It's hard to talk about Pandai Besi without mentioning Efek Rumah Kaca (ERK), one of Indonesia's biggest indie bands. Having been active in the music scene for over 16 years, ERK continues to be an important band who are not afraid to comment on politics or social issues in Indonesia through their brand of pop-rock.
Pandai Besi started with two ERK members, Cholil and Akbar on collaboration with friends from other bands. It was initially formed as a side project that would reinterpret and rearrange ERK's songs, adding length and complexity. In 2013, Pandai Besi released their first full-length album Daur Baru, with nine takes on ERK songs that garnered acclaim from MTV and Rolling Stone Indonesia.
Not long after the album's release Cholil left the country to study abroad, leaving ERK in hiatus and Pandai Besi to figure out where to go from there.
Last Friday, four years since their last album, Pandai Besi came out with a new single, Rintik, their first original song as a group without Cholil.
VICE Indonesia's Yudhistira talked to Pandai Besi's bassist, vocalist, and songwriter Poppie Airil about the band's music direction and why it is important for Pandai Besi to differentiate themselves from ERK.
Pandai Besi was known as the band who rearranged ERK's songs, does this association with ERK put pressure on you?
Poppie: It did initially, but let me put it like this, it's not easy to gain listeners. People who enjoy ERK's first two albums might not like Pandai Besi. But those who are into Pandai Besi enjoy Sinestesia [ERK's latest album], so it kind of works out. When Sinestesia came out, it was easy to tell who our listeners are. Pandai Besi was very much inspired by the writing process of Sinestesia.
What specific elements of Sinestesia inspired Pandai Besi?
Mostly elements of music and stylistic progression. ERK's music tends to be more direct and easier to follow, while Pandai Besi presents more of a 'twist.' Pandai Besi isn't focused on lyrics, we focus on the sound, the music is richer and more diverse
After releasing Rintik, do you feel relieved? Are you anxious how the single will be accepted by music listeners?
I definitely felt relieved since we didn't release anything in so long. When it came out, it was like "Damn, finally we put something out with the new group! [laughs]." I'm not sure if i'm nervous, I haven't had the time to think about what people are going to say. I will say that we desperately wanted to release something new since Daur Baur, which came out like 3-4 years ago.
**Who was involved in the creative process of Rintik? ** For Rintik, Cholil actually didn't take any part. It was the people in Pandai Besi who came up with the song. Rintik was initially written for Bing [Poppie's solo project] so I wasn't sure if it would sit well with Pandai Besi. However, after I shared the song with the band, they were into it. The song already had lyrics and then the band arranged it around Pandai Besi's sound. Essentially, it's a Pandai Besi song.
Will this process become the blueprint for Pandai Besi's songwriting in the future?
There's a lot of freedom in Pandai Besi. Everyone is welcomed to bring up their ideas. For Rintik, it just happened and we were in that kind of mood, I can't say if it's always going to be like that in the future. We still don't know what direction the band will take, the new songs might or might not sound like Rintik.
**Any particular influences for Pandai Besi's current sound? ** During Daur Baur, we listened to the Dirty Projectors, but now everyone has their own influences. When Monik writes a song, it will emphatically sound like hers. Thats our mission now, to find the right character and sound. Pandai Besi is very fluid and is able to go anywhere in terms of music. Right now, we are just living in the moment and enjoying the journey because new members joined recently.
Are you guys writing a new album?
We're in the middle of a workshop. We have around 4-5 songs still in the works, they won't be released anytime soon.
You currently play for both Pandai Besi and ERK. How are you able to keep a different approach for these two projects?
Creatively speaking, they are very different. ERK and Pandai has their own ways of writing music. Currently ERK is working on their fourth album and I'm involved in the songwriting as well. Pandai Besi has been jamming and writing songs in the studio, I can definitely tell the difference. When I play with ERK, I put myself in a certain state of mind so the songs turn out like ERK, and I do the same for Pandai Besi [laughs]. Rintik's demo was very simple, it was very song-y. But then it came out the way it did because of Pandai Besi's arrangement. If it had been arranged by ERK, it would sound completely different.
Lyrically, how does ERK and Pandai Besi differ?
People are already aware of ERK's lyrics, especially the songs about resistance. They tend to be bold and politically or socially charged. Pandai Besi's songs are more on the poetic side, similar to [ERK's song] Hujan Jangan Marah, only lighter. We don't have Cholil's energy when it comes to writing lyrics yet, but we are heading in a similar direction. Pandai Besi is more chill, unlike ERK's angry lyrics [laughs].
After finally releasing an original song, do you feel the relationship of Pandai Besi and ERK has changed?
We're still a big family even though each has its own personality. Members of Pandai Besi are also involved in ERK's solo projects. It's a symbiotic mutualism, so to speak. In the early days, Pandai Besi played gigs when ERK did. We would be inserted into ERK's set, it's like the relationship of sharks and remora fish. However, we wish to eventually separate ourselves and walk our own path.
Pandai Besi is slowly trying to separate itself from ERK, especially after Cholil left the country. Even the name Pandai Besi was picked in order to separate ourselves from ERK. Even though we don't have enough original material yet, we want to be able to do it on our own. There's a lot of freedom in Pandai Besi, and Cholil doesn't have to be a part of it. But that's not to say he won't come back and join us again in the future, Pandai Besi is just that fluid.