Fresh off their first live show in six months, Amateur Takes Control returned into our collective iron sights when they played an explosive set at Blu Jaz Cafe last Saturday, along with fellow instrumentalists ANECHOIS and Ben. It was a return that impressed both old fans and new, for this was not the Amateur Takes Control that was before. They were louder, faster and firmly incendiary in sound as the new line-up roared through old favorites (but with grittier filters) and some new ones that maximised the sonic expansion. We chat with Adel (guitars) and Isa (bass) a few days before their show last week to catch up with their progress, their new musical direction and 2013 aspirations.
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It’s been a while since you guys last played a show...
Adel: The past few shows we’ve actually been just opening for bands! There was Lite, and before that it was for Bitch Magnet, Envy, +/-. We’ve not been playing like a proper Amateur Takes Control showcase.
What have you guys been up to in the last few months?
A: We’ve just been jamming once in a while, taking it a bit slow and still practicing our old songs. We don’t have problems remembering our songs, we just want to see whether we still have it.
You guys were going pretty strong as a band during those early years back in ’07-’08. Then there was the breakup. What caused it?
A: Our creative differences was the reason why we sort of separated ways.. For me at that time, moving forward was more important than settling our differences. We can’t have an anchor to our progress, and during that period of time we were getting quite a lot of shows.
Do you still keep in touch with your old band members?
Isa: Our old drummer Syahadi is still drumming in a few bands (Paris In The Making, Windtree) and also still a close friend. Our ex-bassist Steve has been playing for Caracal for quite a while. Jem... is busy with life I guess. We haven’t really talked to him in a while.
A: But I mean he’s a lot older than us and he’s always been in the next stage of life. He’s always ahead of us. I think that’s all the ex-members we have.
Are you guys working on some new material with the new members?
A: We have a couple of new songs that we might be playing on stage if it’s ready.
Will you guys be sticking to the old sound or trying out something new?
I: Definitely different from our old sound. With the new members, our songwriting has really changed.
A: It used to be just me dictating what we sound like. Now I’m just letting it go and letting the rest go crazy.
I: Our sound used to be really post-rock first, then it had a slight math tinge. Now it’s.. heavy.
A: Our current drummer Junaidi is just...
I: No, not heavier!
A: Just crazy ah.
I: He’s a beast lah. It’s hard to describe what he’s playing.
A: Ahmad (guitars) is always in his own world, but in a very good way. For now the drive behind our songs are him and Junaidi. I’m more of a big picture guy and if I feel that one bit is not working I’ll just tell the guys. Other than that, it’s been doing well so far. There’s a real music chemistry within the band.
I: It also helps that we all have always been good friends for a very long time.
Was it intentional to depart from the previous sound?
I: The new direction just came about while we were jamming together.
A: Amateur Takes Control has always been about the exploration of sounds, song structure and stuff like that. We don’t think before we write a song, we just jam it out like a lot of other bands. We don’t think “Okay for the next album we want to sound like this” or “We need to put in more electronics.”
I: We don’t have a ‘concept’ of whatever songs we release. No ‘concept’ albums and such.
What’s influencing the new Amateur Takes Control sound?
I: Omar Rodriguez-Lopez!
A: His work has always been a huge influence on us.
I: Also his younger brother, in the Zechs Marquise band. Also really good!
Any recent favorite records?
A: I made a list but I forgot...
I: I also made up a list, because I was reading the David Sparkle interview, and then I was like “Eh shit we need to come up with something” but honestly as a band we all listen to a lot of different stuff. I mean like there’s Ariff (keyboards/guitars), who ever since joined Paris In The Making, he’s been listening to really heavy, emo-violent stuff.
A: Junaidi has always been a huge Mars Volta fan. He’s specializing in jazz drums. That’s why he’s a crazy drummer.
I: Ahmad would be listening to stuff like Periphery...
A: He’s nuts as well lah.
I: For me I don’t usually listen to new stuff. Strangely I listen to a lot of bossa nova. The basslines that I write for Amateur Takes Control are bossa, but a lot faster. It’s strange lah.
A: That’s the best part of instrumental music.
Being in so many different music projects, how does it affect your creativity in making music?
A: It’s definitely different than before.
I: We’ve really opened up to a lot more diverse styles. Really really opened up.
A: I used to be very anal about the sound that I want. I mean Isa should know, back then.
Like a music elitist?
I: A bit ah. Haha.
A: Now I’m close to even not caring anymore, because I put a lot of trust in the other band members and I trust that whatever we all come up with it’s gonna sound good. I’m not stressed out anymore.
How did the new lineup come about actually?
A: Before Syahadi left the band, Ahmad already joined us because Jem left. So it was me, Isa, Ahmad and Syahadi. We felt like we needed some keyboard parts, so we asked Ariff to come on board. He happens to play guitar also so he plays both in the band. I was already playing with Junaidi in a two-piece band so I pulled him in when Syahadi left. Now that it’s permanent line-up, everyone has equal control of the band.
Why the decision to make them permanent fixtures in the band?
A: They were already contributing to the band musically so it wouldn’t be fair to just call them sessionists. We don’t want people to listen to the music and think “Oh Isa and Adel wrote the songs”. We wanted them to be appreciated as well.
I: If you’ve seen our last two to three shows, you can really tell that our entire sound has changed. Even our older songs are very different now.
A: We literally reworked the old songs essentially. If you compare 'Communication Downbreak' on our studio album and the live version now, it’s a totally different animal.
I: The funny thing is that we didn’t plan for the sound to change. We were just jamming it and by then it sounded different already. That’s the amount of influence they actually have over Amateur Takes Control right now. There’s more urgency.
You guys have opened for quite a number of bands, which one was your most memorable one?
A: I would say Lite. Even though Envy is a bigger band, it wasn’t my first time watching them so I wasn’t really blown away. Even for Lite, it wasn’t my first time watching them play live, but catching them at KL that time was a whole different experience.
I: They’re like the tightest band in the world, and one of the most technical as well. They’re really, really good.
A: We’ve talked to most of the bands we opened for but we couldn’t really connect properly with Lite because of the language barrier. Bitch Magnet is probably the only band we are still in contact with because the bassist Soo Young is living in Singapore. We still talk online, meet up and sometimes he comes for our shows as well. Actually he has another band (Bored Spies) here and Isa sessions for them sometimes.
I: Nah, I just recorded one track with them.
A: And now I’ll be playing his guitar parts as a sessionist!
Any memorable stories from touring?
I: Every time we go overseas, it’s a story in itself. Choosing our rooms, our room partners, it’s very funny.
A: We all have different personalities lah when it comes to touring. Junaidi is the tourist-y kind. He’ll bring his camera, take photos of food and stuff. I’m sure he’s been to KL so many times but he’ll still do those things every time.
I: I remember when we were all eating at some steakhouse in KL, he was taking photos of bread.
A: There are more explicit stories actually haha. If we were to go on a three-month tour with the band, I’m sure we’ll be fine lah. We know each other’s personalities and we all hang out regularly already.
You guys have been in the scene for a relatively long time now. Has a lot changed since then?
A: More or less it’s been the same; it’s just a different generation of people attending gigs now. For example the people who you see at gigs these days, you wouldn’t even see them five years ago. In terms of progress, people are starting to take local bands more seriously, which is awesome. You’ll see bands play at shows every one or two months, and you’ll always hear about Singaporean artistes go for some tour or play in a music festival outside Singapore, which is good. There are definitely more opportunities for us now to showcase our music overseas. I can’t comment on airplay because I don’t even listen to the radio so I’m not too sure.
I: In terms of shows I actually think there are less shows now. Less smaller shows.
A: Lesser of those DIY shows. Back then all you needed was two guitar amps and a drum set, and you’d get a 100 or so people coming to your show. It was much cheaper and easier back then to organise a gig.
I: Now everything has gone up. There used to be so many shows at The Arts House and Substation. Now there are only big shows or events. There also used to be all these secret shows held at different jamming studios.
A: There are still some of these kinda shows in the DIY scene. We have friends who’ll do their own shows in studios, or like random rooms somewhere.
I: Right now the only regular shows that we have right now are shows like Identite.
A: Which is a good thing - those kind of shows shouldn’t stop. Pleasantry started out in Identite and we’ve come quite a long way since then.
What are your plans for 2013?
A: We’re definitely trying to play in more gigs. Regarding new material, we have this plan to record everything in one shot, because the last time we did it we got stuck for a bit so we’re trying not to go through that same process. We’ve already recorded quite a few songs actually with the current lineup. We’re still perfecting some tracks first before going into studio because we don’t want to change things in the last minute like what we did previously. We want to make sure whatever we record is what we play live.
I: For now we’re just playing by ear, we’re not rushing into anything for now. We just want to take it easy.
Is this because you’re focusing on other projects?
A: We wouldn’t say we’re really occupied with other projects. We don’t have a really solid plan for now, which doesn’t really matter because we don’t have any deadlines to meet.
Where do you see Amateur Takes Control by the year’s end?
A: Seeing that we still have 363 more days, hopefully we would have released something by the end of the year lah.
I: Definitely, definitely. If not, I don’t know what to say.
A: We probably will also want to play a few overseas shows and open for some more bands haha. Maybe a music video would be nice.
I: Just be more active lah. Strangely it’s not the fact that we’re in so many bands that we have no time to be more active. It’s just... school and work and our personal stuff really. I’m still in NUS, Ariff is studying in SIM, Junaidi is in La Salle and Ahmad is working.
How do you feel about playing a show again after so long?
I: I think it’ll be a good reunion. It’s been a while since we’ve actually played in Singapore.
A: From what we know, a lot of our old friends will be coming down.
I: A lot of people have been waiting to catch us. It’s been a long time coming.
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- Head to Facebook and 'Like' the Bandwagon + KittyWu Records + Marshall Headphones pages.
- On our Facebook Contest Photo, tell us: In your opinion, define the Amateur Takes Control sound.
- Get your 'Likes' on!
- The comment with the most 'Likes' wins.