Jakarta. Indie duo Banda Neira, whose new album was released last Friday (29/01), has been captivating music lovers with its brand of contemplative pop since its formation in 2012.
Naming their group after a Maluku island where Indonesia's first vice president, Mohammad Hatta, was once exiled by the Dutch colonial government, Rara Sekar and Ananda Badudu first initiated their musical undertaking as a small project after attending the same university in Bandung, West Java.
Banda Neira started gaining attention when its first EP, "Di Paruh Waktu" ("Part Time"), was shared for free on an online music-sharing service four years ago. The record's four tracks are flavored by evocative lyrics sung by both Ananda and Rara over acoustic folksy melodies from their guitar and xylophone. One of their friends dubbed the duo's genre "nelangsa pop," or "melancholy pop" — a label that has somewhat defined their musical style until now.
By making time outside of their day jobs — Ananda is a journalist, while Rara worked as a researcher at the time — they eventually debuted their first album in 2013. "Berjalan Lebih Jauh" ("Walking Further"), released by Sorge Records, consists of 10 serene tracks they recorded over two days.
Fresh from the release of their second album, "Yang Patah Tumbuh, Yang Hilang Berganti" ("What's Broken Will Grow, What's Lost Will be Replaced"), Banda Neira will now face an indeterminate hiatus, as Rara is preparing to go to New Zealand for her master's degree.
She recently spoke with the Jakarta Globe about Banda Neira's new songs, the musicians they collaborated with on the album as well as their imminent time off.
Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Jakarta Globe: How would you compare the new album to your first?
Rara Sekar: We worked on our first album in only six months and we recorded the whole 10 songs in two days. Clearly, we didn't have a lot of preparation. At the time, we made that album for our personal pleasure. We didn't think about producing many copies.
Meanwhile, we had around three years to make the new album. Back in 2013, we already had some songs finalized. Because of this long period, the themes and nuances of the songs are more diverse now. I think the second album is more contemplative because each of us went through our quarter-life crisis period and the various problem it posed [laughs].
We also involved our musician friends from Bali and Yogyakarta, the two cities where we recorded the album. So every aspect was more thought through and conceptualized. This album does not have a particular message, but we hope that our new songs — with their varying themes — will resonate with our listeners.
What was the songwriting process like for the album?
Most of the melodies came from Nanda [Ananda's nickname] because he is the one who plays the instrument — the guitar. Sometimes he also wrote the lyrics, sometimes we wrote it together. There are also some songs that I wrote entirely myself, like "Re: Langit dan Laut" ("Re: Sky and Sea"), which is some sort of a response to his "Langit dan Laut" ("Sky and Sea").
When it comes to our musical arrangement, Nanda created the guitar arrangement, while I mainly did the vocal arrangement. It's a more collaborative effort between both of us this time.
Banda Neira features a number of guest musicians on the album, such as cellist Jeremia Kimosabe, instrumentalist Layur and pianist Gigih Hardika. How did these collaborations come about?
We all first worked together in a collaborative concert called "Kita Sama-Sama Suka Hujan" ("We All Love Rain"). After we played the gig together, we felt a chemistry with these musicians. And our experience together at the time, I think, has shaped the color of Banda Neira for this second album — there are string elements, there is some astral instrumental aspect. For instance, Jeremia played with his string trio for several songs that were arranged by Gigih on the album, like "Pangeran Kecil" ("Little Prince").
Why did you choose "Matahari Pagi" ("Morning Sun") as your lead single?
Because we already have the video clip! We actually didn't release it as a single only, but directly released the video. This song was made way back in 2013 when we hiked Mount Papandayan in Garut, West Java, and at the time, our friends recorded our journey. They created the video as a gift for Banda Neira.
Besides, we think that the color of this song is still similar to the sound of our first album. But there are also some new things on the track — for instance, I played piano instead of glockenspiel — so it's a nice introduction.
What would you say was the most challenging song to create?
There are some. Most of the songs on this album, like "Yang Patah Tumbuh" and "Derai-Derai Cemara" ("Pine's Drops") were recorded live in one take. It was challenging, because everything — vocal, guitar, string, piano — must be in sync. If one of us made a mistake, we had to re-do it from the beginning.
But Banda Neira always prioritizes emotions and senses rather than perfection, so we have to wait until everyone can achieve the same level of energy. For instance, when we were recording "Yang Patah Tumbuh," I felt very sad and cried — that's why you can listen how my voice became unstable in a section of the track. After we recorded that song, other people in the studio told me that apparently they also felt the same air of melancholy. To get to that point — where everyone could feel the same energy — was tiring, but it was ultimately satisfying for all of us.
One of your new tracks was based on the lyrics written by a former 1965 political prisoner during his time in prison. Could you tell us the story behind the song?
We found out about it when our friends in Bali — indie musicians and the Taman 65 community — initiated a project called "Prison Songs" to record the songs written by political prisoners in 1965 from inside their prison cells. They conducted an extensive research about these songs, met the surviving prisoners and traced them all back. Then they created the demo records and offered a song called "Tini dan Yanti" ("Tini and Yanti) to us.
The lyrics were originally written by Ida Bagus Santosa and found on the wall of a prison cell at Pekambingan Prison in Denpasar, Bali. Apparently, he dedicated the song to his wife and unborn child at the time. He actually didn't know what their daughter would be called, but he imagined that she would be named Yanti. It was an ode of longing as he was separated from his family.
At the time, there were many victims of political intrigue — alleged communists or communist-sympathizers — who were convicted without trial. The saddest part of the song was when he wrote "La historia me absolvera," a quote from Fidel Castro's speech meaning "History will absolve me." Although he was on the lowest point of his life, he still thought about how his nation would eventually come to learn from his experience. That was such a strong narrative for us.
We then re-arranged the song from its original blues style with melodies that fit Banda Neira better.
Do you have any upcoming gigs planned to promote the album?
We did a small release party last weekend, but that would be Banda Neira's last gig for now. I'm about to go to New Zealand for my master's degree in cultural anthropology for two years, so we will go into a hiatus. I don't know for how long and I also don't know whether I will continue to play music again after my studies.
That's why we decided to feature more tracks in the album, because we intended to make it as some sort of a farewell gift for our listeners.
Banda Neira's "Yang Patah Tumbuh, Yang Hilang Berganti" is available on iTunes Indonesia.