living in the material world


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First question to Force Vomit: Where has all the sex that was on the first album gone? To which the playful Dino Vomit responds: "Haven't been watching too much porn…" Like their debut album, The Furniture Goes Up, the title of the new Force Vomit album is a real mouthful: Give It Up For The Trustfund Rockers. As Dino says: "We are a band that goes by many names and 'Trustfund Rockers' is one of the least offensive monikers that our friends, fans and accountants have deemed fit to call us. We believed it when ABBA sang 'It's a rich man's world' and we discovered it's all the better when we're living off someone else's money." He continues: "The rockers bit, contrary to popular belief is not because we're fans of rock music or anything, it's a reflection of our love for geology. Writer BOI HON KIT was with the group when they recorded the album last year and gives his impression of the band at work. More wisecracks follow as the group tries to come to grips with fame, fortune and the tedium of being rockers, geological or otherwise. Colour pictures by fFurious.

A common misconception about punk is that there is no need for the musicians to learn how to play well. Musicianship and technical proficiency, of course, count for very little without the attitude to match, but one can also imagine only how far the music could take if nobody would even care to give a s***.

 

Just ask Force Vomit. The band members still pretty much pride themselves as a one-take band, more intent on tapping into the spontaneous energy that rolls out of jamming. Much of their latest album, Give It Up For The Trustfund Rockers, is even done without much prior practice in the classic punk tradition, with the band working with the song arrangements along the way and on the spot to see how it flies.

Still the band took the necessary time initially to familiarise itself with the songwriting ideas (the songwriting process in the band is very much a collaboration) and into figuring out how each instrumental part would go together before stepping into the studio.

"We're not the kind of band that jam regularly and one song can take months to finalise. They usually don't end up how we try them the first time," Dino Vomit commented.

"But then again, that's half the fun of jamming — we never know what's going to happen to a song until we finally record it."

 

Hence Give It Up For The Trustfund Rockers is a punk album distilled down to its essence and garage spirit, lumped together with the smorgasbord of offbeat influences that have now become standard issue with the Force Vomit moniker — currently made up of guitarist/lead vocalist Dino, guitarist Nizam and bassist Wan (drummer Neng has since gone overseas for studies but who was present during the recording of the album). The band strides casually into its new musical dynamics, a fresh newfound sound that its members have described of being more fleshed out and having a greater "band feel" with the lineup changes.

What's interesting too is the more mellow nature of the tunes. The humour is largely still there, only more subdued and less off the cuff. Most of these songs on the album were about one to two years old, and by the first two recording sessions, the band has already managed to lay down the basic tracks for five of the new songs, including the oldest song on the set, Siti, written back in 1998.

The only new songs written prior to the recording are Yr Ad Campaigns Empower Me and D Dreams. In some way, these two particular tracks most incorporate some of the new directions Force Vomit are working towards on the new CD. D Dreams is particularly characterised by the band's attempt at winding down with an acoustic number. Ad Campaigns featured Wan playing the congas. Also the resulting track for the latter turned out to be vastly different from the way the guys initially envisioned the song to be.

Ad Campaigns was basically put together during the recording session itself. The first take of the track recorded did not sound good enough for the band during the mixdown. So the band went on to scrape most of the original congo bits and roped in Sofi (from the Bushmen) to add some reggae beats to Neng's original drum tracks.

"Most of the songs end up different than from the first time we played them. We get bored pretty quickly so we always end up tweaking the song arrangements around. Songs like Auntie Trust and Ad Campaigns sound nothing like how we originally played them," Dino commented.

Apart from Sofi, who played some extra drum bits, George Chua filled in with the hulusi on Auntie Trust. The band also had help from engineer Leonard Soosay, who they described as "not only technically competent but is assuringly non-judgmental" and someone who's "really receptive to ideas and he actually listens to the band's needs."

Basically, the recording went pretty quickly as the band did not care particularly much for doing multiple takes to achieve clinical precision. The band feels more confident in experimenting with the textures of the recordings, and the creative recording atmosphere benefited too from the different people involved and the more studio time available this time round.

Keeping the sound raw and ready, the latest CD managed to retain the immediacy and infectious fun that made The Furniture Goes Up such a bona fide hit among local music fans.

Reflecting on the recordings, Dino said: "I personally had a lot of fun. We tried to incorporate as much of the spontaneity and urgency of playing live to studio wizardry and I thought we achieved a fair bit of balance."

 

So the album's completed. The recordings have been interrupted numerous times, but listening to it now as a whole, how do you guys feel about it? Are you pleased enough with it, or were there some things still you thought you could have done differently or better?

Well the temptation is always there to sell a kidney and use the money to buy more studio time but dicking around with it too much would probably be overkill. We previewed the songs at a local Resident's Committee Geriatric Convention — and the resulting body count was actually quite minimal, so I guess it's ready to be released into the non-waiting arms of the public.

What were some of the working titles you considered?

Well as of this moment it's confirmed that the title's gonna be Give It Up For The Trustfund Rockers. The other working titles were I Fought The Law And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt and Bling-Blinging With Ajita And The Hair Blankets.

Force Vomit have obviously been through some changes between the two CDs, in terms of the band members to say the least. Can you take us through how this new lineup came about? How do you liken the dynamics in the band to — are there particular roles each of you play in the band?

It's not the first time the band went through a shuffle. We went from a four piece to a three piece and now it's back to a four piece. People move on, you know. There's no singular vision that exists throughout it all... it's always been the sum of the parts. Or like they say in corporate-speak: synergy, know what I mean? Everyone brings their own influences — tastes, nuances and bad habits — into the band and it all gets filtered out through the amps. There're always disagreements and we try to accommodate everyone's ideas. If all else fails there's always guns and knives.

In what ways did you approach the songwriting differently on the two albums? I mean lyrically wise, the new stuff are definitely less playful and irreverent than on The Furniture Goes Up…

Maybe it's because we realised that "playful" and "irreverence" isn't helping to prop up our stock portfolios adequately — so it's time to move to write about serious issues.

I'm just curious about the songwriting process in the band. How do you work the stuff out, it being a collaborative effort?

It's quite complicated really. We have this requirement where each member clocks in five hours of personal practice a day — a regiment that involves a mix of tantric workouts, noni juice and cat o' nine tails imported from Yorkshire. Then we hit the jamming studio, share a few gossips and sometimes a good song comes out of all this and sometimes it doesn't.

OK... you guys commented to me pretty early on that you thought the new songs to be more mellow, even "darker," so to say. I thought the album was a bit more subtle too, while one can also hear the band trying some new ideas out on tracks as Ad Campaign and D Dreams. What do you think this shift in songwriting boils down to?

What it all boils down to is that we're not just starting to look like 10cc back in the day, we're starting to sound like them, we reckon. We've been on the "dark' trip ever since the George Michael toilet incident opened up our eyes to the harsh realities of the pop world.

 

What are some of more novel things the band tried to explore and experiment with on the new album?

George Chua's brilliant hulusi playing, the acoustic singer-songwriter thing in D Dreams maybe, and the use of house keys as percussion. A lot of the stuff on the fly which were done with the intention to confuse the audience so they don't realise we're trying to pull a fast one over them.

Your last CD was filled of wacky songwriting anecdotes in the Mona Koh or Revolution NTPS variety, while the new songs are kind of more serious and mellow. Do you consider these new songs any more "personal"?

Not true; the band is a silly creative output, not a biography. We're not like 2Pac or anything. We've got drama in our lives just like everybody else but that's our own private demons to purge.

So do you still have any other extra songs written kicking around from the sessions?

Nope, we used them all up. The rest of the songs and tunes will be converted to mobile ringing tunes so that we can cash in before the market bottoms out.

Did you have to take some time out to get together and learn or figure out how each instrumental part and musical idea go together? Were there any particular tracks that changed direction greatly from your original ideas after working them through the recording process?

Sometimes we do try to write songs the proper way like how our heroes (Max Surin, Mr Sim the music teacher from new Town Secondary School) do it. But you have to understand, our songs have a life of their own. We don't "write" them — the songs don't belong to us, we belong to the songs.

I thought the recording went pretty quickly, and you guys obviously have an handle on the studio situation. Was the recording easier this time around as compared to the first album? What are some of the difficulties that arose in the studio?

The difficulties were mostly cosmetic — like searching for amplifiers that go all the way to 11. The rest is just gravy. We were all eager to finish the recording as quickly as possible so that we could spend more time trading traditional Botswanian fertility secrets with Leonard Soosay, the engineer.

I'll like to talk a little about your songwriting influences. What are some of the major signposts and influences pertinent to this particular album? Any stuff you've heard recently that really blew your socks off?

Funny you should mention that… we were listening to the Pat Boone Does Heavy Metal CD and wouldn't you know, our stockings suddenly flew clear across the room! That's a major signpost if any and we immediately made our way down to Peninsula Plaza to buy the sleeveless leather vest that 'ol Pat was wearing on the CD cover.

Any other, that is, non-musical, influences you care to offer?

Oneiros and the Endless, Mara Jade, JG Ballard, En Sabah Nur, and the Mat Sentol/Jeanette Winterson collaboration.

Does it bother you when people dismiss the band as derivative? For instance, I thought Aisakos Don't Die is a dead ringer for The Jam's In The City…

You're wrong there. It's actually supposed to a rip-off of Bowie's Space Oddity. We actually wanted to write songs like Jay-Z's Big Pimpin, one of the most brilliant songs ever written… but Timbaland didn't return our call so we'll just have to do it the way we can.

Bob (from the defunct V) remarked that the new songs are very much rooted in the melodic influences of Malay rock and folk songs…

It's the songs that's been drummed in our heads since we were toddlers so no matter how much more global we go in terms of musical outlook, the basic building blocks have always been there. It comes out in our tunes. It has always been a source of inspiration to note that the lines from P Ramlee's Labu-Labi is still very much part of our cultural lexicon 40 years on.

When the band came into prominence with Spaceman Over Malaysia and the subsequent first CD, you were immediately identified with a surf-punk influence in your songwriting. But even then, I think it was Dino who commented that it wasn't really conscious to what the band was then trying to do. With the new lineup and all, are you guys closer now to the original sound you were working towards, or is it another thing altogether now in terms of how Force Vomit want to sound like?

Well when we started we thought it would be cool to stand on stage and hold guitars — it never crossed our minds that the audience would actually require us to "play" the songs instead of just having a CD or tape playing in the background. And honestly, back then the only CD we had lying around was the Pulp Fiction soundtrack and a battered Ramones cassette so maybe that's where the punk-surf tag started. These days, it's still a bother to have to learn our songs well enough to play them at shows but at least we learnt how to play three chords. What's more important for us is finding guitar straps that match the colour of our shirts though… we don't want another incident with the fashion police, nossirree.

What is the biggest misconception people have of Force Vomit?

That we write songs and practice in a studio on our own tiny island in the South Pacific, staffed only by ex-Gulf Air stewardess and that Carl Sagan was our benefactor. For the record, the island's somewhere to the west of Isla Nublar.

Your new album will perhaps be one of the more anticipated local releases of the year. But it must somewhat bother you that while these songs have the potential to hit your listeners at a deeper level, the new album will not enjoy the kind of mainstream support, as compared to the manufactured tripe on the radio. Now you guys even scraped together the money to produce this album. Do you ever feel saddled with the business aspects of things? What is your idea of success for the new album then?

This is an age old argument that frankly we really tire of sometimes. Music in its fundamental sense is wonderful and is something you enjoy, cry to, ponder over and have a whole busload of human emotions that it affects but the music INDUSTRY is a whole new different animal altogether. There's no logic in the world that can explain the fact that a million songs are written and released every day but only 40 of these get played on the radio. It's not a nice scenario how these 40 songs get to be so widely mass-marketed throughout the world. There's packaging, payolas and whole slew of other 'p's we can't even think about. The beautiful thing is all musicians have a choice, you can make music, play the industry game and hope it reaches as many people as possible or you can do it all by yourself, guerrilla-style. Whatever gets you through the night, man. We like listening to S Club 7 but their approach to their music and ours are galaxies apart. Maybe if something good we did comes back to us and this CD sells a billion copies worlwide that'd be dope but we're not gonna stop making music if that doen't happen. Obviously nobody starts a venture with the intention to fail but if we were to let worries of CD sales stop us, then there's no point in forming a band in the first place.

I think you guys have been in the local scene for quite a few years now, perhaps then in other bands and so forth. So as a local musician yourself, do you think local musicians measure up?

We're probably the wrong guys to answer that. We subscribe to the "here're three chords now go form a band" doctrine, so even if you decide to play music by banging on two bottles we'd still give you respect for that. We might not like your s*** but we'd give you all the right in the world to play it the way you want.

The recording, mixing and final remastering all add up to about a year spent on producing this album. So were all the efforts, personal and financial sacrifices worth it at the end of the day?

Well it's far from the "perfect album" notion that we have in our heads but if it had turned out perfect then there's no more challenge, isn't there? We'd like to think it's a triumph of passion over technique. We're sentimental fools that way.

Last question — what's next for you guys, after the new album?

Now that we've got the time, hopefully we can settle once and for all those pesky lawsuits from ex-groupies.

Note: The above interview was published in BigO #195 (March 2002).
Click here to order a copy of the issue (S$4.80). Overseas readers can email
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