SENI FOKUS: The Enigmatic Loque On Composing for Film, Moving On and Not Turning Back – “I’ve Always Been ‘Jahat’…Most People Don’t Get That”
LOQUE knows something about being misunderstood as an artist in Malaysia. Here is the composer/songwriter-producer/singer-musician on a Butterfingers reunion, why people insist on misspelling ‘monoloQue‘, fan acceptance of his musical evolution and the workaholism keeping him frantically busy scoring and writing for film.
Recent works of his have ranged from the incidental-sounding guitar score for Songlap to the more well-rounded package he delivered as the soundtrack to Shamyl Othman‘s Kami Histeria, plus the live theme for the official SEA Games 2015 ceremony in Singapore in June.
Where the two film projects were concerned, Loque shares that both were extremely opposite experiences. On the 27th Festival Filem Malaysia awards results in September, where Monoloque was nominated for their theme song “Kami Histeria”, the songwriter says that he did not expect anything from that category considering the other nominees.
“I thought I would get a nomination for my score to be honest,” Loque says on his FFM involvement this year. “I don’t mind the theme song category because I’m alongside Yuna, DJ Fuzz and others who have more commercially resonant songs that have a mood which suits much more people on a mass scale.”
“With theme songs, people love them sometimes without even checking out the movie or even looking into the lyrics. It’s a popular thing…
But with scores, listeners have to really be immersed into the film and it’s a bit more technical. For Kami Histeria it was my third (long-form) score and I put a lot of work into it. When I was nominated for the theme song category instead, I just said to myself, ‘OK…’, and will just (resolve to) keep writing more scores.”
The single most telling moment this year of Loque’s undeniable musical gift for me, is the sublime guitar instrumental just before the second act crescendo in Kami Histeria, so memorable as the film’s most poignant musical moment. Here he is in his own words, on the craft of film composing, being a musician for Malaysia and his reason for doing music.
“I’ve always been ‘jahat’. I think my songs now are more jahat than Butterfingers, which is pretty simplistic,” he says. “A song like ‘Kekanda Adinda’ – it cuts through, in a different way right? I think I’ve gone everywhere with this music, I’ve actually been going into people’s minds, their psyche, and actually affecting emotions for once. It’s been no turning back for me, I’ve long passed the point of no return. Why do I do music? To be understood”.
How have you been since FFM awards? Did you attend the ceremony? Tell us about your recent projects and what has been keeping you inspired and working like a madman.
“I’m ok, always busy. No I didn’t attend the FFMs, I have gotten even busier since then. I’ve done a number of things non-stop, the latest being the soundtrack for Kami Histeria, which I’m quite happy with. Just to know that I could pull it off, because it’s not straightforward orchestral scoring, it’s a bit of curating, exec producing, music supervision, pop songwriting and then instrumental scoring in bits and sound design. It’s a mix of everything and that was what was satisfying. Recently I’ve been hard at work on the score for Redha (directed by and starring Nam Ron) and it’s turning out to be really worthwhile, rewarding and my most exceptional work. Do listen out for it when the film comes out.”
Do people still misspell your band’s name? Why do you think so?
“Haha, itu semua subjektif. For me it never really bothered me, as long as people know the idea behind it and they know what we’re doing; and that they know the songs, not just the image. And that’s enough. Anyway I think it has lessened since we made it obvious (by purposely spelling it ‘monoloQue’ with the exaggerated ‘Q’). It’s OK, it’s not a big issue anymore. It’s taken me five years now to build Monoloque to where it is now. It’s not been easy starting from scratch and in the shadow of Butterfingers.”
What was the one thing you learned from Songlap and Kami Histeria about the reality of scoring films here?
“I learned that with every scoring project, expertise comes before chemistry. If you have one without the other, it never ends well. The team is very important. My experience with producing the live orchestration for the SEA Games in Singapore taught me this. Thankfully they loved it and some people were in tears after the final ceremony. But there were a lot of changes involved, between the creative side, the client side and the commissioning party. In the end, when you go with your gut creatively, it turns out for the better.”
The theme songs you wrote for Kami Histeria were performed by yourself, Loko and Dax – essentially Butterfingers without your estranged singer Emmett whom fans and you yourself call “the golden voice”. Could you clear the air once and for all – for the fans – about a reunion?
“To me there’s no point in repeating myself. I’m not trying to be Metallica here, or Wings, or Search. To gather old fans and play the old songs. I don’t really mind it. I need to progress. As a composer, as an artist I really need to try new things. There’s always a stigma with Butterfingers. I’ve accepted it. That’s why I don’t do Butterfingers X or Real Butterfingers. Monoloque is a different entity entirely. Even though my element will always be Butters. The sound is me, I’m Butters. No matter how you take me out of the equation. Apart from the songs and the sound, it’s me, Emmett, Kadak and Loko. So when you say Butterfingers, it has to be all of us because people want to hear Emmett, they want to hear Kadak’s sound, and Loko.”
“Up until Malayneum (EMI, 2001) the Butterfingers thing was going smoothly; up to Selamat Tinggal Dunia (EMI, 2005), it had already gone into a writer’s block phase for me. And I don’t know how I came up with those songs. That’s what makes the album special to me.”
“Butters will always be inside me, I started it all and it’s my baby. So when fans cannot accept things as they have gone now, I just feel they need to move on as well. They cannot be selfish to ask me to play Butterfingers again. It’s not because I don’t want to because of Monoloque, I did Monoloque because I already made an oath to myself – I’d rather sell 10 records loving what I’m playing than selling 100,000 copies and waiting before, with limitations and obligations towards other people. I don’t think I’ll be doing scoring if I had stuck with Butterfingers, all the opportunities I can tell you came from my ideas with Monoloque. Thankfully, I’m happier now and can put food on the table with Monoloque.”
Is it true you didn’t reply to a Whatsapp message from Emmett recently, when he was back in Malaysia for a few weeks in August and then in October? You don’t seem to care much about what happens outside of Monoloque.
“I did reply. We were both busy, Emmett with his shows obviously. But because with Monoloque, I know – we float or we sink together, 100%. The determination seemed to be always 50% in Butterfingers. There was always a limitation or excuse somewhere hampering us. You cannot be a rock star, a corporate guy, and a nerd at the same time. There’s no compromise, to me. That’s all I would say about the matter.”
As a musician working in Malaysia, how much do you still need approval from the mass market?
“There will always be supporters for what I’m doing, it’s just that they’re not very mainstream. If the mainstream supported me wholly, there is always that fear of messages getting lost in translation, meaning not everyone will get it, or that it will be misconstrued and misinterpreted. It’s all perspective. Competition? Sure, there’s Pacai, there’s a few others doing it right now. But lucky for me my style seems in vogue at the moment.”
Is it true you once applied for a desk job with the Malaysian government? What was that experience like for you, since you’ve been a signed recording artist since you were a teenager (with Butterfingers on EMI Malaysia – ed).
“Yes, it’s true. Lucky there were no vacancies (laughs). I feel really guided and blessed by something, looking back now. Those were hard times (circa 2004-2007, before Loque’s Berklee sojourn). I was lost (with the Butterfingers thing), sedated (creatively). By people I worked with, people around me. I fell to parasitic behaviour, and it’s something you have to stand up to in order to be truly creative. I never ever wish to live through that again. I was under the influence. I would never wish it on anyone, being creatively sedate if you’re an artist.”
Would you ever consider being a session guitarist anywhere in the world?
“As an abstract player, sure. If artists want to feature me as an unconventional guitarist or keyboard player, yes I wouldn’t mind giving it a try. But if you ask me in the sense of a session player like Ijoo (Monoloque lead guitarist and RTM Orchestra resident), then no. I’m not that good a reader.”
Lastly, share more about your current process. Although you don’t seem like one to wait for inspiration, how has married life affected that and fatherhood changed your composing routine?
“I feel I’ve never been better and that I’m more composed as a person, more organised compared to when I was single. I owe that much to my Berklee days, when I became more disciplined.”
*The box set inclusive of a CD/vinyl reissue, unreleased footage and a hardcover book, Untuk Seketika Ku Hilang, commemorating the 10th anniversary of Butterfingers’ seminal Malay album Selamat Tinggal Dunia is due out at the end of December.