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Combining teaching and playing rock music

The Saigon Times

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While most people believe rock is hard to listen to, for Richard Mcmillan, an Englishman, rock, like other genres, can talk about the different ideas in life, love, heartbreak, or expressing one’s feelings, but in a more powerful way. In an interview with The Saigon Times, Mcmillan talked about how he balances being both an English teacher and a rock performer and his journey to becoming a rock performer in Vietnam. Excerpts:

The Saigon Times: How long have you been in Vietnam?
Richard Mcmillan: It’s been more than five years.

When you first came here, was there anything that surprised you?
Lots of things. When I first came here, I was traveling, not living. I bought a motorbike in Hanoi, and I drove around the north of Vietnam, through the mountains, up to Sapa and across to Halong Bay. I crashed once on a mountain road, which was scary, but I did not get hurt.
Everything was so beautiful when I was driving around the country. It was really nice.

What’s your take on the traffic here? Most foreigners find it chaotic.
I learned to drive a motorbike in Hanoi’s Old Town. That was terrifying: me learning how to ride a bike and thousands of motorbikes going across me, behind me and in the wrong direction.
That was the worst place to learn to ride, and I had to do it from day one. After that, everything was easy, but I needed at least a few days to get used to it.

Why did you decide to teach English in Vietnam?
After I finished traveling, I went from Hanoi to HCMC, and I did not want to leave. I liked being here. I wanted to stay longer. It was easy to get a job as an English teacher. That was maybe my easiest route to staying.

Richard Mcmillan is an English teacher and a rock performer

Tell us about the TV program you were in.
The program was looking for rock bands, and they messaged us to appear on the show. That was very interesting as it was my first time being on TV, doing interviews and playing on a big stage.

When did you first realize your passion for rock music?
When I went to university, I started playing in old rock bands. A friend of mine showed me a lot of old cool music. Then, I started learning to play the guitar and played it for many years. After that, I came to Vietnam and started meeting other musicians. We just started playing together and writing songs. That’s how it started.

What is so special about rock music to you?
I also like a lot of pop music and other genres. But I think rock is more energetic. Maybe a lot of pop songs are just about love. A lot of rock songs explore different ideas.

What do you think about the rock music scene in Vietnam?
There are a lot of really talented musicians. The rock bands in Vietnam and their technical ability on the instruments is higher than what I am used to. If people are going to do it, they tend to be the best at it.
I also think the music is flashier. If you are good, you want to show how good you are; that is what a lot of people do. The songs are sometimes a chance to show off, and you would not necessarily get that in the music. Where I am from, it is a bit lazier.

Is this a difference between Vietnamese performers and Westerners?
It is an East versus West thing as well. In the East, you have got to be the best and you are going to work a bit harder than in the West, where you get by on confidence.

Do you think a lot of people shy away from rock music because it is a bit too harsh?
The content is often similar to pop music. It can be about love, heartbreak, etc., like in pop music. But it is just the style of the music and singing that is different. It can be more powerful.
A lot of genres of music are what we might call niche genres. Fewer people like it. It is not quite as mainstream, but the people who like it, really like it. You find that also with rap music sometimes, and especially jazz, and some of these other genres.

Apart from singing rock, do you also compose it?
I do. I learned to compose on my own. Generally speaking, the songs are very similar in composition to a pop song. You’d have the same aspects like a verse, chorus, and then maybe a guitar solo.

Have you ever heard about the traditional songs in Vietnam called Bolero?
Yes, it is nice. The music is nice and there are very good singers.
With Bolero, you have to be able to show your feelings. You have to put your emotions into your voice because it is a very sensitive style of music. Rock is a bit more about how powerfully you can sing and the energy you can generate. They are different in terms of the skills you need.

Do you face challenges being an English teacher and a rock performer?
I have a job and I have the rest of my life to live. But then, I have to find time to practice, and then travel to places to perform. I want to try and record songs as well. The biggest challenge is finding time for everything.

Are you afraid of singing in front of a lot of people?
Not really. You always feel a little nervous before you perform.
I used to be very nervous before. At one performance, I thought it did not go very well. But a few people approached me and told me they liked it. Then you start to realize that making one or two mistakes does not ruin a song or a performance. Most of the time, people do not notice your mistakes; only you do.

What’s your advice to people who want to take up rock music?
Just go and do it. I heard a quote a long time ago. If you want to be a writer, write. If you want to be a singer, sing. If you want to be a guitarist, play the guitar. Always just do it and then work on it as you go, learn from your mistakes, and you will get better.

How do you stay true to your music and vision rather than follow the expectations of listeners?
I just write whatever is in my head at that time. I do not think I necessarily follow trends. If something interests me, I just go with that.
I have a song that hopefully people will get to hear, which uses a very old rhythm that was popular in the 1950s and 60s. I do not think you are going to hear that in many places these days. It is quite a classic rhythm, but really cool.

What are your plans for the future?
I am releasing five or six songs this year. Hopefully, people will listen to them. I think people might like them because they are in the Vietnamese style. It is a softer singing style than most rock music you might hear. I tried to sing them in quite a soft and vulnerable way.

Can you tell us more about the song you are going to release?
It is inspired by Pink Floyd. It is about realizing that everything you believed was a lie, and now you need to change what you were doing.

If people want to listen to your music, where can they find you?
On YouTube or Spotify.

Reported by The Ky

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