Serendipity brought singer-songwriter Lunadira and producer Reddi Rocket together, but making music was what made them stick. The Malaysian artists have found in each other a musical pairing that just works, bringing to life modern-day love songs – ones that leave our infatuation goggles a little cracked.
Speaking to NME, the duo were a bundle of laughs, excitement and palpable chemistry – a camaraderie that served them well on their upcoming five-track EP, ‘Tangerine’, a velvety five-track collection of R&B-inflected, lo-fi indie pop.
Before joining forces on the fully fledged EP, Lunadira and Reddi Rocket worked together on two singles earlier this year – ‘Lotto’ and ‘Hoodie’. Released in June, the latter is a warm, gooey account of smitten young lovers. It was accompanied by a laid-back homestyle music video that gives you a sneak peek into their bond: they jam together and bust out corny dance moves – think the Macarena.
What started as a spontaneous venture in between sessions working on Lunadira’s solo EP has now clocked in over 200,000 listens on Spotify. After their ‘Hoodie’ merchandise sold out, too, the duo shelved their solo projects temporarily to work on a joint EP.
‘Tangerine’, out November 27, is drenched in themes of bittersweet nostalgia, unrequited love and failing relationships.
“There aren’t a lot of songs on the radio that talk about falling in love but doubting it. We decided to talk about unrequited love, being afraid of ruining relationships, and simply accepting that you’re not the one,” Lunadira tells NME.
“But it’s not exclusively about romantic relationships, and it’ll be interesting to see how people ingest and interpret the songs for themselves.” The EP, she says, is her opportunity to write stories that she’s not had a chance to tell yet.
One of the tracks, ‘amigonnadie’, feels almost like a sequel to ‘Hoodie’ – a sparse, lo-fi production underlying a duet of a dizzying modern-day relationship, the two artists singing back and forth to each other about uncertainty and reassurance.
‘Please You’ is another song the duo says they are thrilled about. Upbeat and funky, it gives fans a chance to hear more of Reddi, who already showcased his vocals on ‘Hoodie’ and ‘Lotto’. The pop number, about finding clarity in a relationship, carves out ample space for his vocals to shine.
“I can’t wait for people to see a different side of Reddi Rocket, it’s really exciting,” says mullet-sporting Reddi, whose real name is Jimmy Azli.
The completion of ‘Tangerine’ marks yet another successful collaboration. In fact, the pair believes they have cracked the code on perfecting their synergy.
What’s the secret to their success? “We take the time to communicate and understand what one another is trying to achieve – that’s why it worked,” explains Reddi. Their synergy is such that it seems unbelievable that these individuals only met each other two years ago.
“If you manage to carry a pop tune but the message is very haunting, that gives people something to think about” – Lunadira
It was a chance encounter in 2018 that brought Lunadira, real name Nadirah Diah, to Reddi. That year, both of them had taken the stage at Good Vibes Festival, which had been headlined by international powerhouses SZA, Lorde, and The Neighbourhood.
“My manager wanted me to do a remix of her song, ‘Stuck With You’, before I had even met her. So I performed it and saw her rocking out to it in the crowd,” Reddi recounts. Chiming in amid giggles, Lunadira says, “Yeah, I remember hearing my song on stage and thinking, oh, so that’s Reddi Rocket.”
“Then, we started jamming with more musicians and collaborated together while on a trip in Penang. We just started hanging out way more from there.”
Shortly after, both artists got signed to record label This Way Up. Lunadira is the label’s first and only female artist to date. The 26-year-old artist entered the scene in 2017, releasing annual singles over the past three years.
Heavily inspired by the late ’90s and early 2000s, Lunadira looks up to icons Britney Spears and Maroon 5 – an era of music that continues to influence her work and is evident in ‘Tangerine’: ‘Please You’ takes after Maroon 5’s melting pot of pop, while the slower ‘Ok Bye’ transports us to the same generation that gave us Norah Jones.
Over time, Lunadira noticed her approach to songwriting was evolving. Before, her songs, such as her 2017 debut single ‘Forever’s Not Our Thing’, came to fruition solely based on emotions.
“I wrote the song on a whim, I purely felt it and translated it into a melody,” she says. “I lost that art along the way, so now I am trying to regain that and become internally more aware of the intention behind writing.”
This year, the singer also released solo track ‘Crazy Dizzy’, which possesses a decidedly more sultry and mature tone. While the track presents a shift in mood, she stayed true to her ‘sad and groovy’ trademark, which is a juxtaposition a lot of people can relate to, she believes. “If you manage to carry a pop tune but the message is very haunting, that gives people something to think about.”
Reddi, on the other hand, is a Dubspot-Certified Ableton producer excelling in dynamic beats and spacey production. His past work showcases his versatility – he’s as comfortable putting his own spin on hip-hop (in 2018, a spontaneous jamming session with fellow producer Daaliah resulted in a remix of Aminé’s R&B hit ‘Caroline’ – with Lunadira on smooth vocals) and ambient electronica – last year he contributed to a remix EP by Malaysia-based South Korean composer Dae Kim.
Lunadira jokes that their jamming sessions seem a little like therapy, and Reddi echoes the sentiment. According to the producer, not only has his skill set diversified over time, his approach to music has transformed. “Before, it was about showing off my producing skills, now it is about expressing [myself]. It’s less around getting too technical and more asking myself ‘how am I feeling today?’”
The current pandemic and ensuing movement control order in Malaysia also had a part to play in developing the pair’s newfound introspection. “We are locked in our heads so much more now,” Reddi muses. “During the lockdown, I really felt myself being more expressive and in tune with my emotions.”
“We take the time to communicate and understand what one another is trying to achieve – that’s why it worked” – Reddi Rocket
Similarly, songwriter Lunadira feels the pandemic pushed her creatively. Though she lost her full-time job, she also found more time to write.
“It sounds shitty to say, but I found a silver lining with this whole pandemic. Mental health aside, I was trying to find solace in writing music and I found [it] through making music with him,” she says.
Ultimately, the effects of 2020 have brought the two closer together and it seems that fans are in store for a life-long collaboration – whether on a song or behind the scenes.“We’ll always be working with each other, even if you don’t see his name beside mine on a song. I can’t imagine going into the future without getting his input on what I am working on,” she says, Reddi nodding in full agreement.
After coming off the high of their EP drop later this month, both artists plan to work solely on their individual solo albums. And when concerts become a thing of the present again, they hope to grace the stage in countries across Southeast Asia – filling hearts and minds with sad yet groovy tunes of love along the way.
Lunadira and Reddi Rocket’s EP ‘Tangerine’ is out November 27