Saturday, 28 November 2009

Interview with Azmyl Yunor

Truthfully speak, we have always admired the artistic work of Azmyl Yunor, a folk singer/songwriter based in Kuala Lumpur, whose name seem no stranger among the underground music scene in Malaysia. Has been rocking stages both locally and internationally, with his recent accomplished tour in Seoul, South Korea.

A while ago, we got in touch with Azmyl and started 'interrogating' him over his harmonious contributions spreading love through his guitar and harmonica and his future plans. Both sat down on our chairs, and started 'typing'....

untyteld (ut): You have been a performer since at young age. Mind telling us how it all started, and what inspired you to play music?

Azmyl Yunor (A): I grew up listening to a lot of local songs on the radio in the 80s and singing along, but I can't recall the names of who sang what etc. I remember asking my parents as a kid, "Why do people sing?" and my dad answered something like "...I guess because it feels good...". I didn't start any kind of performing until I was about 14, and it wasn't singing, it was one of those talentime skits you do in high school. I sang onstage for the first time at 16 in high school, backed by a minus one cassette. I only learnt the guitar when I was 17, so I started playing music kinda late, but when I did, I was hooked. I guess the reason I keep playing is because playing music is akin to a prayer of sorts, or queries to God or whatever. I never consciously seeked to entertain, that was never a motivation. I just felt driven to go on, and on, and on, and on...Someone told me once I'm like a train, I just 'go', I don't wait for no one.

ut: We heard that you're a lecturer at a renowned college in Malaysia. We have attended your shows in the past. Out of curiosity, do you bring your wildness (musically speaking) into your classes?

A: Haha, not at all. I channel a different kind of energy at work. It was never my aspiration nor ambition to teach, it just kinda happened...and I felt driven and compelled to continue. I guess I do bring in some kind of rhythm or humor to my lectures, similar to my banter onstage, but not on purpose, it's just the way I am. I'm low key about my musical life at work. When I lecture, I have Bill Hicks or Richard Pryor playing in my head, plus the syllabus.

ut: As a solo performer, among the gigs you have performed in the past, which was the most unforgettable one? Why?

A: One of the Unclogged series in early 2001, my first ever paying gig, at the old No Black Tie in KL. A lotta people were smoking cigars and the entire place was misty and the smoke caught yer throat, but it was such a rush. I was a fish outta water, playing on a bill along with some grizzly troubadours like Sherry (a.k.a. Sharidir) and Pete Teo. The first time stays with you forever.

ut: We aware of your participation with other underground bands in the country. Some of those critically praised were experimental gems Maharajah Commission and noise rock trio Ciplak. Can you briefly tell us about these bands and where they came about? Are these bands currently active?

A: Maharajah Commission kinda metamorphed from my first band Damnweather and it's subsequently band Amid The Mimic in 2000. The name was just something we came up with after a few teh tarik and cigarettes following a jamming session, don't take it too seriously...I think that's the whole point: we never had ambitions not visions as a 'band' or whatever, it just kinda happened. The other great thing that came out of MC was the chance of hooking up with Yandsen Yong and Tham Kar Mun (who briefly ran the the Monkey Records label which co-released the band's only official album "Dialogue Amoreaux" in 2003), leading to more musical/aural madness and adventures as part of the Experimental Musicians and Artists Co-operative Malaysia (EMACM) and Studio in Cheras, KL (SiCKL).

ut: What is Thunder Coffee Club? Tell us more.

A: It's a lo-fi project born out of my earlier travels, recorded along in a room completely inebriated on vices such as high quality caffeine or sometimes spontaneously with non-musicians and non-performer friends in various living rooms, on a cheap National cassette recorder.

ut: We're keen to find out what you're listening to lately. Can you name us a few?

A: These songs accompanied me on my Ipod (on shuffle mode) as wandered around Hongdae sampling the street food and as I took the subway back to the backpackers in Seoul, South Korea, after my gig: "Slipping Husband" - The National, "Sama Antara Sesama" - Meor, "If I Am A Stranger" - Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, "Truckdrivin' Neighbours Downstairs (Yellow Sweat)" - Beck, "Achin' To Be" - The Replacements, "Menanti Dewi" - A. Romzi & the Hooks, "Til The End Of The Day" - The Kinks, "Beto" - Ali Farka Toure, "I Just Don't Like This Kind Of Living" - Hank Williams, "Havana Affair" - Ramones, "Pukul Tiga Pagi" - P. Ramlee, "Rollerskate Skinny" - The Old 97s, "Light My Fire" - The Doors, "Waiting Around To Die" - Townes Van Zandt.

ut: Can you tell us what's the Malaysian underground music scene like back in the 80s?

A: I wouldn't know, I was still in primary school back then.

ut: In your own opinion, what do you think the Malaysian underground music scene be like in the next ten years?

A: The same, but bigger with more, ironically, unironic co-optive ventures with corporate sponsors and their like, but with stronger sites of contestations and resistances.

ut: Can you name us three Malaysian bands/musicians/singer-songwriters that you are impressed of to date.

A: The holy trinity of local folkers for me: Sharidir, Rafique Rashid, and Meor. Enough said.

ut: Given the chance to collaborate with a reputable icon of your choice, who would it be and why.

A: Rafique Rashid wrote a song about meeting his hero Bob Dylan, and he apparently was a complete asshole. I'd keep my distance and rather leave a reputable icon as they already are: an icon. I believe in the saying " should never meet your heroes."

ut: We heard there's a new LP coming right up with your back-up band, The Sigarettes. We're eager to find out how's it gonna sound?

A: The one with the Sigarettes backing me (titled "Azmyl Yunor & the Sigarettes") is a tough birth (still in labour at time of writing), but for what its worth, the songs are turning out beyond what my modest ideas of what I thought it would be. As for "Warga" (coming out in early 2010), it's a, dare I say, faithful representation of my recent live sets in the past years, but with more condiments.

ut: Any other upcoming materials from the other bands you're involved with?

A: I'm planning to re-release my earlier cassette releases on my own Rapidear label, including some vintage lo-fi Thunder Coffee Club stuff, if the cassettes aren't moldy or fucked up already. Ciplak, which took a sabbatical in the last 12 months musically (we had a cameo in the short film "Rojak", one of the 15 Malaysia films), might do something involving recording, we'll see.

ut: Before we end this interview, any advice to those who wants to be a performer like you?

A: Keep doing what you're doing and to hell with what other people say about your art. Opinions are like assholes: everyone's got one. In the holy words of Keith Richards: "It's great to be here. It's great to be anywhere."

To find out more about Azmyl Yunor and his works, you can login to his website at

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