Malaysian indie veterans Bittersweet bow out with best-of collection: “It’s a proper goodbye”

Founding guitarist Herri Hamid opens up to NME on the “frustrating” end of Bittersweet, his future plans and more

Herri Hamid of Malaysian indie rock band Bittersweet is a survivor in more ways than one.

In March 2017, Herri met with a motorcycle accident that put him in a two-week coma and led to the amputation of his right leg. A year later, he was up on his feet with a prosthetic and playing a show. And then there have been the countless personnel changes throughout Bittersweet’s 17 years as a band that left Herri the only founding member remaining when the group – by then the duo of Herri and singer Hafizan Razali – broke up last year. Less than five months after the breakup of Bittersweet, Herri was up on stage a few weeks ago with a new band, playing on. The man does not know how to stay down.

Today (April 25), Bittersweet release ‘The Revelation 2004 – 2021’, a final best-of collection of the band’s most popular songs over the years. Herri met NME to clear the air on what really happened with Bittersweet, look back on the band’s illustrious career and share his plans moving forward.

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You already have a new band. Tell us more about it. Got a name yet?

“We are called HH. It’s a band consisting of local Ipoh musicians. My style remains the same but I plan to incorporate a string section as part of the band. We just played our first show a couple of weeks ago. It was really nerve-wrecking because I have to sing these days. I had to sign myself up for singing lessons. You can’t exactly just buy a better amp for a nicer tone when it comes to singing.”

Tell us about this last release from Bittersweet.

“‘The Revelation 2004 – 2021’ is really a send-off for our fans, a proper goodbye. It’s a collection of our popular songs together with two singles ‘Racun Dunia’ and ‘Biarlah Mentari’ that have never been released on physical media before and a never-before-released new song called ‘Boneka’. It will be released on CD and cassette first with a vinyl release planned later in the year which will feature even more rarities.”

Bittersweet founding guitarist Herri Hamid
Bittersweet founding guitarist Herri Hamid. Credit: Idril Mihat Motiofixo

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OK, truth time – what happened with Bittersweet, really?

“I think the main reason was that it just didn’t make any more sense for us to carry on. I live in Ipoh, so I was commuting to band practices in KL which was difficult and costly. We are thankful that Bittersweet has been successful over the years but that has also meant that the cost of keeping the band going has gotten quite high, especially with band members living far from each other.

“With the pandemic there were hardly any shows so there was no income. We had a national tour lined up in 2020 so we had put some money down for the release of two singles but the lockdown happened. So we ended up spending the money but we couldn’t recoup back the cost with the tour. It reached a point where it just seemed easier to end it than carry on.”

So, it came down to money? No fallouts between members?

“When a band with a history like us calls it a day, there is usually more than one reason. It’s true that misunderstandings, even between band members, do happen over time and it is unavoidable, but at the end of the day, the main reason was that it just wasn’t practical for us go on anymore.”

What did it feel like to have to end the band under those circumstances?

“It was really frustrating, actually. I can still remember when we were starting out; I had to sell shoes and t-shirts to raise RM400 to record our first demo. We learned about band image and how to perform from old Joy Division and Factory Records documentaries. We realised very early on that if the Sex Pistols came out wearing baju melayu, they wouldn’t be the Sex Pistols we love anymore.

“Image was important to us, so we learned to dress up. We were trying to learn to do this in Ipoh before the Internet. We had to be very resourceful! Never in a million years would I imagine Bittersweet would have the success it did. So it was really frustrating to have to end our story that way.”

Your motorcycle accident could’ve been the end but it wasn’t. Instead it was the pandemic and money issues that ended the band.

“Yes. I think there comes a time when you just have to accept your fate and move on. Ending Bittersweet in the end, became not just about closing a chapter – it was also the best way to move forward. The accident taught me that giving up is not an option.”

You had no choice?

“Yeah, as hard as it was for me to pick myself up after losing a leg, there was no choice, I had to do it. I’ve never had a job besides Bittersweet. The life I’ve had has been paid by Bittersweet’s success and the songs I’ve written for the band. So I needed to get myself back up on my feet to survive. This is why I am continuing to soldier on after Bittersweet as well.”

Bittersweet’s ‘The Revelation 2004 – 2021’ is out now via History Records

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