One of the pioneers in the instrumental post-rock scene in Singapore, I Am David Sparkle takes its name from a tongue-in-cheek anglicisation of popular ’70s Malaysian disco king, M. Daud Kilau. Their music however, is an entirely different beast. Best recognised for their hypnotic, dark sounds falling into the categories of indie, shoegaze and post-rock, talent sees no lack in the band- talented musicians, designers and illustrators with great personalities to match. We talk to Amran and Zahir about I Am David Sparkle, their views on the local climate and their latest release, Swords.
Share with us some brief history about I Am David Sparkle.
Zahir Sanosi (ZS): We all were playing in other hardcore, metal and indie bands back then and we decided to get together and play something different. As far I as can remember, the whole 9-10 years have been the greatest times of my life.
Amran Khamis (AK): Ours is not such a brief history considering the number of years we have played together, so it’s actually a long story… But ultimately what we are today is the story of years of experimentation and hard work by the band, influence of past members that have spent time with us, and those that support us in different ways.
How did you guys get started with music?
AK: Boys in my primary school got me to listen to rock music which we couldn’t hear on the radio then – stuff like Kiss, Motley Crue, Skid Row and the like. Then I discovered indie and punk music in my early secondary years and got completely hooked! I wasn’t great at skateboarding, and soccer got me nowhere, so I turned to guitar to make as much noise and youthful rebellion as I could back when I was 14. Playing in bands was soon a natural progression.
ZS: I have to thank my Toa Payoh boys and childhood friends for sharing with me early thrash metal and hardcore bands. Hail! Ram Singh and Noel Sanjay Zacheus! I had also fronted a hardcore band once or twice, and have been drumming with I Am David Sparkle since it’s existence.
What are your inspirations and influences, and how has it shaped your sound?
ZS: In terms of music, we all listen to everything from hip-hop to black metal, but we would get our inspiration from specific genres of music. But this doesn’t mean that we don’t work hard at making initial ideas grow to something that is our own – we usually spend a lot of time in the rehearsal studio getting part of a song properly written out and arranged until we are all satisfied.
AK: Beyond that, other things in life also influence our music, our creative direction and the way we approach things. Art, design, cinema, popular culture, our indie belief systems, emotions, events, etc – there’s just so many different things to take in and manifest into our music, and it all depends on what the original idea or message we want to convey is.
It’s been 9 years, 2 albums and a total of 5 releases. How has the journey been? How has your music progressed since your first gig?
ZS: It’s like being in a marriage. Our first 5 years were about experimenting, finding our sound and getting it right, etc. Sometimes we were focused while at other times we would be writing and playing aimlessly as we had other priorities. Then we started getting a bit more energy into the band, planned for kids (ie. releases) and went on a late honeymoon (ie. tours that took us to Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Hong Kong and the United States). Now we have renewed our vows and are giving birth to new monster this December – ‘Swords’. It’s been an amazing marriage.
AK: Actually, it’s been 2 albums, 2 EPs and a 7” vinyl single, so we have been fairly productive but there’s still a long way more to go before this ride ends. As for the music, it has gotten better through this process of learning over the years for us. Also it’s shorter, faster, and maybe even louder now.
Tell us more about ‘Swords’.
ZS: It’s a monster!
What’s the inspiration behind it?
AK: It’s about the band incorporating a heavier regime into our sound and exploring rhythms that we had not used before. Thematically, the inspirations behind the individual songs were also more diverse and probably for the first time, we had songs that were about ghost stories too.
ZS: I also believe that it is about all the struggles we all went through to keep believing and doing what we all love most with the band.
What’s the one track (from each of you) that particularly stands out, and tell us more about it.
ZS: It’s “Everybody Loves Somebody”, which I have been listening to almost every day. It has a lot of different personal meaning to it, from relationship break-ups and comebacks, to having played it live for the first time set to explosive fireworks at Errol’s and Lesley’s (of KittyWu Records, Sparkle’s label and management) wedding, to just having friends over to your place for an after party to chill and relax to. It’s therapeutic.
AK: For me it’s the first single “A Bad Corpse” from ‘Swords’ – this track represents exactly what I would like to achieve with our music, in terms of the songwriting, the mood or feeling we wanted to convey, and the level of production quality.
How has the music progressed from the ‘Nosferatu Makes Me Nervous’ vinyl release?
AK: It’s definitely a more mature output for us, but maybe we’ll let the listeners judge for themselves and let us know what they think.
ZS: ‘Nosferatu Makes Me Nervous’ was like an introduction of the things to come.
Tell us about some memorable experiences throughout your timeline as I Am David Sparkle.
ZS: Once I had to fucking give Amran a body massage and a tummy rub when he was in severe pain for food poisoning during one of our Malaysian tours so that the gas building up could be released! There are these kind of memories that we always talk about, what we remember from the experiences on our tours and so on… There are so many good and bad experiences, we will never forget them all!
AK: All I can say is that having food poisoning while on tour is no fucking joke! We have so many stories, where do we begin? One of my favourites is of how we skipped a soundcheck while touring Manila last year so that we could play our favourite game of ping-pong at the hostel where we were staying at. Classic!
What did you have to deal with throughout the journey as band? Has the band’s dynamics changed?
ZS: Well it’s crazy and tiring for everyone in the band to have a day job and other commitments, and still work hard at keeping the band going. I guess we are all hardworking enough in this aspect, and we are thankful to have people around us who support and believe in what we are doing. We all hope to be able to do this full-time, someday maybe.
Tell us more about the songwriting process. What’s the inspiration behind it?
ZS: Anything can inspire us: random reactions, people, etc… There is no definite process.
“We have friends, not fans.” What’s your take?
ZS: Well true enough, most of our friends whom we have met along the way are through music or the band, be it from Singapore or anywhere else in the world. And Jade Seah needs to be our BFF because she inspired one of our old songs!
What’s the state of the local music industry, in your opinion?
ZS: The people generally don’t care about Singapore music. People would rather listen to Lady Gaga and Linkin Park on the radio rather than say B-Quartet. The market is just too small.
AK: It’s a complex problem. The local music perspective from the supply side (ie. musicians and bands) seem to be growing well, but the demand side (ie. music buyers, gig-goers, show organisers) is nowhere near any level that is reasonable for bands to exist. The only way for us to actually get anywhere is to make it overseas first, which again is another complex problem with a whole set of different issues.
What attributes would you suggest has contributed to this?
ZS: I guess there’s not much coverage on local talent, be it in the music or creative fields, but at least now we can thank the Internet for being able to get the word out around the world. Hopefully this will change someday…
AK: I’ve discussed this in many other interviews for Sparkle, so I won’t repeat myself. Many reasons have led to this, instead let’s look forward at how we can change the game for ourselves. There’s much to be done, we are just at the cusp of things.
What is the state of the underground music scene in Singapore?
ZS: Well we have amazing talent and great bands here, so the underground will still survive.
What do you think of the struggling musician, and those that balance a full-time job/career and their passion on the side (such as yourselves)? How is it like, and do you believe in the full-time musician in Singapore?
AK: I believe in the musician that writes and performs with integrity and independence from material consequences for their music. To me, there is no point in playing music full-time, if you just end up playing someone else’s songs all the time just to please the crowd. Indie musicians are not someone else’s mouthpieces, we should be our own creative beasts. That said, this doesn’t mean that musicians like us should not strive to make the money or careers from our music either. It’s just doing it on our own terms.
ZS: It’s a great struggle to juggle work and band, but someday it will be a wonderful story to tell my grandchildren if we can make this happen for us.
Many local bands come and go, but yours have made the mark of being one of those that have established themselves as an underground mainstay. How do you do it?
ZS: We try to not meet everyone in the band everyday, unless we are practicing intensively or touring. I guess we all have known each other since we were like 16 years old or something, so we know how each other works. And we have dedicated our lives to music for as long as we can remember, so it’s about trying to see how much further we can push this.
What, in your opinion, are the struggles of a local band?
AK: That it struggles precisely only as a local band. For things to change, many, many other Singapore bands need to become internationally recognised acts for their type of music. So if they need to struggle, do it internationally, for something may happen someday.
I Am David Sparkle is Amran Khamis, Djohan Johari, Farizwan Fajari and Zahir Sanosi.
I am David Sparkle will be performing alongside other stellar acts this Friday 18th March at the Singapore Art Museum for Afterhours- Grounded! An Art Party from 9pm to 2am. Check out more details HERE and at the Facebook event page.
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