Tales of a Travelling Musician – The Kevin Michael Project
The Kevin Michael Project started as a way for singer-songwriter Kevin Vong to communicate with his younger brother. Forcing himself complete a bunch of his unfinished work, the former Fazz member ended up with a whole repertoire of coming of age songs, cautionary tales, and re-imagined folklore. This January, Kevin and friends take the songs on the road as part of a three-city tour. He speaks to ARTERI about the route that led to the Across the Sea Tour.
At the height of Fazz’s popularity you left the band. What made you decide to leave not only Fazz but Malaysia as well?
Fazz was formed in response to what was happening with the music industry at the time. As a music consumer and enthusiast, I thought there was a lack of what Fazz embodied. As the music industry and people grew, there wasn’t a reason for me to pursue that direction anymore because to my eyes everyone seemed to be heading that way. So mission complete. As for moving to Singapore, that was suppose to be my end to performing. I guess performing is so much a part of me that I can’t completely quit.
What made you embark on the Kevin Michael Project?
It started with writing a lullaby because who writes lullabies anymore? I also had a whole collection of songs that I had started but never finished. Then it became an aspiration to write a whole monologue/soliloquy-ish musical. I formed The Kevin Michael Project as my play space.
How did you assemble the members of your project?
I met them through a competition last year and through a mutual friend. Thankfully everyone who joined me in this journey was interested in my project and its motif.
“Thankfully, everyone who joined me in this journey was interested in my project and its motif.”
In an article by The Daily Seni earlier this year, your project is described as the attempt to “create 10 completely new songs from scratch in the span of two-three months.” Did you have any difficulties in keeping that goal?
To be honest, I manage to write nine of the 10 promised songs and it was very liberating to be able to write that quickly. At the beginning it was tough but after understanding not every songs can or must be a hit, writing became easier. It also helped that i have full creative control.
Seven months later, the project is still alive and embarking on the “Across the Sea” tour. You write that this tour “explores the coming of age through folklore and fairy tales with a modern interpretation of its traditional counterpart.” Can you elaborate how this goal influences the way you wrote the songs?
The whole journey of the project is dedicated to my younger brother. The writing is all about the coming of age and experimenting with bedtime stories and lullabies to tell its morals. Some of the pieces are based on personal experiences and the intent of this was to tell stories of my personal growth through musical storytelling. I did it because of the lack of communication between my younger brother and I
“I did it because of the lack of communication between my younger brother and I.”
And the folklore?
Of course there was research done. The toughest part is writing a modern interpretation of a folklore and being respectful with it. The stories always talk about hope and perseverance and diversity in culture and its practices.
Has your songwriting process for this project been any different from the usual way you write your material?
I think it’s different because it’s more story-like and mellow but I have to admit my original style would be something I’d hate to part with. It has been my trademark ever since i started writing.
What are some of the coming of age events or folk tales that provided inspiration?
Sound of the Sea, which inspired the title of my tour, was my modern interpretation of Terengganu’s Ulik Mayang. It’s the story of a fisherman who falls victim to the spirits of the sea and is saved by the village witch doctor. What inspired me about the story was that it is told in so many variations and i decided to explain from the point of view of the fisherman.
“I formed The Kevin Michael Project as my play space.”
So what is your interpretation?
My version tells the story of the delusions of a man who lost a friend and is convinced that these spirits are his way of coping with his loss. He believes that giving in to these delusions can be toxic because he can’t tell what is real and not and what he wants and what he needs.
I won’t explain the other songs because I don’t want to spoil the surprise.
You describe your performances as having a ‘vaudeville’ flair. What do you mean by that?
My background is in theatre and I express music in the same way as how i express the text of my scripts – physically, emotionally and with stage shenanigans. This comes across as very vaudeville.
What do you like about this style?
I just think music should be expressed more than just emotionally when you’re performing live. It has and will always be an experience for me if I were to watch a live show.
What music or musicians did you enjoy growing up?
I only started getting interested in music at the age of 15. I’ve listened to music all my life but until then I’d never bothered learning about genres or even the title of songs.
Who has influenced your work?
(As a teenager) I listened to instrumental music like Vanessa May and the pop music of Michael Jackson. American Idol big at that time so that I started listening to the modern interpretations of the old classics of RnB and rock ‘n’ roll.
Now I listen to a whole lot of musicals for inspiration; The Wild Party, Company, Anything Goes, La Cage Aux Folles, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and many others.
What do you hope your audiences will get from this performance?
My aim is to provide an experience and hope audiences who face my brotherly troubles as a sibling understand what I’m expressing through my musical storytelling. I hope it hits the heart.