Sound Check, vol. 1 with Sal Priadi

By: Patricia Kusumaningtyas |

There’s nobody quite like Sal Priadi in the Indonesian music industry. The singer/songwriter who hails from Malang, East Java, first came into my radar through his visuals for his single with Nadin Amizah, “Amin Paling Serius.” In a string of videos, we see Sal and Nadin dancing eerily through abandoned hallways with a voiceover of themselves reciting lines of poetry. And when I listened to the single, I realized that I’ve been missing out, all this time.

Sal Priadi composes music with such tenderness and sincerity, but at the same time, also exhibiting grandeur and flair. Singles like “Ikat Aku di Tulang Belikatmu” shows Sal’s fondness towards grand compositions and lyrics (Sal once remarked in a live performance that “ikat aku di tulang belikatmu,” which translates to “tie me to your shoulder blade,” represents two people who can be close to each other yet can never truly connect). He has also played with diverse genres in his music: “Jangan Bertengkar Lagi Ya? OK? OK!” takes on a more downtempo approach, corresponding to the song’s message of reconciliation. No matter what genre he’s taking on, there’s a focus on sincerity and honesty in his craft: from his soul-baring lyrics, his stage persona, to his engagement towards other forms of art, such as poetry and performance art. We can see his overall aesthetic together with the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Andrew Wyeth—his music is magic realism.

And now, securing a set on We The Fest—possibly Indonesia’s biggest music festival—while working on some new music, juggling through collaborations with other musicians, and gathering a fan following to boot, Sal Priadi is on his way to great things. I interviewed Sal about his creative processes, possession, perceptiveness, collaboration, and some quick maths.

Hello, Sal! What are the songs you’re currently playing on repeat?

Daniel Caesar’s new album and also Siti Nurhaliza’s “Sanggar Mustika” album.

There’s a picture of Jakob Soemardjo’s poem, “Doa,” posted on your Instagram account. Are there any other poems/works of literature currently on your reading list?

I’m currently reading Sapardi Djoko Damono’s Ayat-ayat Api. I bought an Avianti Armand book yesterday, and I’m still finishing up a novel—The Goldfinch.

Speaking of the word “amin”—the most noticeable thing about your newest single, “Amin Paling Serius,” is the visual identity of its promotional material, from choreography, costumes, until its background of an aging building. How important do you think is the visual identity of a musician towards their work? How did you choose the fitting visual content/metaphors for your songs?

I think it’s really important, because in an era where it’s easy and fast for everyone to create and upload their songs, there are a lot of factors you need to think about besides the music. Of course, the music itself needs to be great; before you release something, you have to make sure that it’s good. However, there’s another battle to be won, which is the visual battle. Great visuals are relative, but something that stands out, something that raises questions, curiosity about what the music will be like—that’s a plus. I think it’s very important for this era.

Every time I make a song, I do not merely create the music itself; I also imagine what kinds of visuals will accompany the song—what kinds of images will appear, what kinds of colors will appear—I also think of that while I write music. So, every time I compose, the ideas for my music videos and artworks is also composed at the same time.

This question is about your experience in composing: You’ve played with a lot of genres, from creating a relaxing atmosphere in “Jangan Bertengkar Lagi Ya? OK? OK!” to songs like “Kultusan” and “Ikat Aku di Tulang Belikatmu”—my friend would describe these songs as orchestral folk pop. Is there a transition/a significant difference from your process when you switch between genres? And what genre would you like to explore next?

I never limit myself based on genre because I listen to quite a wide range of music. With the emergence of different features in streaming services such as “Similar artists” or “Song station,” we can now discover different kinds of music, and I don’t limit myself in that. However, if I ever find myself making a song where the genre gets kind of offbeat, or if I find myself putting in some zany elements, I always ask myself, does this correspond to the DNA that Sal Priadi is trying to offer? Is this still in my zone? But from what I’ve written, I’ve been working pretty freely.

For the genres I’d like to explore next… Hmm… We’ll see. But I won’t shy away from the possibility of trying on a new sound.

Lyrically, a lot of your songs play around with contrasts—like the contrast between chaos and beauty in “Amin Paling Serius” and the contrast between beauty and vulgarity in “Melebur Semesta”—now, how do you think can we find unity in the multitude of contrasts in the world, in general?

Finding unity between all the contrasts in the world, in general, I think this is all about perceptiveness—perceptiveness towards harmony, I believe. Yes, I incorporate a lot of contrast in my music, like chaos and beauty in “Amin,” and also some contrast in “Kultusan.” What I’m trying to say from all of that is harmony—when there’s beauty, there’s going to be misery. The way to achieve that is to practice it—practice that perceptiveness. To practice it, we can learn to be calmer towards everything: Not just on the outside, but also making an effort to understand everything deeper than just surface level.

In “Kultusan,” you sing about a deep devotion towards a significant other—even to the point where one starts to dismiss the significant other’s misconduct. Why do you think we, as humans, are capable of something that intense? Is the compromise between ownership and freedom something that can be controlled by mere humans?

The way I imagine it, we’re giving ourselves food for our souls every day. In a relationship, whatever activity we do with our partner gives us that food. Hugs, kisses—they all relieve our souls’ hunger. These things makes us feel more intensely and in a more complicated way. Actually, we can control it all. Controlling what kinds of food should we give to our souls, controlling what kinds of feelings we want to get involved in. What’s dangerous is when you can’t limit that, so you feel everything, you let everything in towards yourself, and then one day, you’re hit with something inevitable, and you alienate yourself. I believe it’s important to limit yourself regarding these feelings—if you feel that it’s important, you can consume it, but if it’s not, you should throw that far away from you.

On stage, there are moments where you tell your audience stories behind your songs. How important do you think is storytelling towards an artist’s musicality?

Of course, lyrics have to tell a story. There should be a message told by the lyrics, but storytelling does not have to be a prerequisite for live performances. There are musicians out there who are skilled in what they do technically—maybe they’re incorporating modular composition, maybe they’re using complex chords. But everything, even those technical skills, tells a story, delivers a message. It all depends on the music and the method of delivery.

You have a lot in store; the most recent announcement involving your work is your collaboration with Baskara Putra (Hindia) in “Belum Tidur” [unreleased by the time of this interview]. How did this collaboration happen? And what can we expect in this song?

I can’t tell you much since this single is unreleased; just sit tight. I’ve had goosebumps listening to it. For sure, this single will be different; I can assure you that because Baskara, myself, and Petra as a producer, we’ve had intense discussions about what we want to communicate. So, sit tight, wait for a while, and I hope you’ll enjoy the end result.

Besides Baskara, you’ve collaborated with other musicians such as Danilla, Kunto Aji, and of course Nadin Amizah. What’s the difference in your songwriting/stage performing processes when you collaborate, compared to when you’re doing it solo?

Nadin is the only person I’ve collaborated in songwriting, and for Kunto and Danilla, we were merely performing together on stage. With Nadin, I was always open in the creative process when we collaborated. I’m always open whatever the possibilities, because I believe that the soul of the collaborator is very important and there’s a lot of finding tolerance and lowering of egos to make sure that the material can unite, that both of us can unite and compose music. And then we just… fuse. That’s the difference compared to working solo. Collaboration is really enjoyable for me.

There are lots of new musicians and new independent labels emerging right now in Indonesia, and Indonesia’s music industry is getting more diverse, whether we’re talking about genre or production. How do you think the Indonesian music scene will develop in the future? And as listeners, what can we expect from Indonesian music in the future?

It’s a great time for Indonesian music right now; like what I said, people out there can easily create and distribute their own music. And I think this is healthy for our music industry. And in the future, I can see a lot of progress and new sounds; there’s going to be more experimental stuff, not only musically but also visually, et cetera, and this will affect performance art as well. We’ll see performances in different formats, and I can’t wait for these.

There’s going to be a lot of stuff where you’ll be like, “Wow, this is insane!” and you can accomplish that in reality. Conveying music is probably the only defining aspect in performance now, but artists will probably utilize technology, such as incorporating holograms, in future performances. That’s what I’m waiting for as a music consumer.

Last question, based on your request on Twitter: what is tan(π/2)? And what’s the result if you add it with sin(π/4)?

Wow, this is sin/cos/tan… [laughs] When I was in school, in math class, I always take toilet breaks or pretend to be sick and run to the student health center. So, these kinds of questions… I think you’ll have better answers for these.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity and translated from Indonesian. Editor Claudia Siregar contributed to some of the questions.

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