January 27, 2010

Couple Delivers Pop That's Not On The Radio

Last year I highlighted one of my fave power pop bands, Kuala Lumpur's Couple, with the warning that you should never ever search Google for "Malaysia Couple". I'm happy to report that things are starting to improve. At least that search now returns Couple's Myspace page in the top spot. Maybe this means they're getting more --and much deserved-- recognition. For a band that's been around since '96, and reportedly does about 90 live shows a year, it's about time. Let's hope the new album brings even more attention.

Speaking of which, I've been trading e-mail with the band's lead singer and super self-promoter Aidil about the new LP, Pop Tak Masuk Radio. (You can see what I wrote about their previous albums here.) My favorite songs on this new disk are "Lagu Cinta Untukmu" -- a very modern power pop number that wouldn't be out of place on a Weezer album; "Semua Tak Boleh" is a tour de force of power pop with it's Who like opening riff and a guitar attack the Hives would be proud of; and the rather sober, rootsy sounding "Mencari Malaysia".
Where the band's past albums were sung in English for the most part, this new album is all in Malaysian. But that doesn't matter because the music itself speaks volumes. The album is packed with all the elements of a great power pop disk -- ringing guitars, crashing drums, catchy hooks and hummable melodies. But, I did wonder and so shot a few quick questions to Aidil which he nicely answered. And, for all of us English speaking hicks he also sent me a run down of each of the songs, what they're about and how they translate into English.

I'm curious why on your last album you did so many songs in English, and then for this one didn't do any in English.
- Actually I just wanted to do an EP of Malay songs at first. I originally found it hard to write in Malay, so to challenge myself I decided to try and write more Malay ones (since I usually write only 2-3 Malay songs a year). But after 2 months, I realised that I've written about 14-15 Malay songs already, so I thought why not just make an album, right?

I'm assuming the songs are all sung in Malaysian, correct?
- Yup, it's all sung in the Malay language, which is also the national language of Malaysia.

What has been the reaction you've received from Americans?
- If we're talking about this new album, I'd have to say I still don't know, cause I haven't started promoting it to Americans yet... I'm hoping we can get the ball rolling with a little help from your website, hehhe.

How is your music received in Malaysia? Is power pop very popular there?
- We're kind of a 'best kept secret' kind of band here, because we're quite popular with the youth crowd, specifically high school kids and university/college students. We don't get much airplay at all, but somehow most of our songs made it into the kids' MP3 players and mobile phones (to the extent that we're probably the only band in the country that can get the crowd to sing along to every single we play at our gigs, which happens at gigs with as little as 50-100 people as well as festivals with a crowd of 5000-15000 people). The mainstream still ignores us, but everytime we play mainstream type shows or alongside mainstream artists, we usually get way better crowd reception than they do (the power of the internet, I guess, hehe). As for power pop, I think we're the only power pop band here. The kids just respond to the songs, I guess, without much thought to the kind of genre we do.

Any plans on coming here to tour the new album?
- We're still trying to get a label in the US to release the new album, so I don't really know yet, but this March we'll very probably be going to the UK to play some shows organised by Malaysian university students there, so hopefully we'll get to play some more shows there too.

Pop Tak Masuk Radio
Radio (Radio) - it's about this unique predicament of ours here in Malaysia whereby the radio stations seem to just refuse to play any of our songs (even if the songs have spread like wildfire amongst the kids + they all can sing along to them). So it's kind of a thank you song to our fans for helping spread the word, and a no thank you song to the radio stations, hehe.
Lagu Cinta Untukmu (Love Song For You) - it's about wanting to write a love song for our loved one so that we can express our feelings better.
Semua Tak Boleh (Can't Do Anything) - on the surface it's a commentary on the Malaysian government's penchant for censorship, but actually it's also a cynical take on the unfortunately very normal Malaysian attitude of one-upmanship, which usually means you'll never do anything right as there will always be people who'll think what you're doing is wrong.
Goyang (Shake) - just a fun song about shaking your ass at gigs
Cari Ganti (No Substitute) - about not wanting to find any substitute for your better half
Bayangkan (Imagine) - basically a song telling someone we fancy to imagine what it'd be like if we got together
Gila Bayang (Smitten) - another love song, the title says it all! Hehe
Whoa Oh Sayang (Whoa Oh Honey) - sweet and sappy lyrics about how that someone brightens up our lives
Hey Kawan-Kawan (Hey Friends) - the one-line lyrics basically translates into "Hey friends, let's tear shit up!", repeated over and over
Mencari Malaysia (Finding Malaysia) - Malaysia has a unique history in which it was at first predominantly occupied by the Malay people and the indigenous people of the land. Then the British colonised it and brought in the Indians and Chinese to work the rubber estates and tin mines. When we got our independence, everyone got their citizenship (including the migrant workers), but not without the bargain that the Malays get some special rights (since it's basically 'their' country and the others are immigrants). All this has resulted in some deep seated racial prejudice in which almost everything here (especially politics) is divided along racial lines. This song is about trying to overcome all that, and for the current and future generations to finally accept that they might be immigrants 2 or 3 generations ago, but they are Malaysians now and they have played their part in the process of nation building, so it's high time that we start looking at each other as brothers and sisters already.

So there it is, a fairly complete description of the songs, hehe. All of them are originals which I wrote myself, no covers. As for the album title, Pop Tak Masuk Radio roughly translates as "Pop That's Not On The Radio".

Couple -- Lagu Cinta Untukmu

Couple -- Semua Tak Boleh