Seven Collar T-Shirt makes a difference with second album

Friday January 21, 2005

Seven Collar T-Shirt makes a difference with second album


As one of the brightest lights of the somewhat dour and uninteresting local indie scene, Klang Valley-based quartet Seven Collar T-Shirt is still committed to subverting its music in a bid to push things forward, even after seven years in the rock game. While the majority of local acts seem content to embrace celebrity over creativity and mindlessly ape their Western counterparts, the band is remaining focused on experimenting with the rock format in order to come up with something fresh and original. 

Formed in 1997, the band currently features frontman Duan, guitarist Ham, bassist Fidi and drummer Adil Ali in it ranks. With the release of its highly impressive second album Drones, Seven Collar T-Shirt has set a benchmark for other local pretenders to try and emulate with a collection of songs that is arguably the band’s strongest. As a journalist colleague correctly opined after being blown away by the album: “the mantle of homegrown indie-rock scene is theirs, whether they like it or not (these are shy retiring types we are talking about here, ladies and gentleman), with the rest of the scene trailing in their wake.” 

Seven Collar T-Shirt lads: (from left) guitarist Ham, bassist Fidi, singer Duan and drummer Adil Ali.

Late last year, the highly anticipated Drones arrived on the scene fully formed. It managed to raise the bar several notches on the local standard with its striking production and mature, elegiac songs. Cleaner sounding but more down tempo and soulful than its debut long player – 2002’s Gregg Henderson produced Freeway, Dreaming & Broke – the ambitious sounding Drones finds the band fearlessly exploring new musical territory with aplomb as if to try and set itself apart from the current rock scene. Quite simply, Seven Collar T-Shirt doesn’t sound like anyone else around, be it local or otherwise. 

The 11-track album was produced by the band and Jeffrey Little of Prana (who also engineered the album) and is released through Laguna Records with third party distribution from Universal. Entirely self-financed by Laguna and the band, Drones was mixed by local music scene veteran and Malaysian Idol personality Roslan Aziz and mastered in the United States. Drones marks Roslan Aziz’s first venture into indie rock territory and also drummer Adil Ali first recorded output with the band following former sticksman and founder member Mokthar’s departure from the band to concentrate on running his own label I Seek Music last year. 

For Drones, Seven Collar T-Shirt was aiming for a different sound from the one the band mined to great effect on its debut album. 

“Obviously, we wanted something of a departure from the first album in terms of sound and musicality. We wanted more emphasis on melody and content in the song,” explained Duan, the band’s softy-spoken frontman in an interview. 

“We also added more detail in every part of the song. We waited two years to record our second album and in that time our taste in music somewhat changed so when it came to recording our second album, we wanted to find and originate our own sound." 

Prepared for the task 

In a bid to get the sound that it was looking for, the band spent a lot of time in pre-production jamming and recording different parts of songs. This meticulous, highly detailed approach to recording and arrangement was borne from the notion that this time around, the band wanted each individual part to stand out in the mix.  

“In the arrangement factor, we wanted originality but of course we were influenced by a lot of bands,” he clarified. “Also, we were also influenced a lot by what was going on in the world at the time with the (Iraq) war and all that. There was kind of like a depression hanging around and that mood definitely affected the record. We wanted to make the record more melodic and more intense than the first one. We wanted to make a moodier record.” 

Recorded over three months, Drones was a joy to make despite the darkness and intensity pervading from the tunes. Listening to the downbeat songs on the album, one might have expected the recording sessions to be fraught and intense affairs but in reality, the total opposite was true. “Recording was a lot of fun actually,” smiled Duan. “It was a very peaceful recording session and very productive. We took our time over it and enjoyed ourselves with Jeffrey (Little) in the studio.” 

Musically, Drones subtly recalls several prominent bands in places, including OK Computer-era Radiohead, Sonic Youth, The Mars Volta/At The Drive-In, Jeff Buckley and Mogwai among others, without ever losing track of its own identity at any point. Certainly, wonderfully eclectic but always melodic sounding songs like Renaldo Moon, The Boohoorah Theory, War is Over and The Summary succeed in evoking a lot of striking melodic reference points for listeners.  

Apart from being a notable fixture in the local rock scene, Seven Collar T-Shirt members are also the biggest music fans you can find in town. Either they’re out supporting mates like Love Me Butch, Furniture or Custom Daisy at gigs, or busy investigating new music from the Internet, these guys take pride in the process of music knowledge.  

Seven Collar T-Shirt has also been one of the rare Malaysian bands to play not once, but twice at the indie-slanted Bay Beats festival in Singapore and with three Rock The World festival appearances in Kuala Lumpur, these guys are a formidable force. 

However, the band intends to pursue its intimate Malam Pesta Muda Mudi club series this year (“nothing like the club atmosphere and the closeness we get to the audience,” revealed Ham) and a planned gig at Hard Rock Cafe KL is being firmed up early March. 

Back to the music, while the band may sometimes attempt to meld all its references like jazz-fusion, emo, grunge, krautrock, post-rock and indie onto a single track, somehow it always ends sounding like themselves, which, for this writer anyway, is always a hallmark of a good band that’s trying to push the boundaries. 

Getting the highly respected Roslan to work the mix on Drones was something of major coup for the band. According to guitarist Ham, the band hooked up with the man during their last gig with former drummer Mokthar.  

“Roslan was the sound engineer for our gig that day and we started talking to him about music,” recalled Ham. “We told him that we wanted to record an album and he offered his services to us. He hadn’t heard our music before but I guess he wanted to try something new. In the studio for the first part of the recording, he was very serious. Personality wise, I thought he was very funny but when it came to music, he was very, very serious.” 

Added Duan: “Roslan was always around during the recording for an overview. He’s a funny guy who laughs a lot but at the same time, he’s also a very intense guy and very eccentric. He’s very outspoken and if he doesn’t like something, he would say it. He’s very supportive of our music and he liked the album. I think he only works with music that he likes.” 

Thought to the process 

Listening to the accomplished songs on Drones, it’s no surprise that even someone with such high standards in music like Roslan has been seduced by it. Basically, Seven Collar T-Shirt remains the thinking local underground fan’s premier rock band and one of the few local outfits worth obsessing over. The bottom line is that that there just aren’t enough local bands as interesting or as brave as them around to make people sit up and take notice. As things stand, Seven Collar T-Shirt is taking risks when most Malaysian bands are playing it safe and for that, you’ve just got to love them. 

Ham noted: “We’ve been in a very fortunate position to have critics and fans that respect us for our music. In fact, we’ve got a very literate set of fans, mostly from colleges and universities. Whenever we hit the Internet forums, we do tend to get into discussions over indie music and obscure movies – it’s great to be a part of such a community of fans that care beyond celebrity and hype.”  

As far as sales potential go, the band is keeping grounded about its chances. According to the guys in the band, the album has registered some decent sales, selling over 1000 copies since its release three months ago. They know that with adventurous music like theirs, it’s going to take a while to make an impact on a commercial rock orientated scene.  

“We know our kind of music doesn’t really hit you straight away but ultimately we want to be appreciated like all bands do,” shrugged Ham. “At the end of the day, we made the record we wanted and we are happy with that. If people like it, then that’s a bonus.” 

So what does the future hold for Seven Collar T-Shirt now that it has two decent albums under its belt?  

“There’s still a lot that we want to do,” reckoned Duan. “We are still learning our craft and improving. Ultimately we want to sell records outside of Malaysia and play more shows.  

“This year, we’d love to promote the record outside of KL. We spent the whole of last year recording so we’d love to spend the whole of this year playing live all over Malaysia. We want to try and get the album out there to the people.” 

Seven Collar T-Shirt has been the local indie scene’s best-kept secret for too long. It’s time to spread the word. It’s time to get blown away by Drones

Seven Collar T-Shirt’s Drones is now available in stores nationwide through Laguna Records/ Universal. The band plays the Louder Than Love tsunami benefit gig alongside 15 other homegrown acts at Zouk KL, Jalan Ampang in Kuala Lumpur on Feb 6. More details at the band’s website 

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