‘Too hardcore for indie kids, too indie for hardcore kids!’ exclaims Smek on the band’s crossover appeal. Unlike other punk bands in the city, Killeur Calculateur have carved out an audience many bands can only dream of, with just enough street cred to be taking the stage at Rumah Api one night, and hip enough to be playing at Good Vibes Festival on another.
Formed in 2006, Killeur Calculateur consist of Smek and Rafique on guitars, Zamir playing the bass and Ali Johan (better known as Alijo) on drums. They’re known for their unique sound, a smorgasbord of influences from post-punk, emo and post-hardcore. We spoke to the band about their songwriting process, changes in the scene and more.
How did you guys start?
Smek: Back then we were just hanging out in Asia Café Subang and thought, ‘Hey, let’s form a band’. At the time, Alijo wasn’t in the band yet. We had different band member, Rafique was on drums and Zamir was playing the bass. And later after we released our demo we played a few shows, then the other guy who played guitar left. So Alijo came in to play the drums and Rafique moved to guitar.
There was a gap between your last album, ‘Book of Flags’ and your debut EP, ‘Valley of the Dead’. Why was that?
S: We wanted to make a full-length album, and albums take a long time to make. We also like to take a lot of time to work on the songs. Besides, when we presented them to our producer Ham Abdullah from Seven Collar T-Shirt he reworked them again. So yes, the recording process took a long fucking time. It’s also because Rafique was in Australia for two years, so he had to come back to play the guitars, go back to Australia, and then come back here again to put in the vocals.
Alijo: Basically after the EP, we took our time to write songs. But I think it’s normal for bands in Malaysia that’s doing it part-time. It was our first time recording an album and like Smek said the producer had his own input, so he had to rework some parts. And it was also our first time working with a producer and a recording engineer. It was a slow process, but it was very enriching lah because we didn’t know what to expect.
Who takes the songwriting duties in the band?
S: For us it takes longer than other bands because other bands usually have a main songwriter. We’re a bit more communal when it comes to the band.
Zamir: We have four primary songwriters, so makan masa sikit when we’re writing. That’s because everyone has to be okay with each part. It gets very time consuming.
A lot of punk bands tend to have a revolving door of members and constant line-up changes. You guys have been together for the past ten years or so. What’s the secret?
Z: It’s because we’re best friends first. It’s as easy as that.
A: I know it’s easy to fight in a band. Because musical expression for many people is a personal thing, so there’s ego involved. But we also realised enough that we cannot live without each other [laughs].
How would you describe the music that you play?
S: I don’t know man, just fuckin’ punk music.
A: We all have punk ideals, but we don’t have a typical punk sound. But we do tick all the boxes from skramz to post-hardcore whatever.
Z: We like the term ‘art punk’. We coined that I think.
A: Yeah, the basis of making punk music is to not be confined by anything. They say the cliché for punk is three chords, but people don’t realise three chords is also pop and keronchong. So, whatever we make is whatever we feel like, based on our experiences, our influences and what we feel is challenging to us as musicians.
What do you think is different in the music scene since you guys first started out and now?
S: There’s a big difference – there used to be more shitty venues. We used to play in shitty venues and now we’re playing with fucking Phoenix! Even Rumah Api now is a proper punk place compared to any other place we had back then. I think people are under-appreciating the fact that Rumah Api exists.
A: Bands at the time were more cliquish. There were always little scenes of straight edge bands, tech grind bands and stuff. But now everyone’s mingling with each other. So boundaries are more blurred. Also, people back then used to be more conscious about ethics.
S: Yes the scene sense was very high, so a lot of people couldn’t have fun.
A: There was a lot of scene policing and stuff. As far as what we’re concerned and what we were involved with back then. Nowadays, people are more accepting. Yang tua dah grown up and the young ones take on this very wholesome approach when listening to music. Now, you could be into Frank Ocean and also into Arctic Monkeys . But I maintain that since 2008, Malaysia has had a very good mix of different sounds, we’ve never been in a scene or a circle with just one sound at a time. We had that in the late ’90s when every band wanted to sound like OAG or Butterfingers. But because of the internet now, everyone can pick their own niche sound.
Z: And bands now are way more sound conscious, bands sound so much better these days.
You mention that the ethics in the scene have kind of eroded. Is that good or bad?
S: I think now it’s more personal rather than preachy. Back then you had to make a statement or be vocal about things to claim yourself in the scene. Kids these days are so much cooler – especially punk hardcore kids. These days, I can catch a kid at a punk show and then later I see him at a bar with Alijo spinning reggae. Eight or ten years ago people would question if you were listening to something outside the scene.
Your part in the split EP with Indonesian band Vague was sung in Malay. How did that come about?
S: Actually we pushed the EP to be sung in our mother tongues. Unfortunately Vague only sang one song in their native tongue. I think it was just us trying something new. It’s about time maybe.
A: A lot of punk bands that we like sing in Malay like Carburetor Dung and Daighila. Also, when we listen to Swedish bands, they sing in Swedish. So I think for punk ideals to reach people, I think it’s easier for people to take if it’s in their mother tongue
Z: Rafique has actually been pushing us since way back then. But we were very reluctant about it at first.
A: In the spirit of moving out our comfort zones. We tried it lah.
Your day job obviously gives you the privilege of being as experimental as you want and not playing to the market since your livelihood doesn’t depend on it. What do you think of that? Would you rather be playing music full-time?
S: The fact that we’re doing day jobs, the fact that we’re all like fucking Batman is why were making this kind of music. If the struggle wasn’t in our daily lives, the music isn’t going to be as real.
Rafique: Maybe we’ll end up like Coldplay [laughs]
A: I like the idea of being in a band and without going into an office. But actually when it all boils down to it, it’s the struggles that we face and the bullshit we go through as staff and workers that fuels our music.
Do you think people tend to focus too much on KL bands?
R: Yes it’s a disease. Go out man. Ipoh, Kota Kinabalu, Melaka, Alor Setar, Sungai Petani are fertile grounds and there’s a ton of good bands. KL-ites, don’t be snobs!
What are your future plans?
R: For me personally, I can only imagine touring more. Especially places that I haven’t been before. Mongolia pun kalau boleh aku nak pergi.
Watch their latest music video 'Tayang Sulit'