Man at His Best

ESQ&A: Malaysian Music Icon Resh Talks "Trouble"

Resh on cross-cultural collabs and staying relevant.

BY Tania Jayatilaka | Nov 12, 2016 | Music

Multi-award winning singer, songwriter and producer Resh hasn’t stopped carving his mark of stardom in the Malaysian and international music scene since his music career started 12 years ago.

Besides the lengthy list of music awards he’s won here in Malaysia, Resh’s international success has soared, with his 2015 hit single “Half The Man” making #13 on the US Top 20 radio programme.

The track appeared as one of seven on his first major-label EP, which was created in collaboration with American producer Jim Beanz of the Sunset Entertainment Group (the brains behind most of the soundtrack of the US TV series Empire).

“Trouble” is Resh’s latest track, again in collaboration with Jim Beanz and with renowned US-based indie pop queen, Monica Dogra.

Altogether, Resh is great fun to talk to, and tells Esquire more about his latest single and his views on staying relevant in today’s ever-changing cultural landscape.

ESQUIRE: What was it like recording Trouble and filming the music video with Monica in India?

I’ve signed a regional deal with Universal Music Singapore, which lets me engage in different countries; so the head of Universal Music India, Mr Devraj, said “Resh, there's this artist who is just like you, the two of you would work brilliantly together”. I was cautious at first, but when her portfolio came my way, I was like ‘Hey, there’s something about Monica I can relate to. And then? Phone call. Sealed the deal. She was excited to hear from me; I got her to record her vocal parts in India, she passed it down to me, and I re-engineered it here.

“Trouble” was initially a single in the first EP I had just done, but it only had my vocal bits. At that point, we were all figuring out how to do this; how was it going to sound as duet, because the song was written as a solo. But when we heard it, the label heads were excited, I was excited. It was great. Then we said, ‘OK great, we’ve got the song, what next?’ We did a music video. Shit. She’s gorgeous; Monica’s gorgeous, you know? We needed to capture her on film. I conceptualised an idea in about a month based on the new duet, and we shot one day in Mumbai, one day in Malaysia.                                                                  

ESQ: Is there always a hint of apprehension that you feel before working with another artist? 

To be honest, it was my first time collaborating with an artist of that stature. Bear in mind, I had only just met Monica. We literally had two hours to break the ice before shooting! The fact that we got so close in such a short time is indication that it was meant to be. Monica is a better actor than I, because she’s acted before. You wouldn’t see this on the video, but I can tell you I was nervous, being so close to her, having to hold her. The funniest thing is, when you’re in director mode it’s easy to conceptualise the idea, but I had to act it out too. I remember telling myself, ‘my God, Resh what did you get yourself into’. But it was great! We connected well.

ESQ: Will you be doing more of these collaborations with more artists in Southeast Asia?

I would if it made sense to me, if it was meant to be, if it was relevant. There has to be relevancy: sometimes working on a song isn’t just ‘hey, let’s work on a song and see how it sounds’. It’s more of, ‘let’s work on a song and see what our objectives are’.

ESQ: You’ve been involved in soup kitchens, Earth-hour, even the government-initiated PEMANDU programme. Does this sense of ‘civic awareness’ contribute to your music?

I think it’s important. We can’t live in a bubble. We need to know what’s going on. I did one trip in the middle of the night to feed the homeless around town. It was shocking to me, that these are the roads we travel during the day, and when you end up there at night, it’s so different. It’s a worldwide problem, not just a Malaysian problem. It’s important we’re all civic minded, but at the same time, am I going to jump on a train and start ‘spreading love’? I would like to, but I’d be lying to say that’s the main objective; it has to be done properly. When you do something too quickly it comes off as very pretentious. How I’ve always followed it is, I’ve just listened to what’s in my heart. If my heart tells me, let’s do this today, I’ll do it. That’s what comes off most sincerely. And just like my musical journey, none of this was planned.

I mean, you can get a shit load of artists together to do more initiatives, but how long will that last? It has to be nationwide initiative, not just the artists, it’s got to be everybody. I can bring up the awareness, put a couple of posts on Instagram, but by the next week it’ll be forgotten. It’s got to be a collective. Last year, a friend of mine asked me, ‘Do you want to come and see what the soup kitchen’s doing here at night?’  I said, ‘yeah, I’ll come, not as a celebrity but as one of ya’ll, I’ll come and help’. Bottom line, there are problems everywhere: if you’re gonna tackle something, it’s gotta be a natural, nationwide initiative, it can’t be forced.

ESQ: Do you ever worry about staying relevant to your fans and audiences? 

I don’t worry about it. I believe everybody has their chance. I’ve had a good run; it’s my 12th year in the industry. I’m not the type who’s influenced by the stressful conditions of trying to stay relevant. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. When you’re doing something you put your heart and soul into it. But if you work on something hoping and striving that it becomes a success, you’re walking on dangerous territory. Trends change so quickly. Hairstyles change. What’s relevant today becomes irrelevant tomorrow. I think if you do something, you’ve got to be true to yourself and let it flow naturally.   

Click here to stream or download Resh’s single “Trouble” from his latest EP, ‘Who Am I’, featuring Monica Dogra.