Pete Teo
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Pete Teo

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Pete Teo, Malaysian native, might very well be a pop music genius. His live shows in the Far East reportedly have earned him a cult following and good press. "Rustic Living for Urbanites" shows why: the guy can craft songs that sound immediately familiar yet eerily personal. Throw in a non-threatening, but tighter-than-a-tanktop band and the formula is cooking. Teo opens "Rustic Living for Urbanites" by tapping into the perfect pop idiom with his upbeat "Arms of Marianne", featuring a lilting, have-to-singalong-with chorus. The name Marianne shows up in three titles, to give an indication of Teo’s heart-on-his-sleeve approach here. His lighter songs make his darker songs all the more interesting, with knockout lines scattered liberally. This singer/songwriter/poet doesn’t hesitate to show quietly tortured side, as he does most hauntingly on "Alive and Free", and throughout the 10-track collection. While his themes revolve around love, living and letting go, his vignette-like, earnest approach generally rings true. His world view helps to create an other-worldly aura, as he comes at us from an angle that we’re not accustomed to. There’s a vague sense of mystery shrouding Teo, building a pleasant curiosity. This is some intriguing work; it feels like Zen pop, hinting at life’s answers but offering only questions.
- Fred Kraus, Minor 7th


Teo is from Malaysia, which is why you've probably never head of him (I know I hadn't), but there's a good reason that you might want to get to know him, and this disc is it. He's a crafty songwriter, with numbers that have a fresh and open sound, a clean shimmer, uplifting and relaxing the listener.

Long involved in the music scene, Teo has done film scores, worked as a session musician, as well as gigging musician. His sensitivity and maturity are apparent on a tune like "Marianne Called," a sorrowful ballad, with an Asian violin (well, erhu or zhonghu actually), moving from background to foreground throughout. The sparseness of the acoustic guitar, a light touch on a Fender Rhodes, and Teo's whisper-quiet vocals should provoke tears as the song plays out. Yet Teo can inspire as well, as on "Jesselton Tonight," a happy-go-lucky love song. The only obstacle I can envision is the slightest of accents that might prompt a listener to think of that loser on "American Idol," but otherwise there is nothing about Teo's disc that I can fault. It's a gem from start to finish. - Bill Ribas, NYROCK.com


Perhaps the character on the cover of this CD needs some Rustic Living For Urbanites to get his head on straight, or on at all. Pete Teo’s new album tells tales of loving and living and all the emotions that make our daily lives so interesting. I had never experienced listening to this artist before but when I saw the name Ronan Chris Murphy on the back of the CD as producer, an artist that I never heard before got instant recognition followed by great expectations of an excellent musical experience. Why you ask? Well I am aware of Murphy’s work, and I interviewed him not so long ago. I know what kind of quality he demands in the studio. As I expected this recording was no exception to those high standards.

Teo is an artist-poet-musician in the truest sense of the word. His songs are stories set to engaging and irresistible rhythms via strumming acoustic guitars and haunting Chinese instruments such as the erhu, which sounds similar to a violin. His voice captures the meaning of each track while the tone of his inflection makes each composition a poetic musical voyage that creates thought provoking images. I am sure that is what Teo’s goal is, to make all of this happen for the listener so you can then become one with the storyline. I found it easy to do so because his music and lyrics are so prolific. The man practices what he preaches (as in the title) and discards digital manipulations while recording this acoustic masterpiece, thus the sound produced is natural, clear and concise.

A girl named Marianne seems to be the object all of Teo’s affection and passionate words while the rest of the tracks wrap themselves around your heart, as this woman keeps walking into the film running in your minds eye. “Rhapsody In Blue” is the best and most catchy track-full of sex, fear, truth, and the warning that it’s evil to be on your own on a dark night.

Pete Teo wears his heart on his sleeve, bearing his soul for all to see and observe as this album progresses. The music and his voice are in complete agreement at all times, which makes this album exactly what it is, poetry in motion with the soundtrack to put emphasis on the storyline. If you have lost your head lately and need to get back to reality with both feet on the ground, this CD offers wonderful music with sobering thoughts to help you get there. - Keith Hannalect, Muzik Review


He may be a relatively new name in the recording industry but the well-travelled Pete Teo has been lurking in the not so quiet musical dens of our capital, whipping up a following with his intensely passionate songwriting and showmanship. With this excellent grounding, Teo bursts out of the scene and into his recording debut with an excellent, nay, brilliant album that sparkles with a Dylan-esque talent that we’re sorely lacking.

In the brimming exuberance of ‘Arms Of Marianne’, we get a glimpse of Teo’s songwriting ability shining though the gentle rocking that recalls an old (unrequited?) love. The short and sweet ‘Budapest’ provides a quiet interlude before Teo launches into ‘Jesselton Tonight’. It’s been garnering airplay as the album’s first single and gets the ears perked up with the curiously disarming Erhu as well as some wonderful percussive playing. In ‘Rhapsody In Blue’, Teo even shows a wonderful playful streak.

The Erhu makes a beautiful return in ‘Marianne Called’ and ‘Blue’. By now, Teo’s distinctive voice begins to grow on you endearingly, even sounding uncannily like the sweet whisperings of Bruce Springsteen in his guitar folk element (think E Street Shuffle, Nebraska and Ghost Of Tom Joad), the echoes of which linger right through till the end.

‘Where’ve The Years Gone?’ is a nostalgic ode to an old love that remains his quietest and saddest track yet. ‘The Red House’ is another simmering acoustic number that finally paves the way for the Erhu-led finale ‘Hush Marianne’.

His loving attention to acoustic guitars and the melancholy Erhu renders an easy-listening, folk-tinged album that resonates with Asian layers, evocative vocals and a delightfully original motif in the form of Marianne. At times, however, you just wonder why this album doesn’t quite get into the stride as you’d expect. It’s too much of a lullaby than a celebration of life at times. But make no mistake. These are small chips in a rock-solid oeuvre from one of the premier songwriters to emerge from our local scene. It’s mainly thanks to Teo himself, who pulls it off with customary (you should see him ‘live’) aplomb. And he’s backed up by a troupe of fine collaborators, the brilliant Lewis Pragasam and producer Ronan Chris Murphy not being the only ones.

‘Rustic Living For Urbanites’ is a remarkably quiet debut album. But it unearths a shout of brilliance that should be heard by everyone who appreciates music. - Michael D'Oliviero, The Star


Every once in a while an artist comes in from the fringes to shake things up and challenge the preconceptions we have all become comfortable with. Jason Lo did it admirably with Evening News, introducing big budget production values and songwriting to a rather apathetic music scene. However, since then the local industry has slipped back into denial mode, citing any number of excuses that justify the substandard and second-rate outlook of many of the country’s artists.

Which is why artists like Pete Teo are so important. An outsider where the local music scene is concerned, Teo was obviously not aware of the consensus on what cannot be done when he decided to record the songs that would become the album Rustic Living for Urbanites. The result is a decidedly professional looking and sounding product that won’t sound out of place on your stereo next to your Peter Gabriel or Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan CDs.

Although this is officially Pete’s debut solo album he has had a long and varied career in music which includes a spell writing music for TV and documentaries on the UK’s Channel 4 and a spell with Hong Kong pop outfit Mid Century. Then, after a series of mishaps prevented Mid Century’s record being released, the lure of big money and a family took him away from music for nearly ten years. But according to Teo, the bug remained, gnawing away in the background, demanding to be heard. And then, with the breakdown of his marriage, the floodgates opened and the songs started flooding out once again. That led to Teo picking up the guitar again and heading for open mic nights at KL’s No Black Tie, the music venue that has done more than any in recent years to encouraged diversity and push new musical talent. Those sessions were taped and the idea for Rustic Living was formed. Making the most of his international contacts, Teo put a team together to record the album that is little short of astonishing. Long-time conspirator and Hong Kong music mogul Leo Fung lent his support to the project, encouraging and working out the direction of the material, as well as engineering the recording sessions.

In the meantime, the demo of those No Black Tie sessions was sent out to some key producers and musicians. The strength of the songs caught the attention of US producer Ronan Chris Murphy, who agreed to come to Malaysia to record the project, and to reduce his fee to a much more Malaysia friendly level to do so. An international heavy hitter, Murphy is very well known for the textures he helped to create with prog-rock groups King Crimson and Robert Fripp as well as more contemporary leftfield artists like Chucho Valdes, and is responsible for much of the layered dynamics of Rustic Living. Similarly, the songs attracted one of Japan’s best bassists in the form of Hayakawa Takeharu, a seasoned session player who also agreed to record for Teo at a much reduced rate.

Throw Malaysia’s Lewis Pragasam into the mix as featured percussionist and you have a formidable team. Which only left Teo to deliver the goods with his songs. Because, great producers, musicians and design values aside, the truth of a record is in the songs and it is here that Rustic Living really shines.

In many ways it’s an acoustic album – it’s very organic and there’s little in the way of overt programming, and what electric guitars there are generally muted. It’s almost reminiscent of early Dire Straits, with the sound of virtuoso performers holding themselves in check, allowing the songs to do the talking rather than the individual performers. There’s also an undercurrent of violence in some of the material that echoes one of Teo’s influences, Nick Cave. And like Cave, Teo has a storyteller’s approach to songwriting that hooks the listener from the get go and asks them to enter the world that he’s singing about.

Particularly interesting for a debut record is the Marianne triptych. Something of a concept, these three songs, Arms of Marianne, Marianne Called and Hush Marianne, are by far the most personal songs on the album. Seeming to catalogue the decay of a relationship through the eyes of a third party, they are a window, although whether onto Teo’s own life or that of a close friend is of course open to interpretation.

What may also help the album as far as international sales are concerned are the ‘ethnic’ touches in the arrangements and productions. You can imagine ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ being championed by worthy world music types but overall it’s more contemporary than world fusion, reflecting more the cultural influences of the artist than a pre-determined direction. It’s a combination that has already garnered him considerable press locally, but one listen to the album is enough to tell you that Malaysia is not Teo’s intended end point. In short Rustic Living for Urbanites would do very well on an international label like Real World or Rykodisc, characterizing a million dinner parties, and giving Teo the much wider platform he deserves. It’s not as cynical as it sounds: artists can survive on ingenuity alone, but money does come in useful in the long run. - Matt Daniels, Kakiseni


THE popular theory goes that there is really only six degrees of separation between anyone and everyone else in the world. Well, if that is really the case, local singer/songwriter Pete Teo is seemingly closer to the likes of veteran storytelling troubadours like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan than most, given the man’s inclination to walk down the same musical road as the two aforementioned leading lights.

While Teo may not (yet) have the expansive poetry, the worldly experience or indeed the distinctive, weather-beaten croon of either a Cohen or Dylan, what he has in common with them is a strong desire to share poignant stories of love, life, despair and loss in a distinctively non-commercial musical context. While Cohen and Dylan dressed up their urban tales in folk sophistication, Teo has chosen a mellower, jazzier template to present his work.

Pete Teo is making ambitious music that requires his audiences to use their brain. Performing a three night residency at The Actors Studio Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, as part of the on-going Heineken Green Room Sessions last week, the shows represented a golden opportunity for Teo to road test some material from his recently released debut solo album 'Rustic Living For Urbanites'.

Abandoning his usual solo acoustic act for a fuller musical experience, Teo was backed up at the shows by a host of session musicians, namely Charles Wong on drums, Singaporean Joshua Wang on bass, Justin Lim on keyboards, Chan Kum Loong on erhu and zhonghu, and musical director Greg Lyons on the saxophone and clarinet.

Last Thursday’s opening night show in the comfy and intimate surrounds of the Actors Studio theatre at the Bangsar Shopping Complex saw Teo reaffirm the notion that he was indeed one of the local scene’s most promising acts, in terms of sheer professionalism and musical dexterity anyway. Unlike most debut solo acts, Teo arrived on stage and performed like a fully formed act, devoid of the jitters or teething problems.

The thing is, a slick and mature performance it may well have been but in terms of edge-of-the seat, high-octane musical thrills, Teo’s ever-so-polite gig just seemed to be lacking that ‘oomph’ factor somewhat. While a Pete Teo concert was probably never, ever going to be a wild, rockin night out for the hedonists and thrill seekers out there, some authentic musical kicks to complement the lovely frothy beverages on sale certainly would not have gone amiss.

But minor quibbles aside, Teo quickly established the fact that he was indeed something of maverick (in local industry terms anyway) within minutes of coming on stage. Slinking on a dark stage with the minimum of fuss, distinctively dressed down in a crumpled powder blue shirt and jeans, Teo plonked himself down on a stool and picked and crooned his way through a sparse but emotional version of the Leonard Cohen classic Famous Blue Raincoat. Wearing his influences proudly on his sleeve, Teo’s brave decision to unleash a downbeat Cohen cover as his opening salvo set the tone for the rest of the evening.

Looking like a young Willem Dafoe with his craggy, intense features, Teo certainly looked the part of a world weary troubadour with the weight of the world on his shoulders and for the best part of the night, he even managed to sound suitably messed up. Lyrically, Teo doesn’t stray too far away from the usual introspective troubadour staples (innocence and loss, death, nostalgia, death remorse) as well. Within the confines of simplistic, strummed chord structures, Teo ran the rule over the minutiae of every day urban life in introspective, intensely personal songs like Rhapsody In Blue (“about a woman that I met in a bar who turned out to be a man”), Red House (the sad story of a man left by his wife and child after he was released from prison) and Where Have The Years Gone? (a mellow, wistful tune that Teo penned in New Orleans years ago). To infuse his passionate songs with some authenticity, Teo delivered his bittersweet vignettes like his life depended on it.

After a short interval, Teo returned on stage and concentrated on upping the tempo of his set, performing the trio of Marianne songs from his album, namely 'Rustic Living For Urbanites' opener Arms Of Marianne, Marianne Called and Hush Marianne as well as popular album tracks Budapest and Alive ’N’ Free with the anthemic single Jesselton Tonight saved until the encore to round of the night in epic fashion. Teo also threw in Tom, a new song written in September during a trip to Japan, a and a Neil Finn (ex-Crowded House) cover.

Mellow, mature and with more than a hint of studied cool to his repertoire, Pete Teo is making ambitious music that requires his audiences to use their brain. While that’s not always the recipe for success, it’s certainly a career move that has to be applauded if only for its commitment to making timeless, intelligent music. There’s no mistaking Teo’s strength and conviction for his craft. Whether the kids take to it is another matter. But one suspects that the man really couldn’t care less. He’s just happy doing his thang. - Zack Yusof, The Star


Discography

MAR 2002 - Invited to perform in New York at the Global Entertainment & Media Summit.

SEP 2002 - Demo version of cult favourite ‘Alive ‘N Free’ used in Malaysian playwright Huzir Sulaiman’s short film ‘That Historical Feeling’.

FEB 2003 - ‘Arms Of Marianne’ placed in filmmaker Bernard Chauly’s TV movie ‘Multimedia Super Cintun’.

JUN 2003 - ‘Rustic Living For Urbanites’ released in Malaysia to critical and popular acclaim. First single ‘Jesselton Tonight’ shot to HITZ FM Top 10 in the first week and stayed there for more than 10 weeks, reaching as high as No.2.

SEPT 2003 - 3 weeks Tour Of Japan - played Asian Acoustic Music Festival in Hokkaido and 6 different venues in Tokyo and Osaka, including the famous Noro Club and Venus Fort. Subject of one-hour special feature on NHK FM, Japan’s national radio station. Also featured on National Public Radio’s ‘The World’ program in the USA. Interviewed by Marco Werman.

OCT 2003 - Pete Teo Official Website won the top design award at Kancil 2003, Malaysia’s biggest advertising awards show. ‘Rustic Living For Urbanites’ charted at number 52 on CD Baby and number 1 on CD WOW!. The album stayed in the Top-10 of the ‘CD WOW! ‘Unsigned’ album charts for more than 10 weeks.

NOV 2003 - Pete Teo LIVE @ The Green Room. 3 packed concerts at the Actors Studio Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. First non-jazz musician to be featured in Heineken’s prestigious ‘Green Room’ concert series.

DEC 2003 - Pete Teo Official Website won ‘Gold’ at one of the top web design awards in the world, The New York Festivals Interactive 2003. The site also ranked 5th in the Top 100 Flash sites by the Flash Users’ Association of China in 2003.

JAN 2004 - Premier of ‘Arms Of Marianne’ music video on Malaysia’s top music video satellite channel, Hitz TV. Headlined Kuala Lumpur’s popular arts festival, Urbanscapes.

FEB 2004 - Pete Teo LIVE @ The Green Room nominated in ‘Best Musical Performance’ category in Malaysia’s top performance arts awards, The Cameronian Arts Awards. Launch of ‘Not Verbose’, Pete Teo’s News Blog, in response to popular demand by fans. The blog receives more than 7,000 page views a month.

APR 2004 - ‘Rustic Living For Urbanites’ nominated by Malaysia’s top music industry awards, The AIM Awards 2004, in 4 different categories: ‘Best Album’, ‘Best New Artist’, ‘Best Music Video’ (for ‘Arms Of Marianne’) and ‘Best Album Cover’.

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Pete's primary influences as a singer songwriter are Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, Nick Cave, Cat Stevens, Daniel Lanois and Van Morrison. However, he also takes inspiration from Asian ethnic music as well as classical Chinese poetry. Intensely lyrical and introspective, his songs have been described as 'immediately familiar yet eerily personal', 'Zen pop' and 'haunting'. Known in Malaysia as much for his irreverent writing as his music, Pete's artistic voice is famously eclectic - as evidenced by the presence of folk, jazz, rock and ethnic musicians in his bands. He first made his name as a brilliant live performer with a fanatical cult following in Kuala Lumpur. Upon the release of his debut album 'Rustic Living For Urbanites' in June 2003, Pete burst into the national consciousness with 2 chart-topping singles and as nominee / winner of numerous arts awards. He is widely recognised as one of the most exciting creative voices to have emerged from Malaysia for decades.