Phuket’s music scene can leave a lot to be desired. Unless you’re a really big fan of The Cranberries’ Zombie – a staple of every cover band’s set list – or cheesy hotel entertainment, you might have to dig a little deeper for a truly memorable live experience or album. Phuket is, after all, a destination island and the music is in tune with that.
Thank the music overlords, then, for Legend Music, a record label and music production and publishing company with the potential to change that. Run by South African expat Gary Crause out of his family home in Koh Kaew, Legend Music has provided talented artists across the island and beyond with a creative space for almost a decade.
A recording studio packed full of hand-built boutique mics, high-end preamps and sleek acoustic, electric and bass guitars tell the story of a man who lives, breathes, knows and loves music. While the studio is also something of a KISS hall of fame, lined with framed records, vintage posters and the band’s signature series guitars, and Paul, Gene, Eric and Tommy are immortalised in ink on Gary’s arm, Legend Music does not discriminate; Gary has guided recording artists to success in a range of genres, from rock, blues and classical to hip hop, jazz, rap, funk and dance.
Gary’s most recent project has been recording Broken Strings, his son Blaze KC’s heavy rock second album. Having essentially grown up in a recording studio, with a constant buzz of bands around him, Blaze, known as Fake Smiles, had early aspirations to be a musician. He picked up a guitar as soon as his hands could comfortably stretch across the fretboard, aged only nine, and has since only put it down to pick up another.
Proving that the Crauses are surely the coolest collective around, Blaze joined his first band, pop-punk five-piece Legends of Siam, a year later, aged 10, and went on to open for some of Thailand’s most prominent artists, including alternative 10-piece Paradox, gangsta-rock singer-songwriter Hugo and reggae legends Job2Do. But three albums later, in 2016, it was time for Blaze to dissolve Legends of Siam and take his music in a new direction.
“Because of how volatile Phuket is and how everyone is constantly leaving, the band’s lineup was like a revolving door! We had to keep changing band members and our repertoire, so I decided I’d give singing a try myself and that turned into the Fake Smiles project,” explains Blaze, now 18 years old.
Fake Smiles started out as a three-piece but Blaze made the decision to go solo in 2017, and so he bravely takes the lead on all guitar, bass and lead vocals on Broken Strings, although the album also features rolling drums by former band member Rannze Davies, soaring backing vocals from an LA session musician and an electrifying guitar solo from South African rockers Toxic Shame. Recorded by a family from Johannesburg in a Phuket studio and mastered in New York, it’s an international album with wide appeal.
“We started the recording process about a year ago. It was a really fun process,” says Blaze. “We did a lot of work getting the right guitar sounds. It was layers on layers of guitars and amp sounds. Being a massive guitar nerd, that was heaven for me.”
For evidence of Blaze’s guitar nerd status, see Exhibit A: his guitar collection made up of some 22 bass and electric guitars and three acoustic guitars plus the recently added shimmering teal Gibson Les Paul Futura, a purchase he couldn’t resist whilst visiting Denmark Street, a London street rich in musical history… and enticing guitar shops.
Broken Strings afforded Blaze the opportunity to dust off, restring and play some of his enviable collection. Prominent on the album are his Gibson Les Paul Studio 2018 and Gibson Firebird, giving Fake Smiles a more mature, heavier rock sound than ever before. Lyrically the album is heavier too. While less politically charged than Fake Smiles’ first album, Keyboard Warriors, it retains the aggression and tackles the hard-hitting subjects of depression, self-doubt and abuse, borne from both Blaze’s experiences and observations.
“When your work is music and your free time is music, you listen to and draw inspiration from so many bands it’s hard to pinpoint influences,” laughs Blaze. “But from the age of seven I got into heavy metal. Ozzy Osbourne, Seether, Zakk Wylde. Of late, I’ve been listening to a lot of La Dispute, Placebo, Fall Out Boy. There’s also probably more shades of KISS [in my music] than I realise or give credit for.”
A little tug of war in the studio was inevitable as Gary leaned towards songs with commercial value while Blaze preferred the edgy, unhinged sounds less favoured by your average mainstream radio station, but the album finds a balance. Lead single Broken Strings, written by Blaze at an artist’s getaway at Karma Studios in Chonburi, has heaps of commercial pop appeal while tracks like Machine Gun Mouth, Blaze’s personal favourite, and Fair-Weather Friends see him free to go all-out thunderous rock.
Given Blaze’s impressive musical CV at only 18, it’s safe to say that Fake Smiles is certainly one to watch. And if you aren’t keeping an eye out, Blaze will be sure to make himself heard with his brand of riff-heavy rock.
Broken Strings will be released on July 31 on all online and retail sites. The album is available for preorder through iTunes. Follow Fake Smiles at www.facebook.com/FakeSmilesBand and Legend Music at www.facebook.com/legendmusicphuket and legendmusic.net