Twelve years in the Thai music industry, regular releases, numerous hits and frequent media
appearances have made singer/songwriter Apiwat “Stamp” Ueathavornsuk a household name to Thais. Over the years, we’ve become used to his tear-jerking lyrics, catchy melodies and comic gags. So when he released “Sak Wi Na Tee (Switch),” another romantic track, in March, we didn’t doubt that he was living up to his standards. Little did we know that a surprise was coming—a big one—a month later.
In April, Stamp Something, his new album was released in Japan—that was the first surprise. All songs in the album are in English—the second surprise. After the first two singles, “Don’t You Go” and “The Devil,” it was revealed that the Thai-born, Thai-bred Stamp wrote all the songs by himself—the third surprise. Before the fourth (and fifth) surprises hit us, we sit down with the singer/songwriter to talk about the idea behind his new album, and his intention to bring it abroad as part of his big dream to leap past the borders and find fame beyond Thailand. Written by Kamolrat Rojanawattanawut, Sopida Rodsom and Top Koaysomboon
How is the response to your new singles?
How is it? It’s good, it’s really good. I even have this opportunity to have Time Out interview me [laughs]. This is the best response.
How did this album come to live?
Recently, I’ve become close to Nick from Part Time Musician, whose songs are all in English.
We have this Line group where Nick, Na (the vocalist of Polycat), and I share new lyrics with
each other to check and comment on. Nick usually writes stuff in English, and I felt that I,
too, wanted to write songs in English. That’s how it all started.
Also, having performed Thai songs many times for a Japanese audience, it made me realize that I wanted to make English songs so they can understand what I sing. And despite learning from a Japanese friend of mine that the Japanese do not actually listen to [Asians singing] English songs, I still like to sing songs that I wrote myself—and writing songs in Japanese is nearly impossible.
When I was touring Japan over Songkran, I covered a Japanese song and the crowd went crazy. I thought they finally understood what I sang [laughs], plus they were able to sing along. It got me thinking, if I should have my own Japanese song. But I prefer completely understanding what I sing. Memorizing the lyrics of a song would be very bland.
“The Devil” is actually the first song I wrote in English. There was this phrase, “Does every devil look like you?,” running in my head, and I felt that it was cool and sounded like a rock song. And since I read comic books, I am also very fascinated by devils. I am always thrilled when a devil transforms into a human being [laughs]. So I began writing the song and sent it to Nick to see if my grammar and choice of words was correct. What I found was that—despite using only simple words— I am capable of writing an English song. As a result, I decided to keep working on the next songs in English.
So the first song you released, “Don’t You Go,” was, in fact, your second single?
The single was created when I had the opportunity to meet Christopher Chu [from POP ETC]. I attended his concert when he was playing at Summer Sonic. I took some photos of him and posted it on my Instagram. Right after the gig, I was riding the train back to my hotel when he sent me a message, saying, “Thank you for coming to see me, are you a musician?” He probably went through my Instagram feed. I replied saying, “Yes, I am. I really like you guys.͟ And that was how our conversation started. To my surprise, we were staying at the same hotel. We got to know each other more and one day, he mentioned that we should do something together, and I was like, “I’ve been waiting for this day [laughs].” I told him I was working on an English album and sent him a demo, citing my wish to compose a song with upbeat sounds. He agreed to go hands-on, helping to rearrange the then fresh-from-the-studio song I wrote with Na [of Polycat]. He worked his magic and it turned out really well.
Can you tell us more about Stamp Something?
I wanted [Stamp Something] to be a side project where all the songs are in English, but produced by another band so people won’t get confused [since Stamp usually produces
Thai songs]. I shared the idea with Na and Nick, asking for their ideas on the [new band’s]
name, mentioning it can be “Stamp something, something...” They both thought Stamp
Something was perfect and urged me to go on with the name. Then I left my old record label, so I decided that what was supposed to be the name of the new band can now be the name of this new English-language project.
It took a long time to make this album as, you know, I am not fluent in English. I needed to go back to studying English, and had help from Mariam [B5], Chris [Shining Star] and Pokpong [Jitdee] in correcting my pronunciation. I know I wouldn’t be able to measure up to
native speakers but I really enjoyed [singing English songs in the album] very much. Learning [English] also makes me happy, most importantly it gave me an excuse to binge-watch television series and even go to New York to attend a course [laughs]. Six months for seven songs, that’s a long time to utilize all my heart and soul. I was exhausted, yet delighted.
Was it your initial plan to release the whole album in English, or did you plan on having Thai songs as well?
I intended to create the full album in English from the beginning. At first, I wanted to translate some of my old hits into English. But after meeting Chu, I learned a new way to create music with a minimal approach, something that is seemingly more international. In the end, I ended up starting everything from scratch.
Would you say this album is your ultimate dream?
It’s one of my dreams. You’re asking if it’s my ultimate dream? I am not quite sure. Stamp
Something, for me, is a change in my usual style of producing music. My dream is to be able
to make Thai songs with a quality equivalent to Chu’s alternative American style or other
international styles. You can say [the album] is my next ultimate dream. Chu taught me to
rethink everything I knew about music.
Why did you decide to debut the album in Japan?
Initially, I had the chance to meet this distributor who was interested in signing a Thai artist to release an album in Japan. I decided to jump into what is probably be a once-in-a-lifetime
From what you have experienced, how is Japan’s music industry different from Thailand’s?
It is unique. People still buy CDs—seriously. I was shockingly confused when the distributor
did not allow me to sell my songs via digital channels. They told me Japanese people love to purchase CDs, and it’s true. I was also lucky enough to play at “live houses” over there—something that is not part of our culture. Thai musicians usually play in clubs, bars and
at events. If we take a step back to look at the big picture, we would probably see that music is not the first priority. In Japan, there are “live houses” where bands come and play. Here, music comes first and alcohol comes second. They would have around three to four bands playing a night, with the entry fee at around 500 yen, and drinks would be an option. So people come really come to listen to the music. I feel like these places provide opportunities to rookies to show what they are made of. They don’t have to be forced
to play commonly known songs like we are in Thailand. Young bands have to wait for special
events such as Cat or Fungjai so they can have a chance to perform live.
What do you think is missing from music festivals in Thailand?
A number of artists. I don’t mean that there are not many artists playing in a festival, but it lacks artists as a whole. We lack variety too. How can we change that? It is a big challenge. Organizers, perhaps, should be very courageous and introduce new bands to play in festivals. Now, you can expect a certain type of band to play at beer parks, and another set of bands to play at indie music festivals. [Our music industry] is not as open as it should be.
Does having a family change your perspective when writing songs?
I think it has less to do with having a family but more to do with age. I am actually a lot older than those who listen to my music [laughs]. Back when I was in my early 20s, those who listened to me were around the same age. We knew, understood and laughed at the same things. Now, I sometimes wonder if they get the joke I’m saying. But with Fongbeer and Dee [songwriters who are older than him], who are still able to communicate with teens, I feel that I can do it, too.
Would you like to be known as a singer or a songwriter?
It depends. Now, I could say that I really enjoy playing on stage. However, if you asked me
the same question five years ago, I would say I prefer spending time in the studio, producing music. Not that I dislike performing on stage but I was not very confident back then. Now, I am no longer shy. I feel like I can do anything, being as crazy as I could. Playing in Japan, for example, allows me to do anything to entertain the audience.
How does it feel playing in front of people who don’t really know you?
In Thailand, people expect me to be funny. In Japan, they don’t have a clue about me so I focus more on performing the best music—playing funny gags to entertain the audience is no longer necessary.
One benefit of being a foreign artist playing in Japan is that the Japanese people can be
very generous to you. They can be like, “Oh, he is a foreigner. Let’s see what’s he’s got,” or “I don’t know how Thais play their music. Let’s go and see.” If I don’t pronounce a Japanese word correctly, they would laugh along with me. But ultimately, I want them to treat me as an artist— not a foreign artist—and truly enjoy my music. I want them to be impressed and become a fan from the first time they hear me playing.
Would you turn your back on producing English songs if the album flops?
I wouldn’t stop completely, but I would probably do something else. As Tum Wisut [Ponnimit] mentioned in his LR exhibition, there will always be another path. I don’t think success is all I care about, but happiness. However, if it is failing and it is no longer fun, I would have to take a step back.
Do you feel anxious seeing that the views on your English songs are less than those of your Thai songs?
Not at all. What I have at the moment is far more than what I expected. I am not worried about how many views I have—a number of [YouTube] views is not a measure of your success. Knowing that many people are aware of your existence [from YouTube views] is wonderful, but that doesn’t actually measure the love they have for you. I cannot tell if they like the songs or if they are just playing them as background tracks. Numbers are just numbers. Some of the artists I love even have fewer views than I do, yet I always attend their gigs.
Have you ever felt that playing music has become boring?
Yes, there was a time when I was playing nonstop. But taking a break turned out to be more tormenting. I think it is also an effect of the repetitive environment surrounded me, singing and playing the same list of songs wherever I was. [It happened after] when I had produced so many over-the-top hit tracks. I think it is a simple loop for musicians. Plus, I worried if I could pull out new hits on the same level as before. Instead of finding joy and composing good songs, I was too focused on finding out what people want to listen to. The competition is high, no doubt, but instead of challenging ourselves, we race with others, making things became less enjoyable.
Taking a break, playing for new crowds and creating this English album have allowed me
to wash away all of my sins. Releasing this new album worry-free, I am really proud of myself. I’m feeling young again.
Speaking of your latest single, “The Devil,” do you have the devil living inside of you?
To me, the devil is, in fact, the desire that puppets us from inside. Everyone has two sides:
the good and the bad, just like those little angels and devils on shoulders in cartoons we watched when we were kids. I believe that human beings are filled with selfishness, jealousy, and hatred. I guess it depends on when you see me. In the limelight, I would definitely not express that I am being jealous or hate someone. But I am like what I appear to be, it’s just in that particular moment if no one is irritating me. And when I am cheerful, I am truly happy.
You’ve spent twelve years producing. Are your dreams becoming bigger?
No. It has become more particular. When I was younger, my dreams would be similar to those of other kids. We would dream what we were told to. Take beauty pageant contestants for instance— when they were younger, they would probably say, “I wish for world peace.” But if you ask them again at 40 years of age, their answers would become more specific, like “I want to end conflict and help child refugees.” It is more particular,
am I right?
When I was a child, I dreamed of becoming a successful musician and have sold-out albums. Now at 35, I just want to be a musician who is able to play whatever I feel like. The magnitude of my dreams no longer matters. Big dreams may not be made for me. So dreaming small and trying to achieve them is probably what suits me best.