Born in Singapore in January 1977, guitarist, singer, and songwriter Shah (Shahril Shazo) started out a metal music enthusiast. He dreamed of playing in a Rock & Roll band early in his childhood. He started learning the guitar on his own at 13 years old, and at age 17 Shah formed his own band with three members.
His Rock ‘N’ Roll dreams came true when he joined Cynation. In 2002 Shah met Josh Mak and auditioned for his band “Cynical Annihilation”. Shah landed the gig and became the guitarist for the band, now known as “Cynation”.
Shah had a tough childhood as he grew up in a poor family and saw his parents divorce when he was 15 years old. His mother worked very hard to take care of Shah, along with two younger siblings, a brother and sister. Shah struggled in school because of the stigma of coming from a broken family, losing his friends as a result. He would often get into trouble; his grades suffered at school and eventually was kicked out of school when he was 16 years old. The school principle told Shah to look elsewhere because “he would tarnish the good name of the school.”
Determined to prove everyone wrong and to make his mother proud that she raised a good son, Shah was motivated to succeed. Shah started learning technical hands-on trade and ended up working in the technical industry. He contributed his share in providing food on the table for the family together with his mom. In 2009 Shah graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic in Singapore with an Engineering Diploma. He later married and has two lovely kids, a son and a daughter.
Rock ‘N’ Roll has always been the reason for Shah to dream of bigger things. Shah is a self-taught guitarist because he could not afford to pay for guitar lessons or to go to music school. He picked up his skills by watching and listening to legendary guitarists such as Akira Takasaki from the heavy metal band Loudness, Steve Vai, and Nuno Bettencourt from the band Extreme.
His love for guitar was so great that when he was 13 years old he taught himself how to play. During this time, Shah got his hands on a beaten up acoustic Kapok guitar with hard strings, someone gifted him. He borrowed a chord book from a friend, bought an exercise book and copied every chord printed on that book. Shah had made it a goal to learn all the basic chords in seven days, including changing them flawlessly. He taught himself how to tune the guitar to concert pitch. Shah learned about music theory in 1992 after he finally could afford to save up $10 to buy the August 1992 Guitar World issue, which featured James Hetfield and Tony Iommi on the cover. Shah learned the guitar tablature “as if his life depended on it.”
His first proper guitar was a Yamaha acoustic guitar he bought from a friend. Years later he upgraded to the electric guitar. Shah is a master of the legato technique, the tapping technique also used by Akira Takasaki of the band Loudness, and the squeals (pinch harmonics) he adapted after hearing Zakk Wylde on Ozzy’s 1988 ‘No Rest For The Wicked’ album.
Today Shah became famous for his fusion rock, blending rock, funk, jazz and blues. He inspires young musicians today and is proof that becoming an extraordinary musician takes determination, passion, drive, along with sheer talent.
Exclusive: London Prestige Interview with Shah
London Prestige: How did you meet the boys from Cynation? When did you join the band?
Shah: I think it was back in 2002 when I got in the band after a successful audition. The band at that time was known as Cynical Annihilation. I replied to their ad and was given the opportunity. If I am not mistaken, the band cited as In Flames and Soilwork amongst some as influences. And, I never heard any of these names at that time until a friend of mine did some research for me. When I finally heard those bands mentioned, I thought I could never get the gig. I was heavily into 80s metal bands. But then, I met Josh Mak some days before the audition and I was really happy to know then that we actually shared similar tastes in music. So, I went to the audition and the rest was history.
London Prestige: Tell us a little bit more about growing up and your childhood.
Shah: Growing up in a slightly below average income family was really tough. I don’t usually have some of the cool things kids my age have at that time. And, things then pretty much went down south when my parents got divorced when I was 15. My mom took care of us on her own and that was like an immortal task she suddenly had to do. Anyway, my dad was an a**hole and it was better to get rid of him though.
In school, I was very much the stubborn kid; rebellious and angry. The stigma of being a kid raised in a broken household has made me lost some friends my age. Their parents told them to stay away from me as I could be trouble because I was the kid whose parents got divorced. And that is bad influence? Well, suit themselves. So, most of my friends were older kids and as the world have expected, I got into many troubles.
I was very bad in my studies and with my grades. So, it was not a surprise that I flunked in my exams and eventually was out of school when I was 16. I was not eligible to be given a second chance because the principal told me I have serious issues and will only tarnish the good name of the school and told me to look elsewhere. But, I never did ask for a second chance, so I left.
My mom was really hurt by all these but, I was determined to prove her that she did not raise no fool. So, I carried on learning technical hands-on trade after that and eventually, ended up working in the technical industry. I contributed my share in providing food on the table for the family together with my mom.
London Prestige: What keeps you motivated and going forward?
Shah: Life was pretty much banal for me except my love for Rock N Roll and the desire to be in a rock band. That dream keeps me going despite all the naysayers. Rock N Roll has always been the reason for me to dream of bigger things.
I love my mom so dearly and sympathized with all the things she was putting up when my dad left us. She is a brave woman, a fighter who refused to lose even the odds were against her. Although I do not know how to show to her how much I love and respect her (I really sucked at things like that) but, I believe she knows how I feel towards her. I do regret the things I did in my youth days which have caused her pain and troubles. But, I never had the time for thinking about what I should have been. It is more like to look forward to what I can become.
London Prestige: Describe your guitar sound
Shah: I love the metal bands of the 80s so I shaped my guitar sounds around that aural territory. I was a huge fan of which later was being labelled as hair metal. I still love the music today. I have been amazed of what the mighty sounds of the distortion can do. I believe the distortion is the evolution of rock n roll.
For most of my rhythm works, I prefer something that bites like a distortion sound from hell kind of thing. But no matter how hard I want it to sound; it must not lose any clarity. Notes must be clear no matter how heavy the sound is. Even in power chords (the 5 chord), it must not get lost in the muddiness. I love how the Scorpions did their rhythm sounds especially on the Blackout and Love At First Sting records.
When it comes to my guitar solos, I need them to sing to me. I love the sounds of the violins and I was in a quest to make my solos sound like a violin at one time.
London Prestige: Who are your favorite influences?
Shah: I am a big fan of Eddie Van Halen’s ‘brown’ sound. It has this heavy saturated distorted tones at the same times producing nice harmonic overtones which I crazily am in love with.
I don’t really prefer the scooped metal sound (with 0 or almost 0 midrange frequencies). Scooped sounds played a huge role in shaping the trash metal scene and it has a great place for that. But I love midrange as it kinds of add “hair to the sounds”.
In terms of playing clean, I am a huge fan of what the Fender and Vox amps can produce. Another great monster of a clean amp to me would be the Roland Jazz Chorus.
For effects, I usually employ mostly the Delay and Reverb. Sometimes I do add the Chorus or Phaser if they fit the songs. I used to just have a Boss Distortion (the Turbo Distortion model), the Delay (Boss DD3) straight into a Roland 120W Solid State Roland jazz Chorus for like many years. Those 2 pedals were the only ones I used to have (bought them used) and the amp was always what the rehearsal studio provided. I still rocked hard with those setup anyway; it’s got to be the devil in me maybe hehe.
London Prestige: What music and songs have your written?
Shah: Before I was in Cynical Annihilation, I did record some demos. All were original materials written by me. In the earlier days, studios were all run on analog tape and the rental cost alot. And, the internet was almost like non-existent back in 1994 to 1998. We did a 4 song demo in 2001 I believe and we got great support from some people who had heard those songs.
After Cynical Annihilation, I was involved in some local acts. There was this one band which I got involved which I thought could have finally made some progress. We gigged a lot in small clubs and venues. We got invited to play in many local music festivals and have started to gather quite a good following and respect from the other bands. We even did record an original song and got some local radio airplays but we got disbanded.
On and off, I am currently performing with some funk, fusion, and acid jazz project bands. I did them to remain diverse in my musical exploitations.
London Prestige: What do you consider a big achievement in your music career?
Shah: There was this one big moment for me which I considered like an achievement. There was this gig which I did one time back in maybe 2007 – 2008 period. The band I was involved that time shared a stage with a local band called Malex. They were pretty well known in the Singapore Malay heavy metal scene. And their guitar player is one of my guitar heroes because when I was a kid, I used to see him jam in the same rehearsal studio I went. He was nicknamed Malmsteen (after the great guitar player Yngwie J. Malmsteen).
So, this took place after we finished our set, he went backstage just to see me and he shook my hands and gave me a hug telling me that I am fucking awesome! He told me that he would not just praise a fellow guitar player if he did not mean it. And man, I was trembling because having your own guitar hero to tell you something like that in your face, was unbelievable!
We then went to open up more shows for his band. I still hoping Akira Takasaki (Loudness), Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme) or Steve Vai would do the same someday to me hehe.
London Prestige: What techniques do you use when you play guitar?
Shah: Before I proceed, first and foremost, I am a self-taught guitar player, not because I chose to but I simply couldn’t afford to pay a teacher or to any music school.
I learnt mostly by watching and listening to other players.
My first guitar was a beaten cheap acoustic guitar with strings as hard as hell and extremely high action like a double bass maybe. I did not buy that some dude gave it to me; I was maybe 13 at that time. It had a funny brand name called Kapok.
But that was the guitar that had me started anyway. I borrowed a chord book form a friend and I bought an exercise book and copied every chord printed on that book! I forced myself to learn how to tune the guitar to concert pitch than I target myself to learn all the basic chords in 7 days including of changing them flawlessly.
My first proper guitar was a Yamaha acoustic guitar, the lower end model and I believe I bought if off from a friend. I got the Yamaha because the Kapok has a crack along the neck joints and it was impossible to play. And then, slowly over the years I upgraded to the electric guitar.
I was not exposed to musical theory until in 1992 after finally afford to save up to 10 dollars to buy the August 1992 Guitar World issue (with James Hetfield and Tony Iommi on the cover against a red background). I was still in school at that time. I learnt the guitar tablature like as if my life depended on it.
Since I was self-taught, I do things my own way. The way I approached a certain technique could be different from a teacher could have taught you.
London Prestige: What other techniques have you developed over time?
Shah: I realized that my fretting hand (left) is faster than my picking hand (right). So, naturally, I have developed something which I later found out was called the legato technique. And, over the years, I got better and better with it. Then, I explored other things like tapping. I did learn some of the fundamentals of the tapping technique but, I was particularly interested in the tapping of single notes and put them up to crazy speeds. Then I found out that Akira Takasaki of the band Loudness have this similar technique which he applied on the song Soldier of Fortune.
I always love to outdo myself. I would challenge myself to play real fast. I did not have a metronome and do not have any idea how fast I have gone.
I use the squeals (pinch harmonics) a lot in my playing too especially after hearing Zakk Wylde on Ozzy’s 1988 No Rest For The Wicked album. That was the album which featured Zakk debuted his guitar duties with Ozzy. Then one of my all-time favourite bands, Skid Row played that a lot on their debut album in 1989. I became a pinch harmonics fan hehe.
London Prestige: What genre of music are you into?
Shah: I love Rock N Roll or heavy metal in general but they must feature great guitar playing. Currently, I am exploring more on funk and jazz styles as well. There is this movement they called fusion which technically is a mixture of rock, funk, jazz and blues thrown into the blender. And, I really dig this fusion rock thing a lot.
London Prestige: What other hobbies do you have?
Shah: I love soccer but I never really have the capacity to physically play it these days. I love watching soccer and my favourite teams are Everton Football Club of England and AC Milan of Italy.