I first met Rendra Zawawi probably when he was a kid. My first memory of his family was actually when I attended his dad, Dr. Wan Zawawi’s album launch. Later on, Rendra and I connected because we were both in the Kuala Lumpur singer-songwriter scene. I was a solo fingerstyle guitarist, inspired by the music of Michael Hedges, Alex De Grassi and Don Ross. Although I was not strictly a singer-songwriter, I was part of the scene since it was probably the closest thing stylistically to what I did.
At one point, Rendra took a private lesson with me to level up his music theory knowledge. Later on, when I became a student in Berklee, I recommended Rendra to study with one of my former guitar teachers in Kuala Lumpur, Encik Rosdan Abbas. Further along the journey, Rendra decided to go full on into a music career beyond being a singer-songwriter. He enrolled in Berklee College of Music and then after graduating moved to Los Angeles. Now, he is a music composer for TV and films! It makes me happy to feature this musician on this week’s Creative Fridays feature.
Rendra Zawawi is an award-winning music composer, songwriter, producer, and musician who has had his work featured on international shores including the US, UK, Japan, and the Southeast Asia region. The LA-based composer is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of Berklee College of Music with a degree in Contemporary Writing and Production, with additional studies in songwriting and video game music.
As a composer, Rendra has accomplished his leading role as a composer for feature scores like the epic fantasy “Temenggor” by Feisk Productions. His other scoring works also include Amy Harvey and Mashana Malova’s “Antidote” (DMOFF 2017, Barcelona International 2017, Golden Bridge Festival 2017, Best Actress in European Cinematography Awards 2017), as well as award-winning director Zac Chia’s “Where Things May Grow” (Bates Film Festival 2017) and “Saptapadi” (LA Shorts Awards 2017 , Seattle Asian American 2017, Dallas Film Festival 2018) and Roger Liew’s web series “My Delivery Guy” (Miami Web Series Festival 2017). Rendra has also contributed additional music for FOX’s “American Horror Story: Apocalypse”, “American Horror Story: Cult” and FX’s “American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace” under Emmy-winning lead composer Mac Quayle. Rendra’s upcoming work includes the anticipated horror film “Home Stay”, under the helm of producer and director Iskander Azizuddin and Feisal Azizuddin.
Rendra has also written and produced theme songs for Malaysian telemovies such as “Kalau Dah Perempuan”, “Ana, Aku dan Aiman”, “Pulang Sayang”, and “Tarbiah Cinta” featuring Dina Nadzir, runner-up of Malaysian Idol 2004.
His latest international work includes him being the composer for the song “We Are The Ones”, which was sung by China’s Sing! finalist Jeryl Lee, produced together with producer Alvin Wee (Tag, Kungfu Panda 3, Metal Gear Solid 5), who both co-own Amplitone Productions. The song was used as the main theme song for the ASEAN Cultural Week 2018 in Beijing, and had it’s music video recorded in the auspicious Forbidden City. Rendra is also the lead composer for the song “Together We Rise”, which was sung live in front of millions of viewers by award-winning performers Jaclyn Victor and Vince Chong in the South East Asian Games 2017 (SEA Games 2017) closing ceremony. Rendra’s latest arrangement of “Arena Cahaya” was co-produced and co-written alongside internationally acclaimed award-winning singer-songwriter Zee Avi (Bitterheart, Honeybee, Concrete Wall). Arena Cahaya is the theme song for the award-winning film “Ola Bola”, directed by Chiu (award-winning director for the highest grossing movie in Malaysia’s box office, “The Journey”). The song has since been awarded Best Theme Song for the Golden Horse Film Festival 2016 and the Malaysian Film Festival 2016.
As a musician and artist, Rendra released his EP “Faceless”, for which he produced, composed, and sang, in 2012 . The song “Faceless” and the music video was nominated for ‘Best Rock Song’ and ‘Best Music Video’ respectively for VIMA Awards 2013. The song was also in the top three of Malaysian English Top 10 charts for two months. Rendra’s singing credits include being featured as an act for Rock The World 2010, opening act for legendary folk troubadour M.Nasirat the Ambassador Theatre Hall in Dublin, Rhythm Of The Universe 2013 Concert at Boston’s Box Festival, as well as Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy Distant World Concert at the Boston Symphony Hall, conducted by Arnie Roth. In 2003, Rendra was the runner-up winner for the duet singing reality show ‘Superstars’ on NTV7 Malaysia. To date, Rendra has performed over 50 live shows around the world including US, UK, Japan, and Malaysia.
Rendra serves as a music consultant and representative for ‘Sound Leadership’, a company endorsed by MIT and Berklee, founded by Dr. Johannes Flecker to help develop organizational skills with musical storytelling.
Apart from working on his personal projects, Rendra also serves as an assistant to Emmy-winning composer and Grammy-nominated musician Mac Quayle, working on shows such as USA Network’s Golden Globe Winner “Mr. Robot”, FOX’s “American Horror Story”, “FEUD: Bette and Joan”, “9-1-1”, “American Crime Story”, as well as FOX’s “Scream Queens”. Rendra has also worked with Oscar-winning film composer Yuval Ron on several projects, including as a music editor on the international feature film “The Evil That Men Do”and as a music engineer for some of Yuval’s other works. In his free time, Rendra enjoys exploring coffee spots or taking a trip to Santa Monica for a good dose of Bulletproof Coffee. He is also a crossfit freak.
1. What’s your latest project?
I have a music production company in Los Angeles called Amplitone Productions, which I co-own with another fellow Malaysian, Alvin Wee. We do a variety of music services that include music composition and songwriting, mixing, sound design, and other post-audio related work. Through the company, Alvin has just completed the mix for the film ‘Tag’, as well as the Kungfu Panda ride at Universal Studios! We’re also currently working on the audio production (music, sound design, mixing etc.) on a feature film called “Temenggor”. There are also several US television shows in the Fall that we’ll be working on soon. Exciting year ahead!
2. What inspires your music?
I’ve always liked the idea of collaboration, as it creates a ‘creative’ conversation among collaborators that lead to a new form of inspiration. You throw an idea, and it bounces off someone else’s energy, then back to you – you add a little more, and then you rally till you nail it. These days my work mostly revolves around creating music for visuals, so my collaborators mostly end up being picture editors, directors, or even producers. I’ve always found it exciting to hear their ideas behind the creation of their visual art – because listening to it gives you ideas to elevate their product and art to the next level. So yes, I get my inspirations from the storytelling of my collaborators!
2. O – Damien Rice
3. Mr. Robot Vol. 1 OST – Mac Quayle
4. OK Computer – Radiohead
5. Phantom Menace OST – John Williams
4. Who’s one artist/musician that you love but most people probably don’t know of?
I think that would be Damien Rice for me. He’s not that commercially known, but neither is he that obscure. I first heard of him through a friend when I visited Dublin. I plugged in his ‘O’ album, and that changed the way I view songwriting and composition for the rest of my life. There was this sense of honesty in his mellow ways of expression. I found it really authentic.
5. What’s an advice you wish someone told you when you started in the arts?
When I started in the arts, it was really all about creating the art, and nothing else! The more I got into it, the more opportunities presented itself where I was able to make a business out of it. And thats when it hit me that I was lacking these business acumens for music – because it was really hard to put a price value on an art work that is always so subjective. Your golden ratio is not going to be someone else’s golden ratio, so there’s no really a benchmark for these kind of things. Thankfully I’m able to sort of figure the most part of it now (never too late!) but I can say that I’ve lost a good few ‘compensations’ in the past due to my inexperience in dealing with it. I wish I developed these skills alongside with my art.
The other thing I wish someone told me going into the music industry is tech tech tech! At my stage of professional work, speed of delivery is everything! And the key to that is having a smooth workflow that requires you to be on top of your tech – and I’m talking about having a full understanding of your workstation e.g computers, music related gears, hardwares and softwares, and many more. The saying in the industry is that music writing (for TV and Film for most parts) is 70% tech and 30% actual creative writing. Sounds ridiculous I know, but that’s the reality. I can go deep and technical on this but that’ll just take up an entire page – but bottomline is you’d want to have as little technical troubleshooting as possible when it’s crunch time because that would just get in the way of your creative process. So get techy guys!
In Hollywood now, there are simply an over supply of composers, which makes the whole jousting a notch more competitive. The biggest challenge for me, and anyone here really, is how to make yourself stand out. I believe this goes the same for any creative fields out there facing this similar conundrum. For us composers, one of the better ways in overcoming this is to really find your own unique sound. Thankfully, a good resource for me to explore is by exploiting my Nusantara roots as a Malaysian. I believe there’s a gold mine there ready to be dug up – hopefully making an impactful fusion with contemporary sounds that will make my music more commercially unique. But even that is becoming more challenging these days because everyone here is incredibly talented and unique in their own ways, coming from so many different backgrounds all around the world. So as you can see, it’s an ever ‘overcoming’ struggle for me. But maybe I can confidently say “I did it” when I win my first Emmy in the (hopefully) near future.
7. How do we reach you?
Other Website(s): IMDB – https://www.imdb.com/name/nm7393386/
Thank you for your time Rendra!
Thank you for reading this week’s instalment of #AzCreativeFridays. Please do check out the past interviews (30 so far, including this one) and come back for the next one. Stay tuned! 🙂
Read the recent [Creative Fridays] interview:
[Creative Fridays] #14 : Taylor Roberts
7-String Solo Guitarist
[Creative Fridays] #16: Scott Murphy
Saxophonist and Composer
[Creative Fridays] #17: Nisa Addina
[Creative Fridays] #18: Jake Shimabukuro
[Creative Fridays] #19: Jared Sims
[Creative Fridays] #20: Gabriel Lynch
[Creative Fridays] #21: Rizal Tony
Jazz Guitarist and Educator
[Creative Fridays] #22: Raja Farouk
Multi-Instrumentalist and Sessionist
[Creative Fridays] #23: Kho Chia Wen Sharon
[Creative Fridays] #24: Josh Maxey
Jazz Guitarist & Educator
[Creative Fridays] #25: Toru Watanabe
[Creative Fridays] #26: Jordan Klemons
Jazz Guitarist & Music Educator
[Creative Fridays] #27: Armen Movsesyan
Jazz Guitarist & Music Educator
[Creative Fridays] #28: Gwen Guo
[Creative Fridays] #29: Sean McGowan
[Creative Fridays] #30: Rendra Zawawi
Film Music Composer
[About Creative Fridays]
The original Creative Fridays was an interview series I did back in 2012. Published on my website, www.azsamad.com, it explored the musical influences of various musicians from all over the world. Relaunching this now in 2018, there are some cool add-ons. For a super obvious one, we’ve now added Spotify and YouTube links whenever possible for the Desert Island Albums list.
This to me is amazing because you can actually immediately listen to the recommended albums. Coming from a generation that used to make trips to the record store to check out new music, it still boggles my mind that we can immediately listen to the records that is recommended here. Imagine if you listened to the 5 suggested albums – how much could you learn from it?
Also, in addition to the original questions from the series, I’ve added a new question into the mix asking about the biggest challenge each individual has faced in their work. I’ve found that we all can benefit by learning from one another. Let’s share and grow together!
If you know a musician who you think could be a good fit to be featured in Creative Fridays, please contact me with your ideas. The focus is in diversity for music, cultural background, geography, age and experience. It doesn’t matter where you are around the world, if you’re a creative making interesting music on an interesting journey and have something to share, please reach out to me. Please do note, due to this being a weekly series, the interview may be featured later in the year depending scheduling.
Thank you! 🙂
[The Original Series]
Season 1: Every week for 13 weeks, published from Feb 2012 to April 2012.
[Creative Fridays] #1 : Kevin Broken Scar
(Melbourne Singer-Songwriter/Sound Engineer)
[Creative Fridays] #2 : Deborah Crooks
(SF Bay Area Singer-Songwriter)
[Creative Fridays] #3 : Dylan Kay
(UK/Auckland Jazz Guitarist)
[Creative Fridays] #4 : Azmyl Yunor
(Malaysian Singer-Songwriter/College Lecturer)
[Creative Fridays] #6 : TragiComedy
[Creative Fridays] #7 : Candelaria
(Oakland Cumbia-Dub Band)
[Creative Fridays] #8 : Pete Teo
[Creative Fridays] #9 : Lori McKinney
(West Virginia Bandleader/Festival Organizer)
[Creative Fridays] #10: Helen Sherrah-Davies
(UK/Boston Violinist-Composer & Berklee faculty)
[Creative Fridays] #11: Adam Everett
(SF Bay Area Drummer-Composer)
[Creative Fridays] #12: Julian Chan
(Malaysian Jazz Saxophonist)
[Creative Fridays] #13: Sharon Chong
(Malaysian Keyboardist and Vocalist]
[More about Az Samad]
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