To see the lights

It’s time for singer­song­writer HeyMun to take her in­ter­na­tional plau­dits to a new level.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MUSIC - By N. RAMA LO­HAN en­ter­tain­ment@thes­tar.com.my

IT may not be ob­vi­ous from the off, but HeyMun is one of those artistes in­ex­tri­ca­bly at­tached to her craft. She’s able to ab­sorb good and bad en­ergy like a sponge and put it in songs – she sings what she means, and she means what she sings, as cliched as that may sound.

Credit where it’s due, though, be­cause it must have taken some­thing to knock the judges off their feet with her sub­mis­sion, By Sea, to the Amer­i­can-based Un­signed Only song­writ­ing com­pe­ti­tion (by the or­gan­is­ers of the In­ter­na­tional Song­writ­ing Com­pe­ti­tion) – the win­ners of which were an­nounced in Septem­ber last year – bag­ging the award in the folk/singer-song­writer cat­e­gory. The com­pe­ti­tion ac­cepts en­tries from un­signed artistes the world over and has had a stel­lar panel of judges, in­clud­ing the likes of John Oates (of Hall & Oates fame), Dar­ryl McDaniels (of Run DMC) and Rosanne Cash. Nat­u­rally, this is a big deal.

And rid­ing that wave, she re­cently re­turned from per­form­ing at the CBGB Fes­ti­val in New York City, which keeps the in­flu­en­tial club’s spirit alive. The orig­i­nal club was the per­for­mance space for the likes of Talk­ing Heads, Tele­vi­sion, The Ra­mones, Patti Smith, Blondie and many more.

“For me to be able to go there as a Malaysian to play an hour’s show­case in Man­hat­tan at Ar­lene’s Gro­cery is re­ally an hon­our. The fes­ti­val is such a cov­eted event,” en­thused HeyMun (first name Tan) dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view, inti- mat­ing that she was par­tic­u­larly thrilled since The Strokes had played the same venue in 2000.

While she man­aged to take in per­for­mances by mu­sic’s elite there, watch­ing the likes of Wall­flow­ers and even Lisa Loeb, it’s her suc­cess in the Un­signed Only com­pe­ti­tion that con­tin­ues to re­ver­ber­ate. And as far-fetched as this might seem, HeyMun de­scribes it as an overnight in­ci­dent. Her world may have been some­what con­fined to sit­ting at home, strum­ming the gui­tar and writ­ing songs, but the buzz has reached fever pitch, which she de­scribes as an “ex­plo­sion.”

Lucky for her, she’s had home sup­port all the way through.

“I put a lot of thought and con­sid­er­a­tion into my mu­sic, so to get Malaysian sup­port was sim­ply over­whelm­ing. I feel the love,” she said, barely able to wipe the smile off her face. Apart from an­swer­ing e-mail from fel­low hope­fuls and shar­ing her ex­pe­ri­ence, she had Pe­nang Chief Min­is­ter Lim Guan Eng tweet­ing to con­grat­u­late her on her achieve­ment.

The Pe­tal­ing Jaya, Se­lan­gor-born singer has been based in Syd­ney, Aus­tralia, since she headed Down Un­der in 2006 to fur­ther her ed­u­ca­tion, even­tu­ally grad­u­at­ing with a Masters in Film and Dig­i­tal Im­age from the Univer­sity of Syd­ney. And on that fate­ful day when she opened her e-mail to learn of her vic­tory while back in Malaysia, she just had to go out to cel­e­brate.

Did the cham­pagne flow? Not quite.

HeyMun did it ur­ban Malaysian style. “I had a Milo di­nosaur and ro­jak at a nearby ma­mak,” she said.

Not ev­ery­one’s made for com- pe­ti­tions though, be­cause hav­ing a cre­ative piece of work an­a­lysed and cri­tiqued by a bunch of peo­ple can be a har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, but few things faze HeyMun in the artis­tic do­main.

“Song­writ­ing is an or­ganic process for me. I just try to be brave, let it all out and ex­press my­self. I’ve never placed bound­aries around my­self.”

And that’s prob­a­bly why grab­bing the bull by its horns has served her well.

And to think she was a bur­rito away from miss­ing out on her prize is a scary thought. The story goes that af­ter mix­ing con­cluded on her de­but EP from last year (pro­duced in Aus­tralia), she con­tem­plated head­ing down the record­ing stu­dio’s stairs to de­vour the Mex­i­can favourite, but opted to sit be­hind the pi­ano to try out an­other song. And so, By Sea was born.

The bub­bly 28-year-old re­mains grounded with her cre­ative process though and com­mu­ni­cat­ing with fel­low con­tes­tants has only al­lowed her to grow and spread her wings.

“Ul­ti­mately though, we are all born unique and this ex­pe­ri­ence is like a snap­shot of where I’m at right now.”

And the roots of the per­son she’s be­come go all the way back to the time she was a child hang­ing around her grand­mother’s record store on Pe­tal­ing Street, Kuala Lumpur, or “chee cheong kai”, she high­lights the lo­cale’s col­lo­quial name.

“I lis­tened to old Chi­nese songs that my mum’s mum used to play, and the best part was, she played any­thing she wanted,” said HeyMun, con­ced­ing that she got a leg up right from the start, ac­knowl­edg­ing that mu­sic was al­ways go­ing to be a cen­tral theme in her life. Pop­u­lar mu­sic made its way through her con­scious­ness by way of her fa­ther’s in­ter­est in The Bea­tles and al­most in­con­gru­ously, Ger­man rock band Scor­pi­ons.

While mu­sic was al­ways around her, it wasn’t un­til three years ago that she pur­sued cre­at­ing some of her own. The thrifty pur­chase of a A$99 Yamaha acous­tic gui­tar set the wheels in mo­tion for her mu­si­cal ex­plo­ration. So, how much does she credit the gui­tar for her new-found mu­si­cal tal­ents?

“A lot. I still have it. I played my first ‘G’ chord on it and wrote my first song on that gui­tar, too. I love it so much,” she said, barely able to con­tain her ap­pre­ci­a­tion for her trusty in­stru­ment.

It’s easy to un­der­stand why she grav­i­tated to the acous­tic gui­tar. Not only is it the most com­monly used writ­ing tool in pop­u­lar mu­sic, but her hero also uses it.

“I watched Bob Dy­lan per­form in Syd­ney and it was just fan­tas­tic to watch him stay true to his craft af­ter all these years, and still con­stantly evolv­ing. When he per­forms, he is sim­ply navigating through his emo­tions,” she re­vealed, name check­ing Neil Young as an in­flu­ence as well.

She has equal re­spect for homegrown tal­ents like Az Sa­mad, Reza Salleh and Paulo Delfinio.

HeyMun writes about what’s in her heart and what she sees around her. She’s quick to ac­knowl­edge that we’re all prod­ucts of our en­vi­ron­ment.

“I put a mi­cro­phone to my heart and also just fol­low my in­ter­nal com­pass. For some­one like me, it’s an ad­van­tage that we live in a mul­ti­cul­tural set­ting, which in­vari­ably equips us to han­dle the as­sim­i­la­tion process bet­ter when we take our mu­sic to a for­eign land.”

She might just be mak­ing her mark, but HeyMun is able to recog­nise the big pic­ture: “Ide­ally, I’d like to leave some­thing be­hind that can be ap­pre­ci­ated, and be in­spir­ing. Ul­ti­mately, I want peo­ple to know that this is pos­si­ble for any­one.” Her se­cond, twin sin­gle, Sailor, is al­ready mak­ing the rounds and gain­ing air­play in Aus­tralia. And even be­fore the dust has set­tled, she’s un­leashed her new­est sin­gle, Youth, based on footage from her CBGB Fes­ti­val jaunt and her visit to Nashville to meet the founders of Un­signed Only. And hot off the press now is her new self-ti­tled EP.

It looks like it’s only go­ing to be a mat­ter of time be­fore HeyMun starts blaz­ing trails, if she isn’t al­ready do­ing so.

HeyMun’s self-ti­tled EP is avail­able from https://itunes.ap­ple.com/us/ al­bum/heymun-ep/id790604884 and phys­i­cal copies from http://www. cdbaby.com/cd/heymun. Fol­low HeyMun at www.face­book.com/ HEYMUN and https://twit­ter.com/ hey­mun­mu­sic.

HeyMun was thrilled to play ar­lene’s Gro­cery in Man­hat­tan, new york, par­tic­u­larly be­cause The Strokes also played there.

Sigh no more: ‘ul­ti­mately though, we are all born unique and this ex­pe­ri­ence is like a snap­shot of where I’m at right now,’ says HeyMun, in­sist­ing all song­writ­ers are gifted with their own voice.

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