Fresh off their journey in Jakarta and Korea, where they performed a show to a crowd of astounded people, The Venopian Solitude is still in full gear as they prepare themselves to perform at Cyberjaya Music Festival 2017 this Saturday (25 Nov) at Centrus Mall, Cyberjaya! Many have tried to describe their sound (and possibly their very existence) with offhand labels like ‘alternative folk’, ‘indie’, a scarierMoldy Peaches or ‘wedding band from another dimension’ (we made that up) – but there’s really no putting them in a box. When it comes to genres and artistic direction, these Venopians are truly, in the best way possible, solitary.
It’s been 3 years since their first album, Hikayat Perawan Majnun, (4 years since their single Warkah Narcissus) where lead singer Takahara Suiko and her band members, Ariana, Kamal, Kemat, Ruvi, Adam and Shafiq come together to tell us a story of the fictional world of Venopia, often transcending the borders of that world and seeping into ours with biting songs like Mahar and Kehadapan Para Pencemar. This sometimes deliberate, other times implied, commentary are just byproducts of Takahara’s staunch philosophy of self-expression and writing whatever comes to her in spontaneous bouts of inspiration – coupled with hours and hours of meticulous composition and arrangement with the band.
The acidic cynicism of the band is emphasized by Takahara’s genre-blindness, as she experiments with vocalization that ranges from hip hop, folksy to the almost devotional screaming reminiscent of punk poets in songs like Pelacur Muzik. The same goes for the instrumentation; with such a spectrum of different musical backgrounds (to understand that, remember that Ariana is also the guitarist in indie pop punk band Couple and Kamal is from reggae-ska outfits Salammusik), they push the envelope of experimentation with kompangs, xylophones, Novation Launchpads and more!
The band’s sound is also groomed to perfection with the help of Bijan, founder of music venue ATAS by BijanFX and audio and monitor engineering veteran who’s worked in works like KIL, Siti Nurhaliza‘s Lentera Timur, Future Music Festival Asia and the list is endless!
It’s bands like these that you stay with, as their sounds get bigger and fresher. As they assimilate more and more of their influences to present a world of sound like a greedy audio-hungry Pacman. Underneath all the melodic layers, the DIY spirit of singer-songwriter Takahara still lies beneath in the lyricism and arrangements – evolving from using tissue boxes as percussions to full-fledged auditory experiences. So if all you know about this band is that song about butts, read our interview below to find out more about them!
[Things in the square bracket is the writer intruding into the article with his comments]
(Get your tickets at the door or at kedai.tapau.tv)
Old people clubbing & EDM Joget
We’re all excited to see The Venopian Solitude (as always) at Cyberjaya Music Festival 2017, so tell us what’s you have planned for the performance? Why the DJ set?
Reason being our second guitarist(Kamal) won’t be around, and due to budget constraints we decided to go with a smaller setup. Pardon our blatant honesty. And of course as per usual, we fooled around during practice enough to be changing up all the arrangements of the songs we’re performing(again), and turns out our set will sound like a disco party. New-age liberal disco because the vocalist is wearing a tudung lol.
For the sake of your imagination, think Tenangkan Bontot Anda versi EDM + Joget. It’s horrific. But we’re doing it anyway.
Since we’re talking about DJs, what’s your opinion on EDM and does Venopia have a good nightlife scene? Do Venopians go clubbing or are they more reserved people who smoke pipe and go ballroom dancing?
TAKA: Personally I have no qualms with EDM, as long as I’m not being forced to hear it. But I think after Red Bull Music Academy [Takahara was chosen to participate in the prestigious Red
Bull Music Academy in 2016] and seeing other DJs(not to mention listening to them through a great sound system), I can enjoy EDM from an amateur producer’s point of view; the arrangements, the instruments and effects used, the mixing etc. I think as long as the songs in the set itself are interesting, and have great remixes, I’m ok with it.
As for the image of Venopia, Venopia is more like a kampung town; as of right now, today, I can only imagine Venopia very much looking like Takuma but with more youngsters(Takuma is the town of the college I went to while I was studying in Japan). It’s right by the Setouchi Strait, so right behind of my college was the sea, but the roads are hilly and has other small hills scattered around town. The town itself is an old people’s town, so everyone’s chilling in their homes or riding bikes or tendering to their farm.
I guess the vivid image of Venopia replicating Takuma is because I spent most of my days on my earlier writings living there. But hey who knows the atuks and neneks of Venopia might be clubbin’ instead of farmin’.
Solitude no more
Let’s take a step back in history for those who didn’t follow TVS , how did the full fledged The Venopian Solitude band came to be?
We met her when she was born, she’s useful enough for songwriting after 19 years of living so we decided to hire her full-time. Sometimes she annoys us but what to do leh, no choice.
Kemat & Ruvi
Met them when Taka got signed to the label Kasi Gegar Entertainment(used to have Go Gerila!, Amir Jahari). They were sessionists for Aizat and part of Go Gerila!, so it was natural to have them in the team(because Taka was alone and that’s sad). They’re still with us so that’s good.
She was called to replace Anas(previous guitarist, met him at the Kasi Gegar Entertainment as well) for our Urbanscapes 2013 show because he got engaged that day, and Anas was our main guitarist for a while before moving to Kota Kinabalu after he got married. So now she’s the leading lady. Plus we need her barista expertise to fuel us from time to time.
He joined us because we get to practice at this awesome studio called Banglo9 at a discounted price *laughs*. But he was also dragged into all this mess because of our friend/sound engineer Bijan(the guy who owns ATAS by BijanFX), and a synth bass is what we’ve been needing for our newer stuff, as well as the dancing piano keys(Adam’s a pianist for DBKL Orchestra so he’s legit). Also, our previous bassist, Pito, had work commitments so Adam took over his place at the right time.
One time we were invited to perform at Esplanade Singapore’s Cipta Cita 2015, but Kemat and Ruvi were away so we devised a lineup just for the show; Taka, Ariana, Ezzat(from Couple), Shafiq(Monoloque, No Noise Percussion, also allegedly Ruvi’s twin), and the great Leaism(please check her out; her music, not her). It was very gung-ho; we only got to practice twice because we were fumbling on finding replacements, and we had to perform 5 sets of shows within the span of 2 days. But it was super fun, and it wasn’t until a year later that we decided to drag Shafiq in because we needed a percussionist, as well as a human music sheet because he’s the only who remembers all our different arrangements(what with our spur-of-moment changes and renditions every time we practice).
Another one of Bijan’s idea; we needed another guitar to make our sound grittier, and coincidentally he was at ATAS while Bijan was editing one of our songs, Dondang Asuhan. Upon listening to that, Kamal begged Bijan to talk to Taka to let him play with us(Bijan told us this story so citation needed). Hence, our first performance together was when we performed at our showcase in Singapore earlier this year, and during post-mortem he said he’s ok with us, so all’s good.
We practically borrowed him from Salammusik so we have to take really good care of him.
Career in Korea
Why the decision to tour Korea? I thought you’d.go back to Japan, to pay tribute to 11-year-old Japanese-loving Taka? Any memorable experiences?
Not at all a tour; it was a showcase festival, kind of like SXSW, called Zandari Festa. Someone (Ili FM, we think) suggested the fest to us so we decided to give it a shot. We could’ve planned a few shows during our 5-day stay there, but because exactly two days prior we were in Indonesia for 6 days(for RRREC Fest In The Valley and another show in Jakarta), so we were scrambling to get arrangements, funds, and rehearsals for both trips settled.
We were given an hour to do everything; setup, soundcheck, perform, and dismantle. We’re surprised we managed to pull everything off, performed 7 songs, with less than 5 minutes left off the clock. The venue, Rolling Hall, was really dope, a very cosy and ideal venue for bands. And the crew, they’re were very helpful despite the language barrier, and the sound engineer was super efficient; as soon as he turned on the monitors, we hear everything as clear as day.
After that we spent our remaining days watching other bands(IDIOTAPE was bad-ass), and playing tourist around Seoul; drinking royal tea(literally, we had tea at Gyeongbokgung Palace) and taking pictures at every chance we get.
Plus, we think Taka is still traumatised by her depression during her 3-year study period, so we won’t be going to Japan any time soon. But we’ll see.
Streaming and the cybersphere
Does Taka do all the artwork behind the the TVS Instagram? If so what’s the inspiration behind all of those surreal collages? They kinda remind us of Takahara’s Bandcamp days with all of those DIY album art?
Taka is the one who has way too much free time in her hands to be doing all the artwork; and it was mainly inspired by a bunch of people’s Instagrams’; Anderson Paak’s, Fong Shelhiel’s, as well as Yuna’s triad-post days(because Taka stalks her a lot).
The collages meant nothing; they were merely spur-of-moment searches on Google of free-use image(or at least we think so), and whatever that comes to mind. As it progresses, it follows the theme of our #tvsberjimba trips; a few blocks dedicated to our #TVStoINA(Indonesia trip), and a few after that for #TVStoKOR(Korea trip). After that it’s back to the usual nonsense, this time with pictures of our instruments. We’ll change it up again(like how Anderson Paak’s posts having a theme for each block of nine posts) after we’ve run out of instruments to display.
When TVS fights with Taka on Twitter, is that just Taka fighting with herself?
No, we do really fight with each other, she started all this and now she wants to let go and have us to do all the work? AND starts picking fights with us for no reason? That woman’s cray.
Plus Twitter people like drama so we’re going for the cheap-publicity approach of things to get our non-existent fame started.
(We’re really hoping people realise this is a joke)
Does Taka still feel strongly anti-Spotify and if so what’s the type of thing would she advise artists to do to get people to buy physical albums again?
TAKA: I personally still do (due to the 3 sen per play and then distributor and label gets a cut from that so how much are the artists getting, really), but I do understand that it is a powerful marketing and promotional tool to get discovered without ever leaving the house.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), despite the age of singles (especially in Malaysia), I’m a big believer of albums and listens to albums as a whole instead of individual songs (which what Spotify is mainly about; it’s the age of playlists). And I still quantum cry [our new favourite phrase is quantum cry] inside whenever I hold an album of my favourites; it’s just the perfect, irreplaceable merchandise any fan can get in their hands.
So, our approach is most likely, like some bands/musicians like MASDO and White Shoes and the Couples Company or even Taylor Swift have been doing as well, is to release one or two songs on Spotify, a few months after the album launch, so people have no choice but to get the physical from our tours and shows, to, y’know, maximise profit *laughs*(again, pardon the honesty).
We are working towards making a concept album, so the idea has to be carried out even in physical form to better embody the concept. We’re hoping people would buy not only for the album, but also for its well-articulated aesthetics(fingers crossed it works), because, it’s just like another merchandise, but more useful because it actually has songs and lyrics you can sift through while enjoying the body of work.
The audio evolution of Nona Gila and Iqbal M
Last time we talked you mentioned that TVS’s upcoming album is going to be about the growth of a person? So is the Nona Gila character of the first album becoming more sane? More powerful?
Not really powerful; if Hikayat Perawan Majnun(original title Hikayat Nona Gila but someone from the industry advised us against advocating ‘Gila’) was more like a diary, then the next album is more like her life outside the diary, right after she has outgrown the diary.
Though Nona Gila and the next album’s character are never related in the beginning, having suggested that connection(by the question above) might make the development from the first album interesting, or at least relatable(not to public, but just for the sake of the story).
How did you end up collaborating with Iqbal M for the song ‘Dwi’? Tell us a little about what the song is about and the process behind it?
This was, not Bijan’s, but Zack’s(IQBAL M’s manager) idea, but still partly Bijan’s as well. So we were scheduled to be on the same bill as IQBAL M on a show at ATAS, mainly because Zack and Bijan started working together recently at that time. So they just wanted to see what can happen in this collaboration. We(TVS and IQBAL M) both admire each others’ works and not-giving-fuckness (sic), so it was a seamless gelling of chemistry(is that a phrase I don’t know).
Iqbal and Taka took two days to write the whole song, and the bands(all 12 of us), basically ‘berkampung’ at ATAS to rehearse and have fun. We even threw in an angklung in there(performed by Ariana) for good measure, and because we can.
For DWI, there were three guitars, two percussionists with dismantled drum set, one angklung player, one sampler, two bassist(synth and electric), one drummer and two vocalists. Our setup alone for that one song required three mixing soundboards and two engineers to run(the engineers being Zack and Bijan themselves). Because of the sheer effort everyone put in to make sure everything goes well, we think it was one of our best and most fun shows to date.
The Venopian Solitude band gets bigger in sound and wider in range, with kompangs, keytars and xylophone, what other instruments or musical styles have you always wanted to incorporate?
We always wanted more people to just join in on the fun, no matter what instrument they play. It would be awesome to have an electric violin or sape with tons of pedals be thrown in there, as well as a timpani because hey why not. But we (or Taka at least) do have a dream of a modern orchestra, where there are 10 guitarists, 6 bassists, 7 synth keyboardists, a bunch of samplers, and probably 20 percussionists. The numbers may vary, but basically Arcade Fire + tUnE-yArDs times 5.
As much as we want to do Jazz or Soul a la Hiatus Kaiyote, our main songwriter is musically incompetent(she can’t read notes or chords and had to ask everyone what’s the key of the song EVERYTIME), so that might take a while to get around to. But who knows.
Any upcoming projects you’d like to share besides the album and CMF? Possible music videos perhaps?
We’re still working on the album, and alongside it are jotting down notes and ideas for music videos and album designs. We would love to work with a bunch of artists(as in visually, not sonically, but we have some collaborations in there as well) for the album art, but due to budget constraints we might have to reroute the idea to a more affordable place, but we’ll see how it goes.
Featured image is of The Venopian Solitude at RREC Fest in the Valley. Credits: Farhan Syaza.
Find out more about The Venopian Solitude by checking out their website or follow them on their Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Check them out and all other bands this Saturday (25 Nov 2017) at Centrus Mall, Cyberjaya for Cyberjaya Music Festival 2017. Follow them on Instagram to get updates.