Interviewed by: Nejoud AlYagout , Photographed by: Hamad AlAinati
Last season was iconic for local band ‘The Afterthought’. Composed of five members – Bassam Shuhaibar, Zak Musawi, Husain Alharbi, Omar Salem and Aziz Baqer – their shows at Qout Market and Taste of Q8 Food Festival were documented on social media weeks after the events. Not forgetting the electric, sold-out show at ACK.
The band radiates a surplus of energy that can electrify any space. Last year, they also showed their charitable side by performing at a fund-raiser for Syrian refugees at the German Ambassador’s residence.
Wherever they go, they drive the crowd wild and leave them panting for more. Their fans – affectionately referred to as RoxBots – are never sated, which is why at every concert it has become a trademark for the audience to beg the band to continue singing.
Here, Bassam Shuhaibar (aka Buzz), co-founder, lead vocalist and lyricist, provides us with more juicy details regarding the band.
There is evidently a synergy present among each member in the band. But, there is something more phenomenal about your stage presence, something that is rarely seen locally. It seems as though the audience lets go when you guys perform. Is it your collective passion that assists your RoxBots in losing their inhibitions or is it something enigmatic that even you guys do not comprehend – a je ne sais quoi kind of thing?
The Afterthought lineup has evolved almost as organically as our original compositions, and even though it has shifted over the years (usually due to reasons beyond our control), there is one element that we have been blessed with in its perpetuity: chemistry.
When Zak Musawi and I formed the band way back when, it was built on a foundation of that ‘X factor’ that you allude to. Even at the very beginning, our friends would refer to an intangible force that was evident whenever we performed. We are currently blessed with a group of guys who naturally fit in with our mindset and musical taste, which translates naturally into a live performance or recording studio. I believe it is this invisible binding force that allows us to collectively convey a certain energy to the crowd, which they then reflect back several times stronger. This sets up a ‘feedback loop’ until a boiling point is reached and that is where the real magic happens.
You have played in both public arenas and private residences. To this date, what has been your most memorable performance; the one that immediately springs to mind when you think of a live performance?
I get asked this question quite often, yet it never yields a straightforward answer. Whenever I recall past performances I end up with a mental ‘mosaic’ of sorts, where different moments or songs stand out at their respective venues.
For example, we played Qout Market early last season. It was the perfect day for an outdoor event, and when we finished the last number in our set the crowd spontaneously erupted into chants of ‘One more song! One more song!’ That had never happened to us up until that point, a rush that we will never forget. Another was the time we played at a car launch event in one of the malls here in Kuwait. The crowd was very lukewarm and scattered at the beginning, but by the end of the gig we had a very vibrant and excited, not to mention decent-sized, crowd (standing room only). They made us feel like we were in a sports arena as opposed to a local outdoor venue. And who can forget our very first headlining concert held at the Australian College of Kuwait in May of this year? The stage; the lights; the crowd – to say the experience was phenomenal would be a huge understatement.
That being said, if I had to choose one overall performance that really stands out, it would be the one at Dar Al Funoon this past spring. It was the first time we had ever performed a purely acoustic set in front of an audience, and if you are familiar with the venue you know that it is quite cozy. We had guests sitting in front of us in the courtyard and stood up all the way around the perimeter of the actual exhibition hall, right up to the entrance. Ironically, the intimacy of the venue coupled with the sonically acoustic nature of the performance generated an atmosphere that can only be described as electric. The icing on the cake was the interaction with the audience that only a venue like that could accommodate, resulting in unforgettable renditions of covers like ‘Grenade’ (Bruno Mars) and ‘Alive’ (Pearl Jam), as well as originals that we had never played outside our jam sessions before (‘Walk Away’ and ‘Dawn’). In fact, my most memorable moment happened when we had just ended ‘Dawn’ and were met with what we felt was a very half-hearted response, only to have one of the women sitting in the middle of the crowd say (in Arabic),‘We came here to have a good time, so why are you making us cry?’
Only musicians can understand the rush of playing to a live audience, the rush of having fans sing along to their songs, particularly the original ones. Can you make it a bit more tangible for the rest of us who will never be able to grasp the feeling?
In all honesty, there are no words that can justify a description of that feeling. What makes it even more special is that it is not dependent on the size of the audience, because I have experienced that rush everywhere from simple musical gatherings of friends to full-on shows at larger venues. I remember being with Zak at a friend’s place here in Kuwait in the early 2000s and we decided to play ‘Dawn’ to the group of eight or so people there. They had heard it a few times already on account of my playing it solo for them, but it blew me away when they sang along with the first verse, word-for-word; I literally could not wipe the smile off my face, which was starkly juxtaposed against the semi-somber lyrics. To follow up from that, I ran into a friend at a work function a few months ago who had attended university in the Washington, D.C. area at the same time I was there, and she asked me if I was still playing that song about ‘walking alone on a path paved in stone’. The fact that she had remembered those lyrics from only a couple of jam sessions at a mutual friend’s house over 15 years ago. Well…needless to say, it was a very special moment.
The feeling is very closely related to that energy I had alluded to in my response to your first question. A perfect example is what happened during that same Dar Al Funoon gig. It was quite cold that evening and we were all dressed a little more lightly than we should have been. Early on in the set, we launched into ‘All I Want’, our signature original, and when I looked around there were a couple of people singing along to it in the opening verses. The same thing happened with ‘Poison’ and of course the more popular covers (especially ‘Grenade’) had groups singing along so loudly that I couldn’t help but turn the microphone towards them. Take an industrial-sized oven and turn up the heat as high as it can go, then throw in some lighter fluid for good measure; that’s close to what the resulting feeling was like. By the time we said ‘goodnight’ it may as well have been mid-July.
Five guys. One Vision. How do you get everyone in the band to commit to one ideal?
That is a great question. As I mentioned previously, it really helps that every single one of us has a range of musical tastes that seems to overlap perfectly in the center. Our musical style is one we like to call ‘Unirock’ (universal rock) because it is very difficult to pigeon-hole our original compositions into one particular genre. This is also why we love to cover everyone from Bon Jovi to Bruno Mars, George Michael to Gn’R. Once you have that shared common interest, as well as that natural chemistry, the rest of it just falls into place.
Another major factor is that everyone knows and appreciates their role in the band. We make it very clear that The Afterthought is a ‘no drama’ zone, meaning all issues are dealt with immediately and face-to-face. In addition, whenever we compose a new song, creative input is as expected as it is appreciated from each band member. Thankfully, that input is usually incorporated without any critique, which is also encouraged a vast majority of the time.
Finally, you used the word ‘iconic’ in your introduction to describe our run last season, which in my opinion is absolutely spot-on. Every single one of us is cognizant of that and wants to do their part to take the band to the next level. Nothing unites a team more deliberately than a common objective.
Finally, out of curiosity, would you – along with each member of the band – give up your day jobs if you could make a living out of making music?
In a nutshell, absolutely! I know I speak for all of us when I say that. How many people really, sincerely, truly love what they do for a living, or wake up in the morning looking forward to where and with whom they will be spending the next seven hours or so? I am sure many people would respond that they ‘like’ where they are or what they do, but that is not the same. There is no motivational force that is more influential than passion, because it is as much the means as it is the premise. If it wasn’t there, I can safely say neither Zak nor myself would have lasted this long. And if there is one thing I have learned over the past 20 years, you are never too old to chase a dream, nor feel like a kid when you catch it.
The Afterthought are currently working on their debut album ‘Think Again’ which will be released later this year. You can find more information regarding their music and upcoming events on their website www.theafterthought.rocks and social media accounts:
The Afterthought (Facebook)