Ben’s Bitches Interview [the inane epitome of Malaysian]

P Ramlee, Ahmad Jais, M Daud Kilau and Ben’s Bitches.. what do these names have in common. Well dude, these names represent what is like to be a melayu youth. Yup, even Monoloque blast of the past effort is nothing compared to Ben’s Bitches (BB) honest lyricism about urbanite Malaysian.  A very unique and one of a kind indeed.

With three album since 2004 i would like to view them as a very prolific underground punk band in Malaysia and yet they’re pretty much an underrated name when it comes to describing the whole local scenes itself. Unlike other punk band that sings about political and serious shit like friendship and issue of life BB instead deliver their own taste of ludicrous view on Malaysia. Singing about Amber Chia, , kedai mamak, pirate cd seller, lots of titties and penises and all the shit that will hit you right in heart as Malaysian.

I still wonder till this very day why BB does not receives the recognition from the punk rock community that they deserves. In 2017 BB should have received some Anal Cunt like status by now [as a band that is humorous and punk as fuck]. Perhaps the overly politicized macho nature of local punk rock scene had overshadow the comedic values that this band had brought to the table. ah, i don’t know la dude. What i do know is that BB is becoming more relevant with each day passing by because the best cure for stress is laughter and we Malaysian surely do need some comedy and giggling right now with the increasing economic and political tension that we never know when it’ll end. Instead of singing an anarko political song we should sit in a circle while listening to the BB’s satire (surely a circle would never be completed without a bong in the middle). Okay, enough with my barai english. Here’s an interview from the first Trypophobia Zine issue that we’d publish back in December 2015.  A very worth reading so light that Gudang Garam of yours and enjoy the ride..

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BB third album back in 2015.

Ed: editor  Ben: Ben Liew as the representative of Ben’s Bitches

Ben’s Bitches is a punk rock band that is consisted by different mix of races. In fact, they are the first known non-Malay punk band that is singing in Malays. Instead of normal local punk bands at the time that choose to sing about serious protest songs or loves songs Ben’s Bitches choose the routes of toilet jokes and everything that satires our daily perverted life as Malaysian in a hilarious ways.

Recently, Ben’s Bitches had makes a comeback with a new release called Pakatan Maut. A new matured sides of them with less pervert-ness and more genius involves. We manages to haved a words with Ben Liew through emails. We sent a few emails to Ben and he give us this nice long answers sent to us. Ben prefer using Malay languages to answers this questions but to keeps the spirits of this zine we manages to asked him in to write in english. Thanks Ben..

Ed: Hello Ben (it is Ben right – ), how did BB form? Give us a little trivia about this band. And why use Malay language as a medium when you guys mostly consisted of Chinese?

Ben: Ya, biasanya saya yang menjawab, oh sorry, yes it is me. A lot of ppl were playing in bands in the ‘90s. Guitars were cheaper back then. Everybody owned a Kapok and bleed on them cause the damn strings were too high. There was a lot of guitar music on the radio. I guess that made a lot of us start bands back then. That and to get girls to notice us.

Ben’s Bitches comes from a different place. If you took all the bands in our secondary school, they were all playing covers and trying to be cool. We wrote originals pretty early on. They were horrible, but at least they were our own songs. Our band in secondary school was called Mahathir’s Mohawk [after Dr M lambasted “the Punk epidemic amongst the youth” (gejala punk antara remaja)].

 We never tried to be cool. In fact, we tried our best to be uncool, to disassociate ourselves from being suburban middleclass kids. We were already kind of freaks in school, CK and I. I don’t think we were outcast, we were just different. We enjoyed a lot of things young boys enjoy doing – watching porn, eating fast food, smoking cigarettes, drinking beer (CK puked a bucket the first time), hanging out with friends, skateboarding, cycling, blowing up the school’s Bunsen burner gastanks, you know, just being kids lah. When I first met CK we were 14, he had just transferred from another school. I met in him the canteen during recess. He was drinking barley in a transparent bag. I asked if he was drinking sperms and that was how our friendship started.

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the early lineup: Azmyl, CK and Ben

As high school bands go, we took the music a bit more seriously. CK had an uncle who was a musician, so he had a lot of gear that was passed down and we would practice at CK’s house. We (collectively with our first drummer) bought our first practice drumset at age 15.

Punk music was great ‘cause it was fast, catchy and simple. The lyrics though – totally blew my mind. Nothing was sacred. You could fuck anything or anyone in punk, even yourself. Not many people understood that. That’s why there are a lot of boring punk bands today. They just listen to the same kind of music and preach the same generalized slogans. I learned a lot about the world, and fast too, through lyrics of all kinds, punk or not.

So when we looked at the country (even as 15 year olds) we already knew the score – this was before social media. We sang in Malay for several reasons but mainly to reach out to Malays. And what better way to say “I’m your brother” than to do what all young boys do – tell dirty jokes. Whether with toilet humour or not, we unified all listeners. If you can name me one band (besides Alley Cats) that has managed to break down the racial barrier as much as Ben’s Bitches did (and still does), well, I will eat my own shit. You see… everyone who just read that is laughing now, regardless of their race.

Ed: What attracted me the most about this band is the nonsense  lyricism of each songs that satire on Malaysian daily life. Most people may considered it as a joke but that lyrics of yours has some artistics value that differentiate you guys from others. You need to be a Malaysian to appreciate that kind of lyrics. What is your inspiration and influence when it comes to writing and music in generals..

Ben:I enjoyed a lot of Dick Lee’s early works. Early Singlish-albums from Singapore were like that – slice of life but with good music. Humour is a powerful tool of art – it leads to irony and sometimes, depression.

Music is best with words (to me at least) because it gives a depth and face to the song. Makes it identifiable for the rest of us. But who am I kidding? I don’t know nuts about the plight of Rohingya refuges in Myanmar, how do I write about them? If I did, it would be like me looking in through a window. I can write that way, but I won’t for now as my storytelling skills are not there yet.

I write stuff for Malaysians. So does CK. You can consider it our gift or curse to Malaysia or whatever (back when we made the first 2 Ben’s Bitches albums) but we did it because we were fucking bored with the bands we were watching. It doesn’t matter what language you sing in. Just be real.

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Sedap, the infamous project album

 Ed: One of the most ludicrous released by BB is album Sedap? under a project name Cicak Kobain. This released has some of the most hilarious and absurdity with songs like Kentut(my personal favourite), Batang Berjuntai and Stim. In one comment in the youtube CK once write that the word are a multifunctional and its depend on you to describe it. That just give like a new surreal view on each lyrics under Ben’s Bitches catalogue. Songs like Lembu can either be interpret as milking a woman boobs or just simply milking a cows and it is depend on our own mind choice to interpret it. What is your view on that. I know that you and CK has some problems but you got to give credits to him for that wise word

Ben:Nah, I still think it’s kind of like a one-trick pony. All you have to do is come up with one song like ‘Batang Berjuntai’, and the rest of the songs will follow ‘cause you already have the concept. I would compare Sedap? to something like the Black Eyed Peas’ ‘My Humps’. They’re both masturbating to their own body parts. I give him credit for ‘coming up’ with that concept and the music. He’s always been a shrewd melody-maker and a unique bass player. That’s one thing I miss about him not being in the band, his bass playing. But not his lyrics… I’d rather go to Church on a Saturday night.

I don’t really have a problem with CK apart from his paranoia – he always thinks someone is out to get us ever since Harian Metro did that expose on us [Circa 2006; Headline: Lirik Syaitan]. He has his own life now and we’re still friends, last time we met was at my birthday this year. Just because I don’t like Sedap? doesn’t mean I think it deserves to remain an underground hit. I’m happy that he made that album and that it shares a history with Ben’s Bitches. But Sedap? should reach a wider audience since it makes people happy. It’s his decision. That’s just my opinion. Anyway,maybe if he did really put it out there more publicly (right now it’s sort of like a bunch of obscure YouTubes), people would say he was trying to grab attention through cheap tactics and that it’s kind of desperate. I know CK, so I know he was just having fun.

When you talk about the interpretation of lyrics or just words, that’s a general concept. For instance, does the word “Jihad” mean one’s inner-battle or blow up the West to you? There’s so much more you can do with language, but you know, CK wanted to sing about sex and private parts. We used to argue all the time about the band’s direction. He always wanted it to be about cultural toilet humour, but I wanted more. I wanted Ben’s Bitches to have songs that made you cry and laugh. He just wanted songs that made you laugh.

I guess you read about the story of ‘K.E.N.T.U.T.’ and how I rejected that song leading him to start Cicak Kobain? Well, it’s true. If he did KENTUT and the rest of his songs under Ben’s Bitches, we would have never recovered!2017-31-1-02-59-03

Ed: BB had been in this scene for a long time but the name does not really sticks in this scene. Why bro.  You guys have like a really great talent as musicians. It’s sad to see this happened.

Ben:We are what we are. I’m not going to blame it on difference of taste or scenester cronyism or media favouritism. I’m at this point where I feel like Kanye West, like I’m a fucking genius but only I’m aware of it. Actually, I’ve felt like this my whole life. Just kidding… But I bet you a lot of artistes feel that way. Fuck all our egos. Nobody asked us to become artists. We chose this life. You don’t have to support us just because we’re struggling artists. That’s a mistake a lot of bands here make. They survive on friends’ support. Those are friends not FANS!

I don’t feel “making it” has anything to do with popularity or sales. Anyway, you can’t even sell music anymore these days. To me, ‘making it’ means changing with the times like coming up with more songs and merchandise to finance the band’s existence. I don’t have money to throw on a hobby like some douchebag in a Ferrari. What we earn goes back into the band. We rarely use our own money from our dayjobs to cover any band activity. If you look at all the bands that get popular fast, they are really shitty bands. And they only last that long because they make music that’s aimed at getting them popular, or they have a hot singer. But they’re also as broke as you and me. Times have changed. The internet killed the rockstar. Who are names that “stick in this scene”? What scene are you talking about, bro? Stick in the scene or in their friends’ minds? In KL, you can have 3,000 friends who will all call you “bro” but don’t know your real name.

Editor note:I was trying to refers to the acknowledgement among the punk community but Ben is right. Punk/whole underground music scenes still survived after all of this years is because of the friend supports. We dont need others to like us. In my Kelantan hometown where the punk community is so small, the only thing that help this thing to survives are the supports among friend. There’re no fans in punks, only friends. Thanks Ben for this nice slap in the face answer. It was like seeing a bright light shone in front of my face that show me the true way of life.

Our fans are real people from across the land. We get mail orders from fans from Rembau, Kampung Kerling, Tawau and so on. They have a genuine connection to the music and our fanbase is increasing. 10 years ago, we wouldn’t be given a chance to have an interview like this. People would just pass on us. But right now, as you implied in your question, we’re already at a so-called good place to be in terms of popularity and critical acclaim. Pakatan Maut opened a lot of other doors that were closed before this (because the whacky songs CK wrote for Ben’s Bitches kind of made the scene stereotype us as a novelty act). But you know, fuck KL. KL is a horrible place for a musician. I know a lot of people will say otherwise, that people will help you out if your stuff is good, but that isn’t true. Musician cliques in KL stick to their own kind (maybe they’ll help out a hot girl musician but not just anyone). It’s apparently the same in the art and theatre scenes.

Maybe there are better bands than us in KL. Or maybe somebody’s ass is getting licked. That’s just how it is in the city. It’s a place for competition. It’s cool. DIY or die… That said, KL is a great place for a K-pop band.2017-31-1-20-32-38

Ed: There is some serious racial tension in Malaysia lately (or always). As a Chinese yourself what can you reflect from this whole things. Do you see any racial segregation on your sides and do you think that you can see any chances for unity and equality among all races in this country of ours.

Ben:It is indeed a scary time for Chinese Malaysians, but what can I say, it’s all politics. People just want food and fuck. Give those 2 things to them, they’ll be content. Politics divide us. As a Malaysian Chinese myself, I’m going to do the most sensible thing (to me). I’m going to get married to my Malay girlfriend as soon as I can and God willing if we have kids, I’ll teach them not to be so intolerant. Don’t forget (or maybe you haven’t since you mentioned it in your question) that Malaysia has always been a race-based country. It has never been integrated. Chinese like to think they are inclusive people but they are not. Malays like to think they’re friends with everyone, but they are not. I don’t know… I think marriage is the best way to integrate society. Just wished it wasn’t an integration that forced non-Muslims to convert. That feels so insincere. Cube bayangkan diri kau sendiri dalam situasi sebegini. Apa nak buat? Sampai hati nak buat perasaan cinta itu keruh dengan agama. How’s that for a bit of cerekarama? People tell me changing my religion to get married to a Malay is a big issue, but it’s all drama. I do it because I want to be happy

Ed: while we’re talking about races: its hard to see some chinese faces in the DIY music scene nowadays. Where they all had gone. Were they wearing mask to gigs or there is a new scene that I haven’t heard of..this is some theory that my friend had created but was Kpop has any influence to this problems.

Ben:K-pop is a strange beast. It’s manufactured music, so I don’t like it. But it’s manufactured openly, which makes it honest about what it is, so that’s ok I guess. And the quality of the sound is something K-pop has given the music world in general – advancements in electronic recording and producing – even American producers are taking a lead from the Koreans. But it’s still shallow music about being in the moment, so fuck K-pop.

About Chinese ppl, we’re a practical race. So music is not meant to be for enjoyment. I know I sound like a sadistic self-hating Chinese right now, but look at all those Chinese kids forced to learn piano – a wonderful instrument for introduction to music with all the keys/notes laid out in order in black and white, but it was only chosen for the kid because Classical music is supposed to be an indicator of intelligence. It is of course true, it takes a lot of dexterity and intelligence to compose Classical music but what’s the use if you don’t enjoy it?

Ed: In your latest released Pakatan Maut, the sound of BB has went into a big evolution. It wasn’t just punk rock like BB used to be. I love that experimental values in it. What is your influenced for this new albums..

 Ben:I’ve spoken a lot about our early influences in the one of the questions before (forgot to mention that CK and I liked to listen to a bit of metal and hardcore in addition to the punk flavor of the day which was NOFX, Rancid, Bad Religion, Descendents those kind of bands and some older bands like Bad Brains, Black Flag, even older ones like Ramones, The Clash… this was all during school days, then I got into Sublime a bit during college when I discovered whacky tobaccy. That was sort of my Bob Marley. And then Velvet  Underground – which I hated in school but loved later on – David Bowie, Iggy Pop and the Stooges and other proto-punk during my early-20s).

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azmyl, a very unique folk artist that you should check out if you still doesn’t.

Azmyl introduced me to folk and country. There’s this alt-country band called The Old 97s that I always go back to, I have Azmyl to thank for that. Azmyl Yunor & Orkes Padu’s latest album, Was-Was is a grower. I have to say I was overwhelmed by the production at first, but then the songs grew on me and then the big sound he was going for made sense. In many ways, Was-Was is to Azmyl what Pakatan Maut is to Ben’s Bitches, a fresh start IMO. It’s always great to see old buddies do well with music or with their families – Azmyl, CK, dan lain-lain.

Between Azmyl, Jason, Khang, Kahock and myself we listen to a lot of things, some Malaysian some international. Jason’s a big Zappa fan. He is of course our secret weapon. He’s a quiet guy who plays the loudest, meanest guitar in town. I think other lead guitarists who think they’re hotshots watch him play live and immediately want to quit playing guitar altogether. He’s intuitively connected to music. You can throw him in any musical condition and he will play along as though he was part of the outfit for years

I’ve had a lot of trouble with drummers and guitarists in the past because they all want to play loud. I don’t get it. Why do they think the band is centered around them when it’s called BEN’s Bitches? Kahock is a great drummer because he’s also a composer and sound engineer.

Khang (aka visual artist KhanVas) is a beginner at bass, which we intentionally wanted, to give us a raw feel. He listens to a lot of 70s and 80s Malay Rock and is our band’s designer. All the artwork from Pakatan Maut onwards, from the cover to the tees to our gig flyers are his creations. If you look at National Disservice and Mamak Conspiracy, there’s continuity in what we do. Pakatan Maut might be our first full Malay album and most unified in sound, but even when CK was around we had 3 songwriters as we do now. So there’ll always be a mix of sounds from the 3 of us (now Azmyl, Khang and myself), and then when we work out the songs, the rest of the influences come in with Jason and Kahock. Pakatan Maut is an album that starts off with a nasty-punk sing-along and ends with a P.Ramlee-inspired lounge-jazz song about a depressed, wingless bird. Go figure.

The next album will be a cover-album that will highlight some of our local influences.

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from left: Jason(lead guitar), Ben (vocal, guitar), Khang (bass), Azmyl (second vocal), Kahock (drum)

Ed: most bands in DIY scene tend to play the same popular styles in the scene which create the same copy of another with small differences in sounds and people tends to sticks in groups. What is your view on that considering the differences that you had brings to the scenes.

Ben:First, stay away from crowds. You may think there’s strength in numbers but when it turns into a fucking club with rules, then it’s time to leave.

Second, if you want to be different, you have to be prepared to be laughed at. You can choose the simple path. You can try to pass yourself off as some nu age sensitive normcore shithead. Do whatever you like! Some paths are easier than others but they also the boring ones.

Third, not really related to the question though it’s a mistake most indie bands make – the hard path doesn’t mean you don’t need to make money. Merchandise and CDs are good for the fans, but it’s an uphill battle. If you ever had the task of selling 1,000 CDs to people who don’t buy music anymore, you’d know what I mean. We did some shows for Converse until they started paying us with shoes, then we said fuck that. Only stupid or rich bands don’t need to make money and can live off free shoes. Eventually, either your pockets or your time will run dry and you’ll end up regretting ever starting a band.

Ed: I have run out of questions so let’s end this. Any last word that you like to leaves to all of readers and potentials Ben’s Bitches worshipers out there..

Ben:Don’t worship anyone except dogs and cats. They are God’s pets

Ben’s Bitches soundcloud

Ben’s Bitches facebook

Ben’s Bitches myspace

PS: yes, i stole the pic from their facebook page..

and here is some old video of them that i dig from youtube

3gp, lo-fi and cheap to make but DIY-ly gold..

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the 7 page print version. We’re still a newbie back then so most of the content in the first issue were shit. the interview section were the only readable content (and this particular int. is the greatest content ever)

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