How Pamungkas beat burnout and reclaimed his love for music

The Indonesian singer-songwriter talks the journey of self-discovery that led him to re-record his 2020 album ‘Solipsism’

Things should’ve gone smoothly the week Pamungkas released his new album ‘Solipsism 0.2’. After releasing three albums, he already knew the drill: teasers, special clips, countdowns. Making the news was also usually part of the busy routine, but just before his album arrived, the 27-year-old Indonesian singer – real name Rizky Rahmahadian Pamungkas – was in the headlines for reasons that weren’t exactly in his favour.

Four days before ‘Solipsism 0.2’ hit streaming platforms on February 3, a local online community page called out the singer for plagiarism. It pointed out a resemblance between the artwork featured on Pamungkas’ album cover plus merchandise and a design by French illustrator Baptiste Virot. The similarities prompted several users to contact the artist, who confirmed he hadn’t licensed Pamungkas and his team to use his work.

“I was literally like, ‘Oh shit’,” he tells NME of the moment he realised his mistake. “I knew I needed to make this right. I was willing to do anything to make it right.”

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So the singer and his team took down all promotional material with the illustration on it and replaced the album art with a plain black square. Pamungkas then acknowledged his negligence, and in a two-minute-long video uploaded to his label’s Instagram page, the singer apologised for his oversight. “This is purely my bad,” he said in the clip. “For sure [it’s] a reality check for me and the whole team of Maspam Records family.”

When asked about Virot’s artwork, Pamungkas doesn’t say much, taking brief pauses in between his responses to make sure he sounds as politically correct as possible. He says he reached out to Virot, who turned out to be “very cool” about the entire situation. They managed to settle the copyright issue within 24 hours – just in time for ‘Solipsism 0.2’’s release. On streaming platforms, the album cover is now back to a revised and approved version of the artwork of Pamungkas’ face with Virot’s illustration.

“I’m just so thankful that Baptiste was very open about it,” Pamungkas says with a sigh of relief. “He said it was too bad that it didn’t come out as a collaboration, but hopefully we can work together in the future. I look up to him as an artist.”

If there’s anything he’s learned from this, Pamungkas admits, it’s the importance of being held accountable for his errors. “Sometimes we tend to look at things in a very micro perspective. It’s a learning curve for me to really understand the bigger picture. I’m just glad loads of people remind me of that.”

(Shortly after NME’s chat with Pamungkas, it was reported that visual artist Nicole Imania had provided Pamungkas with references for his album cover. On Instagram, Imania claimed that though some of her own art was featured in the original cover, Pamungkas allegedly did not acknowledge her role in its creation, saying that it was inspired “only from the music”. NME was unable to reach Pamungkas for comment on this before publication.)

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Making mistakes, learning, growing and looking at life through a different lens: that’s exactly what led Pamungkas to rework his entire third album ‘Solipsism’, just seven months after its release. Although both records were produced in lockdown last year, they were made at very different points in his life, he says.

Raised on the sounds of Bob Dylan and The Beatles, Pamungkas’ dreamy brand of pop meets alt-R&B could be described as if Rex Orange County partnered with Ed Sheeran for a romantic indie soundtrack. ‘Solipsism’ is full of glowing piano melodies, warm bass and soothing guitars, with flashes of wisdom: Sentimental ballad ‘Be My Friend’ is about accepting one’s imperfections, while ‘Higher Than Ever’, a jaunty track with a wistful undercurrent, reminisces on an old lover.

The idea for ‘Solipsism’ occurred to Pamungkas as early as 2019. Before the world forced everyone to go into isolation, the singer had locked himself in a rented apartment and began writing songs for the album, documenting the process on Instagram. At the same time, he was preparing for his 2020 Flying Solo Southeast Asian tour in support of his sophomore effort. But as we all know, those shows – much like everything else – eventually got called off.

The dent the pandemic had made in his plans left Pamungkas disappointed, to say the least. “I was unhappy, honestly. Maybe mad, I’d say, with the situation. Like, why did this have to happen now, like that?” he says.

For the first time in a while, Pamungkas’ life was at a standstill. With no gigs to play, he immediately returned to what he does best: make music. The singer refined his earlier ideas and turned his turbulent emotions into a polished, confessional LP, its 11 songs steeped in stories of heartbreak, anger and pain. By June 2020, ‘Solipsism’ was out into the world. Pamungkas celebrated his new era with a series of livestream concerts.

But it wasn’t long until he realised he was actually burnt out and that the cynical energy he had channeled into ‘Solipsism’ was the result of non-stop work. Since debuting in 2018 with ‘Walk The Talk’, the singer had always hit the ground running, releasing a new album annually for three consecutive years. So Pamungkas did what any 20-something facing a life crisis would do: pack his bags and go on a solo road trip.

“The eagerness to be in the studio and pour myself into a pop song was so huge”

Thankfully, domestic travel is permitted in Indonesia, so Pamungkas left home for a month, journeying across the country to learn how to “be human again”. He made several pit stops along the way, including at Bali, to meet up with friends old and new. He also went shopping, immersed himself in nature, found a new hobby in film photography and re-listened to albums by Tom Misch, alt-J and Earth, Wind & Fire.

But he mostly stayed off social media to give himself time to think. The spontaneous and much-needed trip paid off, and it inspired him to pen new songs that made him excited about music. His creative drought was over. “I wrote a lot of songs from the experience I had on the road trip. And I thought, maybe, once I get back home, I could record them,” Pamungkas says.

His managers, though, thought it was too soon to be releasing a new project. But Pamungkas’ creative spark had already been reignited and he was itching to get back to work one way or another. So the singer locked himself again, in the comfort of his home this time, and decided to tinker with ‘Solipsism’ instead. “The eagerness to be in the studio and pour myself into a pop song: it was so huge,” he says.

Indonesia pop artist Pamungkas album Solipsism 0.2
Credit: Press

‘0.2’ was initially never supposed to become an album, “but it turned out becoming this new colour, I’d say, musically”, Pamungkas muses. “At first, it was just me challenging myself. And then the idea [of turning it into a real album] came later, you know, like why don’t we just release this?”

“The first version of the album is me being [a] crybaby in a way. Like I had all these feelings and this and that,” he explains. “But the second one is more of me stepping back and seeing things from the bigger picture.”

His self-observation rings true: the production on each ‘Solipsism’ track has been enhanced dramatically. The songs now boast sunnier synths, grander hooks and crispier drums. It’s not an entirely different record – at its core, ‘Solipsism 0.2’ is still a sad album, but with a palpable dose of optimism. It’s bookended with serotonin-boosted versions of ‘Closure’ and ‘Riding The Wave’, two of the most heartfelt songs on ‘Solipsism’.

It sounds like, NME says, instead of simply wallowing in his misery, Pamungkas has learned to embrace the pain with a smile. He nods in agreement. “It’s so much more fun [recording] the second time,” he laughs. “I think I am more grounded now in a way that I found the joy back to create and produce music.”

Of the songs he’s found new meaning in, Pamungkas singles out fan favourite ‘Live Forever’, which got a different treatment from the other reworks. Instead of glossy, blown-out production, the new version of ‘Live Forever’ is built around an acoustic guitar that seamlessly transitions into a euphoric yet bittersweet climax. “Always remember what we shared / Our love won’t die / Although I’m leaving you someday,” he sings on the extended bridge.

“Society sometimes have their own perspective, and in life, you can’t make everyone happy. The song is sort of saying that I can only be what I am. And that’s all right. I like that. And I’m going to live forever. You’re claiming your life back,” he says.

Pamungkas may never truly please everyone, himself included. But as long as the singer is learning from others and continues making music “from a happy place”, he’s on the right path.

‘Solipsism 0.2’ is out now. Pamungkas will launch the album with a concert film livestream on March 3

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