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Written by Ying Chia  |

His social media handle describes him as an Alternative Rock singer for Hurricane Honey, songwriter, producer, owner of Jawbreaker Studio 485 and a husband. Music lovers in Brunei and elsewhere known ‘Nol’ Ainol Kamaruddin as a veteran of the local indies music scene — the seasoned artists behind bands Mata Hari, and I Mean The Snakes, he’d played shows with huge artists like Lost Prophets and Bullet For My Valentine by the tender age of 20. Nol; has now turned to his solo project, NOL K. With an album release and live shows scheduled in the near future, we sat down to talk music, the power of pop and living out your big dreams. Catch his latest single ‘Golden Child’ on all good streaming platforms.

I think going back to the beginning of things, you very early on had the support and opportunity to really build your love for music and also to develop your skill set as a musician. What are some of the key lessons you learned specifically being educated in a music school to become a musician?

NOL.K:  Wow, the experience that I got from my tutors and learning through their experiences and learning from people in the industry is priceless. Even though music school cost my mum a bomb, I really utilised it. I just rang all the water dry out of that course because that was where I wanted to be. But yeah, learning from our tutor’s experiences; the bassist from Metallica came to do a 10 on 1 lesson and he was just right there in front of us going nuts! Robert Trujillo, yeah, that was it. He hadn’t joined Metallica yet, I don’t think. The auditions were the following year, if I’m not mistaken, and then we saw him on TV. It was awesome learning from all these dudes who are super successful in their own right and also telling us what to expect; that it’s not all rose tinted glasses.

You’ve got to work really hard to make it. And now I’ve found my calling in the last two years, as a music producer now. It was always in the making. I’ve always been around producers in the studio when we’ve recorded all our band stuff. I’ve always been super curious and looking over the shoulders of producers that I’ve had the absolute pleasure to work with. Just to see them work their magic, was kind of mind boggling. To name a few of those great dudes: Faadzil Osman (Ziller), Tom Aitkenhead, Meyrick de la Fuente, Adam Groves, Zaid from Revolution Records, and last but not least my mentor, Mike Indovina. It looks overwhelming and i thought ‘I don’t know if I could do that’, but then Mike sort of broke it down for me and it’s like EUREKA!

And right now, the monthly listeners fluctuate between two to seven and a half thousand. That’s pretty cool. But it’s not just like putting your stuff out on Spotify and expecting someone to fall on it. After your song’s out, that’s where the hard work starts. Although I haven’t played any shows yet, I’ve been promoting it online like a demon, submitting to playlist curators and bloggers. They only do that for the consideration of your music but when they accept it, that makes you feel really good, right? Obviously, there have been rejections and that’s part of the cheesiness of growing. So, I feel like great fortune is sort of being bestowed on me, and it’s a kind of validation as well.

What’s the most important rejection you’ve gotten to date?

NOL.K:  Hmm. Probably when I submitted one of my songs for a playlist, I was so confident it would get on. And then it was like, ‘Sorry, mate. Although I love it, it doesn’t fit our music right now.’ But for one of those dudes that have rejected you, there are 10 other approvals so the most important thing to me is like, if there are haters out there, they’re sort of just confused fans (laughs). Okay, it might be … they might be in a bad mood or got up on the wrong side of the bed. But these guys hold so much power for independent artists because we don’t have the backing of Warner or Sony. Someone said if you make it online, then you can get signed. But would you want to? Because then they’ll take 70% of your earnings and all this kind of stuff. So, I’m gonna go the independent route for as long as I can.

My favourite record label is Epitaph. They’re a subsidiary of a massive music corporation and subsidiaries are cool because they tend to look after their artists more than bigger companies. That’s saved for all the Dua Lipa’s and, you know, the Katy Perry’s, and all those dudes. But the crazy thing is, like, I’ve just been doing this myself for the last 20 years. People in my bands have been telling me to go out on my own but I don’t know, I was being too much of a big girl’s blouse. And finally, it took my dad becoming ill for me to do that. But what do you know, the proof is there, it’s in the pudding. People are liking your music, so just keep going. But the most important thing is just to do it for yourself and whatever comes afterwards is a complete bonus.

Yeah, You’ve have a very different childhood, I think, than maybe most people. How do you think that’s affected your ability as a lyricist?

NOL.K:  A lyricist? Hugely. I love a play on words. One of my favourite lyricsts is Brandon Boyd. I do analyze his lyrics a lot. Yeah, I mean, just the command of the English language, I have more of an advantage than some. I kind of thank Mum for sort of spurring me on to music because she was very creative but she never got the chance to do it. So I guess she’s kind of living vicariously through it?

Do you ever write in any other languages and would you like to?

NOL.K:  I’d like to try. I was pretty good at French but now it’s almost gone. I used to practice it almost every day up until I was maybe 15. Taming of the Shrew is one of my favourite pieces by Shakespeare, and obviously ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. Those two books are great. I love those. And then obviously I like the Big Friendly Giant as well by Roald Dahl. But yeah, most of my music or lyrics is really melancholic. Sort of reflecting on myself.

Why do you think it’s so melancholic?

NOL.K:  I think I’m just that type of person.

You’re just a melancholy guy?

NOL.K:  Yeah, it’s so weird. In school I was this weird dude where I was like, the ‘jock’. But then, I played in bands and I hung out with all the nerds and played video games and the jocks would be like, ‘What are you doing dude?’  I’m just having fun man, I’m just playing Street Fighter 1, you know? So I was that guy who was hanging around in those circles. I guess my way of thinking is more, I don’t like being pigeonholes. Although I do alternative grunge, hard rock or whatever, or new metal, or hardcore punk, I also love listening to Nina Simone, Billie Holiday. And sometimes Taylor Swift, obviously, because you can learn a lot from her.

I mean, she honestly is a force to be reckoned with.

NOL.K:  Amazing, even more so than Katy Perry and then recently, Olivia Rodrigo? I think she’s like the next Taylor Swift. Yeah, me and my wide are really big fans of her. Because pop has gone into the production values of music now as well. It’s delved into hard rock and hard rock’s gone into pop, etc., so all these like production techniques have sort of overlapped and these values have changed so much where everything is, literally all you can hear is the voice and melodyne. Now it’s all sort of one big melting pot. As long as it sounds good, it must be good, I supposed? But just remember this is the ballpark that you need to be in within the rules of audio engineering.

That’s kind of interesting. Where are you on balancing the boundaries and not being pigeonholed as a producer?

NOL.K:  Yeah, mixing is balancing basically. It’s really weird. I mean, I’m going to turn into a nerd here because the human ears can hear 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz bu I probably can’t hear above 15 kilohertz because I’m a musician. And, you know, my ears are probably shot to pieces. But in audio engineering, you’ve got to play with the frequencies of each instruments to make it fit in the puzzle and if you’ve got like a 40, 50, 60 track ‘puzzle’ with all these instruments, somehow, you’ve got to cook all these ingredients to make it taste good. And you think, how am I going to do this? But it’s actually really doable. Part of the thing is the arrangement as well. If you’re going to have a guitar part, you’re not going to have some crazy, like, drum solo over it.

You want something to be cohesive with that so people can bob their heads to it. So, I don’t really know how to answer that question. I just know that I’ve been given these tools and taught these tools, that I can cook well with now. I listened to my mixes from two years ago and oh man. I almost vomited (laughs). But that’s the part of the journey, right? So that’s all goof. In terms of the scene, it’s really strong at the moment and I’m really looking forward to what my other comrades can come up with because the world\s smaller and you can get everything online now. You don’t have to go to a record store although you can still do that, definitely.


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