THE booming voice of Dean Jackson, host of BBC Radio’s Introducing, bounced off the walls in my room. “You just heard Can’t Be Cool, the latest track off Louise Steel’s latest album, Heartstorm.”
Jackson went on to rattle at length about the girl from Leicester who had produced an album in what appeared to be a most unconventional manner. “It’s interesting because it’s an international collaboration featuring not only Louise from Leicester, but also musicians brought together by the power of Internet. from Malaysia, the USA and Japan,” continued Jackson.
That was about a month ago and, yes, the moment I heard him utter “... musicians from Malaysia”, I sat up with a start.
What Jackson failed to add is the fact that the album is the brainchild of a Malaysian, one Mohd Fadzil Abdullah, the executive project manager for Heartstorm, someone I find myself sitting across from this windy Friday evening.
The album was predominantly and professionally produced, mixed and mastered in Malaysia under the roof of Big A Productions studio in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. After over a year and a half, Heartstorm was finally released digitally on Sept 16 and is available on iTunes, Spotify and CD Baby.
POWER OF THE INTERNET
“Yes, we released it on Malaysia Day. Rather good timing, don’t you think?” begins Fadzil, a big grin on his face.
Clad in a leather jacket, his hair slicked sideways, there’s something rock n’ roll about the man sitting in front of me. At first glance, he looks like someone who’s in the music business; a member of a rock band even. But he’s neither. This affable Penangite is actually an engineer with an oil and gas company in Port Klang. He’s currently residing in Shah Alam, together with his wife and three children.
Sheepishly, he confides that he has an absolutely zero background in entertainment but is swift to add that he loves music. “I don’t have a specific genre that I like. If I listen to a song and it has great lyrics, I’ll be into it.”
Such is his passion for music that one day Fadzil decided that he’d learn how to play the drums. His teacher was Mohd Noor Abdul Kadir, fondly known as Matt Data (from the 1990s rock band Data) who has been drumming for 25 years.
“Matt is amazing. I thought that it was such a shame that his talent was just buried like that. Then a plan hit me, to do something which would involve him,” recounts Fadzil.
After much discussion — and persuasion — Matt agreed to Fadzil’s plans to produce music together to raise the former’s profile once again. But it didn’t just stop there. Wanting to venture out of his comfort zone, Fadzil came up with the idea of producing an album for an unsigned artiste, or more specifically, an unsigned international artiste.
“I asked myself, why not? I just wanted to do something different. I had friends who thought it was a crazy idea but the more people told me I couldn’t do it, the more motivated I became.”
Thanks to YouTube, Fadzil found Steel, whose voice, lyrics and melody captivated him. “Her music was pleasing to my ears and she sounded fresh, nothing like I’d heard before, so I wanted to explore how we could work together. I explained to her what I wanted to do and, eventually, she agreed,” recalls Fadzil, before adding that he also gave Steel the freedom to choose the songs from her repertoire to put into the album.
It wasn’t an easy journey, admits Fadzil. To begin with, he didn’t know which studio to go to and the fact that he and the other musicians all held full time jobs meant that there’d inevitably be commitment issues. But Fadzil was determined to make it work and eventually managed to get the studio, assemble a group of talented musicians, mostly from Matt’s network, and work out a schedule that was conducive to everyone.
The musicians hailing from Malaysia comprised Matt (drums), Khairul Anuar (bass and guitar), Omma Akira (guitar), Shahril Che’en (bass), Jolynn Lee (piano and keyboard), and Lan Alias (guitar). Hiroyuki Kinoshita, who hails from Japan, lent his talent for a single song.
“Louise recorded her songs in her home studio with her musician, which included her partner Andrew Dunmore and two musicians from the US. Then they sent the material to me. I discussed the arrangement with the musicians here and we remastered the songs before sending them back to Louise for approval,” explains Fadzil, elaborating on the process, before adding that he communicated regularly with Steel via Facebook Messenger.
Everyone was on board with Fadzil’s direction and he ensured that everyone kept to the schedule. But Fadzil confesses that there were times when things got tough. “At one point some of the musicians lost interest halfway through the project and I needed to find replacements, which in turn affected the studio booking schedule,” he recalls.
“Renting a studio isn’t cheap. But Louise had put her trust in me and invested a lot of money for the project so it was important that we overcame the challenges,” confides Fadzil, who credits Steel, Dunmore, Matt, Lee, and the production house’s chief sound engineer Anthony Noel Yap as the album’s real backbone.
Whipping his phone out from his jacket pocket, Fadzil opens a music app and presses the “play” icon. “This is her song called Queen of Daggers,” he says, extending the phone to my left ear so I could have a listen. Squeezing my eyes shut, I listen intently — there’s definitely a hard rock vibe to it.
There’s no denying the talent that’s emanating from the phone. Steel’s vocals are clear and the high notes she hits can definitely bring the house down. She reminds me a lot of Amy Lee of Evanescence on this particular song, as she effortlessly transitions from one dynamic tone to another, subtle at times for effect and all rough growling when the lyrics call for it.
This is cool, I muse aloud. Fadzil beams before asking me out of the blue: “Would you like to have a video call with Louise?” Of course, I nod enthusiastically.
HELLO FROM LEICESTER
My heart beats faster at the thought that I’m about to be face to face with, possibly, a future superstar. After a few rings, the call is answered and I’m greeted by a lovely couple sitting in their living room in the UK. Steel’s wavy blonde hair looks as bright as the weather there this day, while her partner, Dunmore, projects a classic folksy vibe with his scruffy but handsome appearance.
“This album is incredibly important to me,” Steel says, at the start of our video call. “Heartstorm is the core of who I am as an artiste and person. It reflects my personality in many ways and I’m really proud to put it out there. There’s a lot of heart in me, a lot of ideas and feelings but also, a lot of turbulence as well. When you get heart and turbulence, you get a heartstorm. And that’s what the album is about. The title seemed perfect for that reason.”
Smiling, Steel confides that she was confident of the project as she recognised the breadth of talent possessed by the musicians and furthermore, they seemed to be on the same wavelength too, musically.
“Andrew and I had always dreamt of having talented, dedicated musicians helping us to bring our songs to life. And that dream has finally come true. We just never imagined that they’d be all the way over in Malaysia!” exclaims Steel in delight. “Although we’re thousands of kilometres away, we actually feel close to them. It’s clear that we have a lot in common and are on the same page. We’re so grateful for the opportunity!”
Unfortunately, it’s not long before the video call has to be stopped; the noise in the cafe has grown louder. Noting my look of disappointment, Steel agrees to share more through Messenger at a later time.
Putting his phone down slowly, Fadzil takes a deep breath before turning to me and saying, “I’m grateful as well. I’m so touched by everyone’s involvement. When everything was completed, I felt like crying.”
This experience has certainly taught him a lot, not only about music but also the nitty gritty of management and marketing. And the fact that distance doesn’t matter. The world has indeed become a small place thanks to technology. “There’s always a way to connect with each other!”
So, what’s next, I couldn’t resist asking. He smiles before replying: “Maybe I’ll do it again soon. I have this Bulgarian artiste in mind that I saw on YouTube. Let’s see how that goes.”
Let’s hope this album can propel Steel further in her music career and at the same time, give our talented musicians the recognition they deserve.
Just like Steel’s lyrics from the song Pedestal...
“Watch me rise to where you are,
amid the fury and the flames.”
It started when I was 19. I heard a song on the radio called What You’re Made Of by a UK artist called Lucie Silvas. It was a really passionate piano-based song. I remember when it finished I thought that’s what I want to do. I’ve been writing songs ever since.
My main influence is the American songwriter Jim Steinman who wrote songs for Meat Loaf and Bonnie Tyler. One of his famous quotes was ‘If you don’t go over the top, you can’t see what’s on the other side’ and I really believe in that! Contemporary female artists like Taylor Swift are also an influence (maybe subconsciously) but I don’t set out to try and sound and write like anyone else. I admire songwriters who write deep, meaningful lyrics.
Describe your music:
Intense, emotional and passionate. If I had to pin it down to a specific genre it would probably be pop/rock. I like my music to hit the listener in the face!
Other passions: I enjoy writing poetry and am keen on any kind of creative expression including drawing and painting. I love photography too ... capturing moments and pinning them down. I also like walking in nature and love animals.
Louise Steel Music