Catching our eyes and ears at this year’s Project Aloft Star SEA Finals; local rock band Temjin sounds like a hotpot mix of nostalgic J-rock and Malay rock channelled through millennial pop exuberance. Speaking to core members (vocalist-guitarist Syuk, guitarist Adam, and bassist Adzim), the band breaks down their own genre called ‘Cheetah Rock’ to us and teaches us the value of perseverance for newcomers…
The band formed in college under a different name. When did you guys decide to get serious about making music?
Syuk We started out as a band that plays J-rock. When we were together, the dream of making it a serious band has been there all the time. Though, we were looking for a better concept to claim our own during our material making and that’s when we founded ‘Cheetah Rock’.
Adam (AD) It’s true that the band started off with a different name back during college – with different lineups. When Syuk, originally our guitarist, became our frontman, then things got more serious. We discovered that we did have some talent in songwriting years back. We made and also scrapped off some originals, but then managed to retain some songs that we all could agree on recording and brought it to our audience. We’ve been busy since then.
Adzim (AZ) Yeah, we went through a few name changes and also changes in vocalists but all of them didn’t really jive with us. Syuk was originally our guitarist, then we decided to promote him to vocalist. Adam was the one who came up with the name Temjin based on something he came across as a child. Since the very beginning, all of us separately wanted to do music seriously but after we all found each other, things just came together.
Do any of you have day jobs or is it music full-time for you guys?
S Yes. All of us do. It’s been quite a big commitment for all of us since we sacrifice most of our leisure time in making this band work. When the time comes, we’ll be putting music out as full-time musicians.
AD Like it or not, we all still need a day job. It has been quite some challenge for us all to manage our time for the band and our families. We do wish that someday music will be our bread and butter.
AZ I do have a full-time job. It’s a challenge but in this day and age you really need to be able to support yourself – nobody’s going to hand it to you in a silver platter. A future career in music, that’s the dream.
What is ‘Cheetah Rock’?
S ‘Cheetah Rock’ is a concept and an anthem we made. It started out as just a fashion-based concept. Long after we drove ourselves into ‘Cheetah Rock’, we are living it. We think of our music as a cheetah. Lions can be the kings of the jungle, but cheetahs are the ones that struggle hard in their habitat. In the music industry, alternative [rock] may not be the easiest genre to bring, but we will do our best to survive and bring our passion for music to the industry.
AD Thanks to Adzim. who actually made the genre happen! Generally, we play rock – as in any rock you could think of like hard rock, punk rock, a little of metal, and so on. The unique thing about ‘Cheetah Rock’ is that it symbolises that we are still here, fighting our way to make it to the top of the industry. If we look at the savannah today, cheetah is actually going towards extinction. Competing for our survival is crucial, to make it to the top is not impossible for us, and if ever we are really going to go extinct, we will leave a mark in history. Besides that, cheetah fashion is cool and it is something quite unnoticed by people around. So to brand ourselves as that is a different approach that we came up with for our fans.
AZ Genre-wise, all of us were really obsessed with Japanese rock music in the early days. But throughout the years, we started to open our eyes more, listened to a wide genre of songs no matter the continent. So we amalgamated all these in ‘Cheetah Rock’. I was also really into American and British old school rock and metal like hair metal and stuff, hence the love for cheetah prints.
What’s your biggest Japanese musical influence?
S Luna Sea has been a big influence for us and we even performed their songs when J-Rock Tamashii (Malaysian J-rock community) did a tribute gig for the band. But honestly, we really love this one band in which not many Malaysians really know they existed; MUCC, an awesome carefree band and very cool. You guys should check it out.
AD Japanese music has been a joyride for us. Personally, I think we could go with any J-rock influence from Japan except the cutie-cutie love bands like Morning Musume. Nobuo Uematsu has always been my personal idol and I hope someday, not just me myself, but my whole band will be able to compose like him.
AZ Personally, I love The Cure, Placebo, Suede, Silverchair, InMe, Buck-Tick. But collectively I think we all listen to Luna Sea, Mucc, Foo Fighters, and not to forget, Steel Panther.
In your opinion, what’s the difference between J-rock and rock from the West?
S J-rock is actually influenced by rock from the West. But what happened is, they made it even better… and original in style in which they sometimes exaggerate the visual aspect. But gosh, have they made it even more technical while still being ‘easy listening’. “JAPANESE!” [Insert the ‘Alien Guy’ meme here]
AD Personally, to my ears and visually, J-rock has somewhat a more distinctive sound in their songs and production. The West is the West, but I think that Japanese are more artistic in their songmaking. Although when translated, Japanese songs could mean something simple, but it’s their language themselves that made it unique and rhythmic. A same 4-chord song from the West could totally be different than the one from Japan, and vice versa.
AZ Oh, where do I start… Well, it’s their showmanship, musical finesse, and lyrical poetry. I started really falling for them based on their lyrics. They really are good storytellers. They definitely have no fear to merge and mix it up genre-wise. One band’s album really can take you through the motions with their different styles of music.
‘Gua Suka Lu’ mixes English and Malay lyrics. Was this done on purpose to make the song more interesting or did you do it because it just sounds better?
S Both, to make it interesting and sound better. It catches people listening to something different and with the right stress and tones of words, they just fit in with the melody that we have done. We somehow didn’t make it only bilingual, but we put Malaysian dialect into the song like “gua suka lu” and “serius.” It makes the song sound better when it’s being sung by a brutal-like streets-person persona who’s in love.
AD Sounds better, yes. It is somehow a trend in our local industry too. Not just us, but even K-pop songs have mixed lyrics as such to make their songs rhyme.
AZ It’s just something we like to do. Some of our old songs incorporate a mix of English and Malay lyrics. The trick is really to know where to arrange it, and yes it does sounds better.
Recently, Sarawak became the first state to adopt English as its official language. Do you feel that young Malay artistes should write more bilingual lyrics?
S It depends on their artistic value in making [their songs] bilingual or vice versa. Every people have their own way in expressing their art and in which lingual arts is a big point in making the lyrics. We will not stop anyone if they wish to do bilingual music. It is even better. If Japanese and Koreans can do it in their music, why can’t us?
AD In a certain degree, being bilingual is a big yes. To adopt English as the official language is good and crucial because the world out there revolves around the language of English. Instead of just being bilingual, I believe English songs are the way to go to sell songs and any products outside Malaysia.
AZ A definite yes!
You were one of the five finalists who performed at the 2015 Project Aloft Star SEA Finals hosted by Aloft KL Sentral. How was the experience like and how did you get ready for the big show?
S The experience was just awesome! We were so excited when we got to know that we were chosen for the Top 15. Our friends supported us of course. And when we got to know we were in the Top 5, we even planned on bringing a whole orchestra for it. But we cut some things off so that we can have more practice time, that’s when we invited our manager to play the cello with us, and Lee Jyorin for the keys. We wanted to make it EPIC!
AD The experience was unimaginable. We managed to meet lots of people during the competition and experienced music from our neighbours first hand. It was really an honour to be there. How did we get ready? Practice, practice, and practice alone and together is the way to go!
AZ The experience was legendary. It was like getting ready for war with the instruments as our battle axes and longswords. We wanted to make an impression that would latch on to everyone’s head for eternity. All of us were really jubilant that the crowd enjoyed our show.
How has Aloft been supporting you guys after the Finals?
S They have done awesomely good. Even after the Aloft Finals, up till now you can see they have always been sharing the post-event news in social media. MTV too will soon be playing our new single ‘Gua Suka Lu’ as a privilege as part of the Aloft Star Finals. They’re even inviting us to perform for their New Year’s Eve celebration this year, which we feel really honoured and excited to be playing at Aloft again, but this time it will be at their rooftop bar, Mai Bar.
AD They have called us for a New Year’s countdown show at their rooftop bar called Mai Bar. Things have just started and hopefully we will be supporting each other more in the future in promoting each of our brands. They have been giving us quite a lot of support so far, including promoting us in various social media platforms.
AZ We are grateful for all they have done for us.
What can we expect from your set this New Year’s Eve at Mai Bar, Aloft?
S If you want to know, you guys gotta come! You’ll be experiencing a Cheetah Rockin’ blast from the past moment before going into 2016. We’ll be bringing all nostalgic repertoires. A night that you don’t want to miss.
AD We are going to bring you all back to the past, and to the future, ‘Cheetah Rock’ style. It will be fun and there will a lot of sing-alongs!
AZ Come down, and we positively will show you the night of your life. We are gradually building our repertoire of evergreen, modern, and post-modern I guess. Haha!
From your live sets on YouTube, we see you like to rock the Power Rangers theme song. If you had Japanese superhero powers, who would it be from and what would it be?
S We really love that show! There have been plans for us to cover Gaban’s song too. But regarding your question on the Japanese superpower, I’ll go for Super Sentai… because it’s actually the Japanese Power Rangers. Haha!
AD I love Kamen Rider, Ultraman, and ultimately, I would love to have powers like Saitama, the One Punch Man.
AZ Dude, of course I would like to be a Super Sentai also. Oh, and also Kamen Rider, that guy’s a badass!
Temjin is set to play at Mai Bar, Aloft KL Sentral this NYE. 7pm onwards. Call 03 2723 1125 to RSVP. Keep up with Temjin at www.facebook.com/TEMJINROCKS.