The Star Malaysia - Star2
Who dares wins
Indie rock outfit Hujan is preparing the mainstream assault with its new album Lonely Soldier Boy.
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.
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.