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Alvin Wee is making music and finding ways to become more creative in these trying times

INTERNATIONALLY renowned award-winning producer, mixer and musician Alvin Wee has been based in California for years. The last time the Sarawak native was back on our shores was during Christmas last year.

Wee got his big break when he landed a job mixing music for the popular video game series Final Fantasy. From then on he was mixing music for other videos games, as well as the film scores for Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle, Kung Fu Panda 3 and the recent live-action adaptation of Mulan.

He has worked with diverse groups of composers and musicians including Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Jay Chou, Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy, Tyson Ritter of All-American Rejects, and Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machines.

On the local front, Wee co-wrote and produced the song Together We Rise with composer Rendra Zawawi and singer/lyricist Leah Dennis. The song was originally performed by Jaclyn Victor and Vince Chong as the official theme song for the closing ceremony of the 2017 SEA Games held in Kuala Lumpur.

He also teamed up with Rendra to co-write and produce the song We are the Ones performed by Jeryll Lee in Beijing for the ASEAN Cultural week.

In 2019, Alvin co-produced the track Bermula Kita sung by Yuna (written by Rendra and Yuna).

Wee also produced and mixed the song Arena Cahaya written by Zee Avi and Rendra, which was also part of the soundtrack for the hit film Ola Bola.

The song went on to win numerous awards – including Best Theme Song – at the prestigious 2016 Golden Horse Film Festival.

His most recent work was Malaysiaku that was performed live by Dayang Nurfaizah, Hael Husaini and Adira Suhaimi for this year’s Malaysia Day presentation.

During our phone interview, we asked Wee if the pandemic had affected his creativity in any way.

“Honestly, I do go for my morning jogs and my wife and I go for our walks and all that. That helps keep me sane. A lot of my work takes place in a recording studio or a production studio somewhere, where you meet people and works things out. For me I believe in life integration. I know that people talk about work-life balance, but I don’t believe in that. I believe in work-life integration. It is because of the way my job works.

“Actually, my creative outlet is cooking. Since I can’t go out and I can’t go home (to Malaysia), I have learned how to make laksa, and rendang. My wife is from Toronto and we have an American friend staying with us. So I get to cook all these dishes for them.”

Wee took a big step of moving to the US on advice from his friends, and studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston for two years. He was then advised that if he wanted to learn more, he needed to go further west, which was California.

“I always wanted to learn. If you want to learn you go to the sifu. You go to the people who are doing it. So I came here not to look for a job, I came here to meet people, to learn, to improve myself.”

Wee believes that learning is a continuous process, and that he should keep on improving himself.

In Los Angeles, the more people he met, the more he realised he needed to learn. “I do not think I am the best, I am just curious. That is what drives me. So I thought if I was going to make this my career, I should go out there and see what everyone else is doing and show that us Malaysians can do it just as well. So far it has been a pretty incredible journey.”

What is it like to work with industry legends like Zimmer?

“First thing I would say, It is not rocket science. You have to be open to collaboration. I have to understand as a mixer for someone like Hans Zimmer, you have to understand his vision. Music is 50% of the movie. Try imagine watching Jaws or Star Wars or Pirates of the Caribbean without any music. It is a completely different experience.

“When I approach mixing music, I try to imagine what the composer was writing for the movie. You have to understand what the filmmaker was doing and what he was trying to achieve on screen.”

For his work in the Malaysian music industry, Wee says that he likes to work with the same people because they tend to have the same vision.

“For Arena Cahaya, a lot of it was lyrical. There are certain chord progressions that inspires. Zee had already written the lyrics, and so it was my job with Rendra to understand what instruments go with the emotions, and to arrange the instruments in a way that helps emphasise certain lyrics in a song.”

As for his views on the music scene here, Wee said: “I think people like Dayang, Zee and Yuna, they are artistes, they are music creators and they will continue in the entertainment scene because they are such amazing creators. These people have staying power, because what they bring to the table is not just themselves but also their music. I think there will always be creators who will push the music scene.”