Malaysian vocalist finds his voice again in The Kevin Michael Project
Kevin “Michael” Vong does what comes naturally to him, even if that is the most oddball music you’d hear in the indie scene today. The singer/songwriter and former frontman of Fazz uprooted from Malaysia and moved to Singapore to continue his foray into the realms of vaudeville music, and put together a band, The Kevin Michael Project, for that very pursuit.
According to the singer, the project represents a personal challenge to write new songs in a new place, and he’s grateful the ideal personnel have lined up to realise this ambition. But pulling off a left-of-the-middle genre surely poses its set of problems.
“Vaudeville-swing is an unconventional and less mainstream style of music but my band members are so respectful and accommodating of the music’s direction, while also spicing up my usual style with bits of their individual creativity. Personally, I’ve always been interested in exploring the meetings between past poets and modern jazz, traditional styles of music and spontaneous improvisation,” said the singer, who comes from a theatre and film background.
It’s uncommon for a young singer to be traversing a musical path less travelled, but Vong recalls exactly how and why that happened: “I started really loving swing and jazz when I was exploring and working through different techniques as a vocalist. A friend of mine mentioned that I have a very theatrical tone, and so that’s where it started.”
Listening to The Kevin Michael Project’s freshly-minted tunes Sound Of The Sea and Are We Okay (composed while in Fazz with the band’s keyboardist Grace Cho), the lineage to his previous band is obvious. Fazz has gained recognition for its sound and style, and central to that was Vong’s input, but his departure has left a trail of unanswered questions, chief of which is, why?
“I left Fazz simply because I didn’t want to pursue music as a full-time career anymore, that was it. I got laid off by a theatre company I used to work for and that made me really question my decision in pursuing performance art and music as my career.”
While wading through this personal upheaval, he ended up committing himself to a project in Singapore, which is when fate stepped in and brought him and some friends there together. He finds it hard to decipher where all of this will take him or what his style would eventually evolve into, but via input from some pals, he now has a vague idea. “They once described my older style of music as char kuey teow, and when I showed them what I wrote recently, they said it was nasi lemak. So, I guess although they taste different … it’s still food,” he said, admitting to missing Kuala Lumpur.
The Kevin Michael Project might have just come off the assembly line, but in no time at all, Vong and his new cohorts put together an album’s worth of material. “I didn’t plan for an album, but with me starting university only next year, and with the way things are going, I’m going to complete 10 songs and if possible, write more. The band and I are working on banging out more tunes, but as of now, we’re almost done with our proposed 10 songs.” An album will still be governed by what the band makes from its live shows.
Speaking of which, the quartet starts its mini tour on June 28 in the Klang Valley and Penang. And what can audiences expect from the band? “Our shows are very intimate and workshop-oriented. So, while the audience isn’t encouraged to sing along, they are welcome to share their input after the shows, the songs evolve gradually over time. As much as it is my personal project, the songs, at the end day, will be a product of public input and constant workshopping. We’re putting an album on the road, and I think that’s what makes this project so special … in that it’s sincere and intimate.”
For more information on the shows, visit www.facebook.com/kevinmichaelproject/