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Monday, March 16, 2009

Staying True To Their Roots

Yogyakarta-based band Letto believes that when it comes to writing songs, there are two things they should bear in mind: to stay true to their natural self, and to allow everyone to feel an affinity to it.

With six official religions and hundreds of ethnicities spread across the country, the theme of love is inevitable. But Letto wants to show that their love songs can be elegant, not cheesy, by using lyrics that allow people to read between the lines.

For instance, a stanza of “Sandaran Hati” (A Place to Lean My Heart On) in their first album Truth, Cry and Lies (2005), reads: “Peduli ku peduli (I care, yes, I do care), siang dan malam yang berganti (about days and night that change), Sedihku ini tiada arti (My sadness has no meaning), jika kaulah sandaran hati (if you’re the one whom I can lean my heart on).

Some people can interpret the stanza as a love declaration, while others connect it with the love for the Divine Power.

Vocalist Sabrang “Noe” Mowo Damar Panuluh, who writes most of Letto’s songs, said that to understand their songs, listeners should use their imagination and connect it to the songs.
“We don’t want to control the meaning of our songs,” he said.

A similar comment came from guitarist Agus “Patub” Riyono, who said his band created lyrics with a double meaning.

“We want to give room for people to interpret the lyrics as they please,” Patub added.

The recipe has proven to be a success, with their hits chosen as the themes for Indonesian soap operas, as well as inspiring people to write novels, such as Ruang Rindu (A Space for Longing), written by Andi Eriawan, and Sebelum Cahaya (Before The Lights), written by Karla M. Nashar. Both books are published by Gagas Media.

While applying the same recipe for their third album Lethologica that features 12 new songs, Letto spices up their music by inserting elements of ethnic music, such as from Minangkabau, Bali, the Middle East and Java.

Drummer Dhedot said that compared to their previous albums, the new album touched on various aspects of life, such as children, the environment in relation to global warming, and social issues.

“We just completed shooting the music video for ‘Senyumanmu’ [Your Smile] yesterday. We will soon shoot the music video for ‘Kepada Hati Itu’ [To The Heart]. But we don’t know yet which one will be the second video after ‘Lubang Di Hati’ [A Hole in The Heart],” he said.

However, Letto will have to postpone their promotion tour until July, due to permit restrictions during the upcoming general elections.

For the election period, Letto have opted to take a stance as entertainers. They are not even sure whether they will vote.

“We will not be campaigning for any political parties. But if we are asked only to entertain, that won’t be a problem,” Noe said.

“I don’t even know how or who to vote for. There are too many legislative candidates. It’s puzzling,” said bassist Ari Prastowo.

“We have yet to see any legislative candidates promising to eradicate piracy. We would definitely vote for such candidate,” Dhedot said.

“Well, not really,” he added after a short pause.

“Politics in Indonesia is still equivalent to power. It requires no moral requirement to be a candidate. If the candidates spend big on campaigning, they must want to gain big too after they are elected,” Patub said.

When asked whether they considered themselves religious, the band members shot back: “Define religious, please.”

For Letto, religious people are those who keep in mind the afterlife. The four agree that even the simplest things can be associated with religion, depending on how people perceive a religious moment.

Patub said that the band had a very religious moment when they experienced a near-catastrophic landing at Yogyakarta airport, just after completing their concert in Jakarta last year.

“We had to take off again or we would crash. Fortunately, the plane managed to land on the second attempt. At that moment, my life flashed through my head. And I instantly became religious,” he said, grinning.

“Religiosity seeps in during a moment of panic. In that condition, any atheist will definitely recite or remember verses from holy books,” Noe added.

“Well then the atheist must have borrowed other people’s god for that,” Patub quipped.
The other members burst into laughter as Patub glanced at Ari and said: “Hmm, who’s your god? May I borrow your god for a while?”

While they handled such unpredictable occurrences in a jovial spirit, their parents were terribly worried. They said they still phoned their parents to inform that they had arrived safely at each designated destination.

Having known each other for 13 years, their relationship has also bonded their parents, with each parent considering the other band members as their own children.

“For instance, Patub’s mother usually brings over food to my house,” Noe chimed in.

Patub said their parents seldom held a get-together, although they all lived in the same city.

“All our parents usually meet if there’s a wedding reception held by someone in our circle of friends. So the more of us there are that get married, the better our parents’ relationships become,” he said, smiling.

Of the four members, Dhedot remains the last bachelor, after Noe tied the knot last month.
Patub said married life had given him a place to call home when he got bored with the band.
“On the musical side, I feel no change. But music is more than just technique. I have had new life experiences, so I guess it does affect me in some way,” he said.

Ari said married life had changed him in terms of how he saw money.

“Every tune I play now has to contain the tone of Rupiah, Rupiah,” he said with a flat face, causing his friends to smile.

Noe said that with their music as the reflection of their way of life, married life would bring new life experiences.

“Having a wife allows us to get new material for writing songs. But I don’t know much yet, I’ve only been married a month,” he said.

Going with the flow of life, Letto have decided they will not set any targets, and rather wait and see what providence has in store.

“We have many technical plans, but they are just plans, not targets. If we set a target and it doesn’t come out as expected, it will only create disappointment,” Patub said.

“We entered the music industry not to fulfill our targets and ambitions, but rather because we love art. It has all come full circle, then. Someone wanted to hear our song, they liked the song, and then they offered us the chance to be featured in a compilation album,” Noe said.

The concept of serendipity is also evident in their social activities. Letto have held regular charity events for institutions and individuals in need without setting any conditions.

For their second album, Don’t Make Me Sad (2007), Letto donated part of their profit to the Mitra Netra Foundation for the visually impaired to produce books in Braille.

“Our concept for charity is all about serendipity. If we find a person in need and there is a chance to do it, we will respond to that. We don’t show off about it. It doesn’t matter if people find out by themselves, as long as it wasn’t us who leak it to the public,” Noe said.

Letto have distinguished themselves among the many bands in Indonesia, not only through their music, but also through their point of view.

Truth, Cry, and Lie (2005)
Don’t Make Me Sad (2007)
Lethologica (2009)

Get to know them better:

Name: Sabrang Mowo Damar Panuluh
Nickname: Noe
Place/DoB: Yogyakarta, June 10, 1979
Favorite city: Banff, Canada
Greatest fear: Caterpillars
Book(s) I currently read: Serat Awang-Uwung
Favorite book: Serat Ambiya, because it’s mind-blowing
The bad side of being a famous musician: Being called famous
Motto: Life is like taking a bath in someone else’s house

Name: Agus Riyono
Nickname: Patub
Place/DoB: Yogyakarta, Aug. 2, 1979
Favorite food: Peanut condiment
Hobbies: Sleep, wake up for a while, sleep again
Favorite city: Jayapura, Papua
Bad habits: Sleeping, seldom taking a bath (Hey, I’m honest about it)
Greatest fear: Bills and claims for payments
Favorite book: Any book about global warming
Idol: Micro and macro environment
The good side of being a famous musician: I can buy my own musical instrument. I no longer have to borrow from friends
The bad side: I have to buy the instrument because it would be too embarrassing to borrow
Childhood dream: Running a bus company, but that’s not yet fulfilled
Motto: Devote yourself to the process, and don’t focus on the result

Name: Dhedot
Nickname: Dhedot
Place/DoB: Yogyakarta, Jan. 23, 1987
Favorite food: Chicken noodles
Hobby: Eating
Favorite city: Yogyakarta
Bad habit: I’m not telling…
Greatest fear: Flying
Book(s) I currently read: Kesaksian Pengawal Pribadi Sukarno (The Testimony of Sukarno’s Bodyguard)
Favorite book: A Thunder of Drums
Idol: My parents
The good side of being a famous musician: Many
The bad side: Many
Childhood dream: To be a development engineer
Motto: Keep the high spirit!

Name: Ari Prastowo
Nickname: Ari
Place/DoB: Bantul, March 27, 1979
Favorite food: Eggs
Hobby: Listening to music
Favorite city: Makassar, South Sulawesi
Greatest fear: Hurting Allah
Book(s) I currently read: Sheikh Siti Djenar. I read it to understand why his views are considered controversial
Favorite book: Biography of Jaco Pastorius. He’s a hero in the music world, especially as a bass player
Idol: Environment
The good side of being a famous musician: It opens the opportunity to make friends with a wider public
The bad side: People say that being famous means we can get anything we want
Childhood dream: To be a photographer
Motto: Memayu hayuning buwono (a Javanese idiom, meaning that we are obliged to take care of the environment)

The Jakarta Post, March 2009

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