For the post on what has become a trademark song of sorts, I'm reposting this post (how many posts can you put into a sentence?) that I posted on MySpace blog way back in September 2006. For the album, the song has been reworked a little bit from the version that appeared on the Voices From Next Door
compilation. It's mixed a bit differently and we got rid of a lot of the backing vocals which, after tolerating their presence for hundreds of listens, were not missed at all. LOL. Oh... and it's the sixth song on the album tracklisting!
The image that I use below here was "appropriated" from a comely photograph I collected when I was doing my Photoshop treatments for a series of artworks for an exhibition I did with some friends at the now-closed Reka Art Space
way back in 2005. Oh the memories... and notice how I positioned my name over the derriere...
Sei Hon thinks this song's about prostitutes. Azmyl likes the "monkeys can learn" line. When my flatmate Hariati heard it for the first time, she thought my voice sounded sexy because she's never heard me sing so low. Another flastmate Pang thought it was mixed too bassy. Pete Teo didn't like the shakers. Maarten, a friend in Holland said it was nice, though he thought I tended to run out of breath. Kenny Jaworski, a pianist in USA who heard the track on myspace page thought it should be all over MTV. Daryl Goh prefers 'Excellent.' Piko thinks it has potential. LOL. I've had quite a bit of feedback from friends and friendly strangers about "Song For The Service Industry" that it's very surprising, especially considering it's rather haphazard beginnings.
In April/May this year, I knew I had to record a song for the Voices From Next Door
compilation CD. But knowing my track record in the studio in the past, I haven't really had much luck with finishing my tracks the way I want them to sound. So I decided that I'm just going to go into the studio for this one song without any concrete plans. I was just going to give myself some jumping off points and build the song in the studio.
For this, I needed a collaborator. And he is Hardesh Singh. Here's a bit of background.
I first heard of Hardesh through filmmaker Amir Muhammad (who incidentally is the first person I ever met in KL when I came here in 2000). Hardesh had worked on Amir's The Big Durian
documentary. During the recording sessions for the narration and score to Tokyo Magic Hour
, Amir invited me to see Hardesh at work. This was sometime in 2004. Hardesh was then based at Fuse Studio, in PJ. (He would later strike out on his own.) So Hardesh and I started talking about collaborating. But we weren't ready for it yet then.
Then in late 2004, I was asked by Azharr Rudin to appear in his Amber Sexalogy
as a little busker. For my part I had to sing a little song. Since the audio was messed up on location, I had to record the song in the studio. We did this at Hardesh's new home studio in Bukit Damansara. It was very quick. It was also the first time I recorded at Hardesh's place.
Then later in the year, Amir asked me to contribute a little something to his upcoming documentary Lelaki Komunis Terakhir,
a documentary on the life of Chin Peng, leader of the now-defunct Malayan Communist Party. It would be my first real collaboration with Hardesh
. Amir wanted a couple of short songs for his movie, written after the fashion of those Malaysian government TV (RTM, for those who don't live in Malaysia, is a state-controlled TV station) propaganda 2-minute song clips that tell you about the country's successes, or telling people to keep the country clean, that sort of thing. Hardesh wrote the music and I wrote the lyrics: about malaria, IC (identification card), weapons, history of communism, and the two commodities that were ultra important during the Malaya years (tin and rubber). They weren't terribly complicated to write, I have to say. Did them over the course of a week. It had to be catchy and funny more than anything. It worked quite well, I have to say, and I had a lot of fun teaching Zalila Lee the phrasing of the words. She appears in the movie singing the songs. Sadly however the movie got banned by the government so most people wouldn't really know songs within the film's context.
Hardesh and I worked again to write a song for the Cameronian Performing Arts Awards
in May this year. It was called "Negara Lu". That was quite fun. Mia Palencia, Tony Eusoff, Bhavani and (oops forgot her name) sang the leads, with Hardesh on guitar, and Janet and (oops) on backing vox.
It was quite easy to work with Hardesh. And I knew he had quite a good recording setup at his place. Anyway, after that detour, we return to "Service Industry".
The first thing that came about were the shakers. A few weeks before recording this song, I had gone to Yogyakarta on a KLue trip to write about the place. While there, I visited Borobudur, ate some gudeg
and bought some locally-made wooden shakers. There were more like maracas. Not very dense sounding but I liked them. LOL. I really wanted these shakers to be in the song. LOL. So I brought them along to the studio and they actually formed the foundation of the song. The song had to "shake." So it had to be a bit dance-y.
The day before the studio session, I forced myself to write the lyrics. I didn't want to write a love song. I'm no good at writing dippy stuff anyway. Just can't bring myself to it, I guess. So I was thinking, thinking, thinking. Looking at things. Thinking. I was riding the monorail when I saw this guy in his uniform walking in and stand opposite me. I was just thinking how bored he looked. Then I looked around, and I saw so many other bored faces. Not just bored. But furstrated too in a way. (I also wondered how I looked like in their eyes. Did I have the same bored expression?) The guy in the uniform I could tell worked for one of the many hotels along the monorail line. There was also a girl in a tudung
(veil) who also had a uniform on. I think she was probably working for a restaurant or something. All this time, I wanted to write a social protest kind of song. But I didn't like the idea of protesting in a song, because it's too preachy. And anyway, society has become such an individualistic thing these days that a protest song would be a kind of nostalgic throwback. I didn't want that. I wanted to write about the frustration in a way that used a metaphor that could apply to everyone and in every situation. Much like the Foucauldian view of power structures. In a fundamental sense, I'm no different than a hotel worker or a prostitute. I write for a magazine. I proved a service. And the magazine is at the service of readers and advertisers. Housewives serve their husbands. The holy serve their gods. We spend our lives. There's always someone higher. It's this idea of "serving" that inspired the song. The words came in a flash on the monorail. I wrote it down quickly in my planner. Later that night, I typed it out and fixed it a bit. Then the next day, in the studio, I sang the lyrics for the first time.
Before we recorded the shakers, I explained what I wanted to do to Hardesh, who must've thought it was all quite novel. After telling him that a click track would trip me up, he wrote a very basic beat, usually a beat that he's really into at the moment. For this one, it was a bit of a old skool beat but it worked well with the shakers. We recorded about four to five minutes of shakers over the beat loop. Then listening back I came up with an ultra simple four-chord progression on the guitar. It sounded workable. We recorded that. Then after that, on went the vocals, which was done in three takes I think. I think I decided to sing lower than usual because I was trying to inject that bit of cool detachment into the song. That first session went really fast. We worked a bit on the arrangement of it. From a monotonous thing, a song was slowly taking shape. By the end of three hours, we had a basic song. Hardesh later added bass and synth sounds. I went home quite happy.
Over the next week, it was listen after listen after listen. I was obsessed with it, trying to see if it can be improved. I played it to several people and got different kinds of feedback. With that I asked Hardesh to mix two or three different versions. But in the end we decided that the first was the best. I went to the studio another time to record the chorus backing vocals and extra guitar parts. After that I think I went back for another session to decide on the final mix for the song because at the time the compilation was nearing its closing date for submissions.
Now, it's one of the few songs I've ever recorded that I'm happy with. And to think it was a "studio" baby. But because it's a simple song, it's kind of hard to play live. Requires extra sounds. Definitely a band song. LOL.
*Song For The Service Industry
I served you once
I serve you still
You may not remember
But circumstances will
Tables don't turn
But monkeys can learn
I'm just a waiter
And I'll wait
And I wait
To leave dirty dishes
And rumours of gold
A forest of garbage
A baby in the bowl
For me, for me
To clear is what I do
Its clear what I must do
Whose best interests are
better served than whose
Thank you Sir
I'm sure you'll remember
I served you well
You taught me well
Tables don't turn
But monkeys can learn
I'm just a waiter
And I'll wait
And I wait
Labels: album, lyrics, Song For The Service Industry, songwriting