Morad takes pride in being a so-called “old soul”. Between nervous laughter and quick puffs on his cigarette, the 26-year-old artist explains that while he doesn’t harbour any distaste towards the current pop landscape, he cannot help his devotion to the music of a certain era.
“I have the biggest admiration for Led Zeppelin,” the Jakarta native tells NME – the band’s 1970 ballad ‘Tangerine’ being his personal favourite. “Robert Plant’s vocal is out of this world! The first time I listened to him singing, I was like, ‘How can a person sing like this?’ Then I taught myself how to sing just like Robert Plant. Also, the band’s lyrics are quite genius. I love that no matter how simple or complicated their song might come across, they never fail to deliver the emotion.”
Morad’s first album ‘About a Woman’, released in March, in some ways serves as his attempt to transform himself from an admiring fan to a committed musician. Lyrically, the album touches upon themes of romantic desperation, heartbreak and lust; musically it incorporates blues, folk, Motown and soul.
In another life, Mohammad Radityo would have slung guitar in a big rock band. Initially aspiring to become a “shredder” in the lineage of Mötley Crüe’s Mick Mars and Mr. Big’s Paul Gilbert, at one point Morad even asked Karisk, the guitarist of Indonesian death metal band DeadSquad, for private lessons. He eventually came to realise that “this is not my path,” he says with a laugh.
Refusing to give up, Morad decided to switch gears and pursue a career as a solo artist instead. “I felt like I had that capacity. I could sing and I could write a song.” While keeping his day job as an office worker, in 2019 Morad independently released ‘Blink of an Eye’, a pop-rock number characterised by pounding piano keys and choir-like vocal harmonies, its lyrics examining a loss of inhibition. Berita Angkasa, the indie label that was home to rock acts such as Kelompok Penerbang Roket and Jangar, caught wind of the song and offered him a record deal.
Sometimes confidence and doubt come hand in hand. While Morad was ecstatic that he could finally launch his debut, he couldn’t help but feel concerned about whether rock music still had a place in the Indonesian music landscape. After a discussion with his label, he agreed to at least try blending his rock sound with the sound of the now.
“There was a time when they suggested I make something poppier. I like pop music, so I OKed the suggestion. I tried making a record with my producer [Viki Vikranta, also the drummer of Kelompok Penerbang Roket] and the whole thing turned out to be a complete bust. I realised that that’s just not how I write my songs,” he explains. “Everything goes blank whenever I try to make pop music.”
The lesson was learned – during the recording process of his debut album ‘About a Woman’, Morad was keen to stick to his rock instincts and “do whatever it is that I want”. Case in point was the title track, which has no bridge but an electric guitar solo and pulsating drums in the background. He wanted “to make something anthemic – people can sing along just by listening to the guitar. Something in the vein of White Stripes and Arctic Monkeys,” he elaborates.
Another rock number in the album, ‘Good Lovin’’, is Morad’s take on sex-and-rock ’n’ roll narrative, its lyrics evoking his desire for “hellfire”. He has no concerns for what people may think of the provocative lyrics. “I don’t care at all about whether people will have qualms [about this song]. After all, when it comes to lyrics, you are free to tell whatever story that you want,” he declares.
‘No One’s Gonna Love You’ and ‘How’ find Morad dabbling with more vintage sounds that he came to love as an adult: Motown and soul. Inspired by Otis Redding, Black Pumas and Amy Winehouse, he felt compelled to master the emotive vocal prowess often found in their discography. In ‘How’, for instance, he deliberately sings in a throaty, bluesy growl not unlike Winehouse’s in her classic album ‘Back to Black’ – no wonder Morad deems the song “one of the most vocally challenging” on the record. For the production of ‘No One’s Gonna Love You’, he employed traditional big brass instruments, the background vocals deliberately channeling ’60s-era Motown girl groups like The Supremes.
Morad loves how “there’s a different soul” in keeping things old-school instead of relying on digital instruments or music production software. “Especially when it comes to brass instruments – it’s similar to vocals in a way that it requires your breath,” he adds.
As the album’s quieter moment, ‘In Case You Need Someone’ employs folk-inspired arrangement and was recorded not in a studio, but his producer’s living room. Accompanied by an acoustic guitar only, Morad sings about his longing for a former lover, promising that “I’ll come around with open arms / In case you need someone”. Aiming for a “raw” quality was crucial for ‘In Case You Need Someone’, one of the more personal songs on the record. “If I made that song sound rowdy, I would have ended up erasing the essence of it. The song has to be that simple,” he emphasises.
Now that ‘About a Woman’ is out, Morad acknowledges that he cannot predict how the public has received it, especially considering how the Indonesian music landscape is still dominated by a contemporary pop sound. But he has faith that he and his material will find an audience.
“Of course there is still a place for us!” he says. “The thing about music trends is they always rotate. I hope that with this album and with this kind of sound, I get to motivate other artists who want to do something similar to what I do.”
On a closing note (and after much persuasion), Morad finally agrees to speak more on the mysterious muse of ‘About a Woman’. He stammers a little and suppresses a wide grin before he relents and offers his answer:
“It’s a woman I fell in love with. She has made me who I am and she has taught me so much. She has loved me so deeply and she has hurt me so excruciatingly. So, yeah – that’s the kind of woman I’m talking about,” he concludes, with a bittersweet laugh.
Morad’s ‘About a Woman’ is out now via Berita Angkasa