It has been almost eight years since Penny Tai held a major concert in Malaysia, so she is hoping that her upcoming show in August will be extra memorable for her fans.
“I’ve been back here for smaller shows in the past few years, but my last big one was in Genting Highlands back in 2010. This one is going to be a much, much bigger venue and stage though,” she said during a recent interview at radio station 988.
Tai’s Thief Asia Tour Live In Malaysia 2018 concert will be held at the Axiata Arena, Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur on Aug 11 at 8pm.
“I was a little shocked when I saw the venue though! It’s so big! I was thinking, ‘Can we choose a smaller venue?’ ” she said with a laugh.
So, what can we expect at the concert then?
“Expect the unexpected! Singer-songwriters like me usually don’t have a lot of fancy costumes and dancers, but because it’s such a big venue, I feel like I have to do something fancier so that people can feel it’s a real concert!” the 40-year-old said.
While Tai doesn’t usually invite guests performers to her shows, she might make an exception this time. She also said that her main objective is to make sure her fans have a show to remember for years to come.
“I’m not out to show people how talented I am or to show off my songs.
“I want to give fans a concert that is not just MY concert, but OUR concert. I want it to be a big gathering of fans, and give them memories they will remember 10, maybe 20 years later,” said Tai, who hails from Segamat, Johor.
That kind of approach can only be used by someone who doesn’t really have anything to prove anymore.
When I point this out to her, she mused: “Actually, from the beginning I already had nothing to prove. The only thing I set out to prove was that I loved music.”
Down Penny’s lane
After being spotted in 1999 when taking part in the Halo Songwriting Contest in Kuala Lumpur, Tai released her debut album, Penny, in 2000, and has not looked back since.
Throughout her 18-year career, she’s been a singer, songwriter, producer, music video director, photographer, actress, record label owner and the lead vocalist of an indie rock band, Buddha Jump.
Tai has also written hundreds of songs for other artistes such as China’s Koala Liu, Hong Kong singers Miriam Yeung and Gigi Leung, Taiwan’s Rachel Liang and Maggie Chiang, and other Taiwan-based Malaysian artistes such as Lee Sinje and Victor Wong.
She is also an award-winning music producer, having won Producer Of The Year at the 2014 Golden Melody Awards for Liu’s Embrace It, and also became the first Malaysian female artiste to win Best Female Singer for her album Unexpected that same year.
Just last week, Tai was in the running for another Golden Melody Award for Best Album Producer for her work on Koala Liu’s Hors Du Commun, though she lost out to the formidable Jonathan Lee, who produced Li Jianqing’s Still An Outlander.
For Tai, producing someone else’s album is a tougher challenge compared to producing her own.
“For my own music, I tend to be more relaxed and focused on being myself. But when I’m working on other people’s music, the pressure is greater and I tend to worry a lot more,” she explained.
“You need to understand the artiste’s personality, and then deal with a lot of different session players, musicians, arrangers and other things.
“I usually work with a lot of Malaysian musicians for my own albums, but for other artistes, they might use other musicians. Also, the songs may not be written by just one person, but by 10 people! So I need to make it all sound cohesive in the album. And that’s quite tough!”
Might as well jump
In 2015, another side of Tai shone when her band Buddha Jump won Best Band and Best Music Arrangement at the 2015 Golden Melody Awards.
A self-styled indie rock/pop group, Buddha Jump released its eponymous debut album in 2011, and a two-song EP called Who U R a year later. A second album, Let You See, was released in December 2014.
However, Tai prefers to keep the roles of “Penny Tai the solo artiste” and “Penny Tai the lead singer of Buddha Jump” separate.
“Two years ago, I decided that when it’s Buddha Jump performing, there will be no Penny Tai. Some festivals invite Buddha Jump, but on the poster they’d put ‘Penny Tai and band’.
“It got people very confused, so we decided that Buddha Jump will never sing Penny Tai’s songs, and vice versa,” she explained, adding that between the two, she prefers being on stage with the band rather than on her own.
“I like being in a band more than a solo artiste. I tend to be a bit more relaxed. I just focus on singing, and I don’t even need to be the one who is always talking to the audience,” she said. “I don’t even need any special makeup or costumes – sometimes I’ll just perform in jeans and T-shirt.
“When you’re part of a band, we go out there and perform together. I like the interaction with everyone on stage. And when we write songs and rehearse, I feel like I’m back to my school days, when I used to jam with a group of people.”
Don’t expect Buddha Jump to make an appearance at her upcoming show in KL though; she says it’s much too tiring for her.
“They played at one of my shows in 2016. I had to change mode and sing Buddha Jump’s songs. But it was very tiring for me – like I invited a guest band to play at my concert, but that guest band’s lead singer is me!
“It was fun, but I was REALLY tired that day!”
Besides, she has something else up her sleeves. “I have other surprises in store (for the KL show), which won’t make me as tired!” she concluded with a laugh.