Home » INTERVIEW: Steven Chelliah and FUZASIAN

INTERVIEW: Steven Chelliah and FUZASIAN


Steven Chelliah

Interview by: Alexie Jung

We got to chat with this incredible talented artist around the release of his latest album “FUZASIAN”.

Hi Steven Chelliah! Can you start by introducing yourself to our readers?
I’m a New York City based Guitarist, Composer and Vocalist of Malaysian-Indian origin. I graduated Berklee College of Music with honors in 2011 majoring in Jazz Composition and Contemporary Writing and Production. My education at Berklee afforded me the opportunity to hone my skills as a professional Guitarist, Arranger/Orchestrator and Producer.

Can you tell us more about your musical background and how your Indian Carnatic music heritage influenced your musical journey?
I was born into a musically inclined family, a lineage of Indian Carnatic composers. I started organ and music theory lessons at 6 and finally settled in on guitar at the age of 12. From that point onwards, I practiced guitar daily for hours on end, with ambitions of making it my career. I discovered Indian Carnatic (classical) music at the age of 16 and was blown away by the amount non-western scalar material within the music and saw great potential of exploring them and unlocking their harmonic potential for application in Jazz and Rock. I decided that I wanted to pursue my studies ar Berklee at 15 when I found out that Quincy Jones also studied there. He has been one of my main musical
influences and inspirations since I was a kid.

The FuzAsian® Method is a unique approach that combines Indian scales with chromatic and harmonic exploration in jazz. Could you explain how you developed this method?
I grew up listening to Indian Classical music being played around the house and also listening to my grandfather’s compositions. When I was 16 my uncle who was a professional musician told me that there were dozens of other scales (ragas) in Indian Carnatic music that completely foreign to Western music. I was intrigued by this statement he made and set out on a journey of buying any book I could find on Indian scales presented in western notation format. It was not until I was 19 that I took lessons
from a Carnatic Veena musician who taught me the 72 Melakarta System (72 mother scales). It was at that point I decided that I wanted to formulate a method to explore these Indian Scales from a Jazz perspective, with harmonic awareness. Fast forward to 8 years after I graduated Berklee, I got a publishing deal on Heights Music International in NYC in 2019 where I released the first Fuzasian Method book.

Your latest album, “FuzAsian”, showcases your evolution as a songwriter and vocalist. Can you take us through the creative process behind this album?
This album started out with the intention of being an instrumental Fusion/Jazz album, but in the process of recording it I started feeling the pull to add vocals on top of what I was writing. The song ‘Plight of the Immigrant’ is the first result of that approach. The creative process behind this album was me making detailed charts (clearly notated parts), and then we would play through it a few times in the studio and then start recording it straight away. There were no rehearsals. I would then take the raw files to my home studio and clean them up and then overdub vocals and the guitar solos. The vocal harmony arranging on the album was also done very meticulously, where it was scored as if it were a 4-part horn section.

The focus track of your album, “Dreams of Yesterday”, has a compelling backstory. Could you share more about the inspiration behind the song and its significance to you?
Dreams of Yesterday is probably the most ‘Pop’ sounding track on the album. And by Pop I mean Yacht-Rock/Steely-Dan type Pop. The song discusses the state of feeling trapped in New York City during the pandemic and feeling the urge to move out to LA where it’s sunny and where palm trees set the tone of paradise on earth. It’s also personal in the sense that it was my teenage dream to move to LA and live out my musical dreams like my musical heroes. And so the melody of the chorus captures that nostalgia, evoking a sense of dreaminess and longing for the Californian dream.
Although I love New York City, I often time fantasize about the idea of being a musician in LA in the 1980’s. Perhaps I might consider moving out there soon!

As a virtuosic guitarist, composer, and producer, you had a hands-on role in engineering, editing, and producing the “FuzAsian” album. How was that experience for you, and what were some of the challenges and rewards of being involved in every aspect of the production process?
Some of the challenges of being involved as producer, editing engineer (while being the writer and the artist on the record), is the fact that it is a lot of work and takes a longer time to complete the project. But it is also rewarding as I am a perfectionist and very specific about how I want things to be done, and so I get involved on every single level of the production process. I have to make sure that I’m constantly playing and practicing guitar throughout the recording process, so that my fingers are in shape to play my best guitar solos. Also I have to make sure I am singing often enough to make sure my voice
is in shape. Time management to do these things prior to doing the recording and production work is key. My Mixing Engineer and Co-Producer James Knoerl (who also plays drums on the record).

As a voting member of the Grammy Recording Academy, could you share your thoughts on the importance of recognizing and supporting musicians through prestigious awards like the Grammys?
It is the most important thing in the world for any creative to belong to a community, and the Grammy Recording Academy is the most esteemed community of musical creators in the world. I feel privileged to belong to such an institution. It is exciting to listen to all the cutting edge new music in any genre that’s newly released. It can be overwhelming yet highly inspiring at the same time.

What’s coming next for you?
I recently released a custom made double-neck guitar (fretless on top, and fretted at the bottom) built for me by Felix Martin of FM Guitars in Los Angeles. The guitar was released at the 2023 NAMM Show in California this past April, where I performed and showcased the guitar. It was great to perform songs from the FuzAsian album at the NAMM show and get support from the audience. I also recently got an endorsement deal from StrumNComfort Hybrid Thumbpicks. We will be designing and releasing my very own Steven Chelliah signature hybrid thumbpicks and it will be sold online on their website and also on Amazon. I look forward to composing new music on my new doubleneck guitar and will work on releasing singles going forward with the goal of compiling it into a 2nd album. I would like to have the 2nd album done by Summer or Fall 2024. My focus is currently on writing more ‘yacht-rock’ type music blended with electronic elements. EDM has been a direction that has fascinated me for a long time and I’d like to incorporate it into my music more.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: