Who dares wins

In­die rock out­fit Hu­jan is pre­par­ing the main­stream as­sault with its new al­bum Lonely Sol­dier Boy.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By DARYL GOH en­ter­tain­ment@thes­tar.com.my

TELLING it like it is – a hard-to-break punk habit. Noh Salleh has no prob­lem ad­mit­ting that he some­times feels miles away from the fren­zied feed­back and teenage kicks ex­pected of him on stage. As it turns out, this isn’t a lament of a lad ready to ex­pire but rather one with a fresh cre­ative spark.

The charis­matic front­man of Hu­jan has come to terms with his grad­u­ally chang­ing role in this gen­er­a­tion’s most suc­cess­ful home­grown in­die rock out­fit as he seeks out a broader chal­lenge.

“It’s dan­ger­ous to get pushed into a corner in terms of mu­sic mak­ing, you just set­tle into a pat­tern and sac­ri­fice the band’s growth. That’s such a tir­ing thought and I’m glad that Hu­jan isn’t that sort of band,” said Noh dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view in Kuala Lumpur.

“If the idea of grow­ing up has crept into the pic­ture, I reckon it’s a sign that we are kick­ing on in the right di­rec­tion. Maybe there is al­ways this mis­con­cep­tion that Hu­jan is only seen as this rowdy act with crazy mosh pits, but that is fur­thest from the truth,” he pointed out.

Filled with wide-eyed won­der, Noh has hardly for­got­ten the may­hem and heady days of the band’s mop top be­gin­nings.

“Those were spe­cial days, such mad­ness and a blur of emo­tion. How­ever, we now have more time to breathe and prop­erly dis­cuss where the ca­reer is headed.

“The only thing that has slowed down is the way we recorded the new ma­te­rial. It’s no longer the rush job of bang­ing out riffs in the stu­dio and get­ting a CD done in two weeks like be­fore.”

Four fran­tic years of win­ning over the masses, gig­ging and also mak­ing the head­lines – for the right or wrong rea­sons – have left Noh and band­mates want­ing a lot more in terms of push­ing up their mu­sic pedi­gree.

“The hype and ex­pec­ta­tions can be so un­real. We se­ri­ously needed some qual­ity (band) time to chal­lenge our­selves in the stu­dio. It’s great that Hu­jan had most of this year to con­cen­trate on mak­ing the new al­bum, we’re re­ally pumped up about the new ma­teri-ma­te­rial,” said the Sarawakian, who has been spend­ing-spend­ing time at the gym to work on his fit­ness and stamina on stage.

Mov­ing for­ward

the home­grown mu­sic cir­cuit.

The band, which co-opted in­die rock at­ti­tude and gave it a Malay trans­la­tion, is as rare as they come in terms of lo­cal ca­reer tra­jec­tory – an out­fit which thrives on the mu­sic, the In­ter­net and artis­tic au­ton­omy.

Formed in 2006, Hu­jan, fash­ioned af­ter the best of in­die rock sto­ries, be­gan with a sim­ple dream. Two best-sell­ing EPs ( 1,2,3, Go? and Check Check Rock Rock) set the marker for suc­cess a year later (the EPs and rar­i­ties com­bined be­came the de­but al­bum Hu­jan in 2008).

“Sud­denly la­bels like ‘DIY’ or ‘ punk’ were stuck to us. But we weren’t pre-oc­cu­pied with (mu­sic) la­bels from the start. All we knew was Hu­jan didn’t have any money or con­nec­tions, so we made our own EPs, we busked on the streets and sold the CDs by hand.” From gate­crash­ing open-mic nights, busk­ing and play­ing for noth­ing at un­der­ground gigs, Hu­jan’s mu­sic and pro­file grew by word of mouth. Be­fore the air­waves, Anugerah In­dus­tri Muzik awards and tabloid tales, the raff­ish band first struck a chord with the freaks, geeks and out­siders han­ker­ing for some­thing au­then­tic and hon­est in the Malay rock genre triv­i­alised by re­al­ity TV shows.

Love them or hate them, the amount of fo­rums and blogs from the Raingers are tes­ti­mony to the group’s ground level pop­u­lar­ity.

“The blog­ging phe­nom­e­non can­not be de­nied, as it’s largely re­spon­si­ble for get­ting us where we are. Maybe I’m old-fash­ioned, but I think that tour­ing might be the most im­por­tant thing – mak­ing per­sonal con­nec­tions and build­ing up sup­port on a grass­roots level.”

The band’s in­die roots and fiercely pro­tected cre­ative spirit also set it apart from many of the Malay rock stereo­types of the past. No such thing as M. Nasir seed­ing songs to the Be­hind his pop yeh yeh-era shades, there is ex­cite­ment on the 25-year-old Miri-raised singer-song­writer’s face as he speaks about the mu­si­cal ma­tu­rity and ca­reer pro­gres­sion on Hu­jan’s new al­bum Lonely Sol­dier Boy, which is re­leased to­day.

Im­me­di­ately af­ter the me­dia an­nounce­ment of his en­gage­ment to hip hop star Mizz Nina last week, Noh qui­etly ducked into a corner of the event’s KL res­tau­rant and was ready to talk about the other love of his life – mu­sic.

“Yes, this is the one where we lose our (in­die rock) cred­i­bil­ity,” he said with a hearty laugh.

In all se­ri­ous­ness, Noh isn’t about to up­set the vast num­ber of Raingers (the band’s fan­base) out there. The im­me­di­ate weight of months of an­tic­i­pa­tion and plan­ning will be lifted with the al­bum’s re­lease.

He wisely gath­ers his thoughts and elab­o­rates about cut­ting a new path for the band – a new and im­proved agenda with punk in­cli­na­tions col­lid­ing with main­stream am­bi­tions.

The snarling rage of In­spek­tor Ramos, un­leashed as free down­load, breaks the ice for this new al­bum, which iron­i­cally fea­tures care­fully ar­ranged, more ma­ture songs with string sec­tions and a deep rush of melan­choly un­der the KL cityscapes.

“This is the al­bum where we go the full range with our mu­si­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties. We’re ac­tu­ally hav­ing loads of fun again. Some­times you have to force your­self to look be­yond what you have ac­com­plished – we have had our share of noisy punk rock songs. If you re­main in one spot too long, you will get knocked over.

“On this al­bum we re­ally chal­lenged ev­ery­one in the band – in terms of the record­ing process, get­ting the band’s la­bel (Morn­ing Rocket) in place and tour plans in or­der. It’s like an early Hu­jan record ... with bet­ter plan­ning and pro­duc­tion.”

From thrift shop in­die scal­ly­wags back in 2007 to present-day gen­uine scene-shak­ers and main­stream rock roy­alty, the Klang Val­ley-based Hu­jan has scaled the heights of

band. In­stead it was Noh Salleh hold­ing down the lyrical re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and push­ing Hu­jan up the charts.

Not too bad for an out­fit that started off as a “project band” be­tween Noh (who had hip hop ori­gins), gui­tarist AG Coco and sound en­gi­neer Hang Di­mas San­toso. The band’s present line-up also in­cludes bassist Iz­zat Uraini, 29, while the drum­mer seat re­mains an aux­il­iary role.

Back in the early days, the band had nei­ther a well-con­nected la­bel to back it nor a new record to pro­mote; it was just a groundswell of sup­port from the in­die mu­sic com­mu­nity that brought Hu­jan to main­stream at­ten­tion.

That be­ing the case, the band has def­i­nitely ex­ceeded all ex­pec­ta­tions as a non-ma­jor la­bel out­fit. Both its early sin­gles Pagi Yang

Ge­lap and Bila Aku Su­dah Tiada sold more than 750,000 down­loads. The FMC-dis­trib­uted re­leases – Hu­jan in 2008 shifted 7,000 copies and Men­cari Kon­klusi in 2009, which many in the scene con­sider as an es­cape clause re­lease, notched up 3,000 in sales.

But to keep up the mo­men­tum, a pe­riod of soul-search­ing, house-keep­ing and ca­reer re­align­ment was needed for this band.

Re­flec­tions and res­o­lu­tions

Af­ter two al­bum re­leases on the FMC la­bel, the band has taken the big leap to be a self­sus­tain­ing cre­ative unit. The Morn­ing Rocket im­print, which serves as the band’s la­bel and mer­chan­dis­ing out­let, was reg­is­tered to co­in­cide with the ar­rival of the Lonely Sol­dier Boy al­bum.

The record­ing ses­sions were mostly done at the Ka­mar Seni stu­dios in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, which is man­aged by AG Coco, while Noh holds the pub­lish­ing rights to his own songs.

The pro­mo­tional mus­cle will be supplied by Warner Mu­sic Malaysia, which ob­tained dis­tri­bu­tion rights to the al­bum, while Bank Sim­panan Na­sional (BSN) also an­nounced Hu­jan as brand am­bas­sadors last week. The group will par­tic­i­pate in pro­mo­tions and road­shows for the bank’s In­ter­net bank­ing ser­vice MyBSN, with the in­die pop foot shuf­fler Muda used as a promo video.

“Fun­nily enough, we’re mak­ing main­stream con­nec­tions but ended up mak­ing more of a hands-on record than we an­tic­i­pated,” said Di­mas, 31, who han­dles key­board du­ties and is re­garded as the “busi­ness devel­op­ment unit” of the band.

The Ban­dung, In­done­sia-born Di­mas is looked upon as an in­te­gral part of the Hu­jan story. Noh was his stu­dio as­sis­tant dur­ing their sound en­gi­neer days in KL in 2006 be­fore both of them de­cided to hook up with gui­tarist/pro­ducer AG Coco, 26, to start the band.

“There was a time when we got asked ‘Can Hu­jan speak English?’ In some cir­cles, we’re still un­known and we want to reach the broader scene. Why not? We know a lot more about the in­dus­try now – we sur­vived the cul­ture shock, the me­dia and the hype.

“I think Hu­jan is more set­tled now as a mu­sic-mak­ing propo­si­tion.

“For Lonely Sol­dier Boy, the big dif­fer­ence was we had the re­sources and the stu­dio time to make the al­bum that we wanted,” he re­vealed.

The record­ing process, with Noh de­liv­er­ing nearly 30 demos, was cen­tred around the stu­dio ses­sions in March and July this year. A to­tal of 14 tracks were nailed in the stu­dio, in­clud­ing four demo tunes which were leaked in re­cent years and re-recorded for

Lonely Sol­dier Boy. “The new ver­sions for Ko­tak Hati, Lonely

Sol­dier Boy and Ba­gaikan Mata­hari are not much dif­fer­ent from the demos. We tried to keep the orig­i­nal feel plus a more pol­ished pro­duc­tion ex­cept for Dikala Bu­lan Ber­main

Bi­ola, where we changed the groove.” As far as in­dul­gence goes, Noh, who is an avid an­ime fan, set about to make his own an­ime-in­spired al­bum art­work (de­signed by Aidil Id­ham). The brighter artis­tic tone is also re­flected by a setlist pep­pered with wist­ful long­ing and pointed tunes cloaked in close har­monies.

The swag­ger­ing Lonely Sol­dier Boy, lifted from the an­ime sci­ence fic­tion se­ries Ge­n­e­sis

Climber Mos­peada, is also the al­bum’s cen­tral tune with Noh adding on Malay lyrics. The swoon­some Bah­gia em­braces the best of syrupy OAG-in­spired in­die el­e­ments while the in­vec­tive flows rather freely on Kasi­han and In­spek­tor Ramos.

“Some­times you need tunes to bring the tears and some­times you need to scream along to them at stage fronts and in back seats. We hope this al­bum cap­tures the wide ar­ray of emo­tions,” said Noh.

The rest of the Lonely Sol­dier Boy al­bum brings across an am­bi­tious, multi-lay­ered song cy­cle with the in­ex­orable, melodic logic of all fine pop mu­sic. The gor­geously ti­tled Dikala Bu­lan Ber­main

Bi­ola, with lyrics by poet/artist Rina Shukor, is also a def­i­nite high­light as the al­bum’s soul­ful res­o­lu­tion with its Scan­di­na­vian in­die pop bent and swelling strings.

Ac­cord­ing to AG Coco, who was in­ter­viewed last month, the ro­man­tic no­tion of craft­ing an al­bum – with in­lay notes, al­bum art and some­thing to have and to hold – is very much alive with the Hu­jan mem­bers. The band tracked down a 14-song, 50-minute record­ing, which makes Lonely Sol­dier Boy pos­si­bly one of the most com­plete lo­cal re­leases of the year (the lo­cal quota is five tracks as an al­bum).

“I think Hu­jan re­mains a tra­di­tion­al­ist act. We love the idea of mak­ing ac­tual al­bums. No­tably the most in­ter­est­ing part of be­ing a mu­sic fan is to dis­cover a cool band and to dive into its discog­ra­phy, to hold up the al­bums we love and to ap­pre­ci­ate all things about that act. If Hu­jan gets that same level of love and at­ten­tion in the fu­ture, I think we have done our job,” con­cluded AG Coco with a smile.

Hu­jan’s Lonely Sol­dier Boy is re­leased by Morn­ing Rocket/Warner Mu­sic Malaysia. Browse hu­jan­band.com.

Rain­ing men: Noh Salleh, lead singer (mid­dle) of Hu­jan along­side bassist Iz­zat Uzaini and key­boardist Hang Di­mas San­toso (right). – Pic by Ah­mad ‘Cipoi’ Saiful

Man of the moment: Noh Salleh, lead singer/gui­tarist of in­die rock out­fit Hu­jan. The pop­u­lar band un­leashes its third al­bum Lone­lySoldierBoy to­day.

The an­ime-in­spired lat­est al­bum cover.

Storm­bringer: Hu­jan gui­tarist AG Coco fir­ing up the riffs on stage.

Groove-get­ter: Hu­jan key­boardist Hang Di­mas San­toso’s al­ways the man for the funk ac­tion. – Pic­tures on this page by Ah­mad ‘Cipoi’ Saiful

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