The Midnight Sessions — A Musical Journey : How The Night Helped Me Write
“How Do You Know If You Want to Spend Your Entire Life As A Musician?”
I’ve been asked this question numerous times throughout the past few years. Life as an artist or musician is not easy – especially not in a oountry like Malaysia (I’m residing in Malaysia) where the scene is still growing and work is scarce, at least for a budding musician.
Few venues offer opportunities for musicians to earn a decent living while pursuing a craft they love, and even fewer allow them to do so playing their original music. Opportunities are rare and the pay is meagre.
Why not just get a 9 to 5 job and enjoy my hobby when I can or just grow up and face the facts? How could I?
Thus began my first forage into the local music scene here in Penang 3 years ago.
How I Grew To Love Music
As most children were, I was forced into taking music lessons as a toddler, but soon rejected the regimental classes and almost military-like disciplines that were enforced upon me. Every song was forced upon me and every note was pried from my match stick fingers as I struggled to understand how something I had seen and heard performed with such emotion and passion had turned into a series of cold, strict routines that involved neither creating something new or expressing oneself. I stopped lessons soon after.
I have always loved music. Growing up I fell in love with the crooning voices of The Bee Gees coming from my dad’s stereo; the poppy ballads of Westlife; the aggressive sounds of Linkin Park, Breaking Benjamin, Aerosmith and Green Day I overheard from my brother’s walkman.
I learnt to recognise music as what it is to me: food. As someone that has never had much of an appetite and faced the struggle of clearing my plate every meal – or face the admonishing – I never understood the eagerness of which some people rushed to the table during meal times or the fire in their eyes that was lit by the site of roast beef or pork.
But this, I understood.
As I entered school and soon after my teenage years I learned to feed my cravings as I grew out of certain genres and developed an acquired taste for some. I’ve cried to the haunting voices of Lana Del Ray and Bon Iver; sat quietly seething in anger to the guttural screams of Slipknot and Code Orange Kids; spent time alone indulging in the melodic mastery of the likes of The Beatles, Sigur Ros and Portishead; not to mention rejoiced in the euphoria of digital beats and layers of Alessio, Armin van Buren and Porter Robinson.
That was when I realised this was something I had to be part of.
So at the age of 14, I picked up my brother’s guitar and begged him to teach me how to play. He taught me a few chords and a song and sent me on my way.
Weeks later I had written my first song about a girl I was dating, stealing the chords from Taylor Swift’s Love Story.
And there I was.
Passionate about learning the craft of playing an instrument and song writing, and frustrated with how I was unable to truly relate to any of the songs playing on the radio at the time I was starving. Unable to feed my appetite for emotional comfort and a sense of belonging anymore, I set myself on a course to write the songs I needed to hear to maintain my sanity.
Throughout the next few years I would grab onto every chance I had to play or perform in an attempt to be a better musician and artist, a decision that I’ve come to realize may not exactly have been the most beneficial to me at the time.
I attended workshops, went for seminars and dug my way back into the music education I had previously fought my way out of.
But make no mistake, for these were not the same teachers who spoke dryly of learning and playing songs many others had played before us note for note, never abandoning the well worn melodic trails of history in a desperate attempt to imitate voices of those long gone while neglecting their own. I learned of phrasings and improvising, tension and resolution and finding my own voice in a world built around 8 notes and everything else outside and in between.
And it was in this period that I realized that while those around me were endeavoring in the practices of creating spectacles of fine dining, Asian cuisine or paying respects to their heroes, I would in turn make the food I was most passionate about: comfort food.
Being A Songwriter & Going Against The Odds
As I evolved as a songwriter and a consumer of music, my tastes evolved as well, and with it my choice of genre, and with that I grew my voice not only as a musician and an artist but, but a creator of sorts.
Struggling to hold my own against the small but somewhat active scene here in Penang against shredders who played faster than I could sing and matured crooners who could make you sigh as the musical layers they built settled on your soul, I found myself extremely intimidated and excited at the same time. Some of these people had been in the scene, writing and playing their own songs before some of the bands I listened to were even formed.
It was at this point that I realised with a little elbow grease and continued passion I would be just like them one day, and as year 2014 came and went I realized because of that these were potentially going to be my most cherished years. The years I started stretching my musical muscles, took my first wobbly steps on stage to discover what it meant to put “me” on a plate, and let what merciful souls there were down below accept my honest but unpolished stories and confessions.
And that is how The Midnight Sessions were born.
Check out Redemption, a track from the Midnight Sessions
The night has always been a time of the day I spent to be with myself. Soon after I started playing guitar I began using the night to spend hours writing, practicing or recording, sometimes doing so until sunrise only to sleep after breakfast. Some nights I just allowed myself to be overwhelmed by emotions I didn’t always know I was capable of, and some of these emotions would later work their way into songs.
My inability to ignore or contain what I felt as life passed me by slowly gave way to a compilation of songs that befit the sometimes plaintive silence that I found solace in, and as year 2014 rolled around I learned that this compilation of songs that had a certain quality to them, bits and pieces of what I came to learn were part of my voice as an artist. A snapshot of my time spent alone with no one but myself.
But I wasn’t always alone during these nights. Some times I had friends join me who found solace and suffering in the night the way I did. Overthinking past mistakes, worrying over things that were yet to come or just plagued by inner demons we knew nothing of I decided I would try to offer them a little bit of the comfort music has always offered me.
I penned down the stories they told me, recorded their sorrows and fears, allowed their emotions to mingle with my own and attempted to not only capture what we felt and experienced during those hours but also offer a home to return to when the deafening silence of the night became too much for us.
And so The Midnight Sessions eventually came to be: four songs chronicling some of the most vulnerable moments and the strongest emotions I have personally felt or had the privilege to bear witness to within the past one and a half years in form the of instrumentals, haunting vocal melodies as well as cascading layers of musical confessions.
The Midnight Sessions may not be a commercial pop EP filled with catchy tunes engineered to get stuck in your head or a collection of tracks made to make you tap your feet and dance, but they are four very honest and sincere songs, asking not to be danced along with or blasted, but rather to be mulled over as we all journey through this life in search of a place we each belong.
And even as the clock turns 4 and I realize that I have to be up in 4 hours, whether you like it or not, you have already been exposed to a taste of one of my midnight sessions.
Zee Ng – Visit me on my page at www.facebook.com/zeengmusic