KOKO Pop Art

Esam Salleh (Stoned Revivals)

Here’s a man of many talents. As front man for Singapore formed and KL based indie funk punk veterans Stoned Revivals, Esam sings like a seasoned soul professional; writes witty, personal songs with plenty of groove and energy; plays a mean rhythm guitar among a number of other instruments and is always charmed personified on stage with his obligatory dark shades, jaunty Rat Pack hat and big personality.

Apart from music, Esam also gets his creative kicks from being a designer, conceptualising and dressing parties and festivals for the KL / Singapore club scene, building “freaky toys” and designing funky homemade clothes for his very own Nikotina label.

KOKO caught up with the diminutive rock n’ roll star, design dynamo and all-round nice guy to find out more.

How you got started?

I grew up in a musical family. My dad was an indie musician from the sixties and growing up in the 70's in Singapore, I was surrounded daily by hippies who wanted to learn guitar from him. He was the one who drilled in my brain the basics of punk ethics which was to go against the grain and never conform. When I was 13, I played bass for his 3 piece instrumental surf band. He introduced me to 60's music while my uncles were the ones who fed me Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin when I was 5.

Throughout my teens I was into mostly Bay area thrash/speed metal bands like Exodus but also stuff like Sarcofago and Destruction. It was The Cure's ‘Boys Don't Cry’ that changed my musical direction. I moved on to The Sex Pistols, Jesus and Mary Chain and by the time I heard The Stone Roses, I knew instantly that I wanted my own band. So me and my schoolmates, formed The Stoned Revivals while studying for our "O" Levels in 1990 as a project band that would play the Mary Chain, Exploited, Fugazi , Misfits, Dead Kennedys and Inspiral Carpets in one jam ha-ha!!!. That makes us 19 this year!!

What were your inspirations?

Initially, we wanted to be like the bands that were getting aired on John Peel! Yeah i would rush back from school and turn on the BBC and record the tracks he was playing because back then in Singapore, it was hard to find those records in stores. Like most kids, we wanted to be rockstars! We fantasised that we were The Fall or Half Man Half Biscuit or even Ned’s Atomic Dustbin! But when I started writing my own stuff, I realised that there was more to it than just that. I realised that it had to do with expressing myself. The band was an outlet for our voices to be heard .That's when I stopped playing covers and wrote my first song ‘Shoe’.

For the first five years, we just played as many gigs as we could. Then Joe Ng from The Padres forced us to record our first demo with the thousand bucks that he had. After that we became known as the soundtrack band because we did a couple of songs for a couple of Eric Khoo (award-winning Singaporean film director) movies. And then in 1997 our song ‘Goodil’ went to number one on two radio stations and was in the charts for four months. After that, we became known as the band that opened for No Doubt at the Singapore Indoor Stadium playing in front of 7000 people.

My inspiration now is the people I get to meet thru my music. If I could bring on a smile to just one person in an audience of five, that would make my day. To me, it's the journey that's important. The destination is boring. Been there, done that. It's not as great as it's made out to be anyways...

What do you think of the local indie music scene in the region?

Well there's always the good, the bad and the ugly in any kind of scene, ha-ha. The good to me is that there is support from the media, in terms of magazines, local television, sites like myspace .These create better awareness of the talent pool that's brewing and spitting out bands like there's no tomorrow. On the bad side though is that any Tom, Dick or Harry can get away with murder at the click of a mouse. That is till you get to see them live onstage, where the million fans you may have online won't be able to save you. But I guess that is a big part of rock n’ roll itself - .the journey every band has to go through.

The ugly bit is the monopolisation of festivals by flavour of the month bands. These festivals are run by corporations which bring in big bucks in terms of sponsorship. And most of the time they have absolutely no clue of what real quality music is. The kids are fed by MTV and sometimes I feel that there is a lot of misrepresentation of the music scene. Bands get too big too fast and end up with an inflated ego the size of Mount Kinabalu. There is even the bandwagon jumping of organisers wanting to have festivals that clash with another.Same bands, different stage, on the same day. The way i see it, the scene could go either way: it could reach a peak and move to the next level or it could die of overkill.

Is it easy being a designer in KL?

It's hard being a designer anywhere for that matter. There are always the ones who are out to rip you off. They want you to do the job, but they want it for free or at a ridiculously low price for an insane amount of work. In fact, I just got ripped off recently.

The most important thing, I feel, is your passion. I was the set designer for Zouk club in Singapore for seven years. I had a hand in conceptualising parties and festivals for the club and worked on the decor and theme. I was involved in several Zouk Out festivals designing and building the props. The hours were insane. Physically and mentally, you had to be on the ball. Work hard and you get to party like an animal. One of the most crazy prop designs I managed to pull off was having mud wrestling and a military tank built on the dancefloor, complete with dancing cheerleaders. Having survived that many years being a designer in a world known club, I thought it would be quite a breeze here in KL. Not.

What's happening next for you?

On the music side, it's still focused very much on The Stoned Revivals and also Slowjaxx, which is my own solo thingy. It is definitely an outlet where I can totally experiment with anything under the sun. I could be doing a full band with the full on brass section, or I could just go totally lo-fi and just have myself and the tap dancer Lisa Foo doing the beats with her tap shoes.

I am also involved with ‘Think You Got Skills", a monthly MC battle at Cloth n Clef organised by Vandal. We collaborate with Illsteez doing the sampled beats and the Stoned Revivals backing up on live instruments. Vandal does the freestyle. It's really fun because Vandal's such a humble dude - .none of the bling-bling Gangsta shit.

On the design side, I have just been doing stuff for my custom toy label with my other half. We started the label in 2007. It’s called Nikotina Collectibles. In fact, I am heading to Singapore soon to do a workshop for Tiger-Art in the city. They are showcasing my work, like my freaky toys. In the same week, I’ll be appearing on Live n Loaded, the new indie TV show on Channel 5 and doing an acoustic set for an Arts museum gig.

Hopefully by the end of this year, we'll be moving to the Gold Coast where me and Aimee, my other half, will go full on with our Nikotina label. We are planning to start a family and open a tiny boutique of sorts, selling our homemade threads and custom toys. Eventually, the label might branch out to other things. Maybe even Nikotina Records? Ha-ha!! We have already started planting that seed by organising the ‘Disko Papan’ series of gigs at Cloth n Clef, which showcases Singaporean and KL bands that we strongly feel for, none of that sugar coated fodder.

To check out Stoned Revivals music

To check out Esam’s toys and other freaky stuff

To check out Esam’s older vector/ design stuff



Soefara Jafney
JT: What do you think of the music scene?... read more



Koko Live Posters