Malaysian Rock Act Billie Blue and the Nowhere Men Talk New Single ‘Old Friend’ and India Connection
In addition to performing in three cities in January 2020, the Kuala Lumpur quartet were tapped for virtual gigs at Indian college festivals this year
When Kuala Lumpur rock band Billie Blue and the Nowhere Men went the acoustic route for their latest release “Old Friend,” it didn’t necessarily mean they were mellowing down from their energetic, psychedelic roots heard on songs like “Red Corduroy.” If anything, they were putting forward a more openhearted perspective.
Over a video call from Malaysia, singer-songwriter Billie Blue Blackstone tells Rolling Stone India, “It’s lyrically one of the songs that I’m most proud of, because I think it was the first time I managed to capture more of a sense of vulnerability in my lyrics.” Aided by the acoustic guitar of co-founder Soheil Sanjabi, “Old Friend” was written in 2018 and is a nod towards the power of verse championed by the likes of Bob Dylan and Neil Young. Billie says the song draws from how “the most negative headspaces can become comforting and feel like an old friend.”
It’s a particularly important release for the bandleader, who was at one point “scared of songwriting.” While Billie Blue and the Nowhere Men started out as a covers band (who were very selective and shunned top 40 hits in their setlists) around six years ago, they began developing their own identity and sound and even released an album called Find Gold in 2018. Currently, songs like “Emperor” and “Red Corduroy” are on streaming platforms, in addition to “Old Friend.” She says, “When we wanted to have original music, I was like, ‘Okay, you know what, you just gotta go for it.’”
Comprising Billie, Sanjabi, bassist David Harding and drummer Reuben Devanesan, the band are about as multicultural as they come. Sanjabi was born in Tehran, while Harding and Devanesan are native Malaysians. Billie is half American and half Malaysian, born to a mother who is also a singer-songwriter and artist. Trotting around Japan, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Billie has been in Malaysia for the last eight years.
While the pandemic has them parched for gigs even as the situation slowly changes in Malaysia, Billie Blue and the Nowhere Men found favor in India for virtual performances at college festivals such as Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati’s Alcheringa and Indian Institute of Management Bengaluru’s Unmaad in March. Their India connection was forged when they received an offer to perform at I.I.T. Madras’ annual festival Saarang in January last year. Billie adds, “We figured if we were going all the way to India, we might as well turn it into a tour.” In the span of eight days, the band performed in Chennai to college goers, in Goa for a vacation crowd and topped it off with two shows in Bengaluru; one for living room gig series Sofar and another at a city pub. “I really enjoyed the nightlife, it was very happening. And we got to meet some local musicians in Bangalore, which was great. When we were in India, we kept saying we have to come back. Hopefully we’ll get the opportunity to someday,” the singer says.
While some of their India tour costs were funded via a grand from the Cultural Economy Development Agency (CENDANA) in Malaysia, the pandemic has put pause on recording budgets for Billie Blue and the Nowhere Men. There’s a new song tentatively titled “Eggs In A Basket” that Billie mentions (it has prog elements) but the band is more immediately keen to get back on stage, breaking away from virtual acoustic performances. She calls it “soul crushing” that they can’t perform just yet. “It has always been the most enjoyable part of being a musician, at least personally. I love the process of creating and writing music, but the exciting part is really getting to perform those songs for other people and making that connection with an audience,” Billie adds.
Listen to “Old Friend” below. Stream on more platforms here.