Back kicking Ass
Thai rock band gets new vocalist, new sound and a new albumThis year marks the 15th anniversary of Big Ass, one of Thailand's leading rock bands and should be a time of celebration.
For a while though, the rockers looked as though they wouldn't make the cut, with rumours spreading through the music press that the band would cease to exist following the firing of frontman and singer Ekkarat "Dag" Wongchalad.
"I think he'd reached his saturation point, musically speaking, that is," says drummer Kajondeg "Kob" Promrugsa, referring to the message posted on Big Ass's Facebook page.
"But before we say anything else, let us thank him for leading the band to where it is today. We'd always asked ourselves how we would recognise when the end had come and our answer was when playing stopped being fun. Dag stopped having fun four years ago."
Whether the rumour about the firing true or false, "musical saturation" simply doesn't ring true. Moreover, any fan who has watched video clips of Big Ass' most recent concerts on YouTube, will have winced in pain at the ever-worsening condition of Dag's voice.
Kob acknowledges the problem, saying that if Dag wants to continue to sing, he will need to do something about his voice.
Bassist Phongpan "Oak" Polasit adds, "We talked about it at length and gave him some time to think about it."
"But it's very hard for a band with five members to spend time together and have the same chemistry and way of thinking," says Kob.
"I think that wanted to do something else in his life and favoured his motorbike and travel. It has nothing to do with right or wrong. He just felt more like being a traveller and biker than a musician, while Kob, Oak, Moo and myself wanted to continue playing music," says guitarist Poonsak "Aof" Jatoorabun, also the songwriter and producer for the band. "With those differences, it was difficult for us to go forward. It's like the proverb says, 'tia aoom khom' [drown not thyself to save a drowning man]. So we started looking for a new singer."
"We've been fascinated by music since our teens. We lived and rehearsed together while studying at high school, long before releasing our debut album 'Not Bad' in 1997. But each of us has been jostled by air pockets at some time during our lives," adds guitarist Apichart "Moo" Promrugsa.
It took a long time but Aof, Kob, Oak and Moo finally found a new vocalist in the form of Thai-Israeli singer Daycha "Jeng" Konalo. They heard him singing their own "Kha Noi Somkhuan Tai" and Linkin Park's "What I've Done" with his band Silent Hill at a pub in Nakhon Ratchasima and knew immediately he was the one.
"We were totally exhausted and dispirited after such a long search for a new singer and we were actually thinking of packing it up and disbanding. Then we heard Jeng," says Moo.
The five headed to a recording studio and recorded an EP for GMM Grammy subsidiary Genie Records. It features five songs - the title track "Dan Neramit", which is also the first single, "Thao Thi Mee", "Thon Mai Wai", "Lom Plien Thit" and "Dontri Phuea Cheewit", and sounds fresh, very different from the trademark Big Ass sound.
"We need to have the same feeling as our first release of 'Not Bat'," says Aof. "We haven't set any direction yet but just let it flow while jamming. I'm very glad that it doesn't sound like Big Ass, because it isn't easy to get rid of our Big Ass-esque camouflage. We want to make a new start."
"Jeng has woken us up and made us feel fresh again," says Kob.
"At first, I felt a lot of pressure because of the band's fame. But I don't try to imitate the original singer's voice and I certainly am not Dag 2," says Jeng, 29.
If they want to make a new start with a new sound, why don't they form a new band with a new name and let Big Ass be history?
"It's an honour to keep it because we were born with it," says Aof, as Kob adds, "There's nothing wrong with the name - it's our trademark."
On the mountain
_ Big Ass will perform with its new lead singer for the first time on September 22 at the Chick Mountain Music Festival at Khao Chon Kai military camp in Kanchanaburi.
_ The band is also booked for the Bangkok Music Marathon on October 20.at Impact Arena.