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"Man we were much slimmer back then," Dale Roswald, bassist of ANECHOIS remarked while checking out old photos of the band, specifically an early interview we did with them. Over two years ago, we approached the band to be part of our 'Introducing' series, the first interview I ever did under Bandwagon and the first one they've ever done. Little did we know that they were to rise to be an indomitable force, expanding their performances to Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines - which we followed as well - and now, a Japan tour with START OF THE DAY.
We've hung out with the lads quite a bit to be familiar with things like the name of their pets and their favourite soda drink. It was only right that we took them to do something a little convivial for this all-important interview before they leave for Japan. It was a little strange adopting a more serious role as interviewer around these people: a bunch of friends we've seen grow as a band, and a band we have had segway races with at Manila Bay. We chose to have a gaming session together at Cyberdome, a LAN shop near our office (also their home away from home) and a delectable dinner of discounted supermarket sushi, a precursor to the proper sushi they'll have in Japan. ANECHOIS happily agreed.
WRITTEN ON THE WALLS
The post-rock scene in Singapore is a rich one. When ANECHOIS started out in 2011, they joined a long line of other illustrious bands such as I Am David Sparkle, Documentary In Amber, Arajua (of which ANECHOIS drummer Fadli Salim is part of), Amateur Takes Control, Paint The Sky Red and more who've paved the way for newer acts. Still, it's not easy being a post-rock band in Singapore. Being a dominantly instrumental genre, it's easy to slip into something formulaic and generic - but here is where ANECHOIS excels; creating genuinely distinct, brilliant compositions of depth, technicality, and emotional weight.
We've seen ANECHOIS play many, many times. Acoustic shows, in someone's living room once, with a green tea bottle shaker, in the middle of a department store, at the Esplanade, in a small dingy club in Manila, in a small dingy club in Singapore - but they remain interesting every single time. At a Blue Hour Sessions gig where all the bands performing are required to put out an exclusive EP for the show, ANECHOIS debuted a handful of stunning new songs. Midway through the set, frontman Haziq (Zeek) Hussain spoke softly into the microphone, "The next song is a new song called 'Thumbprints', hope you like it." Guitarist Ahmad Khaliq put down his guitar and marched over to keyboardist Firdhauz Asyraft to take charge of some electronic beats for the track. Though the sound system may be a bitch at times, there was no denying that it was a genuinely fine song. Needless to say, the physical copy of the EP was sold out afterwards.
Innovation is definitely a strength of these boys. Besides the playing around with electronic music for new tracks, in the past they've performed with multi-disciplinary artist anGie Seah for a most intriguing showcase in The Tribal Gathering Of Tongue Tasters, and have even said expressed their openness to collaborate with anyone in any genre. Most recently, they've dipped their fingers in country music, of which we'll find out later.
"I feel like we've moved on from the melancholy in our music and moving towards more brighter sounds but I'd like to think we've also matured in terms of sound. With Ahmad's addition, he helped facilitate this change. It's more math-rock definitely," Dale observed. In terms of innovation, the band is slowly moving away from the 'post-rock sound' by allowing the writing process to be less structured and 'letting it flow'. Ahmad explains, "As the new member of the band, I'd honestly say that the older material had a template, but now we're less conscious and letting the music just happen." Fadli says, "In the past we tend to write riff by riff, and were more controlled about how we played. We used to borrow things here and there from music we liked but now we have a clear idea of our identity and how we want to sound like."
The most recent member of the band Ahmad Khaliq came onboard after the exit of previous guitarist Justin Koh, which left a lot of people asking questions about the departure. The band kept mum during that troubled period but the hard questions had to be answered eventually. "The chemistry was not working out - both on and off stage," Fadli clarified, "It suddenly got too serious, and we weren't having fun anymore. Things aggravated and then it just wasn't healthy for the band, especially when we also wanted to progress, to be out there." The artistic differences then proved too much for the band when it caused their then-plans to tour Jakarta to be shaky, and Justin and the band had no choice but to part ways.
Enter Ahmad Khaliq who was suddenly informed to learn the parts of their absent band member. "Ahmad was actually coming with us to Jakarta as a guitar tech and roadie, although he probably wouldn't have done a good job. Then the incident happened and we told him to ready up and soon we realised - he was a good fit," Zeek mentioned. "There was slight guilt of course, but after some time I felt that we gelled quite quickly and easily," Ahmad added. An adept and very technical guitar player, Ahmad Khaliq (of Silhouette and previously Amateur Takes Control) proved to be more than just a replacement, adding subtle but noticeable improvements in the songs. Relieved to clear the hard questions, the band started on the individually wrapped sushi, with Zeek quietly keeping a packet of soy sauce to himself.
The Moon And The Sun
Two hours before we were due to interview the band, Dale turned up at the coffee shop across Bandwagon HQ while we were on our coffee break. "Maybe I'll do some gaming before the interview - before the band comes," he said sheepishly. His LAN plans thwarted, we brought him up to the office where we spent a great deal of time talking about games and watching gameplay trailers of Battlefield 4 and Watch_Dogs.
Gaming is an integral part of ANECHOIS. This particular LAN joint Cyberdome holds a place very dear to their hearts. "There was one time we played a really shitty show, bad vibes on stage and all. It was during our early days at The Substation, before we played Baybeats," Asyraft explained, "We were all pissed with each other for some reason, and even wanted to give up. And then we all played LAN after the show. It was during this session that we talked about what went wrong. We played until 3AM because we burnt all our money on LAN and couldn't go home. So we all sat down somewhere for some proper bandtalk." Broke but having released all grievances, it was clear to see how these sessions helped them gel as a group. "It was over there!" Dale chipped in, pointing to the man-made potted garden outside Cyberdome.
Battlefield 4 is currently ANECHOIS' favourite game, so it was disappointing when they found out that it wasn't available on their assigned computers. After settling in nicely in the cushy armchairs of Cyberdome, we chose a couple of multiplayer-friendly games (Counter-Strike and Team Fortress 2). While it was fun butchering Asyraft with a knife in TF2 and destroying the enemy team with Dale leading in CS, it was no doubt that all of them: tense shoulders, intense and steely eyed, +10 finger dexterity (with the exception of Ahmad) were seasoned gamers.
Then there are times they've turned into irresponsible gamers, besides spending all their money gaming. Veterans at Cyberdome, they've even had 18-hour sessions at the shop. "Sometimes we just extend the hours because it's too hot to go home," Asyraft joked. Dale rats out that extensive gaming led to Fadli and Asyraft from missing out the Deafheaven show. Playing at the last Identite show the night before (which ended at 5AM) the boys were in the LAN shop from then till three in the afternoon the next day. Asyraft laughed, "While we were playing, we were saying, 'This is the life man: BF4, sleep, Deafheaven.' And then we missed it." Dale added, "Their parting words were even 'Don't be late ah!' but they never woke up." The band chortled about their other extreme gaming moments they've had while picking at their sushi and Dale went on to tease the drink stall auntie who hovered around a lot during the interview, even after bumming a cigarette off us.
Besides the frequent jokes and quips in between, there are also moments of wisdom and clarity during the interview which left me and fellow editor Ilyas confounded sometimes. When we came to the subject of their latest EP Circles, we wanted to confirm our inkling: Is there a concept/story behind it?
After a round of high-fives because we were correct, Zeek stepped up to tell us how it was a simple story of a boy and an ordinary day. There's boredom, betrayal, love, secret lives, depression, and life in a nutshell if you follow the tracklist - we'll let you figure that out. "I guess it's a bit incredulous that it all happens in a day, but everything is a journey," Asyraft says with some prompting from principal songwriter Zeek, while singing some of the lyrics too. They revealed some twists in their Circles' tale and the inclusion of a secret track.
Here's a tip: at the end of 'Written On The Walls' from Circles is a little surprise by Asyraft and Dale to the band. Not technically part of 'Written On The Walls', it is most peculiar to hear twangy guitars, a Southern drawl, and a song about criminal cowboys. An original track actually written, scored, and performed by Dale and Asyraft. "When I first heard it, I was like 'What the f*ck' because I heard them play the tune quite a lot at my place when we were recording Circles. We were even listening to a lot of country songs... I didn't know they were serious about it," Zeek said about the secret track. Although a prank, it was well executed - the two of them spent a lot of time watching the Cracker Barrel Country Songs Show and googling country lingo to write a country song. Some pretty high-level hijinks going on there.
Out And About
The band had a fortunate series of events that led to this Japan tour. After being selected as a performing band for Baybeats in 2012, the band went on to meet and watch other bands from around the region and the world. They were fans of Japanese emo rock band START OF THE DAY and approached them for a chat. Tables turned when the members of the band started Japanese bowing to them - START OF THE DAY had been impressed by the sounds of ANECHOIS at their soundcheck. A most serendipitous union, leading to exchanging of EPs, and then later on working together on a split EP and much later on, a tour in Japan.
Ahmad commented, "When we came back from the Indo tour, the Japan tour was more or less settled. START OF THE DAY have kindly provided accommodation and transport during the tour for us." The rest of the band chimed in with 'So touching', 'We're so lucky' and 'Imagine if we didn't even talk to them in the first place'. "We're really excited about the tour, it's our biggest yet. I've researched the venues and they're all pretty good places. START OF THE DAY will have an orchestra with them for one of the shows and everything's going to be filmed on wide angle cameras and all, Fadli is going to be playing Canopus drums - his dream drums," Asyraft tells us.
A milestone for the band, they are grateful for the $2000 grant from the National Arts Council for the tour. Although it wasn't much in the bigger scheme of things, it helped alleviate the extra costs of travelling. Following the band will be Suhayl of Paris In The Making, and local distro manager of Canopus Distro. "He's the best person to have onboard, he'll be our translator, roadie, adhoc manager, and promoter of all of Singapore's music," Asyraft says and the band agrees.
Since the band is not fully sponsored, they have had to work hard to come up with the cash to fuel the trip. We also came to know of their colourful careers. "I'm a freelancer so I can take leave anytime I want," Ahmad says calmly. By this he means that he is a guitar and drum instructor to a bunch of talented kids. The band agree that Fadli is the most hardworking, working the longest hours between all of them. "It gets boring, but it's money ah," he says. Asyrafts slaves away as a noble medic, but with 25 days of leave to spare. The award of most secretive goes to Dale who informs us that he is a waiter somewhere ("I'm not going to say where!") and the most interesting story goes to Zeek. "I was jobless, and now I'm jobless again," Zeek said stoicly. A month before the tour, Zeek signed up to work long hours in Topman and as soon as he got his pay, he quit because the company did not allow long absences.
"What I'm looking forward to the most from this trip is to listen back to our performances," Asyraft says, "We're hoping to sound tight - that's why we've been jamming a lot more now. Japan and its bands have influenced us so much and we want to give that back to them." Factor in jamming sessions, live shows, work, and gaming - it almost leaves the band no time to sleep at all.
"Sometimes you have to be serious, about music, about making money. It's all about making sacrifices," Zeek noted sagely. Like a cue of some sort, everyone at the table burst into song - more specifically the eponymous song by Creed. The boys contribute different verses, Dale demonstrates how to achieve the perfect Scott Stapp impersonation, everyone laughs and fights over the last piece of sushi while the nosey drink stall auntie who was hovering before smiled at us two tables away. And though ANECHOIS have come a long way from their humble beginnings, here were a bunch of guys we have grown to love from eating chicken at a Kenny Rogers in Manila, singing and smoking at a No Smoking stairwell at our office building, playing video games together at Cyberdome, sharing our love of cats, movie marathons in the office, bouts of unexpected wisdom late at night on rooftops, and all the numerous times we've seen them at good gigs and bad. Here's hoping Japan (and beyond!) will love them too.