Friday, October 19, 2007


Ahead of the times


Guitarist Loque chats about Butterfingers, his solo project and life as a student in the United States.

In every lifetime, an artiste – group or individual – takes the music industry by storm and feeds an audience with a ravenous appetite for all things original and wholesome. Butterfingers, Malaysia’s answer to Seattle’s Nirvana, was that band in the mid 1990s, churning out a blend of rock that struck a chord with listeners who were sick of the fast-food R&B and senseless dance tunes choking the airwaves then.

While the turn of the century captured the band at the height of its popularity with the classic album Transcendence, like everything else in the music industry, changing times and trends were not as kind to the band. But by sticking to its guns, Butterfingers has remained at the top of its game. The band is clearly in a different headspace at the moment and it is currently in the midst of working on its sixth studio album, the follow up to 2004’s Selamat Tinggal Dunia.

Music is his master: Loque is guided by a creative demon and wants to take his music as far as it can go.

Guitarist Loque, however, not only has the band’s upcoming album in mind. Over the course of a few teh tariks and teh-o limaus, the axeman – officially known as Khairil Ridzwan Annuar – revealed the band’s plans for world domination ... well, not quite.“Buying power in the music industry has reduced and our label EMI has told us so, too. The new album’s working title is Kembali. At the moment, we’re looking at the album being something a little unconventional, as in, it may not be a physical product that people can buy in shops, but perhaps a download or something. We’re not too sure yet, but we may just complete a couple of tracks first and make them available for downloading,” he revealed.

Musically, the album will see some common ground revisited and some newer territories charted.

“Taking off from where Selamat Tinggal Dunia left off, it will see a deliberately stronger commercial slant. The band has definitely passed its novelty stage and I think we’ve had enough of being different. Realistically, you need more fans to make a difference and we’re taking this chance to appeal to a wider audience,” he added.

Although the band is comfortable in its own skin, there are no signs of the Butterfingers beast mellowing.

Apart from what’s happening with the band, the most significant change in Loque’s life at the moment has to be college life. The guitarist is currently enrolled at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, United States, where he’s taking it all in like it never was possible in Malaysia. But why opt for a college education in music at this point in his life? Why crawl when you can run?

“Musicians need to have the tools and learn the language. Every musician needs to have at least a little theoretical knowledge ... it really opens the doors if you want to become a better musician. I want to know the entire gamut of the music-making process.”

And while Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton were not known to have taken music lessons to become the iconic figures they have, Loque still feels opportunities abound with a music education. “It opens doors for the creative process and provides options for networking. I would like to challenge myself ... test myself on a world stage. I was definitely stuck before.”

Above all else though, it’s the environment Loque finds himself in which has contributed most significantly to his growth as a musician. “The mindset there is different. It’s how they think and value knowledge, how they treat it and use it, which is very different from us. It affects their character, ultimately allowing them to become more knowledgeable.

“In Boston, there are no tall buildings. They’re minds are taller but we can definitely challenge and perhaps even be better than them. Firstly though, we have to be rid of our inferiority complex and that’s something the Japanese and Koreans have been doing successfully.”

Does that in anyway suggest that a band of Butterfingers’ pedigree could make it in the land of opportunity? “Yes, we certainly could, but we would definitely need the money, and not for three weeks, but for a few years at least. You have to be prepared to do this fulltime. Being in Berklee has made me realise this. The bands there play for the sake of playing, and not merely for the audience.”

Having been a part of the Malaysian rock community for more than a decade now, Loque (who turns 30 in November) certainly qualifies to comment on the scene.

“The situation is definitely getting better. Because musicians are more conscious these days, they have become knowledgeable on sound and equipment, too.”

He cites They Will Kill Us All and Seven Collar T-Shirt as being the cream of the crop in our homegrown scene.

Every musician worth his salt does what he does for two fundamental reasons – acceptance and appreciation. And when that happens, it can be one of the sweetest moments in his career. “It’s really nice when people come up to me and say that they used to listen to Butterfingers during their school-going days ... and even now when they’re adults and have settled down. It’s great that the band has reached out significantly and cut across racial barriers.”

While Butterfingers continues to forge ahead with a new album that proudly exhibits its Malaysian roots and love for the national language, it has also left a body of work that stands tall on many merits.

“We’d like to be remembered as a band that made changes and was ahead of its time, like putting feedback on our first album. For now, we’d like to promote the national language. Personally though, I’d like to be remembered not just as a guitarist, but as a musician who was willing to try something different.”

On the solo side of things, Loque’s musical direction is a little left of the middle. “I’m certainly doing some things that are quite different. It’s a place to be away from all things Butterfingers, though the boys from the band will be backing me. It’ll revolve a lot more around electronic equipment and music synthesis, which is what I’m studying.”

A parting note from a seasoned veteran Loque: “Believe in what you do. Don’t regret or look back. Be original and don’t allow yourself to feel inferior. And it’s not just about the music, especially in Malaysia, where to be successful, networking matters big time.”

Transcendence has been firmly etched in the annals of Malaysian rock, but the chapters Butterfingers and Loque are continuing to write may echo well into the future of local music culture.

[This article was originally published in The Star on 21 September 2007]

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