I gave an interview to a Lithuanian youth webzine called ORE.LT last week. It has just gone live. I’ve provided the English original of the interview here. But you should go check out the site and say hello or something. We’re in the Baltics peeps…

[ Check out the interview in Lithuanian HERE ]

ORE: Most people in Lithuania do not know anything about you. Could you introduce yourself?

PT: I am a singer songwriter. But I also act in films. European followers of Malaysian New Wave Cinema might know me as an actor more than a musician.

ORE: In Lithuania we have crazy music shows on TV. Very similar to ‘American Idol’. What do you think about music reality shows? Is it possible to find really talented people there?

PT: I don’t watch reality shows. I am not convinced that TV shows such as ‘American Idol’ is a good place to find real musical talent. I guess these shows are design to produce disposable pop icons and I don’t find them terribly interesting. Perhaps I am too old fashioned.

ORE: In today’s world, is making good music enough to be a star?

PT: Good music alone has never been enough. It has always taken hard work and luck as well. Moreover, ever since the music video became important in the marketing of popular music, one needs to be charismatic onscreen too. I think this is very unfortunate. Not all great musicians translate well visually. The world has missed out on a lot of wonderful music because of this.

ORE: What are the main problems that Malaysian musicians are facing?

PT: There are many problems for Malaysian musicians – from the small and fragmented nature of the domestic music market, to insufficient number of live venues, to weak community support for homegrown music and many more. But the biggest problem is music piracy.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that piracy has decimated the entire music industry. Faced with plunging CD sales, labels are simply not investing in new acts. There were more than 700 label-signed artistes in the country 15 years ago whereas there are fewer than 70 today. In the last 18 months alone, numerous recording studios closed down and countless people lost their jobs.

It is not a good time to be a musician in Malaysia.

ORE: You’re from Malaysia. Why are your songs in English?

PT: Malaysia is a multi-racial and multi-lingual country. It is not unusual for someone to speak 3 or 4 languages. I speak 7 languages. I sing in English but I speak Cantonese or Mandarin in films. English language musicians are not uncommon in Malaysia. The country is an ex-British colony. Almost all city people speak English to a varying degree.

ORE: ‘After all, what is heard in his music is a culmination of his life, in life size.’ This sentence is taken from one of your concert reviews. So, what’s going to happen next? I mean after the culmination. Maybe you are still living at your ‘highest point’?

PT: The comment you quoted was flattering of course. But it was just a music critic trying to make sense of what he heard or saw. I am not sure I understand what he meant. Neither do I think that I am now at ‘the highest point’ artistically. In fact, the mere idea of ‘highest point’ does not make sense to me. I look at it more as different points along the same continuum. All I’d like to do is to evolve along that continuum in a way that is true to my experience at each point. I do not think it is healthy to plan beyond that.

ORE: Could you tell more about Malaysia’s underground scene? Are there really good musicians? What possibilities do young people have in your country?

PT: We have a pretty vibrant underground scene in Malaysia and there are many good musicians here. This is especially so in the English language segment of the community.

In recent years, the local press has extended coverage to the scene, which in turn enabled musicians like myself to break into the mainstream in a bigger way. But it remains true that Malaysia has a small music market and opportunities for musicians are limited compared to [say] their peers in Europe or America. Most successful bands and artists eventually try to break into bigger regional markets such as Indonesia, China, Korea or Japan. Needless to say, this is not an easy thing to do.

At the moment, there are probably fewer than 10 independent artists who make enough money from their music to be full time professionals.

ORE: What do you think about globalization? In your opinion, what consequences does it have on Malaysian culture?

PT: I think globalization is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it brings far-flung communities closer together, which is a great thing; but on the other, it also marginalizes local cultural voices, which is a terrible thing. For instance, imported arts dominate Malaysia’s cultural landscape because the country embraces the cultural influences of the globalized media. Whilst this lends the country an air of being cosmopolitan and modern, it also exacts a price in that local voices gets stifled and muted.

Globalization is a supposed to be a multi-lateral process of cultural exchange and cross-fertilization – but in reality, it is a very unbalanced ‘one-way’ process emanating from the center to the fringe. Given that the process of globalization tends to favor the powerful over the weak, local public policy needs to be mobilized in order to protect local cultural voices.

Unfettered globalization is just another form of imperialism.

ORE: Vilnius [capital of Lithuania] is going to be cultural capital of Europe in 2009. Do you have any advice on what should be done?

PT: I am not qualified to give any such advice, but I think striving for a sound balance between a globalized culture and local identity is important. It couldn’t be so cool if Vilnius became just a copy of London or New York.

ORE: In your songs, what is more important: music or words?

PT: Both work together. But if I had to choose, then words take priority.

ORE: How do you define your music? Is it folk / rock?

PT: I guess it is. But world music elements are also present in my music. And jazz too. So perhaps it is folk / rock / jazz / world. Anyway, I don’t think about this much. It is not important to me what people call it.

ORE: You have released two albums and won many awards. What is Your biggest dream?

PT: To make honest music for the rest of my life.

ORE: When and where was your best gig?

PT: My best performances tend to be in places like Japan. I think it is to do with the quality of the audience. Japanese people value craft and artistry in a very admirable and inspiring way.

ORE: What kind of music do you like? Tell me about the groups/artists who have the biggest influence on you?

PT: I listen to a very wide range of music. Artists who have had influences on me range from Woody Guthrie to Wataru Takada to Led Zeppelin to Van Morrison to Teresa Teng. I’ve been listening to a lot of Middle Eastern music lately. I also like Bulgarian choral music. And writers such as Shakespeare and Lu Hsun are as influential on how I write as any musician.

ORE: Why is your second album named ‘Television’?

PT: All the songs on the album were written while watching the news on television over a period of 2 months.

ORE: You have also appeared as an actor in ‘Malaysia New Wave Cinema’. Could you tell me more about it? What is it and what connections do you have with it?

PT: The Malaysian New Wave movement is hard to describe. It has no manifesto. It is not unified by a singular artistic or ideological vision. It is not even really a movement. It is simply a loose collection of artists making art that represents the ‘new voices’ of Malaysia. Although these artists often share resources and collaborate with each other, they have radically different visions and styles. At times, the only discernible commonality between them seems to be their opposition to fundamental problems in the mainstream social and cultural fabric of the country.

My connection to Malaysian New Wave Cinema is principally one of friendship with leading filmmakers in that scene. We started out as hopefuls in the backstreets of Kuala Lumpur together. You could say that we grew up together as artists and have many common goals and visions.

[Interviewer: Sarunas Girdenas . June 2007]