As far as mainstream careers go, Pop Shuvit is determined to be a respected band and not a mere brand name, writes DARYL GOH.
It appears that the rules have changed. Being offloaded by a major label doesn’t necessary mean a crushing career-ending blow for a band with enough determination and ambition. Among the current crop of established Malaysian rock bands, Pop Shuvit is a unique survivor’s tale after a major label divorce.
The Klang Valley-based quintet, renowned for its rap-rock releases, could have easily ended up a victim of major label A&R mismanagement while losing its career momentum. After the band’s sophomore album Here & Now (2005) failed to ignite substantial figures in the local market, there were rumours of Pop Shuvit’s former label EMI Malaysia planning a duets album for the band, involving has-been rock divas and masked Malay metal cartoon bands.
According to Pop Shuvit’s frontman Moots, there should be a guide book available here that helps bands re-examine what they really need to know about one-sided major label deals and how much that knowledge should affect a future career as a self-managed, independent unit.
Pop Shuvit (from left): bassist AJ, vocalist Moots, drummer Rudy, guitarist JD and DJ Uno looking like a band willing to break the boundaries to get its music heard.
As a band that walked out of EMI’s doors in January this year, Pop Shuvit, with its album masters in hand, is in an ideal position to further the independent music agenda and be the commercial catalyst for the Malaysian alt-rock movement, which also gave us Love Me Butch, Seven Collar T-Shirt and Disagree.
“We’ve always had quite a long list of what we wanted to achieve as a band ... you know, like to stay the distance, release a catalogue of albums, build a studio, get a breakthrough abroad and more.
“But this year the most important thing we learned was how to pick ourselves up fast and make the best of our situation as a free agent. Basically, we grew up as a band,” said Moots, 29, in a recent interview, before continuing, “In leaving a major label and becoming a DIY-outfit, I think we’ve done the reverse of the norm here.”
Nevermind that Pop Shuvit was left stranded without a label, there was no time to be wasted. The band, despite what the uncertainties ahead, remained motivated and kept to a timetable – releasing its Japan-only album Amped & Dangerous in August.
Refreshingly enough, here is a band willing to start anew without the whinging and fatalistic outlook towards the music scene.
“There was no such thing as a ‘stop work and relax’ phase for us. In fact, we’ve been doing a lot of things like setting up our own production house (Studio 21:05 in Taman Tun, Kuala Lumpur), sustaining the band’s operations with gigs and with recording commitments from Japan, we also had to deliver an album this year,” said DJ Uno, the band’s beat-master (and a third of the Stylustiks deejay crew).
The rest of the group include bassist AJ, drummer Rudy and guitarist JD – a bunch of mates that have overcome the critical brickbats and come a long way since their Positive Tone debut Take It and Shuvit in 2002. As much as Pop Shuvit can be accused of being a slick entity with corporate shows and street party engagements, the quintet is essentially an independent unit forced to adapt to the music business, and its mature mindset beyond the record making process has proven useful.
“In Malaysia, we’ve seen an increase in people acknowledging our music – but somehow, we’ll always be unpopular to some quarters and be known as ‘the band that made it in Japan,’” said Moots, in reference to a parallel music career in Japan that begun in 2003.
In Japan, Pop Shuvit is no small change. It has consistently hit the rock charts and with sales of over 15,000 units for all its releases combined there, you can’t argue that it has legitimate claims to being Malaysia’s most recognised contemporary rock outfit in Tokyo and beyond.
Pop Shuvit bankrolls its own career now, and it handles all its band and studio operations through Shuvit Management. Yet curiously enough, it has an avid fan-base that is expanding steadily in Japan. The band is signed to Tokyo-based modern rock label S2S, which has put out six releases by Pop Shuvit in Japan (including a remix album and limited edition vinyl). Following on from an eventful Japanese promo tour last March, there was the urgent need for new material there.
“What is fascinating about putting out releases in Japan is the only presence we have there is through our label – S2S. We did one tour last March and that’s about it. There is a detachment to this ‘success’ and all we’ve got are press clippings, reviews and fan mail. It’s a rather surreal experience, but we’re not complaining.”
Moots, despite nursing a bad throat; goes into detail about the S2S deal. He reports that the label has long-term plans for the band.
“Importantly, they believe in what we do. They had us headlining our own shows last March. Now they keep pushing us for material or remixes because it’s a vibrant market to be involved in. You simply can’t rest on your laurels, or else you’ll be left behind.”
Unlike the situation during its EMI days, there is evidence, for instance, that Pop Shuvit was never reduced to being a secondary act in Japan. The band was bundled with other EMI acts for the S2S deal three years ago, but albums by Too Phat and Butterfingers misfired in the Japanese market. But none of that alters Moot’s impressions of the hard struggle ahead to crack a new market.
It’s easy to think that Pop Shuvit can succeed with mere album releases in Japan.
But the band knows better and is thinking bigger things ahead. And what about the fact that Pop Shuvit has tried to attract the attention of rap-rock fans in Asia and also festival promoters during the early stages of the band’s Japanese career?
In reality, Pop Shuvit remains agonisingly close to a major breakthrough – be it Japan or other markets outside Malaysia.
That certainly doesn’t negate the pressures Moots felt once Pop Shuvit did become a free agent, trying to balance all the acclaim and attention with the band’s future plans abroad and growing commitments (with a studio and management set-up) here.
At least, DJ Uno vowed that Pop Shuvit isn’t about to be reduced to being a mere brand name than a real band.
“Maybe, people perceive us a business savvy outfit, and nothing more. But we had to rethink our strategy as a band in order to make records. The paying gigs here helped us continue our music career and there was never a time when we lost sight of our true ambition – to make the best music we can,” he emphatically explained.
As promised, Malaysians will get some new Pop Shuvit material this month. Amped & Dangerous, which was originally meant for the Japanese market, will be repackaged and released in limited quantities here. The album, built with a more aggressive rap-rock edge, will be launched this Saturday at the Rock The World festival in Kuala Lumpur.
According to Moots, the Malaysian version of Amped & Dangerous: The Street Edition will feature eight tracks and it comes in a blister pack with trading cards. Profile wise, the band is enjoying renewed respect here because of its inroads in Japan.
“There are lots of different interpretations of this Japanese connection. Are we really that big there? Well, we’ve got a strong following in the Japanese rap-rock underground and right now; it’s about setting up small milestones that matter for our longevity.
“We’ve got a label that looks after our releases there, a Japanese tour is being planned next March and we constantly get e-mail from young Japanese bands that respect what we do. This link with Japan has kept us motivated, but it’s also necessary for us to show that we’re no outsiders in Malaysia. We haven’t forgotten the relationship that we have with our fans here,” revealed Moots.
On Saturday at the Rock The World festival, you can definitely expect a scorching set from these hardy rap-rock survivors.
Browse band updates at www.popshuvit.com.