Kekal interview (08/2020)
|With:||Jefray Kurnia "Jeff" Arwadi|
|Conducted by:||RaduP (e-mail)|
Kekal is a weird band. The great thing is that they're unique, and the bad thing is that after years of listening to them, I still can't wrap my head around it. But it's still eternally fascinating that this music came from Indonesia, at least it did up until founding member Jeff Arwadi moved to Canada and the band basically became "memberless" (we'll get more into that in a bit). You can even see the band's official "mascot", or 2D representative as they call it, in the main article pic. What was most humbling about it is that even though I wouldn't consider them an unknown band, this was the first case when a band has personally asked me for an interview. Thankfully, I didn't have to fake any appreciation, since I really wanted to wrap my head around the band's music a little better anyway. And I didn't have to ask about influences since the band gracefully posted a huge Facebook album of over a hundred influential albums, that I wholeheartedly advice you to check out, as well as their music obviously.
RP: Hello and thank you for doing this interview with us!
Jeff: My pleasure. I'd thank you too for asking these types of questions. This is Jeff representing Kekal.
RP: One of the most interesting things about the band is that you seemingly operate without having a lineup of official band members, despite Jeff clearly having a fair share of contributions. How exactly does that work? Do Leo and Azhar have any contributions on the recent albums? Did this happen due to you moving to Canada?
Jeff: It's a long story, but I'll explain in brief here. Yes, this was mainly because of my relocation. I've been living in Canada since 2006. When I moved it was impossible for the band, then 3 members, to continue unless we decided on 3 possible options: First, I'd move the band to Canada, leaving the rest of the members out and re-branding Kekal as a Canadian band. I didn't want to do that. 2nd option, I'd quit, and the rest of the members would continue with Kekal as an Indonesian band. They didn't want to do that. The 3rd option was to disband completely, but our listeners didn't want to, they wanted to see Kekal continue making new music and releasing albums even without playing live shows any longer. We all did leave the band in 2009 and Kekal would remain formally as an Indonesian band. We decided to go the "member-less band" route, perhaps the first band in the world doing that, not sure. After that, we went on as no-strings-attached contributors working "for Kekal" instead of "as Kekal", completely on a voluntary basis, no schedules, no deadlines, and on some albums we got other musician(s) jumped in as well. We went full anarchist in terms of adopting free association and stuff. Once the material is released under Kekal, no one can claim the ownership in terms of copyright, so you can see all Kekal albums released after 2009 are licensed under Creative Commons and not copyright-controlled. The only problem we had is from mainstream corporate streaming sites like Spotify, Apple, YouTube Music, etc. which don't recognize Creative Commons license as an option to standard copyright practice, so you'll still see the copyright and property mark when published there. Kekal is completely independent, and now technically autonomous. The band will never get signed by a record label because there's no legal ground for that (I'm talking about full band signing, not physical album licensing to smaller labels in which we always do). Everything from recording/production, album cover, artwork, music videos, photography, website, promotional material, etc. you name it, are completely D.I.Y done by contributors with no money involved. All the funds the band gets from digital sales are recycled for album promotion, ads, web-hosting and maintenance, etc.
This new album, I happened to write all the lyrics and music. On previous albums there were 2 to 3 contributors involved, including outside of the former members, but unless the contributor wanted to, there's no credits listed for music performance and songwriting because it doesn't really matter. Once the songs are published under Kekal name, I or whoever contributed to the music/lyrics would lose the property of the songs. Back in 2018 I performed live playing a Kekal song on acoustic guitar but I considered it as doing a cover, and I could not play bearing the name Kekal. The only credit I can get is for production/mixing and album cover design, because I'd like to use that in my personal portfolio. Same goes to Azhar Levi who normally contributes to making artwork illustration and photography for Kekal. Leo contributed on past albums. He was listed as contributor in the 2012 album Autonomy as a songwriter and performer, before we went anonymous for songwriting and performance credits on the albums after that.
RP: How do you manage to keep Kekal's music as weird as it is over the course of so many albums? How do you avoid slipping into a comfort zone of doing the same "avant-garde conventions"?
Jeff: I don't know. I don't see Kekal music as weird, everything flows very naturally to me. Maybe it's because I haven't actively listened to metal music for so long. Since about 2008 or so I've lost interest in listening to metal and other hard music on a regular level. There was a point where I completely did not listen to any metal music at all, maybe for 2 years or so until the early 2010s. That was also the time when I completely lost interest in playing guitar, but then returned after about a year because I couldn't write any good music without a guitar as a main helper. Since then, I've only managed to check out the music on YouTube about an hour once a week just to keep "informed" about the state of music these days. So that's the time I would check out some new metal songs too, which is less than an hour a week. Right now I walk to work everyday with a total of one hour return trip, and in my music player I almost never put any metal albums, except from Voivod. Voivod is the only so-called metal band that I still regularly listen up to these days and which I follow until their recent releases. When I produced Quantum Resolution I had lost all the reference to what metal record "should" sound in the first place, so that also helped making the album sound different I guess? I don't listen to most so-called "avant-garde" music these days, metal or not metal, except for a few 70s bands that might fall within the avant-prog and avant-jazz tags. When you asked me what is "avant-garde metal", I would say I have no idea.
RP: One of the catchiest moments and most surprising moments of the latest album were the trap-like bass boosted moments with the title of the album repeated over them. What inspired them? Have you thought about having some other more "fitting" type of vocals over them?
Jeff: It was interesting because I decided to write the complete lyrics first before thinking of composing the music, but the title for the album had already been "chosen" long before the lyrics were finished. Well, I'm almost talking about the fake western "democracy" here, heh! Back to the topic, once in a while I would come up with drafts, or doodles, you know - bits of the music that don't make sense which I arranged them in a computer using whatever synths or samples available, so it was when that particular trap beat came about. The vocals were basically doodle just to fill the space, but later on when I started to compose the "Quiet Eye" music, I would think that part would be fitting into the song. So I added that to the song and properly produced it by adding layers of vocals, ambience, etc. It was pretty much accidental so to speak. The line wasn't written in the lyrics because that's never been a part of the lyrics. Some people really love it, some really hate it, but the bottom line, it has become one of the catchy "taglines" for the album: "What resolution? Quantum Resolution!" There are 2 songs on the album using those same vocal tracks. I didn't record them twice, just copy-pasted from one session to the other song.
RP: You mentioned that this is the most conceptually and lyrically significant of the Kekal albums, with it touching on Gnosis and our human condition. Would you mind going into a bit more detail on what that means and what led to the album having this concept?
Jeff: Sure. During the years of 2015 and 2016, I began to experience what some would call it as a spiritual awakening. It is very long to explain in detail, but that also includes drastic change of my diet, sleep pattern, emotions, how I see and feel others, the world, etc. It started when I questioned deeply about the kind of society we live in. At that moment I lived in Calgary, Alberta, known as the "oil capital of Canada'', and we had an oil price crash which sent many people to joblessness, bankruptcy, homelessness, and many rolling effects including a spike in crime rate, racial hatred, divorces, and suicides. I had no idea what I was experiencing is generally known as "spiritual awakening", I only came to realize a few years later after reading and watching similar experiences happening to others, which changed their course of life goals and priorities. This has nothing to do with religion or "religious experience" of some kind, and this has also nothing to do with self-induced "psychedelic experience" as people may get from DMT, ayahuasca, or some type of mushrooms. But I've experienced synchronicities and many strange revelations which somehow "guide" me in receiving new knowledge regarding ourselves, the world we live in, and the Universe. This is generally called Gnosis or "revealed knowledge". At some point, the revelations of this new knowledge caught me off-guard and I freaked out, because many of them contradict my previous beliefs that I've got from dogma and propaganda since childhood in the forms of mainstream education, religion, and so on. It took courage to "deprogram" my old mindset, but at the same time these new understandings have given me some form of rest or closure from the many years of agitation, because it is the first time everything starts to come together and make sense. The lyrics of Quantum Resolution are all based on the new realizations that I've got. At the same time, this new knowledge basically helps myself in realizing our place in the Universe and our course at the same time, regarding who we really are and where we are going. I've published a full document called "Ask. Seek. Knock." which can be downloaded for free from the link attached to the last page of digital booklet when purchasing the digital download of the album through Kekal Bandcamp page. It's mostly discussion-type explanation about what's behind-the-lyrics of all songs in the album. The lyrics deal with many subject matters like Quantum Mechanics, suppressed history of our species and the birth of civilizations and empires, the rulers of the Earth and their spiritual/cosmic driving force, near-death-experience, etc. To some extent, the lyrics also took influence from the original The Matrix film, like the red pill reference and so on. Parts of the discussions are also published on Facebook which everyone can access from www.kekal.org/quantumresolution
RP: Is there any other Kekal album you would say is as conceptually and lyrically significant, and if so, how?
I would say the 2007 Kekal album The Habit Of Fire. It's another concept-album and as a whole it tells a story of a journey from a first-person perspective, in which listeners can relate to theirs at some point. It's a good thing if our listeners can also learn from the band by reading the lyrics, which say much about life experiences. With that, they can relate their individual experiences with ours. We've learned many things from other individuals within diverse societal frameworks, and it is a good thing for everyone to learn from other experiences in order to grow together. But it is not because we wanted to be portrayed as possessing more knowledge, you know, the so-called "influencer", the mainstream term which I personally despise, but because our lyrics can be the source of reflection to people's lives. Ancient Greek philosopher Plato once said "Knowledge becomes evil if the aim is not virtuous".
RP: Most of South East Asia, and Indonesia in particular, seems to have a tendency towards extreme music, from a lot of brutal death metal and grindcore bands to raw black metal, and even Vice did a documentary on the noise scene there. Why do you think that is?
Jeff: Not sure. It needs some reliable sociological studies to really look at the root causes, otherwise it would be just theories and guessings and a Vice documentary. Maybe something to do with the music that resonates with the youths? I wonder.
RP: Kekal has ironically became more well-known internationally than most Indonesian bands (other than Vallendusk recently) despite being the most unconventional. Why do you think that is?
Jeff: Well, maybe because we started way before social media and all that YouTube stuff. Our earlier albums were released by record labels in Europe and North America, so that would help to endorse not only the particular albums but the band as well. In the past, because band could not reach out directly to the audience through social media, and digital distribution didn't exist yet, band would depend on record labels to take care all the promotions and marketing and to make sure CDs and cassettes are properly distributed, and many labels also got helped by PR and marketing firms to send press releases and promo-kits to magazines, radio, distributors, etc. There were not as many bands around as nowadays, so magazines could still pick lesser-known bands to be featured as well just because they were able to listen to the music. When the music seems to "stand out" enough to surprise them every time they play it, the outcome of being "unique" or "different" could be beneficial. We got band interviews quite often during those days, with serious questions, and album reviews were relatively long and in-depth. Those were the catalysts that people still took time to listen to the band's releases, I can hardly say that after the social media boom which helped create a new generation of musicians, bands and fans. Right now, hardly any magazine would pick up promos of lesser-known bands because simply there are too many releases and they don't have enough time to browse through submissions. I think our early to mid-2000 albums such as 1000 Thoughts Of Violence and Acidity gained quite a bit of traction in Europe although not to the level above underground, perhaps mostly because of being different from the majority of the releases around that time. So the buzz was more about "Dude, have you checked out this Kekal band? I haven't heard anything else quite crazy like this". Right now the buzz might have a different tone, something like "Dude, this old Kekal band has been around for 25 years, releasing so many albums and I haven't even heard their name. What a bunch of losers!"
RP: How much of Indonesian identity do you think came naturally or how much of it is just because those were under the same East Indies colonies conquered by the Dutch? In other words, without colonization, would there be an Indonesia, and if not, what would be there instead?
Jeff: Good question. I think culturally, the influence of Indonesia has been bigger to the Dutch people than their culture to ours. When we visited Holland back in 2004 to play some gigs as part of the European tour, we were surprised that there were so many Indonesian traits being adopted there, like food, clothing, etc. Colonization didn't really affect the Indonesian culture significantly, well maybe the bureaucratic corruption culture, ha! But that's another story. I believe it wasn't the European colonization that helped to shape Indonesia in terms of "identity", but it was far earlier. Of course the name "Indonesia" was only created much later during the ending of European colonization, but almost the entire geographical area we know today as Indonesia were already covered by pre-Islamic empires around 1000 years ago. There was a Hindu empire called Majapahit, and a Buddhist empire called Srivijaya who took many smaller regional kingdoms in the area under their governmental "umbrella". They were very big and influential. There are nationalist movements right now in Indonesia who try to put the pride within Indonesian youths to look upon the past eras of Majapahit and Srivijaya, especially Majapahit because the geographical area pretty much covered roughly about 75-80% of what we know as Indonesia today and really shaped the culture of the nation. Both empires covered the Malay peninsula as well at some points, which also explained why so many overlapping cultural similarities happen between the Western part of Indonesia and the Malaysian counterparts. You know, the Indonesians and Malaysians once had a quite big "fight" over the national-stapled property of the food called Rendang, but stuff like that happens when the culture already shaped and established long before modern national geographical borders were being drawn during the colonial times. The most important thing is that you can never "nationalize" a cultural identity, as any cultural identity is shaped by the people within a society through their connections with others.
RP: Other than your own, what would be an Indonesian music album that you would recommend us to listen to?
Jeff: I don't really listen to much Indonesian music right now because I'm no longer active in the scene, but I can recommend the band/one-man project called Lament. The Indonesian one, as there are many other bands with the same name. They have a new album released this year called Vision Of A Giant Nebula or something along that line, I don't quite remember the title exactly.
RP: What advice would you give to a band that is not from a "Western world" country?
Jeff: I would say it's the best for them to go based on what their hearts/guts tell them. They can learn as much as they can right now, because the world is connected through the Internet and so much information can be obtained very easily. So "be yourself" is what I would say as an advice.
RP: Kekal is also standing out from the crowd not only by its lack of desire to stick to musical conventions, but also by being a Christian band in a not very Christian genre. How has your view on spirituality and religion changed over time, especially since you've moved to Canada? Why do you think that Christianity gets such a bad rep in rock and metal music, and how do you think metal bands could approach Christian religious and spiritual concepts without being preachy, ridiculous or shallow?
Jeff: First of all, the term "Christian band" is actually coming from the specific listeners of the kind of bands which they call as "Christian bands". You know what I mean. It started from the religious circles, from the organized youths' fellowships within the church scene because they wanted the kids to listen mainly to the music that is "safe" for them, and depending on the level of tolerance of each organization, some would restrict these kids to listen to anything that has "Christian" content only, so it's how the branding came about. Then later on, as these kids were looking around for any music with the Christian content, some players within the music industry started to see how they could also create the box, which they could also play around and make good chunks of money by keeping as many people as possible within that box by signing "Christian bands", either real or posers, of various genres exclusively as "the safe alternative to these kids" and kept them away from listening to other bands that they perceive as "harmful", and built the exclusive scene instead of reaching out. It is very easy for them to market within a specific target audience who only listen to one particular type of music out of fear, especially if the number of people within the religious belt is large enough to exploit, like in the U.S. for example, where so-called "Christian bands" could make a living just from playing in churches and youth summer camps across the country. It's pretty much like an alternative world that is disconnected to the main one. I found it to be silly and tragic at the same time, but it's how the whole religious business works over there. Well, it's as silly and tragic as the economies of the stock market bubble and the fiat money either, so I guess as long as people don't recognize it being silly, it can be seen as doable in the eyes of the greedy.
By the way, I never see music in the same way, that's why I never really get regarding the term "Christian band". My brain cannot process that term, it just doesn't make any sense to me. For me, there are only two "types" of music regardless of the genre or style or lyrical content: a fake one and an honest one. And I would prefer to listen to honest music because I tend to write music that way too.
As for religion, I personally no longer believe in a religion. It has been abused by those in power for their benefit so there are so many distortions and deceptions within. Religion could somewhat become an introduction to spirituality as it teaches self-discipline and devotional practices, that alone is a good thing, but rarely I've seen people getting more spiritual by being more religious at the same time. My move to Canada has somewhat made myself more spiritual to some extent, because I always love to go to nature, do the forest walk and get immersed with the whole environment, and it is possible to do this often because some cities are close to the woods and nature reserves. Also because I've learned from the Native cultures here, how they treat Earth with respect because we all have direct connection to all that's alive, and Earth is alive and conscious too. They see God as the Great Spirit that presents everywhere, not the concept of God that is anthropomorphic and limited in presence.
As for why Christianity gets a kind of bad reputation in metal music, well, most of the time because of the association to the Christian religion that ties with the ruling authority especially in the Western countries where Christian religion is somewhat "dominant" player within the society, in terms of traditions and external practices. They may also see it as a symbol of oppression. So I see that merely as the opposition to the establishment or authority. I also see lyrical content as personal to the one who writes the lyrics, they can be either as a result of an honest artistic expression, or just a mere image or gimmick, so I don't have any judgment regarding how the lyrics should be communicated. I can only understand what I write.
RP: What is something you think either non-Christians or Christians themselves misunderstand about Christianity or spirituality in general? What can either of them do to bridge the gap?
Jeff: This is a good topic for discussions. To start with, I have to say that 99% of people right now consider Christianity as limited only to the so-called Christian religion (or religions to be exact as there are distinct varieties in between them). But that's not the case. This so-called Christian religion only started from the time when the Roman authorities took over the early movements and made it into a religion, which later on also adopted into their sole imperial religion. It started from the early 4th Century CE when Constantine, a Roman emperor back then, "recognized" the movement and subsequently put it into the basket of Roman religions, but only after he himself set-up the "Roman empire's version" with monolithic, standardized dogma in which people had to submit. This was done through Edict of Milan in year 313 CE, and since then they proceed to persecute and kill many of the "other Christians" branded as "heretics" who did not want to conform with the standardized dogma imposed by the ruling elite in the Roman empire. The persecutions went on for many centuries afterwards, and the imperial religion became more and more corrupted and evil, up to the point that they did heinous acts during the inquisitions and crusades in the medieval times. On the other hand, Christianity as a spiritual movement started way earlier, more than 2 centuries before Constantine made it into a religion, which means long before it was "adopted" by the Roman empire to feed their benefits. The early practices of Christianity from the mid-1st to late-3rd Century CE were not considered as religion because they did not have any designated place of worship and did not have any "standardized" dogma either. The practices of original Christians were very different than most of today's mainstream Christian religions tend to employ, especially when it comes to the distribution of wealth and the absence of hierarchical structures of leadership, just because most of the Christian religion(s) we know today only take the cues from the Roman empire's version as the template or standard, and it has been distorted since the beginning of adoption, the year 313 CE I mentioned earlier. The Holy Bible of Christian religion is commonly called a "canon" by the theological scholars. It's a highly-curated compilation of individual scriptures put together by the Roman empire's authorities (pretty much like any Spotify playlist, or Mom's mixtape of her favourite love songs). Many of the scriptures and writings used by the original Christians were not included in the canon. Many were suppressed and many were also destroyed, or attempted to be destroyed, because the content seemed to show either unfavourable view of the empire, or simply because they had "too much information" regarding the history of the world.
When it comes to spirituality, Christianity itself has been largely misunderstood by both the practitioners within its own religious circles, as well as people outside the scope of religion itself, I mean the "Christians" and "non-Christians" as people would call normally. I would say because of the distortions of perspectives in both "camps". The non-Christians may see Christianity as synonymous with Christian religion, and directly connected with a long history of cruel and inhumane practices to support the imperial domination, with examples like inquisitions and crusades I mentioned earlier, and also through forced conversions which also happened in the past to the native populations all around the world. So they failed to see the spirituality and even anything else that exists beyond the external religious forms of oppression. On the other side, the proponents of Christian religion also see things in their own distorted perspectives, as they just blindly follow the dogma imposed on them by the authorities within the religious organizations, which ironically, have always been "closely monitored" in order to always conform with the agenda of the ruling elite. So both camps have distorted views with various degrees of distortions. But then again, there is something that exists within the core of Humanity, that is spirituality, which may be recognizable as the kind of "gut feeling" that we are all one and connected, and we are all part of something much bigger and much more alive and sacred than what we can see and perceive. Christianity in its spiritual understanding is about re-connection to "The Father", meaning to become one and whole again with The Source of everything that exists, or The Light what we would normally call as God. The process of returning back to The Source or The Father through the embodiment of the Christ within us, in order to break free from the bondage of this present illusory and transitory world currently ruled by the Evil One (the modern term right now is "the matrix"), is central to the original Christian spirituality.
To bridge the "gap" I would say one just needs to look inward, to seek within in order to find the truth, because many people's perceptions have been distorted and we now live in the age of deceptions. I believe if one sincerely seeks, the answers from what we are seeking about would eventually be given through mysterious ways. It happens to me, and it happens to many others as well especially nowadays as we are closing the chapter of our present Age.
RP: If you could get any living director to direct a music video for a Kekal song, who would it be?
Jeff: Uh, that never crossed my mind. I once thought if any creative AI (artificial intelligence) could produce the video, maybe it's worth a try. But AI seems to be implemented first for mass surveillance rather than as a creative helper, which is a bugger.
RP: What are you doing when you're not making music? Whether as a job or in your free time.
Jeff: I work full-time as a graphic designer for a local real estate company. This takes most of my time, roughly about 9 to 10 hours every day, except for weekends. It's quite ironic, but this may also be the reason why I'm still able to make music instead of strolling around the neighbourhood, panhandling. I just returned to work again recently after months of "quarantine" during the partial lockdown.
RP: Do you have any favorite releases this year?
Jeff: Yes I do. I currently dig Shabaka And The Ancestors We Are Sent Here By History, an excellent album, probably one of my favourites for this year. Also I listen a bit often to Ital Tek Outland, Yves Tumor's new album, Bohren & Der Club Of Gore's new album, and Squarepusher's new album. Actually I just discovered a very talented artist called Alfa Mist earlier this year, which I really dig a lot now, especially his 2019 album Structuralism.
RP: Anything else you'd like to add to our listeners?
Jeff: Well, if you haven't digested anything from Kekal, feel free to take some bites. We have 4 past albums for free download/name-your-price on kekal.bandcamp.com Also check out the new album Quantum Resolution, the digital album is already available both from Bandcamp and streaming across various platforms. The physical CD version by the label Eastbreath Records is to be out on the 25th of August but you can pre-order it now.
||Posted on 09.08.2020 by Doesn't matter that much to me if you agree with me, as long as you checked the album out.|
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