It all started with a girl.
With a sheepish grin on his face, 25-year-old Razlan Shah recalled how he started singing because he wanted to impress his then-girlfriend with a song. He was in his late teens and had only played in a punk band.
“It was a personal endeavour for me. When I was playing in a band, I couldn’t really express how I feel,” said Razlan during an interview at Menara Star in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
Then from singing for one girl, he went on to perform for strangers in Kuala Lumpur. He recalled how it didn’t go well for him.
“I sang horribly when I first started busking. People would throw trash into my guitar bag, or sneer. There were people calling me ‘poyo’ (pretentious),” he said with a laugh.
Razlan might sound like a masochist as he continued busking for a year, even going as far as performing in the streets of Europe.
“I continued doing it anyway just to prove to myself that I can. I hated it when people made me feel like I shouldn’t do it.”
All the public performances have helped get him ready for what’s to come.
The singer-songwriter recently completed two nights of full-house shows at No Black Tie in KL where he showcased his latest original material. Razlan, who recently graduated from Berklee College of Music in the United States, is eager to get on with his music career in Malaysia.
These days, if you ask Razlan why he sings, he will tell you it’s because he wants to prove that “Malaysian music is world class”.
You graduated from Berklee just a month ago and wasted no time getting on stage. Were you eager to try out your new material with listeners in KL?
Yes, No Black Tie was all about testing the waters.
I’ve always loved performing at No Black Tie. My first show was back in 2012 where I did primarily jazz standards (My Funny Valentine, These Foolish Things, Les Feuilles Mortes). This recent show was the first time I performed my own material from my upcoming six-track EP Hounds.
I was nervous that nobody would turn up. Then we had two night of full-house. It was a great.
The crowd responded well. The EP will be released in mid-September.
So for your upcoming EP Hounds, will it include any songs from your SoundCloud account such as the Anugerah Industri Muzik nominee for Best English Song Flowers?
I’m proud of the songs on my SoundCloud but I feel that they no longer represent who I am. I wrote Flowers when I was 19.
All the songs on Hounds are new and it’s my way of saying “Hi, Malaysia. I’m back and this is who I am.”
The new music on Hounds will definitely surprise those who have been following my work. If I have to describe the type of songs on the EP, it would be alternative R&B with hints of jazz and pop.
Ultimately, what is your goal in the Malaysian music industry?
I want to prove that Malaysian music is world class. One of the most frustrating compliments I’ve gotten from people is “I love your music but I didn’t know you’re Malaysian”. There’s always someone saying “I didn’t think Malaysians could make music like that”.
I feel like it’s an insult to think that Malaysian music is subpar to the rest of the world. I want to prove that we can get on the same level as other artistes out there.
There are people like Bassment Syndicate, Najwa Mahiaddin, Ali Aiman, Darren Ashley and Paperplane Pursuit who are all working hard to put their music out there. They are unique in their own ways.
I would play their music for my classmates in Berklee and they loved it! Whenever I describe Malaysian music to my peers in Berklee, I’d say we have a lot of really talented musicians who are unfortunately underappreciated.
I would love for everyone here to support these acts and give them the love they deserve.
What do you think is the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a musician coming out of Berklee?
When I got there, I thought I knew my stuff. Then, I would meet other students who are talented or phenomenal with an instrument. It made me realised that I’ve got a long way to go to get to their level. It was a humbling experience. I also learned not to limit myself and be open to making mistakes. I want to to be a better version of me every time. That can only happen when I take risk.
Do you have a song dedicated to your mother on the EP?
The lead single from Hounds is Obvious, a song inspired from what happened when I found out my mum has cancer. I was in Boston and I couldn’t be there for her. I was also struggling financially. I could only afford a meal for every one or two days.
She’s my biggest fan and she comes to every show. I dedicate Obvious to her. She has also advised me to stand up for who am I am and never sell myself short. I don’t want to lose that grit.