Images Khai AJ
Waiting for Sydney-based Malaysian singer-songwriter Heymun to arrive was oddly nerve-racking. We’ve heard her music and we’ve seen her videos before, which led to much postulation as to what she might be like in real life. Her singing voice, both on record and live, is vaguely accented the same way Joanna Newsom’s is, but with greater pop accessibility and twee-ness to her intonation. It’s the sort of twang that’s difficult to pinpoint its origins, so we thought Heymun might just be one of those crossborder talents who are Malaysian by birth certificate only.
That supposition was quickly shattered once we spoke to the unsurprisingly diminutive singer, she was the very picture of a Malaysian girl even after seven years of living in Sydney. Speaking to us like she never left the country for greener pastures, she told us that even when conversing with friends from Down Under, she’d still use our local pidgin – insisting that they adapt to her way of talking instead of the other way around. Suddenly our interview didn’t seem so intimidating, it helped that there was an earnestness to Heymun, she was eager to introduce herself and tell her story, all with a persistent joy on her girl-next-door countenance.
“One day I’m home baking lemon cakes from the Game of Thrones cookbook, writing songs on my brown suede sofa, and the next I’m travelling for music,” said Heymun, relating to the capricious nature of her career turn – from reclusive video editor to musician (who’s still a bit of a hermit). Fond of cutesy analogies, she told us that just like her lemon cakes, life can go one way or the other. Fortunately for her, unlike her lemon cakes, musically her materials are far from overbaked. Her debut self-titled EP is a perfect mixture of all the right ingredients for a successful singer-songwriter; folky acoustics backed by just enough string instruments, quirky vocals distinct from other acts, and lyrics that elicit pure emotions. If this read like we were smitten by her, well, it’s not just us. Unsigned Only Music Competition 2013 validated her last year by awarding her with first place in the Place Folk/Singer-Songwriter category, making her the first Malaysian to win one.
Uniquely, despite her music, Heymun didn’t come from a musically prodigious background. A strange fact coming from someone who told us that “songwriting is like therapy,” but that makes it all the more impressive considering that her sound conjures up ideas of who she might be influenced by in our heads, only to be later denied any confirmation of it. Even when we spoke to her, she admitted that her iPod and iPhone are void of music at the time. Instead, she’d only recently started to discover music purely on a whim; if there were a concert happening in Sydney or nearby, she would attend it. Legends like Bob Dylan, Kraftwerk, and more, although names she had heard of before, were only properly introduced to her in that manner.
It was also in Sydney that she picked up the guitar again, long after she decided to seek a career in film. “I pick up my instrument, I shut out all the noise, and let the sounds of what I’m feeling out,” divulged Heymun to us of her creation process. It’s almost a religious experience, like a revelation bestowed upon a modern day prophet, her fingers pick out the tones and lyrics would seemingly follow through. Or maybe not, that is only the initial step, one which she would record using voice memo and notepad on her smartphone before turning it into something bigger at the studio.
Having lived overseas on her own for years, her independence has led to a very hands on approach to her career. “From making my own calls, writing my songs, the direction of the EP, printing, booking, editing videos, answering emails, and holding my own umbrella (laughs), I do everything on my own!” The reasoning for this is straightforward, Heymun wanted to do her best first before asking anyone for help. Despite that, true to her fashion, she balanced that out with some good ol’ fashion self-deprecating humour; “That said, if the right person comes along and wants to help me out, I’d be happy [to welcome them].”
Having played at New York’s legendary CBGB Festival, and having her tunes aired on Australia’s Triple J and FBi radio stations, you would think there wasn’t any need for her to connect with Malaysia anymore. But she comes back at least twice a year, and has since gotten acquainted with the singer-songwriter community, with names like Reza Salleh, Az Samad, Azmyl Yunor and more on her contact list. Recently she opened for Lucy Rose at The Bee, Publika – a homecoming performance of sort – which was to be only one of more gigs she intended to play here.
“When I’m back I feel like my life here resumes a little because my parents still have their same old habits; mum watching TVB dramas series till 2am and dad blasting his music. It’s like nothing has changed in that department and that’s wonderful.”
Heymun, still the very picture of a Malaysian girl.
Find Heymun on her official Facebook page.