Peter Lau is a drummer from Labuan. He’s one third of the Roger Wang Trio, and he’s been making mini-drum sets from recycled items since Roger first asked him to be a quieter drummer [“less is more, Peter,”] some 15 years ago.
Since our first interview in 2010, RTM Labuan has made a documentary about Peter and his drums, and a Malaysian business group interested in new ideas has sought him out.
But Peter hasn’t forgotten the original passion which drives his creativity.
“People can’t understand that – for me – it’s about the joy. If I wanted to count money, I wouldn’t be doing this.
“Me and my wife Jaq go into town, and people say, ‘Hey Peter, I saw you on the tv. I didn’t know that you make drums. How come you keep quiet?’
“I tell them that when I started, people laughed at me. They said, ‘You want to make drums from recycled items? Why? People can go into the music store and buy new drums! You’re wasting your time, you’re stupid.’
“Now, drummers from the U.S., UK, everywhere, ask me if I can custom-make for them. But I don’t have the time to make drums for people. It’s my hobby.
Once, I tried to make a new mini-drum for money. When I tried to turn this thing into business, I lost all my ideas and feeling of art; I couldn’t concentrate and I didn’t make anything!
Agensi Inovasi Malaysia looks for innovators in Malaysia, and they found Peter.
“They came to Labuan, they want to help innovators to market their product. They never seen anything like my drums before, and they were happy because this is from Malaysia, and from a small town, Labuan. About 20 of them came to my house. It was not a technical interview because they’re not musicians, but I explained how the drums worked so they could understand.
“Then, I have a friend working at RTM Labuan. He said, ‘Hey, I heard you got some attention from Inovasi Malaysia, you want to do an interview about your drums? The RTM people came to my house to do a 30-minute interview, but the interview started at 3.15pm and ended at 6pm! While I was playing, I gave them a kind of workshop about how this thing works!” The recent television programme was on TV1, in Malay.
Peter is generous with his information. “I do workshops, to introduce my drums. I say that everybody has the potential. Don’t look down on yourself. If you really want to do something, if you really put the heart and the effort into it, you can definitely make your dreams it come true. But I tell them, there’s no shortcut, and there’s no magic. It doesn’t take 1-2 days, it doesn’t take weeks. It takes years. This took me 15 years.
“I always say our environment has a lot of wonderful things, only we are not really aware of what is around us. If you really have the heart, you can find that everything is so beautiful, everything can become an instrument.”
Each new drum kit has something different about it, and Peter intends to keep this up. The one he brought to KKJF 2012 had the bass drum beater on the outside, so the audience could see the bass drum action.
“Normally people can’t see the bass drum properly because it’s always at the back of the band, and they can’t see how the beater and the kick pedal move because it’s hiding behind the bass drum! So I thought, why not I come up with something where the audience can see how the pedal and the beater move. I dyed the beater red, so it shows clearly on the stage!”
It’s the process, the journey; that’s what I like. It’s not about the end result.
“People say, if you come up with new designs, you will encounter new problems. Why bother? But for me, it depends how you look at it. A “problem” is a new challenge for me, a chance to learn a new method. This way I educate myself. I never went to university. Some people say, according to the theory, this stuff can’t make sound, this cannot be a drum.
“I say: Who cares? I just did it. If it doesn’t work, I will make another one. It’s fun for me.”
Peter doesn’t get any government funding. “I think, if you can do something without taking any money from the government, it should be alright, mah. I find that I have a lot of friends, who know that I play drums and make drums, so they offer me a helping hand. I think it’s your personal attitude which attracts good people to you.”
But Peter does ask for some advice, where it really counts.
“You must have a big heart to accept people’s criticisms. I have to ask Roger, ‘how’s the tone?’ If I make a drum, and it does not fit with Roger’s guitar and Simon’s guitar, it’s useless.
The drums I come out with are to help the band, to help make us a unique sound. Roger and I have been friends for 20 years. I know the sound he is looking for, and he knows that I can produce. Confidence and trust, that is what we have in the band.