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.
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.