Alternative-rock band Empra set for ambitious US tour

Sanjeev Veloo (above right) with his Empra bandmates Matt Agius (left) and Georgia Flipo (centre).
Sanjeev Veloo (above right) with his Empra bandmates Matt Agius (left) and Georgia Flipo (centre).PHOTO: EMPRA

Former Boredphucks frontman Sanjeev Veloo and his new band Empra will be touring the United States

Almost a decade ago, Singaporean singer and musician Sanjeev Veloo, 38, was at the lowest point in his life.

His best friend and bandmate, fellow Singaporean Wayne Seah, had just died in his sleep and it seemed like Veloo's dreams of making it as a musician were dead too.

Instead of giving up, the former frontman of The Boredphucks, a trio popular in the 1990s alternative music scene here, decided to start a new group Down Under. He now fronts the six-year-old alternative-rock band Empra.

While they perform regularly around Australia, the band have embarked on their most ambitious venture yet - a tour across the United States, with more than 50 shows.

"Rock music isn't something that's on the radio much any more, but it's still doing extremely well on the live performance circuits. So if you're in a rock band, you've got to be out there touring to get your music heard and selling your merchandise to make money," says Veloo in an e-mail interview from New Mexico, one of the stops on the tour.

The tour, which also includes indie pop artist Gabe Kubanda and alternative rock band Racing On The Sun, both American, will run until May 18. The three acts will perform in venues such as colleges, high schools and military bases.

Empra - which also comprise bassist Matt Agius and drummer Georgia Flipo, both Australian - performed at the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in Texas, a major annual event on the American music calendar, from last Thursday to Saturday.

Veloo says: "It's the most exciting, most inspiring and biggest tour we've done to date. We've only ever done short stints in California or in South-east Asia, but this time around, we get to perform in the West Coast and southern states of America."

The independent band will record their second album in Anaheim, California, after the tour and hopes to secure a record deal by then.

Getting the tour was a stroke of luck. Empra were in Los Angeles to do promotional shows and, while hanging out at a music festival, Culture Collide, they were asked to replace another Australian band, British India, who had pulled out at the last minute.

Industry players who saw Empra's set were impressed and one of the companies there, Epic Proportions Touring, offered them the US tour on the spot.

Veloo has come a long way since his days with The Boredphucks, notorious for being banned from playing gigs organised by Media- corp radio station Perfect 10 (now 987FM) and the National Youth Council in 1999 because of the use of vulgarities in their songs and concerts.

He went to Australia in 2000 to study media and communications studies at the University of Melbourne. The rest of The Boredphucks - drummer Seah and bassist Justin Roy - joined him there in 2004 and they renamed themselves The Suns, doing regular gigs around the city and releasing two EPs.

Seah died at the age of 29 in 2007, a year after he and Roy returned to Singapore. Veloo, who decided to continue pursuing his rock and roll dreams in Melbourne, dedicated Empra's self-titled debut album, released in 2012, to the late drummer.

Making it as a musician away from his home in Singapore has its downsides.

"I really miss my family. I miss my mum and dad and worry about them getting old without me around," says the bachelor, who supplements his income with other work such as organising concerts and developing websites.

"But moving to Australia to pursue a career in rock music has been the most exciting and inspiring journey of my life. I was meant to do this overseas and not in Singapore."

And while The Boredphucks might be known for cheeky anthems, such as the song Zoe Tay, which pokes fun at the actress' spoken English, Veloo's songs with Empra are a lot less colloquial.

"I don't sing with a Singlish accent because then it would sound like The Boredphucks. And I think these days, my writing has become more universal in terms of lingo and themes as well."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2016, with the headline 'Rock and roll from Oz to the US'. Print Edition | Subscribe