N.B. This article was first written and posting on anythinglah.my in 2019 and is reposted with permission from the original author.
Music. It’s something defined as using vocal or instrumental sounds or both in tandem to produce a form of beauty and harmony that evokes emotions and even tells a story. Malaysia has its fair share of artists, known both locally, regionally, and of course internationally. One of these local music artists, who has been quietly making a name for himself over the past few years goes by the name of “Cardinal Roy,” or to those that know him better, “Cardinal.”
The Cardinal and I have worked together in the past but our lives and careers went in separate directions. Given that he’s been making small steady waves in the local scene, I felt it was time to get back in touch and explore his take on making music, and the music scene in Malaysia. He was kind enough to sit down and play twenty questions with me.
- Cardinal. Great to see you again, you comfortable telling people who you really are and where the kampung is?
Heh. If you insist (laughter). My name is Jeffrey. I’m 26 years old, and I’m originally from Penang. But I moved to PJ when I was 8 with my parents. I’ve pretty much lived my life here since then.
2. What drew you to the music industry?
My love for creating and performing music. I picked up the guitar when I was 13, first performed when I was 14, and loved being on stage. It’s been my passion ever since. After working in the game development industry for three years I realized I can’t slog away at something I don’t enjoy doing. Some people can find fulfillment outside their career life but I can’t. My work hours at the office, have to be meaningful and nine hours a day in game development, just wasn’t that.
3. Who is your musical inspiration? I mean the artists that have had an influence or an impact that has helped you develop your own sound and/or style?
I think all the different stuff I’ve listened to over the years has helped shape me as an artist. Like I listen to Folk (Ryan Adams, Gregory Alan Isakov) which is vastly different from electronic music but it’s about finding what you like about those artists and knowing what you want to draw from it. Folk is melancholic, but when I want to produce something epic, I’d instead listen to KSHMR or even Metallica. My influences are constantly evolving.
4. What is your creative process? How do you get that creativity pumping?
I usually start by just improvising on the guitar and hum out a melody. Once I find the mood or emotion that I’m trying to communicate I’ll start adding the drums and other instruments in my DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).
Then it becomes a challenge to find the right one or two instruments that will become the core instruments of the piece, and translate the improvised original guitar scores — I have not found a guitar playing software that I’m happy with yet.
I’ll spend a lot of time just refining and tuning each instrument to make sure that the core instruments work well together, to give the right harmony to each instrument and to the piece as a whole. I start mixing almost immediately, to have a view of the frequencies these instruments are producing and making sure they don’t clash.
5. What’s your principle genre?
I’ve produced music in a lot of different genres but I seem to have found my current rhythm in Lofi HipHop for now. Other genres’ that get that creativity going are more towards melodic dubstep and ambient. A little chill-step too.
6. What’s would you describe the qualities of your music to be?
To me, music is a lifelong journey, and I hope that they’ll bury me with my instruments — and my digital studio as well. The quality comes from the entertainment value that the music can provide, by reaching out to the emotion of those listening to and enjoying my music. If listeners are enjoying my music, whether in the comfort of their home, or dancing to it at the club, I’ve done my job as a musician, and as an artist. Whether it’s a complex piece of work that has many layers or a deep message to it, listeners will enjoy it. That is what I’d like to see as the quality of my music.
7.Why did you first start making music?
I just sort of picked it up and I enjoyed it, that’s really all there is to it. Why I stayed is that when I got more into electronic music, I realized a music producer is sort of a one-man orchestra. With wavetable synthesizers, there’s no end to what sounds you can produce, and you’re controlling all of it. The main synthesizer I use is called Serum, and you can create violins, pianos, and sounds you couldn’t imagine existed. A good example is the dubstep growl, which to my knowledge can’t be played on a non-electronic instrument. I guess the allure is the curiosity to discover and explore what music could sound like.
8. What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received about your music?
My music has been well received but the best compliment I’ve received from people is that they can tell, just by hearing my music that it’s me. People have told me that my music has that “something” in it. A “sound” that lets them identify that this track is by Cardinal Roy. This is really great because it means I’ve got that unique sound that can be heard whether it’s in Lofi, or EDM which is really great. Especially for the EDM tracks because there is no one “voice” to them. I just wish I could pin that something down so I can use it and it’ll be more present in shaping my sound.
9. What’s the coolest, most important piece you’ve created to date?
I think that most of my music is pretty cool, but if I had to pick just one track, I’d say it’s my remix of Top Shelf by Whetan and Bipolar Sunshine. It’s this progressive house song I remixed so much it's hardly recognizable. It was for a competition and it remains unreleased until I perfect both the mix and the master. Both just are not as clear as they could because there are too many instruments in the chorus right now. I’ve learned some production techniques since the release of this track to deal with problems like this, so when it's fixed it will get its release.
But a project that’s very close to my heart, and I hope to make it my best work to date is going to be “The Last 17 Months.” It’s about the last 17 months of my best friend’s life. He died of cancer recently. I initially wanted to sample his voice in the track, to chop it up and create a melody, but I only have one video recording of him and couldn’t find a way around it. I’ve put this project on hold until I can figure out how to do this, and make something worthwhile.
10. What’s your latest release?
“There Is No End To The Pain You Must Be Numb.” The title comes from an XXXTentacion album artwork and was partly inspired by one of his songs as well. With that inspiration, I created the track with that title in mind.
11. Is there a hidden meaning in any of your music?
There is a lot of hidden messages and meanings in my work, but most of them are personal in nature. It’s one of the things that I love about making music. It’s not just what I can make other people enjoy, and also feel, but also a way for me to talk about things that are personal, without having to actually say anything at all. Maybe one day, I’ll open up a bit more about which tracks I’ve done this and what they mean to me.
12. Have you done any shows? If yes, what was the best one? Why? If no, what kind of show would you want to do?
I’ve performed a lot since I was 14 and I’ve performed with a lot of bands playing bass. But the most memorable gig was this underground gig where we played metal songs. It was Unleash the Freaks @Paul’s Place. I played in the band Siren. It was fun as hell and the crowd has this intense almost infectious energy. They even started a mosh pit. One of them grabbed by the singer’s mic during a Slipknot track to sing. It was the whole experience, from start to finish that made that one of my best performances ever.
With my music now, I’d like to do a performance where I play actual instruments but that is something really rare with electronic music. It’s usually somebody with a laptop or DJ-esque setup. But I’ve seen live shows by ODESZA and Tycho and it’s amazing what they do. That’s the kind of show I would love to do.
13. Who do you think you sound like?
I try to take some elements of an artist when I’m doing a track in that genre. Since my latest track was inspired by XXXTentacion, I drew some inspiration for it from his own work. For the first song I did titled “Coastal Drive” I was trying to sound like Tycho. I think I missed that out when discussing my creative process that I go back to the artist or the song that inspired me, and try to draw a little from them, almost like I’m paying my respects to whatever that something is that inspired me in the first.
14. Who have you shared a set with or opened for in the past?
As a bassist, I’ve played a few shows with Daniel Yoong, a fellow Malaysian artist making it in the US now. I’ve shared a set with “An Honest Mistake” many years ago during my High School Prom. In the future, I’m not sure who I would want to share or open to, but that’s definitely something I’m aiming to do.
15. Do you have any quotes or reviews from friends and colleagues?
I have some good comments from the music production forums I’m active on, but its real technical. I’ll take a moment to thank “TvMcC” and “palmspalms” for their feedback on my track “Warning Shot.” A lot of my friends have been supportive. I think that’s great because I get a lot of feedback about how something sounds, what it makes them feel, without getting bogged down in the technical stuff.
16. What are you focusing your time on now (recording a new record, writing, etc.)?
I’m spending a lot of my time and energy on creating my Lofi Hip-Hop album. I might find some freelancer or possibly studio work as a mixing engineer to get a more in-depth understanding of the local music scene as well as meet the local movers and shakers in the industry.
I’m also selling hip hop beats on Beatstars.com, it’s mainly a place where rappers can find beats to rap over to, but if you want to use my songs for videos, remixes, or whatever, you can purchase a license through here as well.
17. What’s an average day like for you?
My days are pretty long, and my nights are even longer. My daily life has some structure to it and normally it starts with me checking my stats on socials and replying to any comments and feedback that I get and interacting with fans and followers. After that It’s a bit a mix-and-match between checking out tutorials, creating music, and of course promoting my music to promoters and publishers. I do my best to hit the gym a couple of times a week to help stay in shape but also to let my mind just destress and declutter a bit. My nights are when I truly get my downtime with good friends to pass the time before.
18. What is your favorite part about this line of work? Your least favorite? Why?
I spent a few years doing music as a hobby while I worked in game development and while the work was interesting, I never felt the kind of satisfaction or investment that I feel when creating music. With music, I care about what I am doing, I have a purpose with each song, melody, and harmony that I create, whether it’s to evoke a feeling in a person, get their head bobbing or on their feet and moving with the music.
My least favorite part is all about marketing, promotion, and branding. This has been a process of trial and error as I explore things and learn from my mistakes and get better. Like, I’ve been watching a ton of SEO videos for YouTube and doing a lot of reading on how to promote with Soundcloud. The results take so long to show, and because it takes away from time, I could be spending making music. Once I get my album done, I’ll be looking more into paid marketing and stuff.
19. You’ve been performing since you were 14. Have you ever had performance anxiety? How do you deal with it?
Of course, but it feels amazing when you deal with it while you’re performing and you just feel this exuberance flowing through you. It’s that feeling when you realize during the performance that you’ve practiced enough to not screw up, and at that moment you tell yourself “I got this” and you just execute every note perfectly with confidence.
But of course, there are shows where things go wrong. I’ve had shows where my amp fell down, my strings broke (on electric guitar, bass strings are sturdy!) or everyone is just playing off tempo. You just move on from those experiences. Sometimes the audience doesn’t even notice it.
20. What advice would you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Have a plan, be extremely focused, and understand the risks your taking. I have enough savings from my 3 years of work to do this and I’ve done music production for the last 2 years religiously after work and on weekends, enough to start this with confidence.
Before I do run out of savings, I’ll get some studio work or freelance. Everything I do needs to contribute towards this end goal of being a successful artist. So at least with studio work, say as a mixing engineer, it’ll improve my mixing skills. It might slow down my progress, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop.
21. If anyone wants to get copies of your music or even find you to hire you for freelance work, where should they look?
You can find me all over the place! Start with my SoundCloud, YouTube, and Spotify. To get in touch directly, try my Facebook, or Instagram. And as mentioned earlier, you can also license my songs on Beatstars.com.
There you have it, ladies and gents. To get your groove on, feel something, or maybe find yourself on your feet and dancing to some original song styling and remixes, check out Cardinal Roy at the links above. If you like reading about up-and-coming musicians in Malaysia feel free to support what I do via a PayPal donation of your choice!