Popular in the 1990s, the rock band has reunited after an eight-year hiatus and is firmly on the road to success
ONE OF THE most popular bands of the late 1990s, Labanoon surprisingly never won a single award in its long and illustrious career. Formed 18 years ago, the band shocked fans by splitting up in 2006 despite still selling out venues on its endless countrywide tours.
Perhaps time out was what was needed for the trio’s undoubted talents to be fully recognised. They reformed in 2014, signed with a new label – Genie Records – headed back to the studio last year and earlier this month, the band, which now features a new drummer, was recognised with the Single Hit of the Year prize for its third single, “Chueak Wiset” at The Guitar Mag Awards 2016.
And a hit “Chueak Wiset” has certainly been, racking up more then 250 million views on YouTube within six months, largely outranking their second single, “Palang Ngarn Jon”, which won just over 100 million views,
“It has been such a long time since our first album. It’s hard to believe but that came out 18 years ago,” singer and guitarist Metee Arun told the crowd at Asiatique tThe Riverfront, standing on stage with bassist Anan Saman and new drummer Nathanon Thongoon.
“It is the first award in our entire musical career and we’ve only been back less than two years after an eight-year hiatus. In fact, we had intended to call it quits and embark on completely new careers. That all changed after phi Kob [Big Ass drummer Kachorndej Promraksa] and told us that he often thought of Labanoon and wanted to see the band come to life again. So, we would like to present this award to him.”
While the applause for the band was loud and long, many in the audience were sceptical about the lack of words, remembering such smash hits as “Yaam” from Labanoon’s 1998 debut “Nom Sod” and “Bang Arj Rak Ther” from its “191” release in 1999.
“I remember our song was nominated along with Bao Parn’s ‘Dok Phai Ban’, which won Season Awards in 2005. And last year, we were nominated for Best Duo/Group Artist together with Bodyslam, Moderndog and Slot Machine,” Metee recalls.
“We also received a Best Silver Awards for selling a million records along with Grammy’s LoSo and Mike Piromporn on occasion of the tenth anniversary of distributor MGA.”
When they split in 2005, Labanoon had already left Music Bugs, their home since the beginning of their fame. The lads went their separate ways. Metee became the secretary to the chief executive of the provincial administrative organisation of Satun and later took on a job as lecturer at the Faculty of Political Science of Hat Yai University. Anan worked as a consultant with mobile phone provider Dtac, while Somporn Usoh, the only one to stay in music, became the drummer for Yuthapong “Noom Kala” Sangsuwan.
Metee is quick to stress that the split wasn’t the result of an argument or related to the way they divvied up their income but had to do with a change in the management of Music Bugs and the end of their contract.
“We felt discouraged and bored with the whole thing. So, we decided to stop playing music and look for other careers,” says Metee, who holds a master’s in public and private management from the Graduate School of Public Administration, National Institute of Development Administration (Nida).
“We were earning Bt100,000 to Bt120,000 per month and we were playing 10 shows. That averages out to Bt20,000 to Bt30,000 a month after deducting expenses so the actual amount we were actually taking home was very low. I earned more as a lecturer on a salary of just over Bt20,000.”
The first sign of a comeback occurred when Metee was listening to the radio and heard a request for Labanoon’s “Bang Arj Rak Ther”.
“The guy asked where Labanoon was and said he often thought about them. I was so surprised that there was someone listening to our songs. But phi Kob’s saying that he would like Labanoon to come back and to fight again, was the real spark. After that, I started writing stores based on our experiences over the past eight years as well as the melodies. Phi Kob liked them and so here we are,” Metee says.
“We didn’t want to take our original drummer back. He was playing with Noom Kala and we hadn’t really decided on the direction we would take after our comeback. Nathanon had played in the alternative metal band Oblivious, which was also at Music Bugs. He had an emo style of drumming, always using the double pedal. We don’t need double pedal but more of a groove. That propulsive rhythmic ‘feel’. It’s more enjoyable,” says Metee.
“We had jammed a few times at shows like the ‘7 See Concert’ and ‘Seed Show’. Labanoon’s music is easy to listen to but hard to play because of those grooves,” adds Nathanon.
In the end, Labanoon reverted to its vintage sound – guitar, bass and drums. Its first album under a new home, Genie Records, a subsidiary of GMM Grammy, goes back to the basics of its first album 18 years ago but is greatly enhanced by international mastering and mixing. In 2014, the band released its first single, “Suksa Naree”. “Palang Ngarn Jon” featuring luk thung singer Paowalee Pornpimol and “Chueak Wiset” followed in 2015 and the fourth single, “Pae Thang” is out soon. All four will be compiled on the new album “N.E.W.S.”
“At first, I intended to open with a song that was later rejected by the production team. The team suggested that because Labanoon had been out of the running for so long, we needed to remind fans of our remarkable and groovy sound – a song that announced Labanoon’s comeback. The name ‘Suksa Naree’ is taken from a school but literally is about learning about women,” says Metee.
“I’m very proud of ‘Palang Ngarn Jon’. I think that it’s the best song on this album and in fact our best ever. It isn’t about poverty but the fight we all face in our lives. It’s a song of encouragement, one that gives you hope and keeps you moving. I was worried at first that fans wouldn’t understand the concept as we usually sing about love and broken hearts. I wrote the melody and arrangement on a train. I thought of myself catching a train from Sungai Kolok in Narathiwat to Bangkok to sign a contract with Genie Records. I wanted nong Paowalee to sing in the reprise of the song because before she starred as luk thung queen Poompuang Duangchan in the film, she sang and sold second-hand clothes at the market to survive.
“‘Chueak Wiset’ was originally called ‘Yoo Mai Suk’ but was later changed to reflect that even a ‘chueak wiset’ [magical rope] can’t bind a broken heart.”
The latest single, “Pae Thang” (“Weak Point”) is inspired by the Premiere League match between Liverpool and Crystal Palace that saw Liverpool lose 3-1 to the underlings.
“I believe everybody has a weak point. No matter how strong a man is, he still surrenders to his lover or wife,” says Metee.
Labanoon’s 10-track album “N.E.W.S.” stands for North, East, West and South as a tribute to the trio’s fans all over the country.
“Music helps us have friends from all walks of life, from every corner of the country,” says Metee, who compares Labanoon to Green Day, the American band that made a triumphant return with “American Idiot” after having disappeared from the scene.
“The story of Labanoon is similar to Green Day, who are our idols. Green Day is back with their remarkable sound,” says Metee.
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