SANGSOM, Thailand’s most famous – or should that be infamous – brand of hard liquor, lends its name to perhaps the most well-known expat band on the rise in the Bangkok live music scene. “Everyone has a SangSom story to tell,” says the band’s founder and frontman Niall Murray, when BigChilli meets the band for a beer and a chat at Craft, Sukhumvit 23. Anyone who’s had a boozy bucket or two on Khao San Road can attest to that – but ‘massacre?’ Niall smiles wryly. “That’s what it [Sangsom] does to your brain.” Could he sound any more rock and roll?
Don’t think that the band’s simply out to butcher your grey matter, though. Like the pints of superior beers the band swigs during our meeting, their product, their sound, is the result of constant practice, endless tweaking, and unadulterated passion for their craft. Lyrically solid, sonically tight, The Sangsom Massacre is the discerning listener’s rock band of choice. And, yeah, it still knows how to party. Loud.
Once a four-piece, now a trio, alongside Niall, The Sangsom Massacre is made up of New Zealander John Bailey on bass, and Philipino Ulysses Garcia on drums.
Ulysses, whose idol is Foo Fighters’ frontman and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, is something of a drumming prodigy. While Niall and John both have rich experience playing in bands (Niall with groups he formed in Scotland, and John most notably with well-known Australian thrash metal band Exit Wounds), Ulysses says that, while he did play guitar and bass in high school, he has minimal band experience. What’s more, he says he never formally learned the drums and that his talent for pounding a rhythm simply comes from his ability to ‘feel the music.’
“This guy is f***ing great!” says Niall, nodding at Ulysses. “I don’t know how he does it.”
Ulysses shrugs. “I don’t know either,” he says. “I feel like I can hear the drums separate to every other instrument. I just know what to do. It’s a real buzz.”
The band’s bassist John, a Thailand resident for seven years, knows all about an onstage buzz. As a former ‘screamer’ for the aforementioned Exit Wounds, he toured Australia five times whipping up mosh pit frenzies with his trademark growls – “some of the best times of my life,” he says – and with his former Bangkok-based band, The Fallen Versus Fate, in 2013 he won the Hard Rock Café’s Battle of the Bands Bangkok. Now, with The Sangsom Massacre, he’s relishing the opportunity to explore another genre of music, and he’s taking great pleasure from the songwriting process.
“The songwriting process for us is like surfing,” he says. “If you don’t catch the wave, the moment could be lost forever.” He gets out his smartphone, and shows us several recorded snippets of inspiration. Niall’s phone is also loaded with rhythms and melodies recorded on the fly, ideas which are later shaped into the band’s brand of dirty garage rock, in the practice room – and sometimes on stage. “Niall’s ability to improvise and think on the spot is amazing,” says John. “Creating music for us is really organic and, yeah, exciting.”
As The Sangsom Massacre’s founder, frontman and lead guitarist, Niall, of course, is the cornerstone of the band. His efforts to keep the band alive after founder members quit (no malice, they just had to head back home through the revolving doors of expat life) speaks volumes of his passion. Spin the band’s debut EP, The Verses of Vice, released last November, and that passion grabs you by the ears – exhilarating stuff.
Niall’s odyssey in rock music began at an early age when his sister’s husband took him to see bands like The Fall. He grew up writing his own music, and can now seemingly pluck riffs and melodies out of thin air, but not all of his musical talent comes naturally. “Singing is a hard one,” he admits. “You have to find your own voice, and then take care of your voice.” (Good advice to keep in mind, aspiring singers).
Anything else he finds difficult? “Being an English band in Bangkok isn’t always easy,” he says.
John explains: “Aside from the language and cultural barriers, rock and roll’s just not considered as cool here as it is in western countries. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll…it’s all considered a bit dirty.”
Despite such obstacles, the band’s popularity has skyrocketed over the past year. Frequent performances in Bangkok bars and pubs have been backed up by increasingly ambitious gigs overseas (Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Indonesia, and Bali), and festivals are now on the radar (including this month a concert for Songkran in Chiang Mai).
What about the future?
While the band describes its sound as ‘dirty garage rock,’ don’t be surprised if its new material leans more towards mainstream, melodic, beat-heavy rock inspired by bands such as Joy Division and New Order.
“Those bands have both had a big influence on our music,” says Niall, the others nodding in agreement. “We’ve been working really hard on perfecting our sound recently, experimenting with dark lyrics and upbeat melodies. And I think we’ve finally nailed it.”
The Verses of Vice is available to download at: bit.ly/1CQGkmS Find out about upcoming gigs at: