It is always inspiring when people take charge of what they want. When you see someone never give up, it makes you feel like you can do the same. That is exactly what Malaysian born musician Stewart Sellan did.
Sellan was not did not have an opportunity to study music formally. He continued his education as an engineer, but never lost his passion for music. He took lessons at church. He spent hours watching videos, teaching himself, and perfecting his craft. He took the initiative to form a band knowing that he was destined to play music for a living.
Sellan is the founding member of the successful Malaysian rock ground Beat The System. The band has gone on to have over 130,000 views on YouTube. In 2010, Beat the System was certified with Tipped to Be the Next Big Thing by the Asian Voice Independent Awards committee, and in 2012 they were awarded Song of The Year in Asian Voice Independent Music Awards for the single ‘Shine’.
“Beat The System was formed because of my strong passion in music and I always believed in what I’m writing and playing,” said Sellan.
Sellan and the band have relocated from Malaysia to New York City. The move has opened up opportunities that Sellan thought were not possible at home.
“Music scenes in Malaysia are very limited for upcoming or new bands unless they are signed under a label or well connected. Being a newly formed band, Beat The System had a tough time to get performance slots in any major gigs as most organizers would prefer established bands due to the tickets sales revenue. This situation had forced Beat the System to perform in many Battle of the Bands talent shows in order to gain recognition among the Event Organizers and to establish a name for the band itself,” he described. “This helped us to see the existing standards of other bands and helped us to improve and be competitive, subsequently always being among the top three finalist in any Battle of the Bands.”
Sellan says this experience opened doors to perform in most college events, public events and music festivals held throughout Malaysia. However, not all events were paying gigs, so the sole goal was to something gain a fan base which could help in future album sales. Throughout the years, Sellan the band was able to establish a decent amount of fan base and being recognize as top performing band in the local scene.
“I always compared us with bands for US, UK and Europe and believed our music is on par with their standards,” said Sellan.” I wanted us to venture out from Malaysia to be known among the international artists. After performances in Malaysia, a lot of people would give good reviews about the songs and live performances both by local and foreign crowds. We also had encouragement from friends, family and music related personnel to venture out from Malaysia music scene.”
One of these connections was Diana Meltzer, an American music industry executive, owner of Monster Hits. Being recognized by Meltzer is attributed to success in the industry, as she is known as the “Woman with the Golden Ears,” and she heard something from the Malaysian rock band that she knew was something special.
“Stewart’s a serious guitar player being that he gets right down to work whenever it is asked of him. Working with him is simple and straightforward, he understands his role very well and is always open to suggestions when it comes to his guitar playing,” said Meltzer.
Sellan says Meltzer guides the band to write songs that are up to industry standard, teaches the business in music industry and constantly advises on the band’s journey. He also works with the band’s producer Andy Anderson, who is known for his work with Shinedown and many more, and helped Sellan understand how to get a good guitar sound for recording. The band’s mixing engineer Damien Page Lewis, who is known for his work with Mariah Carey, Selena Gomez, Katy Perry and more, helped Sellan understand how to find a balanced sound for a good recording.
Sellan has also been influenced by bands like Nirvana, Deep Purple, Mr.Big, Metallica, Megadeth, Pantera, Stryper.
“Seeing them on live performances on TV always wanted me to do something similar,” he said.
Now, Beat The System consists of lead vocalist May Leigh, drummer and composer Gerald Sellan and composer Adrian Puan. The band has both a professional and personal relationship.
“Stewart’s idea on the guitar and bass guitar arrangements certainly makes the song unique and makes it one of a kind, it enhances the melody structure of a song. This is very important and that is why he is a big asset to Beat The System,” said Gerald Sellan.
Beat The System has released two singles this year, and is set to release their album Journey.
Fans of the former nonconformist bands Rage Against the Machines and The Beastie Boys will be floored with delight when they hear Ze Gran Zeft’s modern amalgamation of hip-hop and rock if they haven’t already.
The band, which is comprised of singer, songwriter and guitarist Boots, Sideman on bass and Da Kid on drums, have created a unique discography of energetically charged tracks full of ill beats, radical guitar riffs, screams and raps that make it impossible not to do some good old head bangin’ when they blow through the speaker.
ZGZ started working with renowned producer and musical genius Charles “Kallaghan” Massabo shortly after the band’s formation in 2010, with Kallaghan helping to reel in the boys’ diverse interests into a common focus, not to mention his creation of powerful sound design on most of their tracks. Earlier this year the song ‘Just Like You,’ which was written by Kallaghan for the well known post-hardcore band Falling in Reverse, charted at No. 21 on the Billboard Top 200. Falling in Reverse’s former lead guitarist and backing vocalist, Jacky C Vincent, is featured on ZGZ’s single ‘Spaceman,’ which was released earlier this year and is one of the hits of the band’s forthcoming album “JOI,” which will drop in 2016. Another notable single off the upcoming album titled ‘Millennial Kids’ features non-other than Mopreme Shakur, Tupac’s older brother.
To find out more about the boys of ZGZ make sure to check out our interview below.
Boots: We come from Toulon, in the South East of France.
How would you describe your sound to listeners who haven’t heard your music yet?
Boots: The future.
What is your writing and recording process like?
Boots: We work as a “rock band” but with a “hip-hop” approach– the beat/instrumentals are made first, then I would write some hooks keeping the best one to build a powerful chorus. The inspiration/recording/writing process stays the same for us, we create a vibe, we just fool around until we reach the positive vibe to create and record a track. And basically that is what ZGZ is made of.
When did you guys start playing together?
Da Kid: In 2009 after I met BOOTS at a band contest, we started the basis of ZGZ. I introduced Sideman to the project, as we were working the same job at the time, and after the first rehearsal the band was created.
What was the vibe like between you guys back then compared to now—was it instant chemistry or were there things you had to work through in order to mesh well together?
Da Kid: Total chemistry, we have a lot of influences and that makes ZGZ’s richness, and it’s been like that from the beginning. It’s been 6 years since we started working together and it’s still the same craziness!
How did you end up working with producer Charles “Kallaghan” Massabo?
Da Kid: I contacted him in 2010 while he was still working at his studio in the French Riviera. He liked the demo I sent him and we started working together a couple of month after that.
Can you guys tell me about the work that went into the EPs “Watch The Crown,” and “Crunked Vizion” that you released in 2013?
Sideman: Both EPs were recorded at the same time, that’s the reason why the vibe is the same. That was actually the first album Kallaghan produced and mixed in Los Angeles.
We worked on a 10-track album back in 2012, and when he went to settle down in LA the album was ready. He mixed it at Mudrock’s Hobby Shop studio. That was our first international production between France and the U.S. We also had the opportunity to work with Arn Gyssels for the artwork on both EPs, after discovering his work for Bring Me The Horizon’s “Sempiternal.”
Can you talk a little about your inspiration for each EP?
Boots: I usually write lyrics about stuff that amuses me, like partying with friends, having a good time, and most of all: SEX. We like the 80s vibe before grunge came out with all their penis problems haha… But we are also huge fans of 90s music and that paradox is ZGZ’s main direction: the crossover. We’re just a bunch of kids that love to fool around and annoy elder people.
Did anyone else collaborate with you on those EPs?
Sideman: We recorded all the gang vocal parts with our friends from HELL RULES HEAVEN, who are from France and who work with Kallaghan too. We had a great time screaming like dumbasses into a microphone haha!
You also released the EP “The Debra Experience” in 2013 can you tell us a little bit about that project?
Da Kid: Hahaha! This has been the lamest and at the same time the most fantastic stuff we’ve done! We recorded Kallaghan’s ex-cat on that album. Then after the EP came out the cat went nuts, some issues with the royalties I think. In the end the cat kept the house and the PlayStation 3, and we kept the rights. Lame story.
It seems a bit lighter than the other two, more hip-hop and no heavy guitar riffs—can you tell us what inspired you guys to make that EP?
Boots: We recorded this EP with absolutely no instruments except for a bad quality folk guitar. Everything else is synths and beats. That has been our very first approach with hip-hop, and influenced the following work that made our first upcoming album. We wanted to try something new, and the final product is something cute, but boring. That’s why we named it “The Debra Experience” because Debra Morgan is cute but really boring.
How did you guys come to start working with Jacky C Vincent on the ‘Spaceman’ track you released earlier this year?
Boots: Kallaghan started working with Jacky after he met him by way of Ronnie Radke. He worked on his mixtape and then was involved in the production of Falling In Reverse’s third album “Just Like You.” Kallaghan and Jacky became friends, so when he introduced ZGZ to Jacky, he liked the concept and accepted to drop a crazy ass shred solo. He’s English you know, he’s able to feel real talent. That’s a European quality.
What was the experience like working with him?
Boots: This guy is a rock star, he’s talented, and his hair looks great. He has a purple guitar too. Does Van Halen have a purple guitar? I don’t think so…
You’re also about to release the single ‘Millennial Kids,’ of off your upcoming album- what inspired you guys to create this song and why do you think it will go over well with your audience?
Boots: The Sega Genesis, The Snes, Baywatch, and Dragon Ball Z. This song is our generation. It affects everyone that grew up between 1980 and the 00s, cause it’s dedicated to this period. Every kid dreamed about taking a nap on Pamela’s breast after pushing a giant Kameha. So if you don’t love it or even get it, you surely are from those who use “Pardon my French” before swearing, or use “kiddo”…
How did you guys get connected with Tupac’s brother Mopreme Shakur for the new single?
Sideman: It’s still Kallaghan’s shenanigans haha! Seriously this guy is a real big brother for us, we would never have thought we could write a song with a Shakur one day… We knew Mopreme from his old project with Tupac, “The Outlawz” and “Thug Life,” and Kallaghan had the opportunity to meet him. He was mixing the track by the time, and Mopreme accepted to write a 16 on it… We come from Toulon, and we have a song with one of the most important family members of the hip-hop history!
What’s the name of your upcoming full-length album and when can audiences expect it to be released?
Boots: The name of the album is “JOI” and it’s ready to be released in 2016.
What do you have planned for the future after the release of the album?
Boots: Our first objective is to go on a big tour, to introduce people to the next iconic band of the generation. We are also working on our next album and have the same urge to work with a lot of different artists. This is something we share within Kallaghan Records crew, the union. As we use to say in French “L’union fait la force” (United we stand)…
What tours have you been on so far?
Boots: We had the opportunity to tour in Eastern Europe back in spring 2013 with the Romanian band Dirty Shirt. We love these guys and we had the greatest time ever over there. We also toured in France since the band was created, and played with a couple of local bands.
What has been the most memorable and/or craziest thing that has happened to you guys on tour so far?
Boots: Having a proper PA and something to drink. Honestly, I think the 100% filled rider doesn’t exist. That’s why Van Halen asked for special M&M’s; when you crash at the gig, go check the PA, especially when you need bass, and go check if you have water and something to eat. If you got everything, then yeah, you’ll have a memorable gig, and that’s the craziest thing that can happen to you. And we are in the 21st century.
What was the first show you played together?
Da Kid: The very first show we played together was in 2010 near Toulon, for a band contest organized by a local music store by way of a local festival. We won, and then played on the main stage that night.
What was it like being on stage together for the first time?
Boots: Have you ever eaten a warm croissant during a trip to France? This is kind of new for you but then you feel the pleasure and feel instantly that this is the right thing to do at this exact moment.
What other shows have you guys played aside from the tours you been on together?
Boots: We’ve only played local shows. If you don’t already know about France’s Southeast scene, then let me tell you there’s nothing. France in general, has never been a good spot for composition and live shows; people here are more interested in nightclubs or bars. So if you’re not playing an EDM mix you don’t have 99 choices to play in proper places, and most of all, earn enough money to live from it.
Why do you guys love playing music?
Boots: Cause we all failed our studies, so music remained the easiest way to get girls and money. And that’s one of the only jobs where people love to hear you complain about how life isn’t easy. And sometimes the melody affects our feelings.
Can you describe the feeling you get when you’re on stage?
Da Kid: I feel surrounded by tons of stuffs I can hit the hardest I want, unless the PA sucks, but most of the time that’s the better place to be. Regarding the two others and the way they jump everywhere, I think they enjoy it a lot too.
What bands were you playing in before you got together?
Sideman: We played in small bands, like the one you got into in college after discovering MTV. All our projects were really rock/metal sounding, cause we’ve all grown up with Korn/Tool/Nirvana/etc. We’ll never bash on our first projects cause first, we experienced what is like to be ridiculous and learned to accept it. And then, we created ZGZ after understanding what we really wanted to do in music. It’s been a successful practice.
If you weren’t musicians, what other job do you think you’d have?
Boots: Da kid could work in the fashion industry, he doesn’t particularly have good tastes, but he’d love to be surrounded by people like Lagerfeld, Jacobs or Gautier. Regarding Sideman, he’s really good with computers and technology, so I think he would succeed in creating a webcam show platform for people like Lagerfeld, Jacobs and Gautier and Da Kid. And me, I think I’d really like to become a famous bar tender in a famous 90’s style house club from Chicago or from Castro in SF to spend the night with all those aforementioned fellas.
Can you tell me briefly how each one of you got into music?
Sideman: I decided to play bass in a metal band after discovering ‘Blind’ at the end of Street Fighters II The Movie
Boots: I was raised on the Woodstock scene, The Police and David Bowie. Things follow the logical way.
Da Kid: I was hitting my friends at Kindergarten, my parents decided to buy me a plastic drum kit so I could hit something else.
Can you talk about some of the musicians and bands that have influenced you over the years and why they’ve been important in your growth in musicians?
Boots: Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie, cause they are related to my father who’s a big fan. They also represent the new wave of their own genre; they brought a revolutionary sound and are icons for modern music. Then Dimebag Darell, who is to me the greatest musician of all times. The Notorious BIG, 2Pac and Kendrick Lamar, for all that they represent for music, and their writing skills.
Sideman: I grew up listening to David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Jamiroquai. They heavily influenced my playing style at first. Currently, the musicians that influenced me the most are Adam Nolly Getgood (Periphery), Dick Lövgren (Meshuggah) and Jean-Michel Labadie (Gojira). Their sound and approach to bass helped me make a lot of crucial choices choosing my bass brands, effects, and live configuration.
Da Kid: Slipknot. The intention, their ideas (at least on the 2 first albums) were limitless. But I grew up with many different bands and artists like Paco Sery who’s my favorite, Maceo Parker and Prince, who changed the conception of beat making. The most inspiring current drummer to me is Mark Guiliana.
Thanks ZGZ for the rad interview! If you want to find out more about them and what they’re up to, make sure to stop by their social media pages: