In the music scene – independent and mainstream – there is a lot more that makes the musicians similar than different. Although many come with a style that is rare and unique, most musicians combine a lot of ingredients and elements in their music.
Refused to be pigeon-holed into any single category, they take the elements of things that they like without trying to sound like anybody else. This is a challenge. Although it allows the musicians to improvise and combine the best of everything, there are so many bands out there that sound almost the same.
Swaiv may not have been a band name you have heard before. But after this, perhaps, you may hear the name over and over again. Previously known as Pearl & Rendall, Swaiv started off as an acoustic duo in 2010. Driven by their passion for music and personal experiences, Swaiv now consists of five young musicians with years of experience in many musical styles.
(from left) Adrian Meringai (bass), Doboson Elisha (guitar), Meryll Pearl (vocals), Brian Chia (keys) and Rendall Ngumbang (drums).
The band recently performed at The Wayang, a bar located in the heart of Kuching City. The barstools were worn out, and the crowd was pleased. In between rehearsals for their upcoming gigs, at almost midnight, members of the multi-element band – equally inspired by classic tunes and today’s hit music – sat down for an interview with me.
Among other things including the band’s origins and musical influences, we also talked about their experience sharing a stage with Yuna, their thoughts on the independent music scene in Kuching and what is in store for the rest of 2017.
Check out my interview with the humble musicians below:
A band usually started with like-minded musicians getting together. Tell us how you got together to form Swaiv?
Brian: From what I understand, the band started out as “Pearl & Rendall”, the duo – this married couple here. It started out in 2010. And then, the story between the rest, I am not too sure. But personally, I, Brian Chia who plays keys was invited by Adrian Meringai, the bassist. Fortunately enough, we sustain this long and played quite a few gigs together. I must admit, it has been fun.
Rendall: Yup, it started off with both of us, we took part in RockERA. It was supposed to be a band thing but there were just two of us. So the judge said, he likes what he hears but it would be better if we come with a band because it sounded like… So empty. So we thought since Adrian at that time has started to pick up bass again, the three of us would do something. Later, we decided to form a band and Adrian looped in Brian. Dobo was always around, playing the shaker, of all things.
Brian: At that time we had a different line-up. Before Dobo came, there was another guy, his name is Nathaniel. He was on drums and percussions. And due to other commitments, we reshuffled. Dobo was the blessing in disguise – now, playing the guitar.
Rendall: We are the original band members. There were six of us, including former drummer, Charles Arthur. Now we are down to five.
Could you tell me more about yourself?
Brian: See, that is a question I dread. Aaah.. I would like to start with this. I am actually a Sabahan and I have been staying here in Kuching for 14 years. Uhmm.. I started piano when I was 5 and I really like the guitar. I took on guitar when I was 13 and decided to do music when I was 15. Thank God I managed to pull through and sort of continuing with it. I met not only these guys here, good musicians, but also people from the community. Initially, I was playing keys for Swaiv. But for certain gigs, I will play the guitar. And just this year, I started back on the keys again. And really, thus far, I think the best show that we have done together as Swaiv was for Yuna’s homecoming. That is by far, I think, the highlight of Swaiv. And definitely, more to come, I believe.
Rendall: I was always keen on music and I have been playing music since I was 12. I started off with guitar and played mostly rock songs. After that, I met Pearl, and I loved her voice. I thought her voice was suitable for jazz, blues, R&B or something and… After that, from rock, I started playing jazz. And since then I have been playing a lot of jazz and anything that I would say, close to jazz. Before Swaiv, I played for a couple of bands, mostly as a sessionist. As a drummer and guitarist. But when Swaiv first started, I played the guitar. We shuffled and now in 2017, I am the official drummer.
Pearl: I never expected to become an official musician because I did not anticipate what would ever be the means to do it. But I started singing when I was 15. And I played the guitar and started making YouTube covers. And I tried to be in a band as a vocalist but I was rejected because of my voice. See, I cannot sing high notes. It was demotivating, I stopped singing and just focus on playing the bass for a while. I was in two bands at that time. I played Muse and post-hardcore songs. Later on, my voice was accepted by some people and Swaiv happened.
Dobo: I started playing music since I was 10. I took a piano lesson, guitar lesson. And in high school, I started to join my friends playing rock music, and grindcore. And then when I was in college, I played acoustic. Right now… I played bass, guitar, a little bit of keys… Sort of… Everything. Before Swaiv, there was no band at all. But I have always had the interest in music.
Adrian: I first became involved with music when I was 13. It was all because of a friend who is now a tattoo artist. He invited me to his house, picked up his dad’s Fender guitar and taught me how to play All The Small Things by Blink 182. That was a good grounding for me. At that time, I had no idea how to play the guitar, I never touched a guitar before. So it all started from there and eventually, we jammed almost every week. I ended up being really into it. In college, I lost the interest as I was focusing on other stuff. But slowly, I got back to it again. Now, I am in Swaiv, playing bass.This, I have to know. Why the name Swaiv?
Pearl: We had been through so many names trying to work out what we could call our band. One day it just came to us. It rhymes with ‘wave’. We wanted a name that represents soothing music, smooth and cool vibes. So, we thought of the waves. And later from ‘waves’ to ‘Swaiv’. The soothing sound of the waves will always remind us of where we come from and why we are here.
You are sort of a blues and jazzy multi-element indie-pop band. Could you tell me about the biggest influences and inspirations for your music?
Brian: This is a very interesting question, I think. Because like what you heard early on, everybody comes from a different background. I think that is where it is a good challenge for everyone because everybody will put on their idea from different genres and elements. And that is where it sort of pushes each other like ‘Oh, this is new for me. So, I am gonna have to change my, whatever it is, like my playlist, I gotta listen to more of this stuff, that stuff to help the band’. I think that goes for everyone. So, definitely, there are some tunes that we do not really link on to but, for the band sake, it not only pushes us, it also helps everyone in general. Basically in terms of making us sounding versatile. We are mainly jazz-pop-ish group but as instrumentalists, we all enjoy playing other stuff as well.
That is for the band. What about personally? Who inspires you?
Brian: Rendall would have a very interesting story to tell.
Rendall: Mine would be John Otto, the drummer, and founding member of the nu metal band Limp Bizkit. But for Swaiv, I am inspired mostly by Jamie Cullum and Jason Mraz.
Pearl: Uhmm… I love Julie London. She has the sexiest voice ever. And Michael Buble too.
Dobo: Me, I would say… Dewa and Death Row Records, to name a few.
Adrian: Music in general, I would say Limp Bizkit. That is how I met Rendall actually. So Limp Bizkit, to Korn, to Nirvana. I also look up to Sam Rivers. The way he plays bass is kind of different. And from there I discovered Incubus’ former bassist – I forgot his name. After that, I met a friend who told me about this one guy and from there I focus more or playing the bass. I started playing more fusion style.
Who in the current music scene do you most admire most and why?
Rendall: Bruno Mars. Yeah!
Bruno Mars? His new music or the previous one?
Rendall: All of his music.
You have a few songs out. And I find that they are all very different from each other. Are you planning to release a full album in the near future?
Rendall: An album at the moment is quite big of a project to work on. I would say EP. We are working on an EP. Our first EP consist of 7 songs. Now we are going to come out with our second EP. Probably this year or next year. We will see.
Brian: In the near future, yeah.
Dobo: Hopefully by this year, if everything goes well.
What was the creative process like when developing all your songs – music then lyric of the other way round? And who usually composes the songs.
Rendall: Sometimes lyric first then the music.
Pearl: Most of the time, music first.
Rendall: When it comes to composing a song, I think everyone contributes. Sometimes we will call it ‘Brian Song’, or ‘Dobo Song’. We ourselves influence and push each other to try and produce something new, something different.
And how did the writing process work? Is there a formula you employed, like starting with a guitar riff or title?
Rendall: Somebody either has a riff, or tune or something and we’ll be work from there. Someone will say, ‘Hey guys, I have this thing going on, check this out’ and we’ll slowly build it up from there into a more proper and clean composition. And after all that, we will… ‘Swaiv it!’
Brian: Yeah. During rehearsals, we would try out new arrangements. Everyone will throw in their ideas and improvise. We basically feed off each other.
You have a very deep sultry voice. Kind of whistle-y too. Do you do anything special to keep your voice in shape?
Pearl: Not that I know of. Haha. But when I perform, I just sing passionately, I guess. And you know, it just comes out naturally.
Right. You have been performing every once a week somewhere, correct? How did you get the gigs?
Brian: Hmm… A lot of the gigs are from previous exposures. It could be from personal friends.
Dobo: Recently, mostly are from friends.
Brian: Yeah. But I have to highlight this, Kuching is a close-knit city. Everybody knows each other, especially the music scene. So, we sort of look out for each other in a way that, say, if we really are not able to take the gig, we would sort of pass it to another group or something like that. Or vice versa.
What has the fan/audience feedback been like so far?
Rendall: It has been good, we are thankful for that. I think the best compliment we received is from Germany. They sent us an email and asked about our new projects. That, and a band from Italy.
That is awesome. So what was the response to that – what did you guys say to them?
Rendall: We told them we had a pause moment for a while. At one point we hardly did anything.
Brian: We took a break for almost two years. We kickstarted in mid-2016. And when we received that email, we were in awe actually. They discovered us from Twitter, I think.
Rendall: I think it was because of Bandcamp. The exposure. To have the opportunity to meet the community on the global scale would be pretty awesome.
Brian: Well there is a fine line between compliments and… Just because you are my friend, I can help you. Things like that. Sometimes you just got to take it with a pinch of salt.
Pearl: There was this one time during Shades of Arts. We have not been playing for a few years and suddenly someone approached us – ‘Oh, I am a fan, and I have been waiting for Swaiv to play’. We’re thankful that you know, someone recognises us.
What has been your favourite live performance to give?
Rendall: I must say that it would be that time we opened for Yuna. We were the opening act for her gig here.
Brian: Yeah. I have to second that. That is definitely by far the coolest life experience. This was in 2012. And we played all our original songs.
Nice! So what did Yuna say to you guys?
Pearl: We did not really get to talk to her after the show, unfortunately. Well, only the guys.
Brian: Yuna was the highlight but I guess the whole experience in terms of sharing the same stage, personally and I think I can say this on behalf of everyone, it felt surreal. ‘Wow! This is really happening. We are sharing a stage with Yuna.’ This happened in December 2012 and we found out the next year, she just got signed with David Foster. So we were like, wow, we were the last group of local act, I believe, to be performing with Yuna. That was quite an honour.
Cool! And now she is known worldwide – a superstar! And that actually, is a really good platform to put yourself out there.
So, most of the time, do you perform your own songs, or covers as well?
Rendall: Both, actually.
What is your favourite cover?
Rendall: I think it would be Feeling Good and L.O.V.E. I mean, besides Pearl, we have another singer in Swaiv. Brian sings as well. For Pearl, Feeling Good. For Brian, it would be Turn Your Lights Down Low.
Brian: Really?! Thank you for this interview, I am learning a lot of new things about my band members! Oh wow!
I know you have SoundCloud and YouTube. So, what other platforms are you using to promote Swaiv and your songs?
Pearl: We have Reverbnation as well.
What do you think about Spotify and other streaming services? Are you planning to use that platform as well?
Pearl: Yeah, we wanted to. We are going to but, we are not sure how to go about it.
Oh, we can talk to someone who can help you with that.
So, you have performed with Yuna, you have a couple of songs out, you have been playing gigs here and there. You are doing pretty good, I think. What else do you plan to get up to in 2017, besides the coming EP?
Dobo: More new stuff, definitely.
Rendall: We were just talking about this recently and we hope to play in one of the big festivals here in Sarawak.
Brian: For the band in general, I think we all want to get more new stuff out there. Grow our repertoire. We want to avoid recycling the same thing over and over. And we are going to get our tunes legalised, in a way. Get them copyrighted. That is going to take extra funds, so we are trying to sort that out.
There are a lot of talented people here in Kuching. But not many are out there. Not many have the opportunities to do so. Do you have any advice for aspiring independent musicians who may feel disillusioned or discouraged at times?
Rendall: There is a saying that goes ‘quality over quantity’. For me, with time, I found out there is one more important thing. That is progress. Sometimes people would look at the quality or the quantity. But they forgot progress. And that is the most important thing. You must progress, never stop. You must keep going. Keep moving until people notice you, recognise you and acknowledge you. Eventually, they will see your quality and quantity. Just be positive and keep progressing.
What is your personal opinion on the music scene in Kuching?
Brian: That is a very fragile sensitive question. But I think it is growing. Slowly but surely. And it boils down to our mentality and attitude towards the art – both the clients and the musicians. The music business is fragile, you just have to keep an open mind, be positive and be truthful to yourself and to people. Perhaps avoid jealousy, envy, and general intrigue, all the negative vibes.
Do you think you have a competition out there?
Adrian: You see, we are not competing with anyone. We are just doing our stuff. We constantly grow and we want to improve.
Brian: I really like the question. Damn. Uhmm.. I think the competition is really within ourselves. Our competition is our achievement. If the benchmark for 1026 is this, then 2017 has to be higher. It’s part of the progress for the band.
So who have you been collaborating with, here in and from Kuching?
Pearl: rhymebo0k, Saufi, Nutty Slicc…
Rendall: Soon, there will be a surprise. Wait for it.
Now, to enlighten you, check out my favourite song from the band HERE! This was from 3 years ago, but I still love it! RED is one of my go-to jam in my smoke-filled, dimly lit room.
PS: Photos were taken from the band’s Facebook page. I do not own the credit. This was an audio/video interview.