Lo­cal band Ferns re­leases its sec­ond al­bum

De­spite its twee pop ap­pear­ance, Ferns is a group bent on hold­ing true to the do-it-your­self ethic.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By QISHIN TARIQ qishin.tariq@thes­tar.com.my

IT takes guts to keep quiet in an in­dus­try built around mak­ing noise, but Ferns front­man War­ren Chan seems non­cha­lant about lay­ing low for nearly four years be­fore fi­nally re­leas­ing the band’s sopho­more al­bum Fair­weather Friends.

“In our minds, if there are even a hand­ful of folks out there who like our mu­sic, we owe it to them to make the ef­fort to keep the faith and make mu­sic which we hope peo­ple are go­ing to con­tinue to like. It’s as sim­ple as that, and there’s no grand agenda for world dom­i­na­tion,” said Chan as he shrugged his shoul­ders dur­ing a re­cent band in­ter­view at a jam stu­dio in Ta­man Danau Desa in Kuala Lumpur.

One part of the agenda that did go off the rails was the length and re­lease date for the band’s sec­ond al­bum.

“We wanted to do a quick one af­ter the la­bo­ri­ous process of mak­ing On Botany (Ferns’ first al­bum). There were a cou­ple of false starts, with a few songs recorded as far back as 2008, but we kept adding new songs un­til it be­came a full length 10 track al­bum!” laughed Chan.

The group’s in­de­ci­sion made for a unique al­bum, with half the songs recorded live while the oth­ers were more tra­di­tion­ally nailed down in the com­fort of a stu­dio. Even the line-up changed be­tween songs, with Ryan Lee Bhaskaran and Rudy Frank shar­ing drum­ming cred­its.

The cur­rent line-up of the home­grown in­die pop band also fea­tures key­boardist/vo­cal­ist Abi­gail De Vries, drum­mer Rudy Frank, bas­sist Adrian Yap and gui­tarist Jo­han Fariz Tan. Only Chan and De Vries re­main from the line-up that recorded On Botany in 2007, which was re­leased by Sin­ga­porean la­bel Fruit Records.

De­spite the rave re­views (from Junk mag­a­zine to Rolling Stone’s list of Top 25 Mys­pace bands), re­gional mu­sic fes­ti­val ap­pear­ances and praise-wor­thy tracks like Dis­as­ter Strikes Again and This Sweet Re­frain, there was this nag­ging feel­ing that Ferns left be­hind some un­fin­ished busi­ness. Dis­tri­bu­tion woes for the band’s de­but also blighted its am­bi­tions.

With­out the ben­e­fit of a record la­bel, Fair­weather Friends is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent propo­si­tion for the band. For starters, the al­bum was self-funded and the band sells it at gigs while a lo­cal dis­tri­bu­tion deal (Sound­scape) has been cut for the al­bum to be read­ily avail­able at record stores here.

All 10 tracks on Fair­weather Friends were writ­ten, ar­ranged, per­formed and pro­duced by Ferns. This al­bum, which sounds like a team ef­fort, has pre­dictably hit a nerve with the more dis­cern­ing in­die fans, es­pe­cially with new songs Miss Storm­cloud and Hey OK (a video di­rected by artists Fairuz Su­laiman, Sarah Ameera, and Shika has been shot for this tune) gen­er­at­ing at­ten­tion.

With most of the band mem­bers in their mid 30s, the idea of seek­ing at­ten­tion and build­ing a brand might be a tir­ing one. But credit to the Ferns bunch, there is much to ad­mire when it comes to their en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm in net­work­ing, get­ting booked, and play­ing live.

Not many would have given Ferns, formed in 2004, the op­por­tu­nity for a sec­ond bite of the cherry. Yet with Fair­weather Friends, it looks like the band has de­fied the sopho­more slump.

Be­cause of the crit­i­cally ac­claimed On Botany, , it was nat­u­ral to as­sume the pres­suresure of re­peat­ing the band’s ear­lier suc­cess.

How­ever, key­boardist Abi­gail De Vries de­bunks the the­ory of Ferns pol­ish­ing up its sound to meet main­stream ex­pec­ta­tions.

“If you let the pres­sure get to you, it’ll grind you down and noth­ing would ever get done. I don’t know if War­ren felt pres­sure, but ul­ti­mately we just wanted to do the best we could with what we had. In fact, we’re grate­ful to put out a sec­ond al­bum, not many even get that chance,” ex­plained De Vries.

Chan goes fur­ther with dis­miss­ing “on­line cred”, say­ing the ac­co­lades weren’t tan­gi­ble things, like hav­ing, say, a plat­inum record hang­ing from his be­d­room.

“That kind of recog­ni­tion has a slightly sur­real qual­ity to it be­cause you’re dis­con­nected from it, as op­posed to say, be­ing mobbed by fans on the street.

“At the same time, it means a great deal to the band be­cause it shows us that there are peo­ple who’ve taken the trou­ble to lis­ten to our mu­sic and ac­knowl­edge it for its mer­its,” he mused.

As of­ten as pos­si­ble, the band heads out to play open mic nights in the Klang Val­ley. Work com­mit- ments­ments might re­strict Ferns from hav­ing a full line-up all the time but the band has done well with its acous­tic live set­ting, with Chan, De Vries and Jo­han tak­ing on low-key shows.

At a re­cent show­case at The Bee, Pub­lika in KL, Chan and De Vries were a wel­come sight for in­die mu­sic ro­man­tics. Both of them still had their DIY ethos still in­tact – sell­ing CDS by hand, writ­ing down the num­ber of CDS sold in a “555” note­book and even blush­ing when asked by fans to au­to­graph their CDS.

This is an en­dear­ing qual­ity that has given Ferns a loyal fan-base.

Ever the op­ti­mist, Chan added that he was as happy to re­ceive a com­pli­men­tary tweet as he was to re­ceive a good re­view or be­ing put on a “Best Of” list.

“I be­lieve that a band makes the most or the least out of any kind of pub­lic­ity they get. That kind of recog­ni­tion is nice, but its main value is ac­tu­ally in putting a band on lis­ten­ers’ radars where they might not have had the op­por­tu­nity oth­er­wise.

“From there, I think lis­ten­ers are dis­cern­ing enough to make their own minds up on whether a band de­serves that good re­view or a spot on that ‘ Best Of’ list. It’s more im­por­tant to de­velop a real con­nec­tion with lis­ten­ers di­rectly once they’ve ac­tu­ally heard about you,” the­o­rised Chan.

To keep con­tact with their fans, the group uses the usual chan­nels, like Face­book (face­book.com/ ferns­band) and Twit­ter (@ ferns­band) and more en­ter­pris­ingly, the on­line mu­sic store Band­camp (ferns. band­camp.com). “It made sense to put some­thing up on Band­camp, as a lot of (on­line) re­sponse is com­ing from Europe, es­pe­cially Spain and Swe­den. I think it’s prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant on­line iden­tity for the band,” said De Vries.

The new al­bum is also avail­able in bou­tique in­die mu­sic stores in Sin­ga­pore and Tokyo while an In­done­sian dis­tri­bu­tion out­let will be an­nounced soon.

While Ferns has steadily grown its pres­ence on­line, even be­ing re­warded with some roy­al­ties for its ef­forts, the mem­bers re­main scep­ti­cal about mak­ing the band their day job and tour­ing full time.

“Tour­ing isn’t an op­tion for bands in Malaysia, es­pe­cially smaller ones like us. We have a sound we like, but that may not nec­es­sar­ily be what or­gan­is­ers for lo­cal events and fes­ti­vals want to hear,” said De Vries, with a trace of weari­ness in her voice.

Chan said he didn’t see the band as a busi­ness model but rather, an out­let to make mu­sic they liked that (hope­fully) other peo­ple would like, too.

That said, the Ferns boys and girl were not op­posed to head­lin­ing a show when given the chance, as is the case with their up­com­ing dou­ble al­bum launch with OJ Law at the Bee, Pub­lika in KL to­mor­row night.

Ferns will share the lime­light with singer-song­writer OJ Law, while the launch also fea­tures Liyana Fizi, shoegazer band Love/ Comes and har­mony trio The Im­pa­tient Sis­ters.

“We worked to­gether with Law to choose our line up. Amaz­ingly, they all said yes,” blurted Chan.

He ad­mit­ted that be­fore plan­ning the launch with Law, he had only met Law once be­fore. Even now, they just com­mu­ni­cate through email.

“Law is a real mys­tery: he doesn’t play many gigs, and he’s se­ri­ously un­der-ap­pre­ci­ated, con­sid­er­ing how good his stuff is. When I heard he was launch­ing his al­bum, we just jumped on the op­por­tu­nity,” en­thused Chan.

The band mem­bers weren’t sure what they would do next af­ter the gig. Chan jok­ingly said he couldn’t prom­ise how many years it would be be­fore the next al­bum.

“We’re def­i­nitely putting out a video soon. So look out for that!” said De Vries in a tone of mock warn­ing. Ferns and OJ Law will launch their new al­bums, Fair­weather Friends and Yes­ter­day Is A Dis­tant Dream, re­spec­tively to­mor­row at The Bee, Pub­lika, 32B, Level G2, So­laris Du­ta­mas in Kuala Lumpur. Cover charge is RM15. Show starts 9pm. CDS and mer­chan­dise will be on sale. Sup­port­ing acts in­clude Liyana Fizi, Love/comes and The Im­pa­tient Sis­ters.

Day­dream be­liev­ers: in­die out­fit Ferns (from left), fea­tur­ing bas­sist adrian yap, drum­mer rudy Frank, gui­tarist Jo­han Fariz Tan, key­boardist abi­gail de Vries and front­man War­ren Chan, is a band that has kept a prac­ti­cal, down-to-earth view on how to nav­i­gate to­day’s mu­sic world with­out a la­bel.

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