Azmyl Yunor on why he keeps on playing

Azmyl Yunor is one of the pioneers of Malaysia’s underground music scene – Picture by Choo Choy May
Azmyl Yunor is one of the pioneers of Malaysia’s underground music scene – Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 11 — When you watch Azmyl Yunor’s music video Charity Lane on YouTube, you will never guess that it was all produced locally. Or that director John Cho did the video editing at home. Yes, it’s that good.

Tenets EP (Radidear, 2005)
Tenets EP (Radidear, 2005)

The song is one of the singles from singer/songwriter Azmyl’s first EP Tenets which was released in 2005. In the music video, Azmyl is in the library one minute, and suddenly appears in the pages of some history books the next. His ex-students – Azmyl is a performing arts lecturer at Sunway University – Ammar Khairi and Liyana Fizi make cameos in the quirky five-minute video.

Most underground music fans in Malaysia are already familiar with Azmyl who started out in the late Nineties just as the underground music scene was taking off.

He debuted his first cassette in 1997; Whatever was recorded at home. Back then, there was no social media or YouTube so basically, the only way fans got to know of artistes was through word or mouth, listening to the radio or going to gigs.

Azmyl himself has never been signed to a major label, going indie all the way.

“People always ask me when am I going to release my hit song. I’m not interested in hit songs. It’s like photographers. People would ask them why not become a wedding photographer because it’s easier to cari makan (earn money),” he said.

36-year-old Azmyl Yunor used to be a busker during student days – Picture by David Hagerman
36-year-old Azmyl Yunor used to be a busker during student days – Picture by David Hagerman

For Azmyl, it’s not about becoming famous, earning big bucks or living like a superstar.

“I don’t want to get into music full-time and appear in Pancaindera in Utusan Malaysia. When you wanna do what you want, you are not bothered about the market. Going full-time is scary. If you sing just to cari makan, there is no more joy. You will get disillusioned over time. The most important thing is you must remember the moment when you first enjoyed it (making music) and maintaining that innocence,” said the music veteran.

Azmyl Yunor does freelance writing as well and he’s also a host for the Hear and Now programme on BFM.

He’s glad that local artistes like Yuna, Liyana Fizi and Reza Salleh are taking music seriously. “You don’t need to learn about music to make music. It’s not about the music, it’s about getting your music out,” he added.

Having spent 10 years lecturing at local universities, teaching communications first at Taylor’s University then performing arts at Sunway University, he feels that he can share his experience with his students.

“My students used to say I’m the musician who lectures. I tell them I’m the lecturer who sings!” laughs Azmyl.

Azmyl Yunor & the Sigarettes performing live at No Black Tie, March 2012 – Picture by Jehan
Azmyl Yunor & the Sigarettes performing live at No Black Tie, March 2012 – Picture by Jehan

The journalism and film graduate had to make a career choice; pursue writing or film-making. Eventually, he decided to do music because film-making is too laborious but that was not the initial career path he considered.

“I almost became an accountant. I was failing in Form Four but my teacher was very pretty and that gave me the motivation to do better. My piano teacher told me that Zainal Abidin was also an accountant by trade. But I failed accounting during pre-university and I got more into sociology and writing,” he said.

H.I.D.U.P.  limited edition  live album (Troubadours, 2010)
H.I.D.U.P. limited edition live album (Troubadours, 2010)

Azmyl first got noticed when his cassette was passed to Joe Kidd of the band Carburetor Dung. And when he was performing at No Black Tie from 1998 to 2001, he met Pete Teo who had just got back from England at that time. Singer/songwriter Teo is another big name in the local music scene.

Azmyl said he only started performing “for real” from 2000 onwards. Bands he played for includes The Maharajah Commission, Ben’s Bitches and his touring band The Sigarettes.

American rock band R.E.M. is one of his favourite bands. “There are no guitar solos and they are a real band where everybody played instruments. The guitarist actually didn’t know how to play guitar at first,” said Azmyl who had a similar experience in drumming.

He was asked to play drums for a band and he didn’t know how to play drums at that time. But he managed to get away with it during the performance and people liked it. Another one of his favourite artistes is Tom Waits.

“It’s not just about cari makan (earning money),” says musician Azmyl Yunor – Picture by Choo Choy May
“It’s not just about cari makan (earning money),” says musician Azmyl Yunor – Picture by Choo Choy May

As for local artistes, Azmyl is a fan of A. Romzi & The Hooks of the pop yeh yeh era, legendary band Alleycats and Kenny, Remy and Martin. He also named M. Nasir’s first band Kembara and the artiste Meor as his other favourites.

“It’s very different with new bands that come out. They watch too much MTV. The trickiest thing about being a musician is not to be disillusioned. You got to find meaning when people cannot find meaning,” he advised.

Warga album (Troubadours, 2010) (left). Wilayah album (Trobadours, 2012) (right)
Warga album (Troubadours, 2010) (left). Wilayah album (Trobadours, 2012) (right)

A lot of young musicians think of Azmyl as one of the pioneers of indie acoustic music scene.

“The community is established with people like Reza Salleh hosting Moonshine and Brian Gomez with Merdekarya. There are platforms out there for upcoming musicians and the next thing is visibility. You get visibility through the media and labels. Social media is a good resource to get your music out there. You cannot be lazy and wait for things to happen. You need to promote the music too,” said the 36-year-old musician.

If you thought the road has been easy all along for Azmyl, you’d be surprised to find out that he used to busk in the streets of Perth when he was studying there. Fortunately for him, busking is not looked down upon in Australia. It gave him extra pocket money when he couldn’t find a part-time job.

Azmyl doing his ritual of floor rolling at the end of his set at Laundry Bar, 2009 – Picture by Daniel Radzmi
Azmyl doing his ritual of floor rolling at the end of his set at Laundry Bar, 2009 – Picture by Daniel Radzmi

With 16 years of performing under his belt, he has performed at festivals, concerts and gigs locally and internationally. Recently, he was inducted into the VIMA Music Awards 2013 (Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei) Hall of Fame. Mark Teh even staged a musical based on his life and works titled Something I Wrote.

Azmyl’s recent works and collective CDs produced by Troubadours – Picture by Choo Choy May
Azmyl’s recent works and collective CDs produced by Troubadours – Picture by Choo Choy May

This year he released a compilation of his cassette songs from 1997-2005 called Revenge of the Rabak.

When asked about the type of music he plays, Azmyl said that although he has always been associated with folk music, he also plays punk and noise music.

He recalls his pre-university years at Taylor’s College as the time when he first learned about bands and jamming.

“I was studying Canadian Pre-U when I first got to know about bands. There were nerds playing Metallica. The first band I joined was called Damnweather because we’re always complaining about the weather. We joined Battle of the Bands and there were these bands playing Def Leppard and Pearl Jam. We were the odd one out, playing The Doors,” said Azmyl.

This story was first published in Crave in the print edition of The Malay Mail on October 10, 2013.

The print edition of this story contained an error which has since been corrected here. 

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