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Young And Restless: Youth Gone Mild

Young And Restless: Indonesian siblings form metal band with maths teacher and advertising type, hire gangly bassist and blast out of the capital playing songs about the devil

“Want some porn?”

A cute fashion coordinator brings out a pile of cheap wank mags and dumps them on the couch near the door. The band manager picks up a copy of Forbes that has slid out from the mountain of grainy breast and ass shots. A photographer makes the obvious joke.

The magazines are for Young And Restless’ second set-up at Blue Murder studios in Sydney, hidden away behind the mass of train lines spilling out of Central Station. The third look involves a switch of clothes, red toffee apples and a green chaise lounge.

Between shoots, Mark and Nugie stand outside in the rain with Ross, who contemplates whether or not to smoke a cigarette. It’s been raining for weeks along the east coast and the band have spent too much time crammed inside a van. Everyone has a cold. Inside, Ash and frontwoman Karina chat with the photographers and flick through street press.

The winners of last year’s Triple J Unearthed competition aren’t your regular indie band. They have two set lists: one for the metal fans and another for everyone else. “At one gig, a dude called Ripper T or something came up to me and said, ‘You’ve got a great pair of lungs’,” Karina jokes in gruff character in the dressing room above the studio.

Mark, one of the two guitarists, is a friendly IT teacher with a dorky, contented smile who subtly corrects my pronunciation of “Pascal” as we chat about programming languages. His counterpart Ash is aloof, pale and fair-haired, works at an advertising company and prefers watching videos at home to partying all night after a gig. He doesn’t speak much.

Nugie, the band’s drummer and Karina’s brother, is the only member left in Canberra, where he studies architecture. The rest are now in Melbourne. He makes jokes and keeps the conversation flowing with random thoughts on the peculiarities of Asian clothing. He and Mark share a smile when one of them makes a joke about algorithms.

Bassist Ross is tall and incredibly thin, with tight black jeans and a mop of dark hair Karina tousles into a wild mess in front of the mirror. He squirms a little when she tries to apply eye shadow. He looks every part the Melbourne inner-city rock icon, but talks about his love of writing rather than music when we get a moment outside together.

Karina chats and mucks around during the shoot but snaps back into position every time the photographer’s finger hits the button, as if she were connected to the movements of the lens. She throws a few apologetic glances my way as the five musicians play musical chairs on the lounge, and at one point stops to check I’m not getting bored. A few days later Karina and I catch up to discuss growing up in Jakarta, the difficulties of fasting during Ramadan in Australia and the band’s debut album, Young And Restless.

Ash seemed to be a bit shy.

Yeah, he is a bit shy. He’s very reserved. There’s one thing that he’s really good at though and that’s playing guitar. I think it’s because he doesn’t really care about what people think and he doesn’t need to stay out to party to impress anyone. That’s one of the things I really like about him.

He’s intriguing, as someone who works at an advertising company by day and plays guitar in an indie-metal band by night.

He’s completely the opposite of what you see on stage. I think a lot of us are like that. I’ve known Ash for years. When I first met him, he was a gothic kind of guy in high school and he was a little bit intimidating. But now he’s like the complete opposite. I don’t know if it’s got anything to do with it, but now that he’s got a boyfriend and a proper job and he’s enjoying what he’s doing with the band, I think he’s becoming more himself. When he was younger he got over all that stuff – you know, getting drunk and partying.

Did you have a musical upbringing?

No. I used to learn how to play piano when I was about five or six – you know, most Asian families make their kids learn how to play piano – but I was never really any good. My sister was really good at it. She’s an amazing pianist, but I didn’t have any patience. I didn’t pick up another instrument until I was in year nine and living in Jakarta. I got first rank in my class – which is a super-big deal over there. It’s weird, they put you into rankings based on how well you do. Getting first rank was a big deal because I had moved back to Jakarta and my Indonesian was a bit crap, but I worked really hard at it. It’s a tradition that if you get first rank you get a gift, so I asked my dad to buy me a guitar. Our parents never really encouraged us with music, it was mostly with school. When my dad was growing up in Java, his family was quite poor and he had to work really hard to stay in school, so since me and Nugie were really young our parents have pushed us to work hard and get a good education. I’ve noticed a lot of musicians say they listened to their parents’ records and their parents have influenced them a lot as far as their musical taste and so forth, but seriously, my parents didn’t have any music at home. Nugie picked up the drums in year six because he decided he liked tapping on stuff and wanted to join the tin band. That was when he discovered that he loved drumming. My parents decided to buy him a drum kit – which I thought at the time was the stupidest idea, to give a 12-year-old a drum kit. But, you know, look who’s laughing now. My bad.

How was Nugie at the piano?

Oh, Nugie wasn’t so good. Me and Nugie are kind of the same. My older sister is six years older than us, whereas we only have two years apart. She is always so dedicated. If she starts something she’ll finish it. She’s doing her PhD at the moment and she’s never really taken a break from school. With piano, she went all the way to the end, whereas me and Nugie always just mucked around. I think Nugie can play about as well as I can, which is not very well at all.

What instrument did you play in Jakarta, that you got first class for?

“I played keyboard in an all-girl band when I was in year nine but it was really bizarre. There was this guy who was the manager and when we went to rehearsal he was telling each of us what to do, even what notes to play.”

I played guitar. I tried to jam with a few friends when I was in Jakarta, but over there, when you play in a band you play in covers bands. There’s not many bands writing original music, or at least back when I was in high school. I played keyboard in an all-girl band when I was in year nine – despite my crappy piano skills – but it was really bizarre. There was this guy who was the manager and when we went to rehearsal he was telling each of us what to do, even what notes to play. All the girls were pretty and popular and they all played an instrument, but there was this old dude running the show. I think that kind of traumatised me. I’d always wanted to play music, but, yeah, that was a bit weird.

How long did you go to school in Jakarta for?

I grew up in Jakarta until I was eight. I moved back from Canberra to Jakarta when I was 13. I didn’t go to school for six months, which was probably one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made. I went to school there for about three years. I learned a lot, as far as how fucked everything is in Jakarta. The schooling system is just terrible. I tried to convince my mum to get a job in Canberra, or somewhere else, as long as it wasn’t Jakarta.

What are the biggest problems?

One of the biggest issues is the education system. A lot of kids that finish schooling in Jakarta – well, if they haven’t tried to find other sources of information I think they would come out with a narrow mind. There’s almost no room for kids to think for themselves – that was the most frustrating thing. There’s too many subjects for you to learn and too much studying and too much getting your homework done. There’s not a lot of room for anything else and it’s very difficult. I did do a lot of extra-curricular activities while I was there, like I played basketball which is pretty funny – because I’m really tall over there! – and did public speaking, but there wasn’t really time to do your own thing. Everything was to do with school. The workload is completely ridiculous and it’s really stressful. Some of the stuff that they were teaching wasn’t... like, especially back when Suharto was still in power, we’d have history lessons and you knew half of the stuff in the history book wasn’t true, especially to do with the first and second president and all these conspiracies. I could talk to you about it forever. There are a lot of things wrong and it was frustrating because there was nothing you could do. As a student in Indonesia having experienced an education system in another country like Australia, where it was so open-minded and so laid back and everybody was just... You still had hope that you could have a good future, whereas in Jakarta it was quite sad, actually.

Did you live with your family when you went back to Jakarta?

Yes. My dad prefers Jakarta. He just thinks Australia is too quiet. He’s the kind of person that likes a lot of things happening around him, so he finds life in Jakarta more exciting.

You said he had a rough time growing up.

Yeah he had a really rough time. When he was young, he had to take care of his brother and sisters and leave school. He had nine brothers and sisters and he was the eldest. When he was 15, he had to sell cigarettes to people who were gambling to support the family. He eventually went back to high school because a teacher saw him on the street and he had always been very diligent. That was, I think, the first time that school had given someone a scholarship. Now my dad is a professor. He was the only kid in his village to graduate from high school. He’s got an amazing story and he’s always encouraging us to work hard in whatever we do, but particularly with our education.

Why did you move to Canberra?

We moved was because my dad got a scholarship at the ANU in Canberra to do a PhD. My dad did that and my mum was a housewife for two months and then she decided, ‘Fuck this, I’m going to do my PhD too’, so we extended our stay a little bit longer until she finished her degree as well. It’s pretty funny. I think my mum is probably the most independent woman I’ve ever seen. She’s so selfless and she’s really smart and it’s pretty interesting for a woman who grew up with her background to have so much knowledge and education under her belt. The way she got it is pretty interesting as well. She got to do her masters in Florida because she was a public servant and her boss said whoever got such and such score in a type of English test would be given a scholarship to study overseas. So she studied really hard and got to do a masters.

What does your dad think of the band? Is he upset that you’ve put your studies on hold?

It’s quite interesting because my relationship with my dad has always been really formal, since I was young. One of the things we can talk about is my education, so every time I talk to him on the phone he asks me if I’ve enrolled in uni yet. I’ve started two courses that I haven’t finished and I think he’s a little worried, but my mum understands where I’m coming from. She’s seen me jump into uni and not be ready for it and sort of fuck up in the end, so she would prefer if I didn’t waste my time and money and did something I really want to do while I have the time. And she realises that it’s not every day that you get to play in a band and do really fun things. She’s explained that to my dad and he’s a bit more chilled out now, but he still asks me about enrolment and subjects and stuff.

How did he feel about your choice to study fashion?

I think he’s OK with it. He just wants me to get a bachelor degree. My dad’s pretty old-fashioned. Because of his background and the knowledge that it was his education that got him somewhere, that’s what he wants for me. He keeps telling me, “It’s for your own good, it’s for your life”. He says, “It’s for your bakal”, which means... it’s like your packed lunch for life. And he keeps bringing it back to: “Your sister’s doing her PhD, Nugie’s doing well in architecture and it’s just you, and I don’t want you to be the only one out of your siblings who doesn’t do well in life” [laughs]. It does get a bit intense sometimes.

Are you religious at all?

Well, when I went back to high school in Jakarta I would pray a lot. It was weird because the things I was praying for was to do well in my exams and things like that. The things I wanted then and the things I want now are completely different. So, yes I do still consider myself... maybe not religious, but I still have faith in a greater being and I do believe that – well, the faith that I have now is just to be a good person and not to lie.

More of an ethical thing?

Yeah. I mean I don’t go to the mosque, I don’t fast during Ramadan and I don’t follow all of the rules that a Muslim has to follow every day. The only thing that I don’t do is eat pork, but occasionally I eat pepperoni. So... I don’t think... [laughs]. When I’m ordering a pizza I’m like, “No ham thanks, but pepperoni’s okay.” It really doesn’t make any sense.

Have you ever fasted during Ramadan?

Definitely. I was a pretty diligent Muslim when I was in my early teens and I know a lot about Islam. I don’t regret at all having learned those things and I know how to read the Koran and I understand it. I haven’t fasted recently because it’s really difficult to fast in another country where there’s no other...

Well, it’s quite a communal event, right?

In Jakarta, all your friends would be fasting as well, so you’d all be going through the same thing. It was really supportive. You’d go to someone’s house and everybody would break their fast together and it was all very nice. But here, I still have to go to work. I mean, when you’re fasting you still have to do everything the same way and you still have to go to work, but it’s difficult. One of the things that I don’t like about fasting in Australia is you get really bad breath! Other people just don’t understand because they’re not fasting, you know what I mean? That’s probably a really bad excuse. God’s going to ask me why I haven’t fasted and I’ll say, “Because I had bad breath” [laughs].

What are the rules of Ramadan? When are you allowed to break your fast?

You wake up early, before the sun rises, so usually around 3 or 4am. You have to stop eating by a certain time, so you have a big feast at the start of the day to give you energy. You keep fasting through the day – no water, no food, no anything. You’re not even allowed to brush your teeth excessively. You’re not allowed to have sex, smoke cigarettes or get angry at people. Basically it’s about not giving in to your human desires. I think it’s amazing, it’s so challenging. When the sun sets, you get to break your fast. And then you keep doing that for a period of a month.

Do you get drawn into the current debates about Muslims in Australia?

It’s always been a topic people debate about, it’s not a recent thing. I think people are always going to debate about something they think is intriguing and they don’t know a lot about. And then there’s always like fear in things that people don’t really know much about. I don’t really get myself involved. When I see things happening in front of my eyes, it frustrates me and of course I get involved. But basically one of my main opinions on religions – on any religion – is that every religion is pure to start with and it aims to create a better society and better understanding among people and create goodness in life. But when you give it to humans, of course there’s going to be misinterpretations and therefore that causes conflict. It’s a difficult subject, because everybody is going to have their own opinions on what they believe and there’s not much you can do about it.

In person you’re very approachable, but on record you sometimes sound like an axe murderer. Where do you find that anger?

The vocals on the album were recorded in live takes on the world’s cheapest studio mic, the SM57. While I was doing my takes, I didn’t face any of the guys or Tom [Larkin of Shihad], who was recording. I guess I get into the zone and think about what particular songs mean to me and how I feel – then that’s what comes out into the mic.

So what were you feeling? Was it anger or just passion?

Some songs are about things I feel angry about. But others aren’t, it’s just... sometimes I can feel quite intense about things and then it can come off as anger, but it’s not. Also, you know, playing music and singing in Young And Restless is the only time I can get away with being that kind of person. I can be as awkward or I can be as intense as I like.

What songs are about things you’re angry about?

Well, the second song on the album is called ‘I Pointed At You And You Burst Into Flames’. It’s about a collection of things. I was having a conversation with an older person who was talking really badly about Indonesia, but with no awareness that he was talking about someone’s country – you know, the place where I grew up. He was like, “Indonesia is so fucked, you’d have to bomb the whole place and start from scratch for it to be OK.” The chorus comes from that conversation. It sort of related to an experience I had growing up as well. Every week we met with a teacher who was an expert in Islam and taught us the Koran, and I really disagreed with some of the things he tried to teach us. One of those things was that we are, and always should be, enemies with Jewish people. We would talk about suicide bombing and things like that. The song is about how everybody thinks they’re right and no one thinks about where other people are coming from. Like, for instance, suicide bombers. They think they’re doing the right thing for their people because they had their land stolen and so forth, but you know, there’s another side of the story. Another line from one of the verses is about not speaking someone else’s language. I was out one day at a supermarket buying some groceries and there were two dudes in front of me talking in Persian, or maybe Turkish. They were just having a conversation about where they were going, or what food they were going to eat or something. There was a lady in front of them who turned around and looked them in the eye and said, “Look, we’re in Australia, please don’t speak a foreign language.” I was so offended. I couldn’t believe that t was actually happening. You know, English is my second language as well and I would be terrified to not be able to speak my own language freely in another country. And the sort of fear that she had because she was hearing a foreign language... it was all really sad.

When you’re singing songs like that do you feel your frustration coming out?

Yeah, it does, but... You can write songs about things that frustrate you, but it’s not really making a difference. I guess the sort of difference that I want, when people find out what the songs are about – it’s shedding light on things people should care about and trying to break away from being narrow-minded and only seeing one side of the story. I guess I’m just trying to share my opinions with people, but I’m not going to preach them to anyone.

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  -   Published on Sunday, August 19 2007 by Andrew Ramadge.
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