Hitting the jackpot

Slot Machine. Melalin Mahavongtrakul

Dressed in black and grey, with cool shades to match, Slot Machine makes for an iconic presence wherever they appear. But more so than their look and their “triangle” hand signal, the band is famous for their music and live performances, filled with energy and great sound that infuse elements of Thai-style and modern rock into a combination unique to their name.

Next month, fresh off their North American tour in April, the four-man alternative-rock band is set to take the stage at Muang Thong Thani, going into full swing with their second big concert — “Slot Machine: The Mothership Live” at Impact Arena. Their first big performance was held at the same venue in 2013.

Slot Machine has performed around the globe, from the Super Slippa Festival in Taiwan to the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan. They also opened Linkin Park’s Bangkok concert in 2007. And just a few months ago, the band toured 14 cities in the US and Canada with Japanese singer Miyavi and South Korean rock band Kiha The Faces, as part of the Asia On Tour project.

It was a grand experience, they said, allowing them to channel their early energy when the people had no idea what their music was like.

“Going on overseas tours made us stronger,” said vocalist Karinyawat “Foet” Durongjirakan. “The audience knew nothing about us, unlike Thai people, who have seen us for a decade. Still, they gave such a good response and we’re really proud of that.

“Slot Machine was a nobody in the US, Canada, even the world. We’re just artists from a small country, and they welcomed us as though we’re some global stars.”

The members then started to launch into their tales of mishap and fun encounter from their North American trip. Karinyawat called it a Boy Scout camp, but with grown men. “Good thing we didn’t start a fist-fight,” he joked. And true to the Thai spirit, everyone packed their instant noodles for the trip and later found themselves wandering the streets of Houston, almost having a run-in with homeless people while searching for a place with good chicken basil.

“I think all of us had a problem with food,” Karinyawat laughed. “Thai, Japanese or South Korean — we got into sound check where a sandwich was always waiting for us. Nobody touches it anymore.”

To the band’s drummer Settharat “Auto” Phangchunan, he called the month-long tour a chance to renew several lessons from crowd management to the fact that the good and bad times spent together really brought the band closer to one another.

“It was also a cultural exchange that we got to learn more from fellow Asian artists — everything from how we live and eat to how we work,” said Settharat. “We’re now back with great experiences that we hope to adapt to our own concert.”

Slot Machine has been active since 2000. Their first studio album was released in 2004 with the hit ballad Ror (I’m Waiting For You) topping several Thai charts and has since become a classic. Since then, their discography has grown to encompass six studio albums. Last year, the band released its first-ever all-English album Spin The World, with six-time Grammy Award-winning producer Steve Lillywhite helming the project. The album received positive feedback from fans.

“We’re relieved,” said Karinyawat. “Nobody knew how it’d turn out at the start. We took a risk that no other Thai band has taken before. Still, I would call it a slow burn. People took some time to adjust to the language. Things were a little quiet at the start, but it’s been slowly getting better and better.”

The singer called that first going-global attempt an experiment, and said that they will definitely have more English albums in the future.

“But we’ll still have our Thai albums, too. That will be up to how we design it and I think we’re pretty flexible with that.”

While the language has changed, the band has chosen to retain their unique style of Thai music, especially with the support of a renowned producer. They’re piercing into the global market not with Western rock, but with Thai.

“[Producer] Steve [Lillywhite] told us that, sometimes, we just don’t know what we have. In other places where they don’t have these things — like luk thung, luk kroong and mor lam, the elements that we have fused into our music, things that some may view as dated and baan nok [old-fashioned] — it’s considered new, unique and refreshing to the world. Many admire that it’s something true to the essence and spirit of the country, and they really value that,” Karinyawat said.

On finishing their first English album, the singer said the team had to put more thought into their music, as they weren’t making it for only Thai ears anymore.

“We’re making our music for the world,” he insisted.

The band also packed a suitcase full of Spin The World CDs for their North American tour, and they were proud they got an empty bag to bring home.

“To me, this album is like our ticket to the world,” said guitarist Janevit “Vit” Chanpanyawong. “Once people have seen us perform live and feel that we’re cool enough, we offer them these records to consume at their leisure.”

Janevit personally prefers that audiences see the band’s live performance before forking over money for an album.

“The albums and the songs can do the rest of the job once people are opened to our live shows. I think it’s better than to have a hit song first, only for some people to have prejudice over the show,” he continued.

Bassist Atirath “Gak” Pintong looked to South Korean Psy’s Gangnam Style as one inspiration in making it big abroad, especially for how the song became famous despite being sung in the singer’s native language.

“We all still remember when Gangnam Style broke the world. If we could do something like that, too, then it’d be great. But we’ll slowly change because people are not so used to an English album from Thai artists,” he said. “Well, not yet, anyway.”

Spin The World is, then, the first stepping stone to international success, whereupon the band hopes to eventually revert to their Thai roots, getting the Thai language out there on the world stage.

Chang Music Connection presents “Slot Machine: The Mothership Live” at Impact Arena, Muang Thong Thani on Aug 26 at 7pm.

Ticket costs 2,500, 2,200, 2,000, 1,600, 1,500 and 900 baht and are available at www.thaiticketmajor.com.

Visit slotmachine.band.