers who seek your service or product. It has nothing to do with what you like or want. In fact, you may not have the time or resources to do what you want anymore. Not everyone is lucky enough to have it both ways.

This post has been edited more times than I can count, just like most of my music. It's all about the editing. Music would be unlistenable and books would be unreadable if the writer can just vent superfluously without restraint. I've learnt through editing the book that I have been working on for years that although the content might change minimally, the way you say it makes all the difference. You have to constantly work at something in order to get better at it. That's what passion is all about. The results may vary.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Yeah, whatever...

There are also other things I've been meaning to do, or rather not to do.

I've collected enough guitars over the years to open up a small guitar shop. Time to offload some that I hardly ever play. Of course there are a few that I would never part with as long as I'm alive. However...

Yup! The wife needs to do her homework or else the joke is on her. There is a small fortune there, believe me.