Before I surrendered my soul to the low-paying, high-stress, dead-end world of journalism, I had always dreamed of being a musician.
But because I wasn’t exactly a Mozart, my parents thought it’d be better if I tried something else, you know, a “real career”.
So full of spite for their apparent lack of faith in my musical talent, I chose journalism instead. That sure showed them.
But it’s funny how these things work out in the end, because last week, my career brought me back full circle, and actually helped realise my dream of taking to the stage.
Here’s a preview =)
The band challenge
A few weeks ago, I started this challenge from our friends at Nestle Drumstick. Basically, they wanted some of our writers to do something adventurous, something we’ve always dreamed of doing but never really dared to. They’d help finance it, and we’d write about the experience.
So they approached me and proposed: How about I get a makeover?
I guess having seen my picture byline in the papers, they knew that a stylish haircut and some new clothes would represent some great adventure for me.
True as it may be, I sensed an opportunity and counter-proposed that it’d be more fun if I realised my dream of being a musician and starting my own Stevie Wonder tribute band (my favourite artiste of all time). Thankfully, they loved the idea, and I wouldn’t have to get a Susan Boyle-style eyebrow waxing.
Forming the band
Starting a band might not have been as mortifying as a makeover, but it’s definitely much harder. Finding musicians, arranging rehearsals, renting studios/equipment and finding a venue are just some of the things you’ve got to work on.
Fortunately for me, I was able to call on some fantastic, talented friends to help me out.
Guitarist Steve Lam, who plays for local indie band Eve, and Aaron Chew, a talented drummer and former International College of Music student, both said yes on the spot – even after I told them they weren’t getting paid for it.
AIM Award-winning R&B artiste Liang was the next to say yes, even though I’d actually called to ask if he could recommend one of his vocal students for the gig.
The only problem was, by the time we got the whole band together, we had less than two weeks to rehearse. But at least we could all settle on a band name – the Wonder Boys. (like the Wondergirls. Get it? Get it?).
From then on, the problems starting pouring in. I was given a deadline to submit this story you’re reading here, so I had to do the gig by the second week of December.
Thanks to Ray Cheong, an excellent blues singer-songwriter I interviewed before, and his manager Sharmila Naidu, I was able to get a slot at Artista Bar & Restaurant in Tropicana City Mall, Selangor. They introduced me to singer-songwriter Madan Theerthapathy, who handles the Sunday night programme at Artista. He was kind enough to offer December 12 to our new band.
But once I had Dec 12 locked down, both our keyboardists, music instructor Emmanuel Chan and highly sought-after sessionist Rebecca Yau, realised they couldn’t make it. We wouldn’t be able to find a replacement keyboardist until the very afternoon of the show.
Also, I was trying really hard to get a few guest performers as well, artistes I’d interviewed in the past. Lady Gaga, Paramore and Ne-Yo never got back to me, but thankfully, Deja Voodoo Spells’ Rithan, 8TV Quickie host Naqib, rock band Bus Company and the horns section of ska/funk outfit Tilu did; though on such short notice, only Tilu could make it.
And on the week before the show when we were supposed to have most of our rehearsals, Liang sprained his ankle performing in Follow The Light, and was starting to lose his voice. Our drummer also got a work project, so we had no choice but cancel almost all our rehearsals. It was becoming a real nightmare.
Last minute madness
So, with only four rehearsals under our belts, and only two of those with Liang around, Sunday, Dec 12 arrived, the day of the show.
Thanks to another friend, Ian Lingarajan, who plays bass for a band called Cinco, I was able to find a keyboardist at the very last minute.
Linet Goh from fusion band Juanophobia agreed to rehearse five hours with us on Sunday afternoon, and play on that very night itself. It was madness, but Linet was up for it. We also met our guest performer, saxophonist Jeffny from ska/funk band Tilu, for the first time at that last ditch rehearsal. It went well, though we didn’t have Liang with us (he had a matinee show). Linet was fitting in like a real pro, and Jeffny was just awesome.
But later that night in Artista, after we had set up our gear and were waiting for Jeffny to start the show, I got an SMS with some bad news – Jeffny had passed out at a petrol station because of a viral fever.
Thankfully, he was okay, and as bad as we felt, the show had to go on. We already had a crowd of about 75 people waiting.
So we started our first set – You Are The Sunshine Of My Life, Superstition and Knocks Me Off My Feet.
We took a break to rest Liang’s battle-weary vocals, and came back for the final stretch – My Cherie Amour, Lately and Overjoyed, before closing with Signed, Sealed, Delivered.
Yes, it was a very short set. Madan sang a couple of songs during our break, but with so little practise time, Liang’s voice in dire need of some rest, and no guest performers, we had to keep things short and sweet.
Truth be told, I couldn’t be bothered if we had played two songs or 20. It was all about the journey. When the crowd applauded at the end and asked for an encore – which got pretty awkward because we honestly didn’t expect or prepare an encore, so we just walked off sheepishly – I have to be honest, it felt amazing. I know this is like the ultimate cliché, but it really felt like a dream come true.
And I know one gig doesn’t make me a musician, and I might not do another one for the rest of my life, but at least I know I gave it a try, and that alone makes everything totally worth it.
p.s. Here are some videos my good friend and award-winning independent filmmaker Joshua Chay made from the show =)