Talking about the Indonesian independent music scene, one of the names that has stood out for the last 3 years is Kareem Soenharjo. The musical works released by this young man from South Jakarta managed to get the attention and received praise everywhere during that period. Interestingly, they all come from 2 different projects. One is BAP., an alternative hip-hop solo project full of exploration, with the phenomenal album Monkshood. The second is Bapak, his experimental rock unit which is fierier, and full of distortion, which released the album Miasma Tahun Asu in 2020.
Recently, he returned with his BAP. project. and released a song called “Painting with Suwage”. The song is the first single from his second album, which is scheduled to be released next November.
Because we were interested in the song, we decided to invite him to talk about several things related to the song. It turned out, we had a long conversation about things deeper than that. It’s quite fun actually.
Is it because you’ve been busy all the time with your new music project, Bapak, so it took 3 years after Monkshood, to release a song and work on a sophomore album under BAP. moniker?
Yes, true. But, umm (long pause) I guess it’s just about time for me. I guess, there is no complex explanation for it. To be quite honest, I just want to make something. Also compared to Monkshood, the album itself kind of needs to be done, because it’s sort of a therapy thing for me. After Miasma Tahun Asu, which I thought was going to be a therapy album as well. Actually, it did not help me in any way. What help is coming to terms with the problem that I had at that time, not through my album but kind of looking at myself? So, I just wanna make something that I could listen to without being so sad all the time.
Cause you’re being sad every time you hear your past releases?
It’s like “My output is really messy, geez.” It’s pretty depressing. It’s okay, I understand, 2 years ago I was different from what I am now. And I respect that. But what I think now is that I want to make music that I could be happy with when I listen to it. It radiates more joyful energy.
So you think that now it feels right to release a piece of new music for BAP.? And why is that?
Yeah, it seems like a good time and I really enjoyed making it. Like, I used to be really obsessed that if I made a work there had to be a catharsis, and it’s always been like that. But I thought, how long will this go on? My soul is tired. I think the concept of ‘tortured artist is overrated. But yeah, everyone is different. Maybe, if I can calm down, well, I deprived myself of that feeling. Isn’t that right? Why are you looking for the same wound? So for this album maybe everything is a bit lighter.
So basically, you say that you’re a different person now, as a musician?
Yes, it’s not really a matter of just being a musician. I think it’s my job to navigate myself through these changes in my work. So, instead of just being a discography, it can be an archive of my life, you could say. It’s a more interesting way to look out for people’s work, right? But with that, I want to leave things vague for everyone. What I realized is that music media or any media, in general, is so spoon-fed. Whether it’s through press releases and so on, it’s like you always have to explain anything about the song. I don’t like that concept, so in the end, I want this release to really be able to be interpreted by yourself; If you can say it’s like art, it’s like art. I will not give you any answers. In my opinion, it’s light but that’s the beautiful thing about art. You might think it’s heavy. Moreover, nowadays perspective and context are important. However, to destroy the context given by the artist, it’s more interesting for me.
So you say it’s not really necessary to explain your work further, as an artist or musician?
I think it’s free, it’s up to the people. It really depends. But for me, I don’t think it should be. Although, everything in this world is complex. I recently thought that just because the artist says this is this, does it really mean that to you? Does it instantly change your perspective on things? Maybe even before you hear the artist’s answer, the meaning is much deeper for you. For example, if you are talking about Evangelion, the fans talk about it very deeply. Then, suddenly, you hear the creator say, “Well, I made it like this just because I want to make it like this”—he made the last episode like that just because he wanted to. That destroyed a lot of expectations and meanings that the fans made about the series. And in my opinion, my listeners have the right to create their own meaning for my work, just as I can create meaning for myself regarding my work.
When did you start working on BAP.’s new music and finally getting on with the process?
I think it was the same time when I was working on the Miasma Tahun Asu. This is actually like a collection of songs that I was working on. Just having fun with it. Miasma Tahun Asu was becoming such a heavy album to work on, because it emotionally took so much out of me, because it took my heart out a lot, after all, it was tiring. So recording some BAP.’s songs was kind of nice, it was a fun time. It’s like quality time with myself. I guess it’s more like “I’m good with myself” and this is a reflection of what I want to be, you know. But again, I don’t want to explain further about the album.
Why did you pick “Painting with Suwage” as the first single?
I guess because it’s my and Rendi’s favorite from Lamunai Records (the record label that will release this album). Personally my favorite out of the album. I mean, come on man, it’s a fun song, isn’t it?
Is this the first BAP. song where you rap Bahasa Indonesia lyrics, right? There’s one song with Bahasa Indonesia before in Monkshood album but it’s done by Joe Million.
You could say that. Even though it’s not the first song with Indonesian lyrics that I recorded. It’s true, this is the first song I’ve released with additional Indonesian lyrics.
I read this sentence on the press release, “Sh*t eating music for people who came out feet first during birth”. What do you mean by that?
(laugh) I just want to see if the media would put it. That’s it. I mean, I don’t know it’s just fun and I just want to do it. Out of the blue, no meaning.
I have to say that the line “hidup aku dalam antitesis, I made album of the year, then I took it off your playlist” could be, arguably, the most interesting line in the song. Of course, you referred to Monkshood in the “album of the year” phrase, right? Compared to your previous record, how’s your approach in writing lyrics now?
It’s more carefree, I suppose. Releasing the weight on my shoulder. I’m of course still emotionally attached to the lyrics, but emotional doesn’t mean sad or angry. So, it can be said that I am exploring the spectrum of my emotions that I have never had in my own music. It’s to feel joy or to feel something other than being sad. To feel sexy. Feeling sexy is underrated, man. Everybody is entitled to feel sexy about themselves. I think when I listen to the lyrics on this album again, a lot of people get reactions like “Damn, this is sexy”. That “album of year” line is sexy. I think it’s great because a lot of people know that it’s true! (laugh) I’m definitely learning not to be arrogant, but I’m probably at a point where I’m learning to be able to celebrate my wins, my achievements. Of course, being humble is good, but the world is mortal, man. There’s a time to be humble but there’s also a time to celebrate your wins. And you can do both at the same time. Yes, because I also think it’s the album of the year and maybe I know that people say that too. And it was fun to take it off your playlist, right?
You tweeted that the album would be the poppiest BAP. music, yet. How pop is it?
(laugh) My kind of pop, I guess. If I can be completely honest with you, I wrote that at a time where I was a bit insecure about how the album is going to sound. I think what I tell that person is actually what I want to tell myself. I’m writing it on social media as a weird way to assure myself that it’s okay to make this album. But to be honest, I kinda regret writing it on Twitter. (laugh) After I listened to it again while working on the album, I even wondered why I was insecure about it, even though I’m really proud of this album that is coming out.
Besides “pop”, what are the other words to describe BAP. music now?
It’s brighter than before. It’s a mixed bag of stories, not everything is very personal. I really want to paint a picture that’s not entirely entangled with me. Emotionally of course, but other than that it’s not really about only me. Just try to keep things universal. It’s a pretty album.
What’s the deal with Agus Suwage (re: the painter)? Why do you put his name as part of the song title?
His works really scarred me, I guess. So, my uncle was a photographer and had connections with the art world since I was a baby. At his house, there is always a thick coffee table book. I think it was, Agus Suwage’s book is titled Still Crazy After All These Years. It contains a collection of illustrations, paintings, installations, and all of his works. Looking out that book really amazes me back in the day and until now every time I see the book it still feels the same. The song title is more like just a homage.
How do you see yourself progressing as an artist; musician and producer, even as an illustrator?
I had a chance to talk about something with Angee (re: his girlfriend) and got a kind of enlightenment that I felt that all this time I was making art for a certain purpose. Doesn’t matter what the purpose is, it’s just it has to have a purpose every time I make a work. When I think about it, it’s even weird for me.
Purposes can change within a day, a month, or even in 10 years. But time is relative to what a purpose can be. After I thought about it like “When was the last time I made something just because I want to do it”. Not to make fans happy, to stay relevant, or to make me not sad, and so on. It’s this purity and honesty that comes with having no purpose in doing something. So, I think that compared to the past, now I’m relieved to work. The purpose is just that I want to make music or want to make artworks. It feels good and nice, I think. I don’t feel shame in things I like and I do, just because I want to do it. It’s about the freedom to put purpose in your art or not. It’s a good progression, compared to before. Now I can live in the now more without worrying about things I can’t control.
What else do you learn during these hard times?
I’m trying to be less hateful. I think if you know people who are friends with me, they must have said “What is it that Kareem doesn’t hate?”. Cause I always have a say in something and I still do. I guess I won’t say anything if that’s hurting people. If that person is doing something that I think is a bit “meh”, yes I don’t want to rob their joy by saying mean things, cause I have my weird shit too. I’d be sad if people did that to me. So, yeah, I try to be more understanding and try not to compare myself. So far it’s good.
Do you enjoy your life now?
(laugh) Yes, but I won’t lie if sometimes I go crazy. It’s just that now it’s more like what to do now. I’d like to think of myself as a problem solver. If there is a problem, find a solution. Mostly my daily life is like “what are you doing today?”. I learned to be good to myself.
Mention the simple things that make you can enjoy your life!
I mean, I’ve always been a romantic person. Even before the pandemic, I was a pretty romantic person. I remember the moment when I watched Studio Ghibli films and every time I left the house I felt like everything was beautiful. See the clouds behind the billboard when you’re driving on the toll road or the reflection of the lights on a wet street after the rain. My habit of romanticizing small things has been around for a long time. My exterior is just a cynical one. But the romanticizing stuff it’s the part that I don’t tell people much. So, those are the things that make me happy. Right now I’m in the habit of sleeping early. It feels good to sleep early and wake up early.
Have you considered starting other things besides what you are currently doing right now? Things that haven’t been achieved yet.
Painting, maybe. Or maybe starting a brand. I’ve always been interested in making shirts and whatnot. To be the extension of myself. I was thinking of making dresses actually, I think it would be fun. But it’s just ideas that I have.
Any advice to anyone reading this?
My advice would be everything is gonna be okay, you’re doing great. Just try to get some rest and be proud of yourself.
BAP.’s latest single, “Painting with Suwage” is available on all digital streaming platforms.