Jeff Arwadi joins us for our second musician interview on SMM. We talk about Kekal’s new album, Deeper Underground, which I review here. As usual, check out the album on Bandcamp and visit Kekal’s official website. You won’t be disappointed.
Justin A. Burnett: The first thing that strikes me about Kekal’s latest release, Deeper Underground, is that this is clearly a carefully composed labor of love, given the album’s exceptional quality. Are Kekal’s composition standards typically this high? How long did it take to write?
Jeff Arwadi: Deeper Underground took about 2 years to make; that’s because all the songwriting and production happened at the same time, so the music were written as it was produced and recorded. The whole thing was composed through trial-and-error. So many musical elements did not work and they got scrapped during the process. Sometimes, it’s hard to throw away your ideas when you think they’re good, but, then again, if it doesn’t work to fit the bigger picture, it just doesn’t work. I think one of the “standards” in producing this album is to always confront the ego from taking over the whole direction. For example, the ego wanted more solos, but if the overall song doesn’t need them, the ego has to be fought during the production. Believe me, it is not fun confronting your own ego, but when you do this as an exercise, it could also affect you on the personal level.
Justin: Deeper Underground’s Bandcamp page states that Kekal has had no official members since 2009. How does a Kekal release happen? Are the albums written collectively or by a single person?
Jeff: I believe during the most difficult time when the album 8 was recorded back in 2009, we realized that Kekal could go spiralling down and could even implode if the band stayed as it was. After that, all the band members decided to leave the band and became anonymous contributors. That way, any contribution becomes voluntary, you could contribute working only on this song, on that song, on that album, etc. it doesn’t really matter anymore who does what. Kekal itself is a collective DIY (do-it-yourself) anarchic institution, so everything is done collectively without property rights. Whether an album is one by a single person or 100 people, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the continued existence of Kekal, not the individuals who contribute to the work of any album.
Justin: Deeper Underground is Kekal’s eleventh full-length release. Do you mind describing, for the benefit of Kekal initiates such as myself, the stylistic arc Kekal has undergone from Jakarta to now? What has changed? What remains the same?
Jeff: I believe that nothing has really changed with Kekal, if we talk about the core of the band. I can give an analogy of a person: a person grows older and can gain or lose some weight, has more grey hair or becomes bald, wears different styles of clothing, gets some tattoos, has some scars from fighting a grizzly bear like Leonardo DiCaprio did in a movie, gets cataracts, hemorrhoids, etc. but in essence it is still the same person you could either love or hate.
Justin: How did Kekal become one of the first Indonesian bands to reach an international audience in the early 2000s?
Jeff: Well, our 1998 debut album, Beyond The Glimpse of Dreams, was released by a record label based in Singapore, who traded CDs with some underground distributors in Europe and North America, and from there we got some early exposure from underground fanzines who caught the album and gave good reviews of it. By the time we released the 2nd album, Embrace The Dead, the exposure went broader and it caught the attention of a European independent label based in Netherlands called Fear Dark, which then released the next 3 albums in the European market. So it was not really the band’s main intention to “go international”, the term which we didn’t quite like, actually. It was because the music got attention for one reason or another.
Justin: What are Kekal’s musical influences? Do you feel a particular stylistic affinity with any other contemporary bands or musicians?
Jeff: I don’t think I can list all of Kekal’s musical influences because there are just too many. Everything that caught your attention would influence you to some extent. Even anything you wanted to avoid also means your music is shaped or modelled based on avoidance to that particular thing. It is called “negative influence”, an influence by avoidance. I personally don’t listen to music based on styles or genres, not even to bands. I give you an example: one of my most favourite albums of all-time is Seventeen Seconds from The Cure, but I don’t call myself a fan of The Cure because only that particular album I really really love, and I just can’t dig their other albums. By the way, Kekal lists about 150 influential albums on Facebook here.
Justin: Kekal seems to lyrically address issues as diverse as politics, philosophy, and spirituality. Is there overarching message you seek to convey to listeners?
Jeff: Music is part of life; it’s an artistic expression to what we’ve experienced in life. So it’s very normal to use music as a medium to share what you think and feel. We live in a broken world. For me, it would be weird to write songs based on expression like “hey my new cat is so handsome, let’s celebrate”, when you have many other things to say.
Justin: What’s next for Kekal? Is there anything you’d like your listeners to know about future releases or other Kekal-related events?
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