By: Patricia Kusumaningtyas |
2019 has been a big year for Baskara Putra. After years of getting his hands dirty in rock music as the main vocalist for .Feast, he kickstarted his solo project with the moniker Hindia. After releasing a string of singles, Baskara released his first album under Hindia, Menari Dengan Bayangan, last November, and since then it rose to numerous critical acclaim, charting at numerous year-end lists by multiple sources. Menari Dengan Bayangan is indeed a popular album, but if we look closer into it, the album itself features a deep dive inside of Baskara’s mind.
Menari Dengan Bayangan is Baskara’s soliloquy, telling his listeners a story of his life, while at the same time also engaging his listeners in a 55-minute conversation on the experiences we share as human beings. The album is made in a chiastic structure both thematically and linguistically—it starts with “Evakuasi” and “Wejangan Mama” and ends with “Wejangan Caca” and “Evaluasi.” Through its themes, Baskara encourages us to look into our own lives with a critical eye, starting the album by asking us to reflect on our insecurities, zoom into times where we question our principles, and ending with a reassurance that everything is going to be okay. Baskara’s celebration of life unites us all, and we might relate to a thing or two throughout his journey in Menari Dengan Bayangan.
And now with a full album, an independent record label, and a fan following to boot, Baskara Putra has a big 2020 ahead of him. After a feature of one of his singles, “Secukupnya,” in the most-watched Indonesian film of 2020 so far, he is off to embark on a sold-out Java tour with his backing band, Lomba Sihir, supporting his album release. I talked to Baskara about fame, community, technology, and the role of music as evangelism.
Hello from Speed of Sound! What are some songs stuck in your head right now?
Hello! Right now I’m listening to a lot of official film soundtracks/scores, since I prefer not to listen to references in the form of conventional songs (I’m afraid it would disrupt the songwriting process for .Feast’s new album, with its production currently underway); I want to listen to more references in other forms. It’s amazing how these tracks can orchestrate the mood of a certain scene.
Last year, you performed your Perayaan Bayangan showcase at Kemang’s Studio Palem. How did you feel after delivering your vision in Perayaan Bayangan, especially after hearing from your audience?
Relief, obviously. I’ve thought about the concert’s concept even months before the finishing of the album, and to see these ideas realize itself in real life is very exciting, moreso, seeing these ideas happen without any substantial technical difficulties. Seeing all the responses from my audience makes my heart full; I realized that there’s a lot of benefits coming out of my work. It was a really memorable night for me and my team; knowing that Perayaan Bayangan has become such a special thing for a significant amount of people pays the debt of hard work and exhaustion more than any amount of profit I might’ve gained.
You have two wildly different personas in .Feast and Hindia—starting from your songs’ themes to your stage persona. How hard is the transition between your personas in .Feast and Hindia? How do you find balance between these two personas?
Sometimes I find myself mumbling to myself with different kinds of delivery and style—much like playing roles. This activity made me able to respond to different things I see/touch/hear in different ways. Originally, this habit arises from my affinity in reading fiction novels since I was very young—I like to imagine myself in scenarios like “imagine I’m A (a main character in one of my novels); what would I do if I were faced with A’s circumstances?” I brought this on to my adulthood, and for me, facing the gear shift to be the Baskara in .Feast or the Baskara in Hindia is an easy task. It becomes easier since there’s no form of imitation in becoming these two personas; these personas are fragments of a large spectrum of who I am. The only difference is that I used to do this in private; now I’m doing this in front of the public.
There’s a lot of songs in Menari Dengan Bayangan that tells about your struggle with fame, especially in “Evakuasi” and “Dehidrasi.” How did fame change you? Are there principles in your life that you have to change, or explore deeper, with your rising fame as a musician?
The most prominent thing that’s changing is that I stopped going to very public/open places in the middle of the day alone. Sometimes I would go, here and there, and I wouldn’t find people asking to take pictures all the time, but I still feel uncomfortable about it. People would ask to take pictures of me once a day at a minimum, and for the record, I’ll gladly accept these offers even though I still feel anxious and insecure about it; I’m just not used to being photographed by a lens that’s not mine or a loved one’s. It’s pretty sad since I enjoy doing a lot of things on my own, and now it doesn’t feel as comfortable or as safe as it was. Sometimes people would ask for a picture with me in a fast food restaurant’s drive through window.
I also became more aware of my own actions, both in a good and bad way. Since I started receiving regards from my listeners’ parents and being appreciated directly/greeted directly/getting letters from them, I started to think: am I an appropriate figure for other people’s children to follow? There are lots of changes like this, and to be honest, whenever I find myself in places where it’s hard for me to be grateful for what I have, there’s more discomfort than comfort. If I were to create as much as I do today without the fame and glory, I would honestly prefer to do that.
There are some songs in your album inspired by gospel/Christian music, such as “Mata Air” and “Evaluasi.” How did religion affect your views on popular music, and how did it affect your craft?
I grew up in a Catholic family, even though I don’t really feel like I’m faithful/religious/whatever enough in a Christian perspective, since I still have a lot of faults. A life in this community definitely shaped the way I view music. I would agree that my first exposure to music is through Sunday mass; I learned about music in church. I was brought to church every Sunday since I was a little kid who couldn’t stand or talk properly. One thing that I love from the community of the Church (with the big ‘C’) is its collective spirit. Maybe since we’re minorities in Indonesia, there’s a need to protect each other; there’s a feeling of solidarity I find that I can never explain properly, and this solidarity is emphasized whenever we gather and sing together. I want to bring this feeling to Hindia and Lomba Sihir. Additionally, the word “gospel” is equivalent in meaning to “good news,” and my aim in moving from stage to stage with Lomba Sihir is to spread the good news.
In Menari Dengan Bayangan, there are some songs that are more specific to your life (like “Besok Mungkin Kita Sampai” and “Rumah ke Rumah”) and songs that are more abstract (like “Membasuh” and “Secukupnya”). How did you curate the composition of songs in your album, especially in the context of abstract/specific songs? Are there any significant differences in your songwriting process in between these two kinds of songs?
Every song in Menari Dengan Bayangan, even those that seem abstract lyrically, has a personal story that I carry during its creation. There are numerous specific memories I built—block by block, like legos—to represent a song’s abstraction. The order of songs in Menari Dengan Bayangan truly represents the order of which I experience these memories in my life—from my difficulty in sleeping to flashbacks, heartbreaks, and gratitude. I find different yet equal difficulties in writing specific and abstract songs: creating abstraction out of deeply specific stories in abstract songs, and baring your whole soul in specific songs—like being naked in public.
You brought the topic of technology in songs like “Dehidrasi” and, in a more meta way, “Voice Note Anggra.” Technology can be a double-edged sword in the life of a musician; it can be a medium in which a musician can promote their work and a channel for hate speech at the same time. How do you face the paradox of this double-edged sword?
I agree with Aji’s (Kunto Aji’s) point he posted sometime ago on the internet, that not everybody needs a “digital detox” or whatever they call it. It doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, but I believe that gadgets/devices in any form has become an additional organ/sense in one’s life. Gadgets and devices will definitely help someone’s life tremendously, as long as it’s maintained properly by its user and the people they interact with. I always have this personal allegory on how social media is like a snack: it can make you full, but you don’t feel full full, and your body doesn’t really respond well if you eat too much of it. The key is to not consume it too much, while also remembering to drink water and eat a full, real meal.
Did you use any strategy in riding this wave during the promotional stage of Menari Dengan Bayangan?
The strategy is that there is no strategy. Maybe it’s hard for me to explain, but more or less: if we zoom in to marketing strategies, as an ex-advertising person, I never saw a brand that can have a sustainable, two-way conversation with its audience through a content plan or a long-term strategy. Those can help, but its results are shown not too far down the line. The rest of it is built through organic interaction, where both parties have mutual interests toward each other. That’s what I did with Menari Dengan Bayangan. In Hindia and Lomba Sihir’s team, we believe that the highest form of art is the art of unthinking. Just let everything flow—much like our principle in production and performance. Don’t think too much about the guitar sounds in “Evakuasi,” don’t think too much about whether or not the lyrics and diction are varied enough, don’t prohibit Tristan (Juliano) if he wants to throw snacks onstage. If everything is calculated and thought about, sincerity will fade.
You collaborated with a wide range of musicians from different genres in Menari Dengan Bayangan, however, you are familiar with this process; you found a lot of collaborators as well in .Feast’s first album, MULTIVERSES. What’s the thing that keeps you going back to collaboration, and what’s your favorite part of this process?
I can never guess how my song’s file would sound like whenever I get them back from my collaborators. It’s like playing gashapon. Talking about .Feast as a band, MULTIVERSES is technically a producer album—with the five of us acting as producers/co-producers and our guest musicians handling the concept for each song—that’s why we incorporated a lot of collaborators there. Besides that, I usually invite collaborators to my songs if I feel like a certain song needs a special touch from specific people for it to be complete. Petra (Sihombing) and Udu (Natasha) are part of the album’s production team and also part of Lomba Sihir; their ownership in “Dehidrasi” and “Mata Air” is natural. Sal (Priadi)’s involvement in “Belum Tidur” is an impulsive decision; we think of every step in the song on the way to the studio, even until the song’s creative execution. Same goes with Fadhil (Matter Mos) in “Jam Makan Siang.” While Udu and I were looking for a vocal coach to study singing back to basics, Kamga came up in our conversation, which led to his involvement in “Mata Air.” Maybe the collaborator I thought of with a specific need in mind is Rara (Sekar). In Menari dengan Bayangan, the collaborations I planned days ahead and prepared completely are mostly on the producer level—people like Ibnu Dian in “Membasuh,” Adhe Arrio in “Secukupnya,” and Kareem Soenharjo/BAP./Yosugi in “Evakuasi.”
Do you consider Menari Dengan Bayangan as a concept album?
Personally, I believe that a good album is a concept album, at least to some extent. However, there’s a different understanding among different listeners when we try to define what is a concept album—and even these definitions would get vague. Some people would say that a simple common thread in the form of a theme/topic would be enough to crown an album as a concept album. In defining whether Menari Dengan Bayangan is a concept album or not… I’ll leave that to the listeners. If you were to compare the album with most Indonesian albums that are simply just collections of songs curated later in the production stages (doesn’t mean that it’s less worthy), Menari Dengan Bayangan might be a concept album. I personally prefer to see Menari Dengan Bayangan as a sincere autobiography, like a book of life written by a father to his children for when they grow up. Putting private consumption in mind, it’s flaws are no longer a problem.
You brought themes of mental health in Menari Dengan Bayangan, and of course you believe that music saves lives. Do you see Menari Dengan Bayangan as self-expression, or do you view it as a form of evangelism for listeners who have similar experiences as yours? How important is music’s function of evangelism to musicians in crafting their art?
I was saved by Aji’s Mantra Mantra, and Menari Dengan Bayangan is just a small thing I can do to pay it forward. These songs are messages I’d say to myself in an effort to stabilize my conscience, with hopes that it can help other people as well. I believe that a work’s interpretation will be left to its audience once it enters the public space. I felt grateful that Menari Dengan Bayangan is often regarded as preaching good and useful things to many people, even though in form it’s obviously personal expression—except if your siblings are named Stella and Adrian and your best friend is Caca.
Finally, a light question as a closer: From the video for “Dehidrasi” to your merch, you used emojis as part of Hindia’s visual identity. What’s your favorite emoji, and why?
My favorite emoji is the woman raising her hand and smiling (💁). It’s abstract enough to be put at the end of any sentence, and super useful in finishing an unending digital conversation, hahaha!
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity and translated from Indonesian.
Listen to Menari Dengan Bayangan here: