Interview with Fusion-Jazz guitarist Steven Chelliah

Steven Chelliah’s new album FuzAsian, showcases the Fusion-Jazz guitarist’s evolution as a songwriter and vocalist, where he seamlessly blends his Fusion Jazz and Songwriting DNA into one cohesive musical statement. We got to chat with the artist about this unique method, his influences and goals.

– Hi Steven Chelliah! Can you start by telling us what was the starting point of your music career?

It all started by singing and playing in Church as a child in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I come from a musical family so music was always around. I fell in love with music for the first time when I heard ‘I’ve Just Gotta Get a Message to You’ by the Bee Gees. My dad had the best of the Bee Gees compilation cassette in his car and the Bee Gees opened up my ears, heart and mind to music. They remain until this day my favorite vocal group and it is my dream to meet Barry Gibb and play with him someday.

– You have your own approach to music, with a special blend of Fusion and Jazz that can be found in your latest album “FuzAsian”. Can you tell us more about it?

The FuzAsian Method is an improvisational concept for Jazz Improvisers to utilize Indian Scales for chromatic and modal embellishment in when soloing. These concepts can be heard in the guitar solos of the album especially on tracks like ‘Double Flat Seven’, ‘Stranger Looking In’ and the others. The guitar solo on ‘Dreams of Yesterday’ is also very raga inspired with the gamakas slides (microtonal slurs), but presented in a pop and rock context to compliment the mood of the song. I would describe mynsongwriting style as contemporary Yacht Rock, with my original sound (FuzAsian).

– With the release of “FuzAsian”, what message or feeling do you hope to convey to your listeners? What do you want them to take away from the album?

Each song has different topics and discusses different experiences, so there isn’t one unified topic or message. But the music is about my journey as an immigrant American who moved to New York. A storyteller telling a story from my musical perspective which is FuzAsian. My family originates from the birth place of Indian Carnatic music. Incorporating the source material from my ethnic roots into contemporary American music is foundational to who I am as a musician. And writing songs (using my style, which is the Fuzasian method) is my way of expressing my life experiences, imagination and beliefs. The song ‘Dreams of Yesterday’ discusses the frustrations of being in a state of claustrophobia in New York while longing for that Californian dream. It was my dream as a teenager to live in Los Angeles and this song captures that nostalgia.

– Your academic journey includes studying at Berklee College of Music and being influenced by prominent music theorists. How have these experiences and teachings shaped your musical imagination and approach to composition?

I majored in Jazz Composition and Music Production at Berklee, and was writing Big- Band scores weekly and conducting orchestral recording sessions throughout my time there. I was mentored by Ken Pullig, the former Chair of Jazz Composition at Berklee who authored some of the departments legendary text books. He took me under his wings and really believed in my original theoretical ideas (FuzAsian). This gave the room to really grow and refine my ideas. Although I have a formal background as a Jazz Composer and Guitarist, my heart leans strongly to songwriting and expressing myself in that idiom, as opposed to doing lengthy instrumental music like most Jazz Fusion guitar players. Although I do like lengthy guitar solos, I prefer adding that into the songwriting format. Songs and vocals are the strongest vehicles of emotion to connect to people, and to rock and a live venue. People tend to appreciate my guitar work more when I invite them in to my musical world through a good song.

– What are your goals a year from now?

To keep doing what I am doing and to get better at it! You never know what is going to be your best work or hit song. The audience and listeners decide that. But I would like to tour Europe and South East Asia next year, keep putting new singles out and to really breakthrough as an artist.

Listen to FuzAsian: