Like most Malaysian bands, their journey to becoming a festival staple and a household name was arduous, long, and hard. If we needed to chose just one word to describe An Honest Mistake as a band, it would be, “persistent”.
The band debuted back in 2008, during a time when the Malaysian live music scene was still booming. Venues like Laundry Bar at The Curve in Mutiara Damansara, for example, would constantly see a large headcount of music lovers storming the place for their monthly, if not weekly dosage of good ol’ homegrown tunes. Alas, all good things come to an end eventually and as the heat began to cool and the scene started to make way for the electronic dance music genre, we saw less and less of our local bands.
This, in effect, motivated bands like An Honest Mistake to think faster, work harder, push forth, and evolve. They not only looked for opportunities but also created a few of their own (we’ll get into this later), went on countless tours including several trips to Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines for shows both small and large, and continued to put out music.
And now, fast forward to 2016/2017, the band kicked into high gear when they cinched a deal with major music label Universal Music Malaysia, all the while juggling gigs at major music festivals including Ho Hai Yan Gongliao Rock Festival in Taiwan (July 2016), Zandari Festa in Korea (September 2016), and Manila Threadfest in the Philippines (October 2016). A crowd pleaser through and through, they show no signs of stopping :)
We caught up with An Honest Mistake’s Darren Teh (lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist) and Leonard Chua (guitarist) as soon as they had time to catch their breaths.
Here’s what went down:
Hi guys! It’s been a while. Congrats on being signed to Universal Music Malaysia and your new single.
Darren: Thank you! And yes, after a million years of hard work (laughs).
You guys go way back. How did you guys meet?
Darren: In 2008, I started a solo thing but later on I felt like I needed to start a band..
Leonard: We met through a forum, in a music thread. We just started talking and then Darren was like, “Oh, you’re from Seremban? My dad works in Seremban. When I come to Seremban, let’s meet up!” Then fast forward to one fine day on MSN Messenger, Darren was like, “I’ll send you some demos. This is my acoustic project. Hey do you wanna join me? Let’s make original music!” and I was like, “Okay, sounds good. Let’s do it!”
Darren: At first it was just for fun but it didn’t stay “just for fun” for too long because after that..it got serious really quick.
Leonard: Yeah like within a year we were going for gigs and competitions.
Darren: I think it was also because of my brother (singer-songwriter Kevin Teh aka Broken Scar)..I saw all of that and how he did it, so I just translated everything that he did into what I did.
How has An Honest Mistake evolved from the initial inception?
Darren: We’ve had a couple of people come and go, as how all bands are, with different commitments and things like that. For the longest time, the band has always been known as a band with a guy and a girl who sings. And it’s always good to have a girl in the band. Sheryl, who recorded all the albums with us, had to leave to the UK to study and when she left, she told us that she’s not coming back. But we were like, let’s just keep going.
You’ve performed at multiple events. Do you still get stage fright? What do you guys do before going on stage?
Leonard: We get into our “game face” (laughs). Darren, before he performs, he likes to walk around and just feel the vibe of the people and the place. I sit in a corner and visualise what’s about to happen. Most of the time I prefer not to talk. Tomas, hmm..will probably be busy hitting on girls? (laughs) Ian..he’ll find his way among all of us. He’ll just be hanging around, watching the show from backstage.
Darren: My routine before going on stage will be..drinking a lot of water. Not alcohol, because I don’t wanna bust my voice. Alcohol will destroy my voice.
Leonard: I’ll drink Red Bull just to give me that energy. Not alcohol because, you wanna perform consciously, you know? And connect with the crowd. And not like when your head is in some..outer space..
I agree. I think that you’d want to be as sober as possible to minimise the mistakes that you could potentially make..ah, pun totally intended!
Leonard: Ba-dum-ppsshh! (laughs) Oh, on New Year’s Eve, because everyone was in a celebratory mode so in the waiting room there was beer and stuff. Tomas was warning me, “Leonard, don’t screw up, don’t make any mistakes” but as it turns out, he was the one making mistakes all night! And before the end of the show, he fell down on stage.
Darren: He tripped on me. (laughs)
Leonard: And that’s how he started his new year.
Which would you say has been your best gig to date?
Darren: Okay, so for example, we’ve done all the local gigs and the local festivals, and they’re great. Then we went to Singapore and we were like, “Wow!” because the way they functioned like the team on stage, the sound, the lights, it was next level.
Leonard: And then we went to the Philippines. Because the Philippines had that too plus the crowd was engaging and all.
Darren: And then we went to Taiwan!
Leonard: Taiwan was like everything combined in one! The professionalism of the crew, the stage, the production, the responsiveness of the crowd, the hospitality..I mean, for us, we were just a Malaysian band going over there to play, you know? They had all these big bands like Sodagreen and Mayday, and yet they treated us like how they treated them. It was..wow..
It’s great that An Honest Mistake received equal treatment or that you were treated like an international artiste.
Leonard: Yeah! Or maybe it’s just their professionalism across the board like across all bands. In Malaysia, organisers tend to be a bit more choosy like..they pay more attention to the bigger bands. Taiwan was really the best experience that we’ve ever had.
Darren: One of the things that I like to tell people about Taiwan is that, I mean apart from the crowd..we played to 30,000 people, and it was at the beach. When we there for soundcheck at 10am, people were already there queuing up. It was insane! We didn’t understand it. On top of that, we requested for certain equipment, and we got them. We saw the amps lying on the side on stage and we asked, “Have any other bands used these?” and the organisers were like, “No, we got them just for you.”
Leonard: We have never gotten that equipment that we needed here. Ever. 2-day festival, 60 bands, and they got those amps just for us.
That’s amazing! Now that you’ve have toured quite a bit, what would you say was the strangest/funniest thing that has ever happened on tour?
Leonard: At high school gigs..we always love those gigs because the crowd is always very passionate. And this was like 4 years ago when this high school girl came up to me and asked, “Can I have your jacket?”. So she took it and she started tagging me in her tweets.
Darren: It was a nice jacket and it was more like she pulled him off him lah! (laughs)
Leonard: After that her tweets were like, “Should I wrap myself to sleep in this jacket?” (laughs)
As a primarily English band promoting in Malaysia, what are some of the challenges you face?
Leonard: Market size, the lack of supporters, and the fact that we’re always competing with international artistes. You can be the #1 English band in Malaysia but you’d still only get a small segment, and there are only so many gigs or events that you get to tap into. But we’re very thankful that, over the years, due to the lack of rave/electronic dance music events, events are turning to live music. It has opened up a lot of opportunities for us in the last 2 years as compared to the last 6 years.
Ah, because previously electronic dance music events took precedent over live music events, right?
Leonard: That’s right. DJs, DJs, DJs. But for the first time they’re turning to live music so more musicians and bands are able to take the stage.
What do you wish the local audience knew about producing an album? (the cost, the work that goes behind it, etc.)
Darren: I think mainly, of course the money part..which I will get into later. Sometimes bands give up because they don’t see themselves going anywhere. You know, they play some gigs and it’s always to the same crowd, and then they get to know only the same people, and they basically go around in circles. For me, when we were starting out there were opportunities that we were riding on, because I am my brother’s brother. It really opened up a lot of doors for me. But that opened my eyes to the fact that..if I’m going to just hope that they will always give me gigs, that’s going to kill me because I’ll be the one going around in the circles. So I thought, “Okay, if there’s a lack of opportunities, I need to start creating them.” which is what I did. I started organising gigs so that I would, in turn, be able to give other people opportunities. The main struggle initially was getting gigs. When you play gigs, you get some money, right? From there, where does the money go to? We started a bank account and all the money that we got went into the band fund. And for many years, we got nothing out of our band fund! But the fund was used to make our merchandise, banners, posters, albums..we rolled the money from our 1st album to the 2nd album. It was only after making the 3rd album that we started to earn a bit of money. We set aside some to go into the band fund, and some..we used to pay the band members. But it was only many years, like 6 years after we started.
Oh, you really struggled for a long time. Also, I think that at the beginning, not only did you get very few gigs, they also didn’t pay a lot, right?
Leonard: They still don’t pay a lot! (laughs)
Darren: It’s also because we weren’t in a position where we can demand. At least now we get higher paying shows and we get opportunities to play at shows that matter. We get to work with various brands that are looking into local music and really supporting it. But now that we get higher paying shows, it means that we need to be good at money management too. When Leonard came into the picture, he helped set things in place where there’s more order in the band. That’s not to say that it wasn’t orderly, but it’s better managed now.
Since An Honest Mistake has been taking up opportunities wth so many brands recently, do you fear overdoing it or overselling yourself?
Leonard: So on this subject, Darren and I have conflicting opinions.
Darren: I don’t mind being everywhere. Everything is fuelled by passion when it comes to art, but you’d want to be able to make money from your passion. So now that we’re making money, I feel like, if the gigs are gonna pay us, if the brands are gonna pay us, let’s just be everywhere! It’s not just about money – we’re growing and we’re getting more reach. I think it’s fine. But..(looks at Leonard)
Leonard: I, on the other hand, I believe in..you know, we only have 24 hours in a day. If we’re not wise in using our time and resources into performing, not picking the right shows to play, if you’re constantly out there and everywhere, it doesn’t give people that longing to want to see us perform. But of course, from a business standpoint, yes you can generate income and as long as you have money, you can do whatever you want. So I guess it’s a balancing act of what to choose and what not to choose, and being out there and not being constantly out there.
You know what #lifegoals are, right? So what’s your ultimate #bandgoal?
Darren: My #bandgoal is..you know, I’m not even thinking about going to the US, the UK, or Australia. I mean, I’m not being racist but..those places are places where they could be like, “You’re a bunch of Asians playing white music and you weren’t even born here.” or whatever. I just feel that there’s so much that you can do here in Asia. When we played in India, it was a different vibe. When we played in Taiwan, they were like, “Wow! You’re Chinese but you’re singing in English. That’s so cool!” I’ve shared this with the band and the band has also agreed that..okay, we’ll just do Asia. And that’s my goal.
Thanks for chatting with us, you guys! Y’all are such gems. Go forth, the sky’s the limit ;) We’ll leave you now with An Honest Mistake’s latest single, “Everything”.
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