Introducing Rasmee Isan Soul – Arom

 |  March 15, 2018

Two years ago, when Citylife ran a cover story about a new and upcoming local artist, heads turned and the city quickly tuned into the soulful Isaan vibes of Rasmee Wayrana. Her debut performance at Tha Pae East drew crowds in their hundreds, selling out before it began, and seeing people spilling out onto the road just to be able to listen to her incredible sounds.

Since then, her unique style has captivated audiences across the globe, combining both traditional old morlum music with modern soulful melodies that leave people in a trance. Concert upon concert, her name has become more and more well-known, almost a household name for us in Chiang Mai, and a curious exporter of some of the best Thai sounds Thailand has had in years.

Citylife talks to Rasmee Isan Soul as she releases her emotion filled new album, Arom.

Citylife: Since we last spoke to you in January 2016, how have things changed?
Rasmee: Soon after we spoke with you, our popularity grew across the city and people who had connections to other countries and other events began approaching us. We grew mainly through word of mouth to begin with, soon flying to Poland to perform at a movie and music festival before being booked into two other international events in Jakarta and Cambodia.

Since then we have spent the last two years touring basically. I am always working on new songs which is why we thought a new album was needed – this time with a full band and amazing percussion sounds influenced from both Thai and African music.


Citylife: So your band has grown? Last time we spoke it was just you and your guitarist.
Rasmee: Well, we are still the main duo for Rasmee Isan Soul, Satukan is a dear friend of mine and we will always be the core of the band but since we began touring we have invited a number of other musicians to join us creating a full band. Now we have bass players, drummers, African percussionists, Thai khaen, sor and pin players and many more that pop in and out when we need them. Now with such an eclectic range of sounds we just had to create a new album, and give it our all.

Citylife: Does the album contain any songs that you have not yet released?
Rasmee: Although all but one track on the album [Boonruen’s Love Song] are new songs, for anyone who was seen us live, most of them will be recognisable. I am not at the stage where we can hold our songs in, we need to play them!

Citylife: What does the album title represent?
Rasmee: Firstly, it is the title of the first song on the album, Arom, which is almost nine minutes long and explores a range of emotions and feelings in both the music and the lyrics. We tried to recreate the feeling of a live concert, slowly building up over time into a crescendo. It also is a perfect name for our second album, representing all the emotions the band and I have experienced over the last two years while we have been endlessly touring.

After so much interest, we had a studio in Bangkok, Studio 28, approach us and offer us six free hours in their recording studio, which is where we recorded most of the album. After setting up we only had about four hours left to record our songs so the whole process was very emotional. Each version of Arom is always a bit different, so we decided to record it together, rather than recording separate instruments and layering them in post-production. This gave our whole album a much more natural feel, with the songs played as if they were live, in the moment. After six hours in the studio we had to rush to a concert on the other side of the city and play it all again!

Citylife: Are there any other tracks that deserve a special mention?
Rasmee: People may see that Little Girls is listed twice. This is because we just couldn’t decide between the acoustic and full band versions – they were both too good to not include. Little Girls is about the life of many little girls all across the world, including myself, who go to school every day on a bus, passing the rich children by every day, in the same world but completely ignored. It is about the struggle of those in the country to become noticed. Sin and Virtue is sung in Cambodian as is Boonreun’s Love Song – a song I borrowed from my father who has sadly passed away since we last spoke. In this recording, we replaced the pin with a sor [a Thai violin type instrument] to change the melody slightly and give it a deeper quality. When I first began singing as Rasmee Isan Soul, my father didn’t quite understand what I was doing and was apprehensive to support a change to his beloved traditional music, but over the last two years he has seen me grow and become so much bigger than I ever expected and gave me his blessing.

Satukan: The music style of Little Girls is also very unique. It follows the morlum style of nong buk tur, which is an old, faster paced morlum that traditionally accompanies shadow puppet theatres. Although almost all of morlum uses the pentatonic scale, we had to really work on creating the right sound for this one. It ended with me creating my own scale on the guitar, redesigning my fingering from the ground up to get this really unique style. It has a somewhat African feel to it too thanks in part to African music sharing the same pentatonic scale. We often like to incorporate African percussion into our music, like using the udu drum in Arom or the djembe drum in several other tracks.

Citylife: Whats the next steps for Rasmee Isan Soul?
Rasmee: Well, for the next six months we are fully booked to tour both Thailand and overseas, with potential bookings for festivals in New Zealand and China along with the upcoming Vientiane Jazz Festival in Laos. We have a new manager now who is reaching out internationally a lot more and helping us cross language barriers which has opened many new doors for us. We will probably release another album within the next two years but I am also planning on doing a side project over the next year that goes back to the roots of morlum.

Citylife: Tell us more.
Rasmee: I’m still in the creation stage right now but I am working with some amazing local talent to create a side album that is separate from Rasmee Isan Soul. There are so many styles of morlum and I adore all of them, but there has been no new ‘traditional morlum’ albums released in perhaps decades. The plan is to have and album where each song is a different distinct style of morlum, where the lyrics explore their histories, why morlum is so great and why I love it so much – almost like an archive preserving their sound and history. This album has given me the chance to take my music back to where it all began as a child…just my voice and the sound of a khaen or a pin in the background.

Citylife: As for your album Arom, where can people get it and where are you touring next?
Rasmee: Arom is out now and available in iTunes, but I still feel like albums are like pieces of artwork too, so we spent a lot of time designing the sleeve and cover which is my own painting. You can pick up physical copies at Penguin Ghetto and Ranlao Bookshop in Chiang Mai or message Rasmee Facebook page and order via direct message.

For the next month or so we have no concerts planned for Chiang Mai but will be playing at the Music & Art fest at the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre on March 24, followed by the Siam Living Music Festival 2018 at Mahidol University (Salaya Campus), Nakhon Pathom on March 26.