Musicians aren’t ‘rock stars’, and Paperplane Pursuit will tell you why (VIDEO)

By Shazwan Mustafa Kamal
The writer Shazwan Mustafa Kamal (far right) interviews Paperplane Pursuit at their home studio. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, March 3 — If there is one word I would use to describe Paperplane Pursuit (besides talented!), it would be hard-working. The Malaysian pop band is certainly no stranger to fame, having made it to the US Billboard chart in 2015 with their song Feel Good besting other artistes like Adam Lambert and Maroon 5.

But for John O (lead vocalist), Dru Yap (drummer), Isaac Ravi (guitarist) and The Chief (bassist), while the achievement was certainly a milestone in their career, resting on their laurels was not an option for the band as the quartet refused to be defined by a single event or achievement.

“We don’t want to be looking at the past and thinking that was our moment. We want to move forward and create more milestones,” John told Malay Mail Online in a recent interview at the band’s home studio/office.

And the boys have been extremely busy. Ever since their debut in 2009, Paperplane Pursuit has enjoyed success on mainstream Malaysian radio stations and has since released two EPs titled Malaysia 2.0 back in 2010 and Higher in 2014, and is currently prepping to release their first full-length album titled Second Date later this year.

They already released a single from the upcoming album last month called Internet Celebrity, which is a commentary of sorts on how social media consumes our everyday life.

What really sets the band apart from some other artistes is the fact that they are entirely self-funded and self-managed with no backing from any label.

They write, produce and record all of their music in their own production studio, and produce their own music videos too.

“We divvy up the band work. I manage the band… Isaac schedules the band’s calendar appointments. Dru (Andrew) handles the finances and legal matters,” John said.

Being a full-time musician: The rock star life?

Is it possible to become a full-time musician in Malaysia, or do you need a day job to help pay the bills? It depends, according to the band.

“I would say keep your job because before we reached this point, we had our day jobs which enabled us to invest in the band. We could do music as we felt it needed to be done,” Isaac explained.

Out of the all the band members, Dru is the only who still has a day job as a doctor. The Chief, Isaac and John are full-time musicians, which means their complete focus is on the band. But when they first started out, John and Isaac juggled day jobs and their roles as musicians.

“We could state that we don’t play covers, and we don’t do shows like that because we had a day job. But later on, I quit my job to focus on music. I felt our writing production could not progress unless I did that,” John said.

But Paperplane Pursuit says that there is a misconception that being in a rock band means living the “rock star” life; sleeping all day and partying all night when in reality, it really is not like that at all.

“The simple answer would be to treat it as your job. It is a full-time job because if we look at it, we spend most of our time not playing music and meeting people, clients, planning things. It’s like a typical corporate start-up,” Isaac said.

“It’s hard enough to make it in life with a day job… that’s already hard, so what makes you think you can step into this like a rock star and work less?” John added.

Malaysian music, and going indie

According to the band, there should not be a specific sound or genre which defines whether the music can then be classified as “Malaysian.” They believe that their songs, despite being in English, serves to connect to fans here at home as well as abroad.

“We have had a lot of Western influences, sure, but we all grew up in Malaysia, we went to national schools, our songs, our experiences… we are as Malaysian as we can get,” Isaac said.

And they feel that contrary to popular belief, artistes no longer need big record labels to help them push their music to a wider audience.

Citing US artiste Chance the Rapper’s success in releasing his own music and even winning a Grammy in the process, Isaac said that this showed that the roles of those within the music industry has changed.

“What do you want a label for? It’s a very different music climate today, labels don’t go looking for nobodies to turn them into stars. You have to do your work first, develop a good sound and if the label signing comes along the way, then good (for you),” John added.

The band (from left) Dru Yap (drums), John O (vocals), Isaac Ravi (guitars) and The Chief (bass). — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

For both Dru and The Chief, having an establishment invest in a proper venue for “live” performances in the Klang Valley is important as it will attract people to start coming for more gigs and encourage that culture of regularly going to watch “live” acts, just like watching movies at the cinema.

“What’s the point of having new venues if we don’t fill it up with people? If someone invests in a venue with say even 100, 200 crowd capacity and manages it well, you will attract a lot of people, and those overseas.

“Somebody has got to do that. That is what’s missing, everything just fizzled out,” he added.

“There needs to be something that pulls people, makes them want to perform acts there,” said The Chief.

The new album

According to the band, fans can expect the upcoming full-length album to contain the similar pop-rock vibe as in previous songs, but the difference is the music will be more lyrically driven.

“That’s why we call it the second date… you go out on a first date, and on the second date we want to get people to know us better,” The Chief explained.

The band’s bassist added that the songs and the theme of the album will be more introspective as the band progresses and becomes older.

But what is also interesting is that the album will feature a newer version of an old song from the band called What if.

“The collection of songs in the second album has a lot of significance to us as a band. It didn’t feel right to leave that song out, so we thought what if we did it in a different way, but kept the melody and the lyrics?” John said.

The release date for the album has not been finalised, but Paperplane Pursuit promises it will be within the next few months. Until then, you can check them out here.