and an attitude are what you get from Malaysian band The Maharajah
Commission. Part punk, part rock, part Sonic Youth, The Maharajahs'
new CD, Dialogue Amoureux, might even be called avant garde next
to your usual metal and hardcore act.
The Kuala Lumpur group is made up of Alex Lam (vocals, drums); Azmyl
Yunor (vocals, synth, harmonica, guitar); Fang Han (guitar) and
Farez Jinnah (bass). Questions by Adam Md Yusop and Stephen Tan.
is interesting to hear music from a Malaysian band that isn't metal
or rock. There is also mention of Sonic Youth as a musical reference
to your music. Who and what are your musical influences?
YUNOR: It's great that people can pick out our influences. It's
great that ANYONE is listening in the first place. Sonic Youth is
definitely there. We all individually listen to a lot of different
stuff. We are all very different characters and I think that disparity
is functional and constructive though. We're a functioning dysfunctional
band. The biggest influence is life. Some of my own personal music
and words heroes and heroines include Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Tom
Petty, Robert Johnson, Jack Kerouac, Townes Van Zandt, Fugazi, Sleater-Kinney,
My Bloody Valentine, The Afghan Whigs, Nirvana, Mudhoney
list goes on and on
and last but not least, the great late
JINNAH: Faahhhkkkk!! You mean we ain't rock?! I personally don't
listen to Sonic Youth. Never have, although I don't discount the
possibility of listening to them in the near or distant future.
I get asked that a lot and I do understand why people see similarities
concerning the music. Me? I was into the whole Madchester thing
and the worst part about getting on with age is that I'm actually
digging some fine records by the Rolling Stones. Our collective
list of faves is on the website. There's old Marvin Gaye, post-Bitches
Miles Davis, Wilco, 16Horsepower, Funkadelic/Parliament, most fine
hip-hop albums, including some quirks like Tone Loc with his classic
CheebaCheeba, among the many others currently on my MP3 player.
HAN: Musical influences include Pearl Jam, Polvo, a little Sonic
youth (Dirty, Daydream Nation, Experimental Jet Set), Detroit Cobras,
The Datsuns, Asian Dub, Neutral Milk Hotel, Pavement... I'm not
even gonna mention the avant-garde minimalist shit that the guys
at Monkey Records make me listen to!
did you guys first meet up, jam and say "This is the perfect line-up"?
We've been doing this thing for the past eight years, and it
was Alex who brought us together in various guises there
was Damnweather, Azmyl doing his own thing and then there was this
beast called Amid The Mimic, and, currently, Azmyl is doing some
of his experimental stuff with the noise troupe, the Experimental
Co-op. We just released the album in April and it's been all right,
Everyone's been busy with their own thing, so the
music's not a priority at the moment
Wait a minute, music IS the priority for me! At least at the
moment. I've been busy playing drums with Ben's Bitches, playing
solo stuff with the Experimental Co-op gigs, released a new solo
lo-fi cassette, being a hired gun
In other words, I am currently
part-time employed. Back to the question, I don't think we ever
said that to ourselves in the first place. We just got together.
We had all been in one band or another together throughout the years
and had known each other as friends above all. I wasn't particularly
eager in being in a band again after seeing my first band gradually
dissolve because of distance and circumstances. While overseas I
busked and wandered around, went mad, and discovered the joys of
going it alone.
I came back in 2000 depleted and we met up and it just happened.
Before that I had my own ideas of how I would like a band to sound
like because I had written hundreds of songs alone but I threw those
ideas out the window and wanted to let things grow organically without
fuss or ideals or selfishness. Something fun too... It was all about
release, relief and rediscovering.... something loud but not "distortion
loud." Nothing premeditated. I went away again for two years, in
between that we got together and recorded this album, and now I'm
back home. It's a miracle everything is still going on at all now
and I'm just plain grateful for that itself. After going through
a long dry spell, now I'm more eager than ever to also do more stuff
on my own and with my other projects such as Thunder Coffee Club
and as a part of the Experimental Musicians and Artists Co-op Malaysia.
The Commission in session... featuring (from left): Alex Lam,
Farez Jinnah and Fang Han.
As for Maharajah Commission's perfect line-up, well, yes, we
must have had at least a dozen other folks we've jammed with in
searching for the perfect chemistry. Some of the good folks we've
had encountered include Julian Cheong, a wonderful saxophonist who
I last heard was gigging with Greg Lyon's Emergency Break Ensemble;
Adlin Azrin of Strangedays, Chak; Haymanth Indran; Whye Kong (of
Dust Components); Andy Remex; the Ben's Bitches folks (Ben and CK)
before they decided to become Ben's Bitches; the amazing Monkey
Records ensemble, especially Yandsen, Tham, Lee Kwang; and a whole
lot of other folks out there who've offered their time and spirit.
Now, you might be wondering how all this worked out, and what specific
areas we were looking at. My personal goal has been to look for
a certain degree of aggressiveness that can just explode. What didn't
work? My take is that we missed out on having the sessions recorded.
Some of those sessions have been the most expressive works that
I've experienced. It's a shame that we don't have much of those
of the best sessions I've enjoyed was with Julian Cheong, whom with
we covered Miles Davis's So What. It's one of the paths that I wished
MC would have taken, it is like one of those comic book "what if"
storylines that you'd really want to explore further. I hope our
paths do cross into that section again, it would be most wonderful
to work with Julian.
to the question of how long I've played music, I would say the interest
began back when I was around eight. And I bummed around those Yamaha
and Technics music classes. One of the guys I met back then was
Justin Joe Pang (of Naked Breed) whose perfect pitch really made
me think back then that music was a natural way to express yourself.
He made it seem so easy though, while I'm still looking.
did the band's name come about?
I thought it had a no real meaning at first, but as the sessions
wore on and the band started to feel as though it had something
worthwhile that was when the name started to have some significance.
Initially, we were at odds, 'cos we didn't quite know what to make
of the music. It did sound different and that did add to our insecurities,
but as time went by we sort of became comfortable with sticking
out like sore thumbs. The band's still the same, as it was the first
day, juvenile, which is a blessing since that perceived edge keeps
it fresh, almost like a great conversation
no repeats, just
things to talk about.
We were sitting at the stalls in USJ (Subang) spouting names and
that came up. The name stuck somehow, or else it might have been
A few names were casually thrown about, something institutional
and fuck off about it, and then it just popped out
like, "hey what about The Maharajahs? or what about The Commissioners?
and Alex brought the two together quite a lot of tomfoolery
went into the name and its possibilities. I think "The Ma Hai La
Ca Cum Mission" was one of them, so was "Maha.Com"
good sense prevailed.
sprinkled a bit of French in your song titles. Care to explain?
On a band level, I simply thought the French language was a better
medium when it comes to people identifying with our stuff, as the
English language is too crass and rigid to explore fluid ideas like
emotion and relationships (and I don't necessarily mean romantic
ones). I don't think it really mattered that people didn't dig the
titles. If they were curious enough to pick up a dictionary or ask
around, at least that's testament to their intelligence and they,
whoever they are, should be given a pat on the back for it.
the reformasi movement is well established in Malaysia, why do you
feel there aren't any bands working with them? Or involved with
Fear and love.
Well-established? It's merely fledgling; anyway the reformasi movement
doesn't really offer a true alternative or even stand out or apart
from racial politics. It reminds me of New Labour; same cack, different
wrapping. What happened to Anwar Ibrahim was unfortunate but is
the reformasi movement a true departure or alternative? So far I've
only seen juvenile bickering from a tripartite marriage of convenience
that went sour. Personally, it's ironic that we have choice, but
not unlike the proles in 1984, we only think it is a choice. What
would you choose between obnoxious, arrogant half-wits in Government
and clowning morons from the Opposition is that really a
in Malaysia tend to be apathetic about their social environment,
which is a result of our fine education system. But really, most
are just too tired to give a toss. It depends on which bunch of
NGOs you're talking about. Loads of band people dig the very chic
Suaram and it's like... chill.
I just play basketball, 'cos futsal's a lame excuse for playing
the ball with your feet
Five a side, huh? And that's political,
too. Notice how all the big 11-a-side fields are disappearing and
replaced with bloody futsal complexes that charge the earth? With
FAM banking on it to bring glory for Malaysian football, you'd really
wonder if we actually have a sports culture or are we just living
in fucking denial
The next social revolution would probably come in the form of Howard
Rheingold's book, Smart Mobs.
the other hand, the bands and music do reflect the current political
situation doesn't it? If not a total tit for tat, then in the major
many people caring about them, nobody can quote them word for word
(as for the bands, not many can sing them lyric to lyric, except
perhaps those grindcore bands), the usual suspects day in and day
out, anti-big business, confused about which side to stand, most
people not exploring alternatives
are just too many things to do and life is pretty overwhelming at
this stage of civilisation if you're in the urban areas,
that is, there's still a few places left in the world where it's
totally modern-free, but if you're reading this, chances are you're
not there. It's not good or bad, it's just the way it is.
no quality time for gossiping about your neighbour or lusting after
some familiar stranger. There isn't enough drama in our lives anymore
to the point that when true drama occurs, we don't even know how
to handle it.
well, like bands, they have to communicate their drama better. I
think as a band, The Maharajah Commission has got its fair share
of drama as well. It's totally true! Call 10 people now and ask
them what's playing on their minds and they'd probably reply that
they have an episode of "Nothing lar" playing.
humans man, we need life. Drama now, and no, I'm not going to sit
in an auditorium for that. Oi!
HAN: Reformasi.... misguided as this opinion may sound, I feel
that I did not join the movement or work with them because I believe
they are no better than the government and I do not share their
ideology. This is going to anger a lot of people, but if you look
at it, I'm all for social equality and justice, but the main motivator
behind many political movements is SELF GAIN. Love it or hate it,
it is my political opinion. NGOs no comment...
do you think are the main problems facing Malaysian/KL bands?
A distinct lack of self-respect and confidence to go at it themselves.
Can you blame them, most of these bands, when they are mostly fed
on a diet of staple radio rock and a limited supply of music literature?
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
caution young bands in spite of having freaking ASTRO on
the air and a wider variety of reading material, that artistic output
and variety still remains lacking. It's always fine that the bands
do their own thing but it becomes tired when they actually explain
their art in relation to their influences or who they want to outright
there are the Wagonnists jumping on to whatever is hot at
the moment. Although sometimes I do see it as relevant with the
context of popular culture, it's curious that in spite of an improved
access to literature and information, people still restrict themselves
to some form or other of peer pressure and herd mentality.
you identify some Malaysian bands you either look up to or feel
have potential as key bands?
HAN: Carburetor Dung: the people who paved the way for a lot
of us. They also played an influential role in changing the mindset
of the current crop of undergrounders, who were merely young turks
when they released their album or song for friends
say they influenced a whole generation of undergrounders.
Yeah, of course this would make Joe blush to no end, but it's Carburetor
Dung/Joe Kidd. With the music and the Blasting Concept column, music
lovers and socially conscious people from every corner of this country
had a common thread. This was where it started. It's always good
to have a sense of history to be able to move on, hopefully to greater
things, even some of us have to make mistakes. It's a learning curve
I feel this band and many others have been privy and fortunate to
be part of.
HAN: Finally, the band with the biggest potential in KL, Sgt
Weener's Arms I've seen them live a few times and each time
they manage to blow me away with their stuff.
Especially them as a college/uni outfit, they've been changing
a lot of mindsets and pre-conceptions in the local scene. They're
into the whole experimental thing. The thing about them is their
ability to fuse progressive elements with local motifs without sounding
like a bad Malay ethno concept album. In fact, even for me to compare
them does them a great disservice, they're fabulous live, too.
HAN: Lyme was really good when they were around; Moxuan is a
really good band, they've got a good strong DIY sense without being
There are enough bands out there who are making a difference
Spunky Funggy, with their main man, Wolf, he's a real "tough as
nails" mutha', but that's only because he has to be, as he's driven
and very focused with his band. The Moxuan/TA clan gave those, who
were fortunate enough to see them, a breath of fresh air and a textbook
study on living and thinking out of the box. Then of course, there's
Kuchalana with their east coast ragga that tears it up. They are
fantastic live, being energized, frenetic and honest on stage. Infireal's
my personal favourite.. so combustible, they are THE reason Malaysia
needs to have the FRU (Federal Reserve Unit).
TA, Rafique Rashid, Julian Cheong and Pop Shuvit. I think Gamalan
Rock has a lot of potential. Imagine a Gamelan orchestra with distortion...
ho ho ho... I think that will fucking break the silence for sure.
Note: For more, visit www.yat.ch/mc