I’d woken up every morning since the AIM Awards expecting to see a miraculous new me in the mirror. See, apart from winning all my nominations, I was christened ‘the new heartthrob’ by one paper and ‘the indie poster boy’ by another - so it seemed natural to anticipate visible changes to justify such hyperbole. Yet the same grizzled face stared back. The only thing that had changed seemed to be the ever-rising mountain of work piling up on the study table.
So I called James Lee. Two of his films are opening in Malaysia on the 10th of May. I am the lead in one of them and the press had requested joint interviews. I guess even quirky little art house films needed plugging. Shrug. We scheduled a few things quickly then hung up. But not before he teased me about my newfound status as ‘heartthrob’. I grimaced and let it pass. It was too early in the morning to go all potty-mouthed.
I checked my email. 85 messages overnight. Congratulatory messages from friends nestled among spam offering help to lengthen my penis. Nice. Shiori wrote too. She is my manager in Japan. She’s finalising the flyer for my June Tokyo gig and wanted my agreement to arrange for press interviews. She also suggested possibility of merchandising my videos in Japan. Oh and would I write an article about Malaysian arts for a Japanese webzine? I thought for a moment. The videos needed to be converted to NTSC format. The interviews would have to be after the gig. The flyer looked great. I will write the article. So I replied accordingly.
Another email. This time from San Francisco. Tim asked about my trip to SXSW. Did I have a good time? [Yes]. Would I be playing SXSW again next year? [Probably not]. Did I make new friends? [Yes]. Did I see anyone famous? [Peter Buck of REM, Tommy Ramones and Kirsten Dunst]. How did my gigs go? [Okay]. Will my CDs be distributed in the USA soon? [Dunno]. Will I be posting photographs of the trip? [Yes - see below]. This reminded me - I had completely forgotten about the article on SXSW I promised to write for a national daily. Damn. Better not call the editor till the pile is smaller…
The phone rang.
It was Eleen of Alexis Ampang. It’s been months since the last Songwriters’ Rounds and I’d promised her that we’d put out a couple of shows on the 18th and 19th of May. Anyway, she needed to know if the blurbs for the performers were ready. I mumbled some excuse. Fingers crossed. But she wasn’t assured. She didn’t get angry or anything though. She merely softened her voice and reminded me that death by rat poison is no fun. I made a mental note to get the blurbs done over the weekend.
And so it went on like this. For an entire week. I could bore you with endless accounts of press interviews, blurb-writing, scheduling, rehearsals, emails, website maintainence, studio sessions and so on - but it is not necessary - you girls and boys are plenty smart and know the score. The point is, I was such a sad fuck that I worked on the morning after the AIM Awards. I mean, it was a Sunday, for Christ’s sake - and I’d just won the biggest music award an English artist can win in this country. I am pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to be like that.
Not that I am griping, you understand? I know I am a lucky son of a beep [sorry mum] to be doing what I love. I know the world doesn’t owe me a living and that I’d have to fight for every scrap. Hell, I even know how fortunate it was that a strange little alternative folk record like ‘Television’ won over judges normally more atuned to R&B and hip hop [let alone a record that did not have any major label backing]. I know all that. It’s just that I had not expected things to be THIS normal after a watershed.
And so I stood disappointed very morning in front of the mirror for a week. That familiar skinny bloke glared back at me. Bags under the eyes. Grizzled and ruffled. Same old crap on a different day and faced with the same undeniable fact - that in spite of media hype and industry bull - AIM was just a brief detour. Fun and flattering it was. Plenty of bragging rights even. But there’s a long way to go before I can rest.
- SXSW PHOTOGRAPHS - [Click To Enlarge]
AUSTIN’S BIG FESTIVAL. SXSW is possibly the biggest music festival in the world. Close to a thousand performances took place at more than 50 different venues this year. It used to be a place to discover little indie acts but major labels have since muscled in to buzz up new projects. A festival for partying more than business. Austin’s pride. Real fun.
6TH STREET. Although there were events right across town, most of the action at SXSW happened on 6th street. Between 10,000 to 15,000 visitors from all over the world visit the festival each year. Hotels are fully booked for a week and taxis are impossible to find. Queues to enter the most popular showcases went on forever.
DANIEL JOHNSTON. At the Habanna Calle on 6th Street. Johnston is the ultimate lo-fi cult act. He puts child-like melody to haunting words. Kurt Cobain famously wore his T-shirt on MTV. He had just recovered from yet another spell of mental illness prior to this gig. It was a stunning performance. I played at the indoor stage of this venue earlier.
NEW FRIENDS. [L to R: Kris, Todd, Unknown & Fernando]. I met Fernando and Kris at the SXSW artist registration queue. He is a well known indie artist from Portland Oregan. Kris is his partner and Todd replicates his CDs. We got on real well and met everyday. Kris and Fern are lovely and Todd is a seriously funny man. I wouldn’t have had as much fun without them.
TOMMY RAMONES. [Centre] We were at the Burnside Music party. Word came that the last surviving Ramones - Tommy - would be playing a surprise set. As it turned out, the drummer of the legendary punk outfit plays mandolin and bluegrass now. His face is weathered and his voice more so. Mellowed punk rocker. Good to see him doing what he loves still.
LYDIA HUTCHINSON. I met Lydia [Right] at the Bluhammock party. She is the editor and owner of Performing Songwriter magazine. It emerged that she lived in Kuala Lumpur as a child and her father set up the agricultural college in Serdang. I might visit her in Nashville. Bluhammock is a singer songwriter label based out of NYC.
ANTI WAR DEMONSTRATION. Austin, despite located in Bush country, is a liberal city. An anti-war demonstration took place on the last day of SXSW. A man carried a large wooden crucifix over his shoulder as he marched. Nailed onto the cross was the Star of David and the Islamic crescent. Diversity united. Sanity symbolised. Brilliant.
PETER BUCK. Kris and Fernando knows REM guitarist Peter Buck [on stage]. This photo was taken at a show where he played guitar for a British singer whose name I forget. Met Buck before the show. Big tall dude. Not friendly. Don’t blame him though. He must meet a lot of sharks in his job. Not a great gig. Couldn’t handle the crowd. So I left early.
CD BABY. We were invited to the CD Baby party. I met Alex Steininger [left] and Sean Croghan there. Both work for the Portland-based company. To my surprise, Sean had checked out my work before and was excited to see me. Alex got very drunk at the party and snogged everyone on the mouth. He promotes Fernando [right] and offered to do the same for me.
GOSPEL BUSKERS. SXSW isn’t just about official showcases by invited acts. Many street corners were lined with unscheduled street performers. This was a group of country kids singing gospel songs on 6th Street. The lead singer [girl playing double bass] had an interesting voice. I listened for an hour. Authentic sounds of the Bible belt.
HOT DOG. I have a thing about hog dogs. 6th Street during SXSW is lined with hot dog stores. I would wander down it eating hot dogs as I popped in and out of venues. It’s bloody good stuff. Big, meaty and very tasty. My record was 5 in an hour. At 2am in the morning. Why can’t we get hot dogs like this in Malaysia? Hm. Guess I’ll have to make my own.