Malaysian rock firebrands Spooky Wet Dreams: “We can’t seem to get ourselves away from trouble”

The band reflect on everything that’s changed since the 2018 release of their debut album ‘Koleksi Dendangan Untuk Masa Hadapan’ – and what’s next

When Spooky Wet Dreams launched their debut album ‘Koleksi Dendangan Untuk Masa Hadapan’ at The Bee, Publika two years ago, the atmosphere was nothing short of euphoric. Sweating gig-goers clad in plaids, skinny jeans and sarongs dancing the traditional joget as lead vocalist Ze belted out the album’s rapturous political tracks – starting with the slow build-up of ‘Malam Sebelum Revolusi’ (‘Night Before The Revolution’) and concluding with the hard rock of ‘Irama Propaganda’ (‘Propaganda Rhythm’).

With ‘Koleksi Dendangan Untuk Masa Hadapan’, the Klang Valley rockers jabbed at the greed and corruption in Malaysian politics, their songs resonating with listeners who’d just witnessed the country’s pivotal 2018 General Election. And now Spooky Wet Dreams have put a full stop on that exciting era with the single ‘Tutur Dengan Bulan’ – which they announced days before Malaysia extended its Conditional Movement Control Order, putting paid to any dreams of crowded clubs and packed concerts.

“Man, it sucks,” Ze – real name Shazwan Zulkiffli – told NME of the renewed lockdown. “Of course, [the CMCO and its standard operating procedures] affect us to a certain degree but most importantly, it’s affecting the scene as a whole. The local music scene is bleeding and it doesn’t look like it’s stopping anytime soon.”

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Praising a SOP-compliant “recovery show” organised by gig planners Atas Angin in October, Ze remains optimistic about the future of live music in Malaysia “We’re not giving up on live performances just yet, because there’s nothing like it – the adrenaline, sweat and sing-alongs. I think we’ll find a way to make that happen again once things get a bit better.”

Though gigs aren’t possible, Ze still thinks this is the time for entertainers to get to work and uplift the mood on the streets: “The people need their favourite artists and sources of inspiration” who have given them the words and lyrics to get by and adjust to Malaysia’s new normal. And what a new normal it is, following the Sheraton Move last February, threats of snap elections and proclamations of emergencies. The dawn of “New Malaysia”, precipitated by the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition’s triumph in the 14th General Election, is setting fast over the horizon.

“It’s crazy, isn’t it? A lot has changed from when the album debuted,” Ze remarks. “The people really need the individuals in the office to come through and represent us the best way they can. You can feel the tension building up on the streets and hear sighs in the supermarkets. You can see it in the faces of delivery riders, security guards and people who lost their jobs and closed their businesses.”

Ze ends his rhetorical flourish with a simple conclusion: “We’re all tired, dude. So the politicking needs to come with the right intention, it needs to be in the best interest of the rakyat and the future of this country – whichever side you’re on.”

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Instead of chasing ‘Koleksi Dendangan Untuk Masa Hadapan’ with another political album, tuned to the frequencies of Malaysia’s current political climate, Spooky Wet Dreams opted to close that chapter with a dreamy single whose title simply means ‘talking to the moon’.

“‘Tutur Dengan Bulan’ was written last year actually, and we felt it’s a great song but it doesn’t really fit into the plans of the new album,” Ze explains. “We even considered releasing a mini-EP of sendu [melancholic] songs like that, but it never came about since we’re all so focused on the new album. I still remember the EP was supposed to be called ‘Behind The Curtains, Under The Sheets’ or something like that,” he says, laughing.

“It’d be great to just let this song enjoy its glory during our short break,” guitarist Nani Zul adds. “We’ll be back once the work in the kitchen is done.” As for the new album, Ze reveals, “We’re a few songs in, and it’s starting to sound great. We’ve already set a visual direction for the next album as well. It’s all coming together and I’m trying my best not to spill any beans here!” And will the band will continue to address Malaysian politics? “Maybe, you know us. We can’t seem to get ourselves away from trouble. But I think, if it’s necessary, and if it’s right then why not? There’s no reason to keep it to just Twitter rants.”

“You can feel the tension building up on the streets and hear sighs in the supermarkets”

Loosely based on real events, ‘Tutur Dengan Bulan’ was written from the perspective of someone whose lover is going through depression, as projected in the lyrics and haunting vocals of Ze and Nani. Despite the two-year gap in releases, the single – recorded in a makeshift studio set up by lead guitarist Matt Liew in Nani’s living room – captures the same sonic blend that characterised ‘Koleksi Dendangan Untuk Masa Hadapan’: a mix of satire, surf, Nusantara rock and a genre that Nani dubs “Malaysiana”. ‘Tutur Dengan Bulan’’s macabre melody that comfortably sits between the romanticism of domestic life of the waltzy Pop Yeh-Yeh number, ‘Sayang, Tolong Buatkan Abang Teh’ (‘Honey, Please Make Me Tea’) and the youthful introspective of intimacy found in ‘Virgin’.

As Spooky Wet Dreams prepare to transition from ‘Koleksi Dendangan Untuk Masa Hadapan’ to their next sound, they’ve been looking back on their debut album and reflecting on how they’ve evolved in the past two years – indulging slightly in the nostalgia that usually haunts a rite of passage.

“To me, ‘KDUMH’ is like a throwback of different sounds from different eras because the whole concept is that the album is a time capsule hence, the name,” Nani says. “I also think our sound is a combination of all the sonic pleasures we love as a band. It’s the Spooky sound, I guess?”

She adds, “I call the pre-‘KDUMH’ duration ‘Fetus Spooky’. Compared to our first EP, ‘Cold Pizza Party’ [a 2015 project of garage and punk rock], we’ve definitely matured a lot during ‘KDUMH’ in terms of songwriting, musicality and how we present ourselves. We may not be the most sophisticated musicians out there but we always thrive to find ways to tell our stories better.”

For Ze, the era of ‘Koleksi Dendangan Untuk Masa Hadapan’, which rose alongside newfound freedom of (limited) expression for artists and the media in Malaysia, has, “taught us that making music is basically just storytelling dressed up as whatever you want it to be, be it fully through the vibe of the song or through a story written in the lyrics. In the end, it’s how you tell that story”.

He urges, “If you have the chance to make people feel something, take it. Do it. Life is too short not to be moved by music, emotionally or physically.”

Spooky Wet Dreams’ single ‘Tutur Dengan Bulan’ is out now

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