Malaysian band Beat The System certainly lives up to its name.
The local music industry has seen plenty of bands come and go, but the band was determined to make it work.
After almost a decade of hard work and perseverance, the band got its big break in 2014 when it was signed by a famous American music producer and flown over to New York City where it is currently based.
You could say the members of the band managed to beat the system after all.
Comprising Malaysians lead guitarist Stewart Sellan, drummer and songwriter Gerald Sellan, and songwriter Adrian Puan, as well as American lead vocalist May Leigh, Beat The System is currently working on its 11-track debut album titled Journey, and have already released a single called Be Your Own, which it is currently promoting in America right now.
The band was formed in 2005 by Stewart, and a year later, Gerald joined as a drummer. According to band spokesperson Stewart through an e-mail interview, back then, they would not turn down any gig offers, even though he and Gerald had full time jobs as engineers.
“At times, we were fortunate enough to get paid for performing, but most times, we played for free. It hardly seemed to matter though because we did it for the love of music – nothing thrills us more than to play in front of a crowd that thoroughly enjoys our performance,” he said.
Their perseverance eventually paid off, as the band soon caught the attention of local labels, and was featured in several compilation albums.
“We even managed to feature Malaysian Idol winner Jaclyn Victor and Fiq Mentor in some of our songs,” said Stewart, adding that the band also won music competitions in the Asean region.
Still, all that wasn’t enough for the band, which dreamed of expanding its music to the international arena, especially in the United States.
In 2013, the band recorded a 10-track demo that caught the attention of music producer Diana Meltzer, owner of Monster Hits Music. Famously known as the ‘Woman With The Golden Ears’, Meltzer is also the co-owner of Wind-Up Records (reportedly the world’s largest independent label), which signed acts such as Creed, Evanescence, Seether, Alter Bridge, Finger Eleven and Drowning Pool.
“Diana flew halfway across the globe to Malaysia and spent a month with us, offering us guidance and advice. A year later, we were offered an artiste visa to live in the US where we began a new chapter of our music journey,” Stewart said.
There, the band spent a few months searching for a new lead singer, and eventually discovered 28-year-old May Leigh, who hails from Ohio. Since the band’s previous lead singers had all been male, it was quite a big change for the band to have a female vocalist instead.
“We only had the opportunity to work with male vocalists in the past, so yes we had to rearrange and rewrite certain parts of the songs to accommodate a female voice,” said Stewart.
“But May Leigh has the natural ability to relate to a song, make it her own, and express it in the best way she can. The biggest change in our music after the addition of May Leigh is that she infuses her own style and dynamics to the songs, giving each song its own life and story.”
The band’s primary songwriters/lyricists are Gerald and Puan, a somewhat unorthodox partnership, as the latter has no background in music whatsoever, and was not involved in anything remotely close to music prior to joining Beat The System.
“I’m the band’s main songwriter and nothing else. My role in the band is solely writing songs,” said Puan in a separate e-mail.
“I do not play or know how to play any musical instruments (not even a little), I compose by humming tunes with gibberish words into my iPhone, and if the band likes any of them, I’ll then work on the lyrics. I compose by imagination, if that makes any sense!”
Stewart added: “In 2013, Gerald realised that Adrian has the uncanny ability to identify hit songs, and so he challenged him to compose a few songs. Those songs got an overwhelming response, and sealed Adrian’s position as Beat The System’s official songwriter.”
With the addition of May Leigh and Puan, there is a marked difference between the old Beat The System and the current one.
According to Stewart, getting the opportunity to work with all these established music producers and executives in the US has also caused the band’s music to evolve from what it used to sound.
“The change in creative environment certainly drew us out from our comfort zone and challenged us to broaden our horizons,” he said, adding that they would not have got to where they are now without the love, support, and prayers of their loved ones.
“It is easy to dream and set goals, but it takes tons of initiative, courage, drive and painstaking perseverance in order to make that dream a reality. It is crucial to have an open mindset, to challenge oneself to break barriers and to reach for the stars.
“Musicians should be willing to learn from the best and not let their egos get in the way,” he said.
Beat The System is also looking forward to coming home to perform in the near future, and even has a surprise in store for its Malaysian fans.
“One of the tracks from the album will be a Malay song. May Leigh had to learn the language to sing it!” said Stewart.