Romantic Echoes couldn’t help but notice the declining popularity of rock music.
In the past couple of years, Indonesia’s popular music landscape has become dominated by younger talents whose musical stylings typically revolve around pop, R&B and folk-pop. Romantic Echoes – real name Jack Alfredo – observed that the glory days of stadium-ready rock acts in the vein of Dewa 19, Jamrud, and Slank are, today, twilight memories.
Alfredo – who is also a member of the indie rock band Pijar – gives NME his two cents: “I think what’s missing here is the lack of story. It feels like the current rock acts have no honest story to tell. Also, it’s difficult to churn out good rock music when the rocker in question has lived oh-so comfortably in luxury, you know. There’s no hunger anymore.”
The mini album ‘Gaung Romantis’, which he released last month, is Romantic Echoes’ attempt to marry the aforementioned key elements of “story” and “hunger”. The six-track EP presents a doomed love story in chronological order, starting with the separation of the two lovers (‘Gaung Romantis’) and ending with the protagonist’s decision to accept his newfound loneliness (‘Malam Itu Adalah Malam Dimana Saya Dibunuh Oleh Keindahan Itu Sendiri’).
To boot, ‘Gaung Romantis’ serves as a direct narrative sequel to his album ‘Persembahan Dari Masa Lalu’, which was released in June 2020. The narrow window of time between both releases stemmed from Alfredo’s ambition to create “something akin to a movie series”, he says. He’s wasting no time: “After I wrapped up ‘Gaung Romantis’, I started working on my third album.” It will be released next year.
Befitting his stage name, both ‘Persembahan Masa Lalu’ and ‘Gaung Romantis’ present a romantic chronicle packaged as an indie rock melodrama. The new EP “is more complex, both in terms of arrangement and production,” Alfredo says. “‘Gaung Romantis’ was influenced by ’80s rock bands, in particular Toto, whereas ‘Persembahan Dari Masa Lalu’ was influenced by vintage Asian sound, such as P. Ramlee.”
‘Gaung Romantis’ poses a new opportunity – and a challenge – for Alfredo. When Indonesian audiences might still expect male rock musicians “to present themselves and make their music in a certain masculine way,” he decided to “sort of break that stereotype”. Throughout the EP, Romantic Echoes positions himself as a male protagonist in a submissive, almost masochistic role in a romantic relationship – as if his happiness and well-being had completely depended on his lover’s acceptance.
“Honestly, this album is based on my actual life story. What I wrote, I literally felt,” Alfredo explains. “When I wrote these songs, my main focus was on how to make sure that the audience can see through my perspective as the main character of this story. Of course, I didn’t want the audience to be, like, ‘You’re a guy! Don’t be so weepy like that!’ Instead, I wanted them to be, like, ‘Dude, I completely understand what you’re going through’.”
His narrative commitment aside, Echoes acknowledges “initial insecurity” as he had his friends and acquaintances listen to ‘Gaung Romantis’ for the first time – “especially the guys,” he points out. “I have pals from the punk scene and I have pals from the metal scene. You know, rockers who make music about murder and stuff,” he laughs. “Fortunately, some of them felt gut-wrenched by this album in the best way possible. These bros loved it! I learned that if you set aside any desire to appear ‘cool’ or ‘stoic’ and simply focus on your truth, people will love what you make no matter what.”
“It’s difficult to churn out good rock music when the rocker in question has lived oh-so comfortably in luxury”
The EP’s opener ‘Gaung Romantis’ also happens to be the first song Alfredo wrote for the album. A rock ballad about separation, the song picks up the narrative last told in the final track of his previous album. “I think this story is also everybody’s story, you know: when you fight so hard for your relationship to stay alive, but sadly, it takes only one reason to bring it down to dust,” Alfredo chuckles. Interestingly, ‘Gaung Romantis’ is followed by ‘Celaka’ – in which the male protagonist swallows his pride and asks to undo the split of the first track.
Echoes laughs at the dynamic between the two songs – and at himself. “Life has taught me that love doesn’t make a relationship ‘real’, but instead, it’s the routine. That’s why when we dissolve that habit, when we lose that routine of seeing each other and spending time with one another, that’s when the longing and the regret kick in. Those emotions are not because of love! In fact, there was no love to begin with!”
‘Gaung Romantis’ has two featured guests: Pamungkas on the mid-tempo pop-rock song ‘I’m Down’ and Matter Mos on the hip-hop-influenced ‘Hymne’. Alfredo describes his collaboration with Pamungkas as “a happy accident. He came by, saw me playing around with guitar chords, then he jumped in with the lyrics in a flash, then he and I wrote the song without anyone’s planning for it, then we shook hands. The following morning, Pamungkas called me and said, ‘OK, let’s go release this song!’” His collaboration with Matter Mos, on the other hand, was inspired by Alfredo’s love for English virtual band Gorillaz, “in particular, how they add in hip-hop and rap elements”.
“I learned that if you set aside any desire to appear ‘cool’ or ‘stoic’ and simply focus on your truth, people will love what you make no matter what”
Out of all the six songs, Alfredo is particularly fond of ‘Amarah’, a song he pronounces “the emotional centerpiece of the album”. Just as its title (‘rage’ in English) suggests, the rock song’s male protagonist grappling with rage, self-pity and melancholia. “This song is, at least for me personally, ‘insane’. The song is brief, but your head will fly all over the place once you listen to it,” he says. “When I wrote ‘Amarah’, I [lay] down and I let that flood of emotions wash me away.”
He continues: “Until now, I still don’t have it in me to listen to the whole [of] ‘Amarah’ because I’m afraid that once I do, that flood of emotions will come back. Weird enough, lots of people have DM’d me about this song since its release. They said that this song, even though its lyrics are devastatingly bleak, managed to save their lives.”
The EP’s closer ‘Malam Itu Adalah Malam Dimana Saya Dibunuh Oleh Keindahan Itu Sendiri’ serves as the final cathartic explosion for the male protagonist. The track is mostly instrumental for its five-and-a-half-minute runtime – save howling vocals by Alfredo, which “symbolise the guy crying his eyeballs out”.
Alfredo sees no cause for embarrassment in the raw, teary track – in fact, he loves it. “Because the song is actually about the two choices: either you pull yourself together and get back to your feet, or you perish!” It’s a veritable pearl of wisdom – one Romantic Echoes could well have doled out to rock stars yearning for their halcyon days.
Romantic Echoes’ ‘Gaung Romantis’ is out now