Wis and his band, The Hydrant, are the pioneers of rockabilly in millennium-era Indonesia. His wilder-than-Elvis music, Stray Cats-fuelled fashion and attitude, have inspired legions of new, young, and hip scenesters in this country. He invented rockabilly here. Well, sort of.
Let’s flashback a bit. What an amazing shift you made, from progressive pop Toto-oriented Hydra, to Stray Cats-fuelled The Hydrant. Why did you decide on such a massive makeover?
Hydra were a pop rock band which Zio (Brozio Orah) and I formed back in 1999 when we were at the same college. We made good songs which eventually impressed Sony Music Indonesia and they invited us to contribute a song for their back-then legendary Indie Ten album compilation. As time went by we finally came to the conclusion that we didn’t have the same vision anymore. As a band. And as a team. We decided to go our own ways. I remember one funny day, during this hiatus, I visited Bobby Kool (Superman Is Dead). He played me Stray Cat’s Blast Off, saying that he didn’t like it that much. According to him it sounded a bit like a Kuta Top 40 pub band. On the contrary, I said, “Are you kidding me? This is amazing! This is such perfect music!” That moment I was truly inspired and said to myself: “I must form this kind of band! These guys have the sound, skills, style, attitude, everything!” Soon after that, in 2004, The Hydrant were born.
At the time rockabilly—rockabilly revival, to be precise—wasn’t really a popular choice. No musician in Indonesia did it. How was the public reaction?
When I wrote and composed The Hydrant’s music, I tried not to worry too much with so-called Indonesian music industry and/or public perception. I’m too busy making loud music (which I didn’t do in my previous band), too busy shining my shoes, too busy combing my hair, too busy cranking up my guitar. Amazingly, applying this who-cares attitude turned out great in building fan base. They loved our music, our style, our attitude even more! It didn’t take too long for rockabilly to become a trend! In 2007 you can say we were nationally huge, The Hydrant glory days.
Not too long ago, you successfully convinced the biggest concert organiser in Slovakia to fly you over to play at a prestigious festival, Pohoda. Would you like to share some stories?
Michal Kascak, the head honcho of Pohoda, which is the biggest music festival in Eastern Europe, sent me an email in November 2008, asking us whether we were interested to participate at his event. In early July 2009, Kascak, while he was on holiday in Bali, finally had a chance to see us playing live at Kuta Karnival. In late July 2009 The Hydrant were at Pohoda already! Surprisingly, Europeans loved The Hydrant. In all 3 countries that we played (we also gigged in Austria and Czech) the public reaction was excellent. Who would’ve thought!
PS: In 2010 we were invited to play again at Pohoda. They offered to pay our return flights, but we couldn’t get sponsors to back up the rest of the requirements for an international tour. Sadly, we had to cancel the tour.
You did sign up with one of the big 5 major labels in Indonesia but it didn’t seem to work out. What went on?
We signed a contract with EMI Music Indonesia in 2007 and released a (way too) low-budget album, Rockabilly Live. The lack of promotion, minimum financial support and EMI internal problems, seemed to mean that the album didn’t work out as well as we had hoped for. We decided to go back indie again. It’s all good. Life goes on.
Two of the main personnel of The Hydrant decided to leave the band and pursue their own careers. How are their replacements working out?
I have to admit, 2008 wasn’t the best year for The Hydrant. The major label deal didn’t go well, then Zio and Morris quit the band. Even though it was pretty stressful, Marshello and I refused to give up, we kept moving on. Shello found Christopper as the new drummer while I picked Adi as the new bassist. We are so happy with these decisions. The relationship between us and the ex-members, thank god, is still very ok. For instance, when Christopper was away for a few months, Morris happily replaced him temporarily.
Let’s get personal, who are your favourite guitarists?
Too many to mention! Same like other guitar-crazy kids I guess I like Paul Gilbert, Steve Vai, and Richie Kotzen. But some names have a special place in my heart. Namely Django Reinhardt, Cliff Gallup, Chet Atkins and Brian Setzer. Those last four names have the look and also have the style.
Name three of your all-time best albums and why?
Stray Cats’ Blast Off. Their most rockabilly album.
Brian Setzer Orchestra’s Dirty Boogie. This album is always effective, I still get majorly excited every time I turn it on.
Wayne Hancock’s A Town Blues. I like Hank Williams. This one is the modern version of Hank.
Any last nagging words?
Hello parents in Indonesia, if you love your children and don’t want them to be consumers of rubbish, please spend a little money and sign up for cable TV.
*Homegrown & Well Known is my biweekly column in The Beat (Bali) mag. Basically it’s an interview via e-mail with Bali’s local big shots. This is the thirteenth edition and was firstly published on The Beat (Bali) #319, Aug 31 – Sep 13, 2012