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Introducing Steven Chelliah: Innovative Malaysian Muso Offers Up Debut From New York
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Introducing Steven Chelliah: Innovative Malaysian Muso Offers Up Debut From New York

by The Daily SeniJanuary 21, 2015
Steven Chelliah has a biography which describes him as “a distinguished singer-songwriter, composer, guitarist and Berklee alum set to take the music scene by storm.” The Malaysian has a new record out, a debut EP in fact, which he’s titled ‘Supremacy-X’. To go with it, a brand-new video for the main single “Burn It Down” was dropped online on Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday.

The bio goes on, describing the 27-year-old’s “soulful alternative rock spiced with the Indian flavors of his musical heritage”.

While at peace with himself as a musician – a complete musician who plays guitar, piano, sings, composes, arranges, produces and conducts – clearly Steven, like many of us, doesn’t sit well with the bizarre things happening daily out there in the larger world, and also in his own personal surroundings. While now subject to feeling what Americans feel, and increasingly moved to say things through his music addressing sociopolitical issues Stateside, there is still a huge Malaysian soul in him.

“I feel this music video is coming out at the right time, in relationship to what’s happening in US, Middle East, Malaysia, and other places,” says Steven.

After graduating not two years ago from Berklee College of Music with a double degree in Jazz Composition & Arranging/Contemporary Writing & Production, Steven relocated to New York City.

His music falls under the serious category, with ‘groundbreaking compositional theories’, ‘innovative songsmith embracing the timeless qualities that still breathe through the music of Stevie Wonder, Chicago and Michael Jackson while challenging the tired clichéd models that permeate Top 40’s radio today’.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2015 – January 20 in the US – marked the release of the lead single and video by Kudegraphy, for the album’s lead single “Burn It Down”. The video and the song depict the outrage stemming from the racial injustice and religious intolerance that plague our world. Historical footage of the human struggle and clips of Malcolm X and King Jr. are intermingled throughout the captivating music video working with the music to inspire change and the passion to rise above.

“I chose Martin Luther King as a role model for social/racial activism, because he was one who never taught or preached about violence as a resolution to anything,” says the musician.

‘Supremacy-X’ is Steven’s innovative, ambitious debut.

What was your creative aspiration behind making your debut album?

“I’ve always wanted to be a recording artist in the mainstream of popular music, but I’ve also always wanted to do something that explores new musical boundaries. In the quest of of finding my own sound during my Berklee years, I wore the hat of an orchestral composer/orchestrator, and jazz fusion guitarist/composer, experimenting with new theoretical concepts employing the usage of Indian Ragas within and beyond the framework of jazz harmony.”

“In my final year at Berklee I presented a release concert (‘FuzAsian Fieri’) at the Berklee Performance Center, where I composed/orchestrated/conducted extended music employing the Fuzasian concept, for a 32 piece Jazz orchestra and choir. After graduating Berklee I started finding more fulfillment in writing songs, and crafting music that is more relatable to a broader audience. I find more joy when people are able to rock out with me either when I’m playing live, or when they are listening to the recordings. It all starts with finding a musical concept  that ‘rocks your world’, and then finding a way to cleverly channel that same energy to ‘rock their world’. The more who can enjoy and relate to your music, the better the feeling. At least that’s how I feel.”

Share more about your plan to play out and push the EP Stateside and also here? 

“Right now I’m in the midst of booking shows around the New York and  the Boston area, and am planning to do a tour around the North East and LA starting from March throughout the summer. More information on tour dates and shows will be posted on my site soon.”

“I will be joined by a band for the live shows, and the instrumentation is guitar/bass/drums/synth. I’m also planning to have a scaled down set-up, having a DJ/producer (with a mac) accompany me, which will enable me to have more of a livetronic (electronic) approach to the songs, which is more in the direction of what I’m currently pursuing.”

“I am planning to visit Malaysia and do shows in the fall of this year, somewhere around September or so. The dates have not been planned yet, but as soon as I have more information on dates, it will be posted on my site.”

How would you personally define your musical forte?

“My musical style as a guitarist and songwriter, is deeply rooted in rock, jazz, R&B, funk, and pop music. Coupled with my classical Indian heritage, I’m constantly on the quest of seeking the perfect marriage between two these two musical worlds.”

“I wouldn’t know how to classify my music under a genre (laughs). If I had to describe it, I would say there are traces of alternative rock, jazz, R&B and pop in the songs of ‘Supremacy-X’, blended with the usage of Indian scales in the guitar solo sections and the general framework of the compositional structure, chord progressions and riffs.”

“My main goal in writing this album was to write radio friendly songs that speak to people, coming from a very personal and honest place. It was a challenge to write a good pop song, while trying to be musically adventurous, and finding the right balance takes time. I wrote over 50 songs from the period of 2012 to 2014, and only 5 of them made the record. It wasn’t just about writing another pop song, it was about trying to write a pop song that represented my artistic/musical identity. The journey of finding one’s self is never ending, as the self keeps evolving.”

There are some strong messages conveyed in the “Burn It Down” video. What in general inspires your lyrical messages?

“‘Supremacy-X’ speaks to the human condition touching on love, loneliness, despair and the rage resulting from inequality of race, religion and social class. ‘Burn It Down’ very clearly discusses issues seen repeatedly throughout history, the inequality of social class, religion and race (skin color). The struggle against inequality of race, religion, and social class is present all over the world in many countries, and more severe in some.”

“‘Burn It Down’ is a song that expresses the rage against unjust systems that oppress the innocent. In the verse sections of the ‘Burn It Down’ Music Video, I am portrayed as a person wearing various uniforms (that represent contrasting religions, social-standings, and race/ethnicity), shaking hands with the opposite character (me) who is dressed in a uniform of the opposite religion/race/social-standing.”

“The point behind that is to simply say that we are all the same, but the only thing that divides us are the uniforms that we wear and what it represents. If we were to not look at how our religions/race/social-standings are different, but focus more on tolerance and acceptance of one another, this world will be a better place. If we were to put ‘our guns’ down and ‘shake hands’ with one another, oppression, violence, and killing may stop…”

Watch the freshly released video for “Burn It Down”:

*The full album ‘Supremacy-X’ will be released on iTunes on Tuesday, January 27. Keep up on all the latest news regarding Steven including his upcoming ‘Supremacy-X Tour’ dates at stevenchelliah.com.

 – The Daily Seni

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The Daily Seni
The Daily Seni delivers news on local arts and culture, aiming to provide insight into Malaysia's ever-growing creative community as well as provoke thought and discussion.

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