Since their inception, Nadir have been excelling in the music scene for their distinct and unique fusion of sound that represents different worldly experiences, cultures and the spirit of collaboration. The band pride themselves in being a multi-lingual band that stay true to their unorthodox artistic vision.
Consisting of Adil Johan, Stephanie Tham, Farique Nadzir, Santosh Logandran, Zaim Zaidee, Simmy Lor and Ashwin Gobinath. Nadir strive to craft music that is rare and unique by combining different life experiences and emotions together. In 2017, the band released their debut album, Synesthesia, and were met with critical acclaim.
During an interview session with August Man Malaysia, the band were asked about the meaning behind their name, the making of Synesthesia, and their experience in performing internationally at the Phnom Penh Water Festival in Cambodia.
Synesthesia by Nadir
Nadir refers to the lowest point. It also means rare in Bahasa Malaysia. What is the story behind the name?
Adil: There are two ways we can approach the meaning of the word Nadir. One is of course the fact that we feel that what we’re doing in the current music industry is rare, especially in the indie rock scene. We try to bring traditional, old-school elements into something that’s new. But the English meaning of Nadir is also very important to us. This group actually started when all of us were at a musical low point. It’s only from that period of struggle and adversity that we could come up with something that’s unique. I was at a point where I stopped playing my saxophone for a good three years, and I was actually jaded with the music scene where I was coming from. I felt musically dead. Ash (Ashwin Gobinath) called me up in 2015 and told me that he was putting together a group of musicians.
The sound of Synesthesia is a fusion of different cultural elements. Was this something that was apparent during the early stages of the creative process, or was it something that became clearer as you progressed?
Ashwin: For the album, the point is to show that in a very stylised and mature way. It wasn’t like a “let’s put in everything” kind of way. The album has to have a proper flow. It has to have a certain motive throughout the entire album. When you listen to the album in one go, it has to be a journey. There are a lot of ways that you can do that. But for us, what we want to showcase, is that our music has no boundaries. The cultural aspect of it is also very important to us. Because, I mean we don’t have to say it that we all come from different cultural backgrounds. All of us as musicians are diverse enough to play different styles of music. We do our research and stay true to the style that we take on. Collectively, we believe that music is about culture; music is culture.
Zaim: When you listen to the album, it’s a journey and it’s a story. With anything good, there’s always a bit of struggle, challenge. And I think that’s the story that unfolds as you listen to the album. Of course, there are going to be tensions, doubts. Eventually, we overcame that. But the other story that’s paralleling the album, is that it’s a story about Malaysia, and it’s a story about the diversity of cultures that we have. We start with an old song that is made new, and then it transitions into this soft instrumental track, and then it goes into a rock song, and it goes back to a sitar-playing track. And it then climaxes at the final song, which is the titular track. For us, it’s more than putting all the different types of music together. It’s innately a kind of hope that we have for the country.
From left to right: Farique Nadzir, Santosh Logandran, Ashwin Gobinath, Simmy Lor, Zaim Zaidee, Adil Johan, Stephanie Tham.
What were some of the songs or compositions that helped kick-start the process for Synesthesia?
Zaim: “Ikan Kekek” set the tone for where we wanted to go. When I came up with the idea, it was like let’s take “Ikan Kekek” and make it into something else. Back then it was me, Ash and Rashdan (former bandmate). It was at Ash’s place and then we started playing it. He was playing it on the stool (laughs). For me, my biggest influence was Transcendence, by Butterfingers. Essentially, they fused the Malay culture into rock, and I thought that was awesome. So that was the beginning of this whole cultural fusion of music. “Ikan Kekek” was the one that started the path. There’s actually a progression that you can see throughout the album. The album itself wasn’t really planned because it was a sincere outlet for all of us.
What were the main challenges that you faced with the album?
Ashwin: The album wasn’t recorded in a studio. I mean it was, but it was recorded in my home studio. Obviously, when you’re recording in a home studio, there are bound to be challenges. One thing is trying to get the sound right—clear and clean. Luckily, most of us are audio engineers, and we all have a good idea on how we want our instruments to sound like. Normally, if you’re recording in a proper recording studio, you’ll have most of the band members show up, be there and do their parts. With this, it was more focused. When Santosh came in, there’d only be one other person there. There wasn’t this thing where everybody could comment on it straight away. Personally, I feel that it actually helped the album a lot. It provided focus. Everybody could just come in and do their things, open up their instruments and let it all out.
You guys made history as the first Malaysian band to perform live on the national TV in Cambodia at The Cambodian Water Festival 2017. What was that like?
Farique: One thing that is important to us is crowd interaction. We played two sets on two different nights. So on the first night we played, we were pretty tired. Nonetheless, we went on and played, and the reaction was silence. I was like “wow”. At first, I thought maybe it was a language barrier kind of thing. And then we came off the stage. But then the Cambodian artists went up and it was still quiet. Then I was like “oh, so that’s how it is” (laughs). So we thought maybe it was just a cultural thing. Afterwards, we gave ourselves a project brief and we were like, “We don’t care what we do on the second night, but the crowd must go crazy”. When we played on the second day, it was raining. The cool thing was that the rain actually loosened people up. I had my own section, Adil had his own section, Santosh had the whole place to himself. These people started headbanging (laughs). These kids, they were like the age of my son, one even looked like my son (laughs). At the end of the sound check, Santosh had 3,000 to 4,000 people at his fingertips.
Ashwin: It was a great experience for us. As a band, this was our first international tour. It couldn’t have been a better opportunity for us. We were under the Pepsi banner. We also got the chance to collaborate with a Cambodian artist, Laura Mam. In fact, we wrote a song together that we perform regularly now. In March, she’ll be coming down to finish the recording of the single. We’ll be releasing that as a cross-regional release, in both Cambodia and Malaysia. It’s also the start of an idea that we’re starting now, which is an ASEAN album, a collaboration with different ASEAN singers with our music. It’s great!