Daniel Yoong may be a musical prodigy based in Boston, but once a Malaysian, always a Malaysian, correct? I may have made that up, but in all seriousness, Daniel still holds on to that national pride that many of us living here don’t even embrace, sadly. As we welcome in the month of August, ROJAK would like to introduce our Crunch of the Month who’s all about the music!
He may be young, but he’s definitely not short of talent and passion in what he does. You know he’s quite a real deal when you find someone who goes to Berklee College of Music and has a few albums to his name. Keep scrolling as he tells us about his experience in Berklee, his hopes for the entertainment industry and how he “loves” snakes.
To start off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I live in Boston but was born and raised in Malaysia. I’ve been playing music my whole life. Started taking piano lessons since I was 4, and I’m grateful for my music being recognized and to be the Crunch of the Month!
What exactly are you studying in Berklee?
I’m doing a double major in Songwriting and Performance.
Mind sharing with us about your experience in Berklee so far?
It’s great! There are so many different people in Berklee, you get to write and play music with people from all over the world. A lot of the learning comes from playing with these people. It’s awesome to see how music can bring everyone together even if you don’t speak a common language or if you come from another side of the world. It’s quite an experience, I would say.
How long have you been living in Boston? Are you planning to come back anytime soon or maybe in the near future?
I’ve been in Boston for 2 years now. Well, my best friend is getting married in October so I’ll be going back for 5 days if that counts? *laughs* I’ll also be going on tour in January 2017 and my band will be playing in a few countries. One of those will be Malaysia, of course.
We heard that you’ve just released an album. Congrats! What was the process like? You know, like how it began, who you worked with, how long it took, and all that?
Thank you very much! It’s been 6 years since my last album, so I have tons of new materials out since then. I just had to put the tunes on a CD so people can listen to it whenever and wherever, instead of waiting for the next live show to hear it again. It was really time for a new record.
I had the pleasure of working with my cousin, Aaron Jiam from BlueCross Studios, who was one of the recording engineers and the main mixing engineer.
It was interesting, tricky at times. We started the recording process in Malaysia and finished in Boston, and it took about 10 months. It was especially tricky juggling work, college assignments, and I was also playing on several other artists’ EP at the time, too. But it all worked out in the end.
I played the majority of what you hear on the album. I actually played and sang everything on ‘Sanctuary’ but I had a lot of different people on the album, too. We started the recording process in Malaysia cause my drummer and guitarist still lives there. It was real fortunate for me that I happened to be in Malaysia at the time for a tour/break from college. Then I came back to Boston and continued here. Brought in some new friends, and some old friends who are at Berklee, too.
You seem to be into a lot of genres of music! Any particular favourites?
I grew up with rock music. I lived on Paramore for the past 10 years, so rock has a special place in my heart. I play a lot of R&B and fusion too, so I’ve grown to appreciate that a little more. But other than that, I love all genres pretty much the same. I have days when I’d prefer certain genres over the other, you know?
Any musicians that you look up to?
As mentioned earlier, Paramore. I’m a HUGE fan! I was just saying in a Facebook post that I am beginning to accept that the parting of three of Paramore’s members as a good thing, cause we now have HalfNoise, an electronic pop band led by ex-Paramore drummer, and Farro, led by ex-Paramore guitarist. I got to see and meet Farro live in March, that was really swell.
Then there’s Ilan Rubin, who is a music mastermind. It was a dream to watch Paramore with Ilan behind the drums when they came to Malaysia in 2013. His project, The New Regime, is a work of art!
Michael League from Snarky Puppy, Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten are some of my favourites, too. I got to sing in Victor Wooten’s class once and he taught me bass a few times in his masterclasses, that was pretty swell as well.
Thoughts on the entertainment industry in both the US and Malaysia?
They’re both quite different, but quite similar in some aspects. The first thing I realised was that the musicians here are usually more supportive of one another. Sure, there’s a lot of competition here, of course, but less jealousy as well. I find it funny how the musicians in Malaysia, especially in the English indie scene, can be so competitive and jealous of one another when there’s not really a platform for that kind of behaviour.
The other most obvious thing is that there are a lot more opportunities in the US. Sadly, the pay is still pretty bad, both in Malaysia and the US. I sometimes make more money playing a show in Malaysia than playing 3 shows here. However, the people here are more open and receptive to different kinds of music. If they like your music, they’ll go out to watch you play.
Is there anything you hope will be improved on?
The US have their own set of problems right now. The Department of Justice isn’t doing a lot of justice to songwriters, artists aren’t getting paid properly by different services, but Malaysia has a long way to go before even beginning to worry about that kinda stuff, you know? First off, the musicians need to be supportive of one another. There’s no room for jealousy. We should be constantly sharing each other’s music and growing the industry together.
There’s no need to put another act down to make yourself look good. And then there’s the issue of Malaysians not supporting their own local acts. Why would you pay hundreds of ringgit to see Zedd or Oh Wonder when we’ve got our very own Darren Ashley? Or The Lumineers when we have Christian Palencia? Or Killswitch Engage when we have Army of Three?
What about An Honest Mistake, Amrita Soon, Brian Gomez, GTX? Amoura just launched their new album, SOAP just won a competition and will be collaborating with The Sam Willows, Relent is in need of funds to complete their album, so many other awesome Malaysian artists/bands out there. These are the local heroes that need our help and I think as Malaysians, it is our responsibility to support our own artists. Acts from Thailand, Australia, China can go further because they believe in their own, so why can’t we?
So, what do you do in your leisure time when you’re not making music?
I have a bunch of friends who come over to play FIFA pretty often. We play so much it’s unhealthy, but to be fair, we try to go out to play football in real life as often as we can, too. It’s just tough during the winter time.
What do you have to say to all those who think that music isn’t a viable career choice?
Let them say what they want to say. You just gotta believe in yourself, have faith and keep dreaming!
What would you like to achieve in the next 5 years?
I plan to move to Nashville after I graduate next year. I’d like to work as a sessionist and further my career as an artist. I’d like to tour North America and Asia, too. Maybe also be the opening band for Paramore? *laughs*
As it is ROJAK’s tradition, we usually ask our interviewees completely random and irrelevant questions just to end the interview on a more fun and casual note.
Are you usually late, early, or right on time?
Late! Just like most Malaysians, my “on the way” really just means “Oh crap, I just woke up.” *smug smile*
Spring time is nice. You’re just so done with throwing snowballs and bracing the ungodly Massachusetts winter at some point, so it’s nice to see the flowers bloom and it’s fun to dress up.
What scares you the most and why?
Snakes! I think they’re icky and their skin looks really ugly. I don’t know, I just can’t stand them.
Would you rather not be able to eat or drink for the rest of your life?
That’s tough. I’m gonna go with not being able to drink, cause you eat soup and soup is kinda like water? So technically you can eat soup when you’re thirsty? *laughs*
What is your favourite fast food?
You know, I really miss Cheezels and Twisties! This is what America needs! And while I’m at it, 100 Plus too. This Gatorade nonsense has got to end! I kid, of course.
Can you cook?
I’d like to think so!
Would you rather use eye drops made of vinegar or toilet paper made from sandpaper?
Hahaha you guys are killing me man! Eye drops made of vinegar, probably!
To keep up-to-date on Daniel and his music, be sure to follow him on his social media accounts as follows: