Back in the year 2000, Atirath "Gak" Pintong had just heard his band's drummer sing, and decided that he should drop the sticks and take to the mic instead. They were both high school students at the time, trying their luck in the 'battle of the bands' contests that were held around Bangkok. With Karinyawat "Foet" Durongjirakan as their frontman, Gak and the rest of the band hoped that they could finally score a win at the next big competition.
But they performed well enough to land in second place. That was all the motivation their band, Slot Machine, needed to keep making music.
"We are determined and never give up on any difficulties," Foet says, reflecting on the ride they've been on since high school. "I think this is the main reason we have come this far."
Band members came and went over the next few years, and Slot Machine's sound evolved with a makeup that seemed to be in flux around the time they signed with a major label. With the entry of Janevit "Vit" Chanpanyawong and Settharat "Auto" Pancgchunan in 2006, however, they had finally found their mix. It was then that they recorded "Phan (Yesterday)", which Auto asserts still best represents Slot Machine's sound.
"This song explains it all," he says.
"Phan," a sweeping alternative rock ballad that reflects on the importance of remembering pain as the stories that shape us, launched the group into stardom, with millions of Thai music fans getting their first listen of Foet's emotional vocals, Gak's smooth bass lines and Vit's catchy guitar hooks, all carried by the heartbeat of Auto's drums.
Despite being together for a decade, and despite winning numerous awards throughout the early 2010s, Slot Machine feels they've only scratched the surface. By 2014 they'd been a mainstay of Thailand's music scene for eight long years—a lifetime for many groups—but they'd not yet tried their chances in the international market.
"After five Thai albums, we discussed with the label for ideas on how to share our music with the world," Gak says. "We all felt it was the right time to cut an English album; we were ready."
They were eventually introduced to Steve Lillywhite, the legendary producer behind Dave Matthews Band's Crash, The Killers' Battle Born, The Rolling Stones' Dirty Work and U2's first three albums—among other iconic items in his portfolio. After hearing Slot Machine play, he knew he wanted to work with them.
"Working with Steve was like hanging out with an extremely talented and wise uncle," Gak shares. "We shared many similarities, such as our outlook in life, work ethics and most importantly, we love the same types of music."
The end result of their collaboration, Spin the World, is a roaring 10-track opus that reflects just how much the band has grown together. Like the groups that inspire them (The Beatles, Radiohead, U2), Slot Machine shows an uncanny ability to evolve without losing sight of their identity. Every song in Spin the World, from the energetic title track to the winsome "I Know, I Know," up to the fiery "MRT", features departures from their original sound, but still manages to be undeniably theirs.
It is, in a sense, a rebirth for Slot Machine—one of the many they've undergone in their storied career. Today, at the top of their game, Foet, Gak, Vit and Auto are still hungrily making music, always discovering something new to Slot Machine as they continue to grow as artists.
It's been a hell of a journey, but from their music it's clear that there's still plenty of payoff left.
– Words by Marco Sumayao
Catch Slot Machine live at MTV Spotlight @ Hyperplay, August 4–5 at Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Tune in to MTV Asia at 4pm (SGT), or livestream the entire esports + music festival at hyperplay.sg.