Special K: Shyam Raj From Thambi K Seaow

January 30, 2010

There’s an argument made by some critics that Singaporean music has become boring and predictable in recent years. The simplest response to these accusations? “See those guys in that photo? Have you met these weird bastards?”

Thambi K Seaow (loosely translated as “little Indian brother creating a riot”) doesn’t exactly fit into the mould of what people have come to expect from Singaporean bands. Hell, they don’t exactly fit into any kind of mould. With a sound that’s a little bit grunge, a little bit good ol’ rock n’ roll, and a whole lot of Lion City-styled ridiculousness, TKS has garnered fans not just in their native city-state, but in places like Malaysia, Sri Lanka and even parts of Australia.

“It’s like what appeals to us when we see Scottish people dance; it’s something fresh,” explains lead singer and guitarist Shyam Raj, referring to the band’s broad appeal despite a distinctively Singaporean mix of songs that include titles like Mas Selamat and Sebab Saya Shotgun.

TKS is made up of Raj, “Burp” Rory Barker on bass, and Karan on drums. The band got together two years ago “because of music and drinks” and, since then, their laundry list of achievements has been nothing short of impressive. Aside from several television and radio appearances, TKS were also one of CNN’s 25 most important Singaporean names of 2009. “And we’ve also been banned from several clubs,” Shyam adds proudly. “Says a lot about us.”

The band’s meteoric rise, however, doesn’t exactly mirror Shyam’s first experience with tattoos. “I had this friend,” he starts to explain. “He said he did good tats and I bought it. He also said that ’cause I’m a friend, he’d give me a cheap price.

“I already had this urge to get a tat. So, he asked me what design I had chosen and I showed him an om. Back then, it was the only thing I could convince my folks to allow me to have.” He quickly adds, “I was young. I know it isn’t rock and roll, but mums are scary, man.”

Getting back to his story, Shyam continues, “So, the tattoo dude twitches when he talks and, like a fool, I still said OK.” He pauses here, as if to brace himself for the memory. “He was horrible! And the best part is that he placed the tat in the wrong place!

“When I finally looked at it, I realised from the outline that his twitches got to him and it looked like someone drew an electric om.” Shyam promptly paid his artist — then “fucked him up”. Later on, he had the design fixed and improved upon by Jaws from the Singaporean tattoo studio Johnny Two Thumb. “I eventually saw the relationship it had with my music. Om means ‘the sound of creation’ and I relate the rays Jaws added to spreading my sound of creation — music.”

Misadventures in inking aside, Shyam and the rest of the TKS guys have a lot to look forward to. The band’s constantly performing (updates on their gigs can be found at their Facebook and MySpace pages), and they’re set to drop an album entitled Your Mother in February. The release will be available in stores like HMV, Gramophone and, as Shyam points out in typical TKS-fashion, “mama shops.”

For anyone outside of Singapore, you can email the band at thambisrock@singapore.com for bookings or enquiries about how to get a copy of the album.

(Photos are © Sarah Rodrigues)

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