Azmyl Yunor & The Sigarettes: Nicotine Fix for the Worn Out Soul

Image Azmyl Yunor & The Sigarettes

There’s a palpable gap in quality between male and female singer songwriters – the latter has made waves abroad while the former is content with pandering to their aw-shucks sensitive nice guy appeal. If JUICE were to recommend one male singer songwriter without feeling dirty, it’d be folk rocker Azmyl Yunor. Arguably the hardest working independent solo musician, Azmyl has performed everywhere regardless of the pay like a true troubadour-cum-busker. With new album Wilayah, Azmyl has added the talented peers from all over the scene he had encountered throughout his decade-long gigging experience to his repertoire, the nicotine inspiration of his namesake. Now going by Azmyl Yunor & the Sigarettes, his stripped minimal sound has been propelled into amped-up sing-along anthems accompanied by the likes of Liyana Fizi and Shanon Shah. We spoke to the erudite musician on silly things like his “Aku Bukan Azmyl Yunor” statement tee and the ideals of a borderless world.

Hi Azmyl, how socially conscious are you feeling today?
Enough to be in the mood to socialise!

To the uninitiated among us, introduce us to the Sigarettes. Who are some of these ultra-talented musicians?
The seminal ‘classic’ line-up are Adrian Yap on bass, Keng on electric guitar, Jeremy Liew on drums, and last but no least, singer-songwriter/pianist extraordinaire Shanon Shah. If you’re hip enough and have access to free wi-fi, you can find out for yourself which other bands they belong to. Other musicians who joined on board, at different junctures and live shows, include The Alia on piano, Raje on drums, Tomas Tam on bass, Ryan Lee Bhaskaran on drums. For the album, ‘honorary’ Sigarettes include acoustic chanteuse Liyana Fizi and free-jazz saxophonist Yong Yandsen, and Ben Liew on electric lead guitar. Gosh, it’s been a weird journey…

How did you guys come to be? Most know you as just a solo act.
Keng had been playing electric guitar with me during my post-Tenets EP shows, when the idea hit me of forming a loose coalition of musician friends who’d like to back me up live. Some had approached when word got around that I was looking for musicians, so I got excited. Plus, the songs we ended up playing were very simple, most were four chords max.  Azmyl Yunor & The Sigarettes was actively gigging between 2006 – 2009 when we began recording the songs which ended up on “Wilayah”, which are mostly staples from from my pre-“Warga” sets. Some of the songs on “Wilayah” were also written ages ago when I had my first band back in the late 90s and I imagined them having a backbeat but didn’t have a band at the time to bring them to life. It took 5 years to finish, so it feels like an ‘old’ new album to me by now, but it’s fresh to audiences, which matters most.

Sigarettes… is that some weird Indonesian adoption of the word cigarette?
I’d call it a regional-friendly spelling, a compromise between the English ‘Cigarette’ and the Indonesian ‘Sigaret’.

What’s the difference between Azmyl Yunor the folk solo act vs. Azmyl Yunor & the Sigarettes?
You’ve got some other fellas (and ladies) backing him up live and on record.

Tell us more about the album’s title, Wilayah, would it be accurate to surmise that this will be a Kuala Lumpur-centric album?
You can if you want to, the power is in your hand Dear Listener! On an obvious level, it can be about KL. However, on a personal level, these songs came about from my travels, different experiences of pains and pleasures and everything in between, and restless sojourns…they occupy different ‘territories’ from my life, so I felt it’s an apt title.

What can we expect from the album?
Louder and lo-fi leaning rocking stuff, like two back-to-back double shots of espresso (or four cups of Nescafe with no sugar) in the morning. It rewards those who play the album in its entirety and stick to the chronological order of the track listing. It’s a narrative.

Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits are your obvious influences. Who are some of the people we might not suspect had influenced you?
Non-musical influences like local writers Salleh Ben Joned and T. Alias Taib, American gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, drunk poet Charles Bukowski….non-‘rock’ groups like Public Enemy, N.W.A… let’s just say that for other musical acts, I like my Alleycats as much as I like my Sonic Youth…

Being an academic, do you think music need to have substance beyond sounding good? 
Not necessarily. ‘Substance’ can be a good irresistible groove as much as a meaningful line of a lyric. It’s very subjective. Just like how some like their teh tarik kurang manis or kaw.