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Kekal - Urban Experimentation

Discussion in 'Metal Interviews' started by Russell, Jul 25, 2007.

  1. Russell

    Russell __

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    [IMGLEFT]http://www.russell.ultimatemetal.com/Interview/kekal.jpg[/IMGLEFT]By Russell Garwood

    Kekal – we first interviewed them in 2002, but this Indonesian group’s brand of avant-garde extreme music is so arresting that we keep coming back like an upholsterer to an XXX cinema. Masturbation jokes aside, since we last talked in 2005, the trio’s music has changed significantly. Gone are the last vestiges of a once black-metal based sound, and although metal elements remain, new album The Habit of Fire is awash with new electronic experimentation, and dark, urban atmospheres.



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    “Our music nowadays is a representation of what Kekal stands for, and a representation of what we are” explains guitarist/vocalist Jeff Arwadi. “It’s 100% naked expression. No hidden agenda. While it’s too early to make a statement that we are breaking new ground or paving a way for the future of music, I find myself quite annoyed when someone says ‘why do you play this artsy-fartsy experimental shit, why don’t you just stay black metal?’ I keep getting e-mails like that. The truth is; had people never tried to invent and develop new sounds and styles from time to time there would be no black metal, no rock music, and no development of musical instruments. The Habit of Fire falls in a different sub-genre based classification compared to Acidity, there is change in the context of sub-genres, but hell…music styles are invented, and sub-genres are only names in order to explain the music itself. Genre doesn’t define the music itself, but direction does. Speaking of direction, I don’t think Kekal has changed since Acidity. The most important thing is that our spirit remains the same, and we keep steadily in the direction we want, and keep moving forward instead of backward. The last change of direction was with our 3rd album The Painful Experience, in which we all decided to use music as a medium for our expression and from there we keep going. We’ve been doing the same for 6 years now. In case of Kekal’s music, the way we express ourselves is through exploration and the willingness to experiment and find something new. It just goes gradually and naturally from album to album.”

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    Throughout the band’s exploration several stylistic elements remain constants, such as the extremity, and kaleidoscopic vocal styles. “We never had making commercially accessible music in mind” comments Mr Arwadi “So if anyone finds The Habit of Fire crossing genre borders and stepping out from the metal framework, our intention was never to make more commercial music. If we stayed in metal, like our first 2 albums, I believe we would sell a lot more. But we don’t want to, because we choose to use music as a medium to express ourselves. The reason why we played metal when we started the band, is because we love the energy; not the style and culture, but the musical energy itself. And it’s good to keep it and to extract the energy and put it into a new framework. The same thing goes with punk music. We always put punk elements into Kekal; the DIY ethic and musical anarchism. We might not be metal with this album but we still have the same energy - the huge distortion, guitar riffs and blast-beats. So, after all, we still consider ourselves a metal band, although we don’t play a kind of music that some metal purists expect.”

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    We move on to talk about the new release. “The Habit of Fire is a concept album about the living energy in a human being that has become our archetype of survival. Whenever we are drawn into a seemingly inescapable situation with all the associated problems and obstacles, our unconscious level has this archetype of survival, which always tries to find a solution, helping our conscious mind make the right choices to escape from our problems. The fire itself represents an energy or spirit that can never be taken down by outside forces. It’s the fire that burns within. The lyrical themes are based around a 12-million person metropolis within a post-dictatorship country, heading down into chaos due to the people’s inability to adapt with the global wind of change. It was the second of our six albums that we didn’t have a single problem during the recording process (the other being 1000 Thoughts of Violence). Everything ran smoothly and we enjoyed the process from beginning to end. There were usual delays and we couldn’t make it right on schedule, but that’s mainly because we were not using as much in-the-studio time to construct the music, and we did it during my relocation to Canada. It took about 7 months to complete.”

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    Jeff continues, “about 75% of the music was written during pre-production. I recorded and gathered samples, made some MIDI information, and then manipulated the sampled-sounds and arranged them together into the very basic structure, I call it the ‘skeleton’. Some of them were done outside the studio, for which I used only my laptop. Then I started to put riffs onto it, added some more parts like synthesizers, MIDI-triggered instruments, some melodies, and then re-arranged them again…. You know, copy this, cut that, and paste them over there and so on. Once we had the structure of the song, we re-recorded the guitars, and put bass and drum tracks on top, and then vocals. The Habit of Fire is also the last album recorded in my home studio back in Indonesia.”

    The guitarist recently relocated from Indonesia to Canada. With such a change in surroundings it seems inevitable that this will help shape the music, as Jeff confirms. “We write music as the reflection of our daily lives. When we started to make The Habit of Fire we already had the whole album concept and lyrical themes in our minds, because we’ve experienced them ourselves, or through our friends, and it was quite easy to come up with the words and particular atmospheres. The theme fits more with the situation in Indonesia. I know many people who have a good conscience are dying over there, some have managed to keep fighting, some have lost in their own wars, and the rest are just in-between. But we are all somehow trying to find our own ways to escape these problems. The location will be an issue for our next material, as I am in Canada and the other guys are in Indonesia. We haven’t found the best way of dealing with this issue at this moment, and the sad thing is that we cannot tour or even play any shows this year.”

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    The band has described their latest output as urban, so we move on to discuss how this is so. “The word urban itself is related to big city-living” Jeff expands, “That’s the way we perceive our music on this album; ‘urban’, as we are addressing problems which often happen to the people who live in overcrowded big metropolitan cities, like ourselves. It’s not related with the hip-hop and R&B culture in which music industry called it ‘urban music’, although we do have significant influence from hip-hop and R&B on our music recently. We’ve got Myspace friend requests from hip-hop artists and fans just because of that term alone.” There is little danger of this alienating listeners, he maintains. “Kekal has never reached these so-called true black metal fans even since the beginning. We have never been true enough for them, and they are not true enough for us either! True Kekal fans are the ones who understand us and have supported us because they love our music.” Such an unusual approach begs the question, are there any limits to this trio’s experimentation?

    “The only limit we accept is our own capabilities. As human beings, we have such limits beyond our control, and we know them. But we do not set the limit ourselves, you know what I mean? It is different knowing and admitting your limits, and setting them yourself. These two are often twisted around; people tend to set limits for themselves, but do not want to admit their own limitations. This happens in the music world too. In case of Kekal, we do not want to create our own limits, so we play music up to the maximum of our own capabilities and skills as songwriters and musicians.” The need to create such music is driven by a need for expression, he concludes. “I cannot express with other media such as painting or poetry. My father is a painter and he expresses himself through this. I once tried it, but I didn’t work for me - I can make technically proficient sketches and illustrations, but felt distant from them. It’s like a cold relationship. So when I found music and started to write songs, it just came up to me and I said to myself ‘that’s it, this is the most suitable medium for me’. But for right now, I don’t rely on music as my career, I work another job to pay the bills.”

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    Habit Of Fire is being released on two small labels, licensed from the band, who “prefer to own our recording masters and have 100% artistic control over music, production and artwork. We’re just a kind of Do-it-Yourself stubborn people!” They made their decision on the basis, Jeff explains, that “A smaller independent label wouldn’t have enough money or networks to effectively promote and distribute releases in both main regions (Europe and North America) at the same time. Unless we got a bigger label that run offices in both the USA and Europe, it is better to get 2 smaller record labels; one in Europe and one in America. Working with bigger labels is a different story altogether, because 95% of them require touring commitments, and most of them want the full band to sign for at least for two or three albums. Kekal can’t do shows to support this new album because of our current situation, and we just don’t want to get signed as a band, so we can’t fulfill their requirements.”

    With the release of a new album, the band has also made previous efforts available for download. “The way people listen to music has changed over the couple recent years” muses the guitarist, “and in order to survive this change we need to compromise with the current trend of music marketing and distribution, and jump on the same boat. With the whole iPod revolution and the huge use of hi-speed internet, more people tend to have mp3 players than CD players. I have seen CD stores closing their business. It’s a sad reality. People just don’t want to buy overpriced physical product anymore and yet need to spend time converting to mp3 formats. The whole downloading trend has become bigger and bigger and no one can stop it.”

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    My time with Jeff draws to a close, so I finish by asking what he is doing outside Kekal at the moment. “I just finished my school in audio engineering and music production. I’m still helping other bands and labels to do album covers as well as websites….things like that, and I just got a job and will work full-time soon. The job is not related with music though, but that’s fine.” This course has changed his approach to producing, the frontman relates, “As a recording producer I tended to give too much input to the bands and ended up being the musician and co-songwriter myself. But now my role as producer/engineer has changed - I have learned so much about being a producer, and right now the way I direct the bands I produce will not affect their songwriting context. I don’t want them to rely on me for their songs, even though they sometimes ask me. They should somehow find their own way to make their music fit with them, and if I happen to be a producer of their album, it’s my responsibility to open their minds to different possibilities, and which ones fit more with them as a band. In most cases, groups just don’t know which direction fits with their own personality and circumstances well. But I will not show them my direction as I did in the past.” And as for the future? “This is a tough question. I just don’t know the answer. But I can guarantee that Kekal will continue to make music and to release albums in the future, no matter what our condition and situation.”

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    Official Kekal website
    Official Whirlwind Records website
    Official Open Grave Records website
    2005 UM Kekal interview
     
  2. karpsmom

    karpsmom Member

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    Awesome, the new album is pretty great!
     

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