Part 1 of 18 serialised by Nuance, New Straits Times

First Week Of September 2002

I’d have other people doing all these unglamorous stuff for me if I was Britney Spears. But I’m not her. I’m a little known musician trying to make an independent record in Malaysia.

‘Independent what?’, I hear you groan. Well, put simply, an independent record is what happens when friends, family and/or fans as opposed to a major record label fund a record. It also means that I have to do everything myself, like drafting contracts, borrowing equipment, booking hotels, coordinating schedules, booking plane tickets, groveling at strangers. In other words, you do everything they didnít tell you about when they sold you the dream.

Why all this logistical exertion for a modest little record?

You see, through a massive stroke of luck, an American producer by the name of Ronan Chris Murphy, who normally works with very famous musicians (not me), agreed to produce my record. As though that isnít fluky enough, Hayakawa Takeharu, one of the most influential bassists in Japan’s New Jazz scene, submitted to my dogged email pestering and signed up for the project too. So it was that the production team for my record includes people from half way around the world. This explains why there is a need for plane tickets and hotels.

And since these people have charitably agreed to massively discounted fees for their services, I must ensure that they at least stay and work in a decent environment. Given the unremarkable state of my budget, this means I have had to do a lot of groveling to strangers in the hope of obtaining discounts and special treatment. Most of the time, people go ‘pffft’ and ignore me; but sometimes, I get lucky.

Anyway, because all the musicians playing on my record have better things to do (like make proper money elsewhere), they can only afford to allocate a limited amount of time on my project. This means that the co-ordination and scheduling for my sessions must be highly precise, or else, time will run out, the musicians move on to other projects, and the proverbial brown stuff hits the fan.

This means I worry a lot.

For example: I worry about Lewis.

That’s Malaysia’s very own Lewis Pragasam, one of the most technically accomplished drummers in the world. I havenít known Lewis for long, but he agreed to play on my record for a remarkably cheap fee anyway. Over lunch just the other day, he said he would set aside 10 days in mid-October for me, the same 10 days that Hayakawa the bassist will be in town. To have one of the best drummers on earth playing on my record is like a dream come true, and so I lapped up his generosity like a wet dog.

But Lewis also added that, within that same 10 days, he might have to attend to a few rehearsals elsewhere for a big money show happening on the 20th of October. In other words, he might have to leave early, or come late, or even miss a few of my sessions entirely. Meanwhile, I have an American producer and a Japanese bassist on a limited schedule that will not tolerate more than a few days of delay. All this leads me to implode with fear.

Oh no. What if the already tight window for my sessions gets squeezed because of Lewis’s other commitments, and we end up not having enough time to compete the record? What if the studio equipment breaks down mid-session, leading to more delays? What if Bush decides to invade Iraq and all flights are cancelled? What if I fall sick? What if everyone falls sick? What if we end up hating each other and the record turns out to be a sham?

It is then I’d call Sherry, the brilliantly talented guitarist enlisted to play second guitar on the record. He’d come to my flat and we’d practice for 8 hours straight. He’d bring his wife and new born daughter Animah. We’d joke about making it big and doing the next record in the Bahamas like rocks stars do. Weíd ponder on that for a moment, realise that it would be nice to do just that, and then doggedly practice for a few hours more.

Last night, Kum Loong the Erhu player came to join us. Everything was hesitant at first. It is never easy for a traditional instrument to fit into a contemporary musical genre. So we worked through the material in more detail. The result was still odd. It was like trying to shoehorn a square peg into a round hole. But then, suddenly, it clicked. All three of us looked at each other and knew it was working. This is exciting. We couldn’t stop playing. Magic.

Today, I checked the production schedule for the umpteenth time. Ronan will arrive on the 1st of October. Pre-production will start the next day. Hayawaka will arrive on the 8th of October. Full band rehearsals will start on the 9th. Studio recording starts on the 13th and will last 18 days. I have only allowed 3 contingency days in the production schedule because that’s all that I can afford. It will either be a wonderful adventure or a messy nightmare.

I can’t wait.