Archive for November, 2003


Tuesday, November 18th, 2003

A handy return to the local scene over the last three years, and a recent groundbreaking grassroots tour in Japan puts guitarist-songwriter Pete Teo in a marketable position.

By Jason Cheah, The Star (Abridged)

You don’t get more rustic than Pete Teo.

Now, a comment like that isn’t meant to put him down, but ‘Rustic Living for Urbanites’, the title of his debut solo album should give you an idea of what that means. It’s his life we are talking about here, and the last few months, since the album’s release in June, have been, to put it mildly, rustic. Imagine a Malaysian trotting around Japan with just a guitar on his back playing grassroots gigs and you picture – Pete Teo.

That happened for three weeks in September, and as part of a 12-show itinerary, he performed in the Asian Acoustic Music Festival in Hokkaido, and at venues such as the Noro Club, as well as the Venus Fort in Tokyo. ‘I was playing to up to 300 people solo,’ he continues. ‘In Osaka, for instance, the audience was small, around 50 per venue, but Tokyo was bigger, anything from 50 to 300.’

It was an experience-and-a-half, that’s for certain, but even that couldn’t beat what he had to go through in the northern Japan island of Hokkaido, where Teo had four slots in the acoustic festival. ‘They were in very remote places, each of which took four hours to drive to. I even played in a farm with chicken running around while I sang.’

In fact, the response from Japan for his tour and album has been so positive that plans are afoot to go back for a bigger tour in the summer of 2004, this time with the support of a full band. ‘It’s an open minded market out there, partly because they look at music as an art as opposed to just entertainment,’ he says, before adding: ‘My Japanese fans go way back. All my early live concerts were recorded and uploaded online to my website, where fans could download them for free. As a result, by the time of record release here, I already had a modest fan base in Japan. For every major city I went to there was a grassroots team.’

Meanwhile, interest in Pete’s music continues to grow in Japan as several radio stations in Tokyo and Osaka have put his music on their play lists. All this culminated in a NHK FM one-hour radio feature on Teo aired on Oct 27 to a nationwide Japanese audience. ‘Basically, it’s one of the top programmes in Japan for music from around the world. I brought a whole stack of tapes of my peers to the interview, and in addition to my songs, they ended up playing music from the likes of Naked Breed, Mei Chern, Jason Lo and even KRU.

According to Teo, pushing the album onto the international market is his next goal, with Hong Kong and Beijing getting official releases this week. ‘I was also recently featured on a nationally syndicated public radio program (NPR) in the USA called ‘The World’ (a PRI / BBC World Service co-production). For the next one-and-a-half years, we’ll see if I can get distribution for major export markets like the US, Australia and Japan. If we can distribute in those places, then I can perhaps move forward with a sustainable regional fan base. I still have one or two more records to work up such a fan base, although I’m pretty confident of that since the reaction has been positive. Anyway, I keep a stock of about 100 CDs on web retail sites such as CD Baby (for the US) and CD Wow (for Europe). The stock in CD Baby was gone within a day of the BBC/PRI programme being aired.’

Closer to home, more specifically, starting this Thursday, fans can catch Pete Teo live at The Actors Studio Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur for three nights on the trot. The show is part of Heineken’s Green Room Sessions and Teo is the first non-jazz or dance music artiste to be featured by the series.

‘We’ve re-arranged the songs since I don’t believe in playing live the same way as what’s on the record,’ he enthuses. ‘It may be a bit jazzier. The musicians are great, with a really positive attitude. I’m really looking forward to this – the approach will be different since it’s not a club gig but a full concert.’

In the meantime, watch out for the first video clip from the album, ‘Arms of Marianne’. According to Teo, it was partly recorded at independent director James Lee’s house. ‘It took six months to get the CGI animations right, and the video is directed and produced by Ho Yuhang and Voxel Animation.’ As for the upcoming show itself, production is handled by Badboyben, a Penang-based deejay and dance label maverick.