To the fingerstyle guitar community in Malaysia, many would have heard of local artistes like Roger Wang, Az Samad and Hady Afro. However, upcoming fingerstyle guitarist Lai Ze Ren from Kuala Lumpur is someone to keep an eye out for in the near future. We caught up with Ze Ren, who recently took part and won the 2015 Penang Fingerstyle Guitar Competition for Category 1 (age 18 and above) for the second time in a row. The interview was conducted by Brian Gan.
Briefly tell us of your experience in the competition last year and this year. What were your feelings, both good and bad?
Overall, my experience with both competitions were equally awesome. It was because of these two competitions that I got to know more people who share the same passion and love for the guitar as myself. Of course, this year’s competition is a neat upgrade from the previous year with the venue upgrade to a hotel and of course, the very nice hi-tea provided! I don’t think that there are any bad feelings nor bad experiences when I joined both competitions. The organisers, judges were all very friendly and I had so much fun participating in both years’ competitions. Aside from being a little nervous before the competition, everything else was pretty much fine and dandy.
How did you prepare for the competition?
I did not intentionally prepare anything specifically for this year’s competition. However, through my daily practice sessions, I selected two of my better performing songs and used them as my performance pieces during the competition.
What important advice did you receive that helped you prepare for the competition?
Before the competition, I performed the selected pieces to my family members. One great advice from my brother was that he kept reminding me not to play too fast but instead to play more steadily. If you think your tempo is fast, the audience will hear the song in an even faster tempo.
Did you feel that you had a chance of winning the competition the first time? How about the 2nd time? How did you strategize to win the competition?
Both competitions had equally good Grand Finalists. I had personally wished to win the competition (who doesn’t?) but did not really had my hopes up too high. I just tried to relax because my goal of joining the competition was to meet old and new friends; and to take a short vacation to wonderful Penang as well. I treat winning the competition as an extra gift for joining the event. I prefer to play my original songs as I can always make minor mistakes and are able to hide them well since I can change the song structure halfway through (oops). Also, I will use a moderate amount of extended techniques (but never overuse them). Lastly, I will try to select techniques and songs that can still sound nice even on a cheaper sound system.
Any advice/suggestions for future contestants?
Do not give up after the audition stage, you never know whether you will be selected for the Grand Finals or not. When playing your songs during the competition, you OWN the stage, you are the star, so don’t be intimidated by the audience. The audience and judges are intently listening and watching your performance. Conversely, never be over-confident in your ability as you may miss your tempo or notes more easily. Just be confident enough to overcome your nervousness. Lastly, have fun and don’t join the event just for the prizes. Make full use of this opportunity to make new friends, and to expand your network. Who knows, they might very well invite you to be their guest performer in other events.
Are there any plans of releasing an album anytime soon?
Hahaha. No, not at this moment. I don’t have any plans to release any album any time soon. I have not reached that level yet but hopefully I am able to participate in more performances or do more video recordings of my compositions and of course, composing and releasing more new songs.