Chulachak “Hugo” Chakrabongse speaks of his journey from aristocratic celeb and front man of local band Siplor to having Jay-Z’s record label produce his first inter album, Old Tyme Religion, out now.

When I was younger and I’d speak Thai, people would be like, “You speak our language! What planet are you from?” When I went to New York, it was as if, once again, I had been dropped onto a new planet. I’m like a spaceman from somewhere else but my music scene is still Bangkok.

Growing up, I had the sense of not ever truly belonging to any one culture.

I was in a band at school. That was one of the things I enjoyed doing most. I liked to read a lot but I wasn’t really good at academics.

I took whatever work came my way just to get some kind of independence. And being slightly Thai, you kind of do whatever adults tell you to.

Then, I started eliminating all the things that I didn’t really like, or to only do them at a really high price.

But it wasn’t sitting well with my conscience, doing something that a lot of people want to do, like acting on TV shows, and secretly hating it and not giving the craft the respect that it deserves. So I just checked out of it altogether.

My international work started when Amanda Ghost [who wrote the lyrics to James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful”] heard my English song “Sub Nam Ta Andaman” [Wipe Your Tears Andaman], which was done after the tsunami.

I got signed on a British record label but I got dropped after being there for a while.

But then Beyonce heard one of my songs and decided to put it on her album.

I tried to make records in the purest, old-school, rock n’ roll kind of way but I’ve finally changed. I’ve become more open minded and taken a slightly less militant approach.

I don’t think there’s a problem with the Thai music scene. The indigenous music scene is lively and energetic. The majority of the local music market is in Thai. P’Bird still outsells those Korean guys who always come and go.

People are just trying to make excuses for themselves. If crowds don’t come to your show, it’s because no one digs your stuff. It doesn’t matter if you’re Korean or not.

Admit to yourself that you want to be successful, even if you’re a cool indie kid writing your own songs. Don’t pretend like you don’t want to make it because otherwise no one will help you out.

There’s a lot more pressure on how my new album is going to do in Thailand because there’s something to compare it to [his original band, Siplor]. In the US, I’m just happy to be in the game.

It was a dream of mine to tour the States because I’ve watched so many American movies. [Touring with band The Script], I got to go to Graceland on the way to Memphis. That was incredible.

It is hard being away from home. I spent the last two months with my kid and my wife. [This life] is difficult but you just got to take it as it comes. It’s about how much you want it to succeed.

As a man it’s nice to know what your mission is. It’s nice to know what this life is supposed to be like. Having a kid, it gives you great clarity of what you have to do.

I can’t see myself touring and playing and being away for that much longer because after a while I want to be around for him and it would be nice for all of us to hang out.

After converting to Islam, I haven’t experienced a profound shift in the way I treat people. Moderation and compassion are the main two lessons that I’ll probably try to apply to my life a bit more. And I certainly don’t miss eating pork that much.

The English language is very fair. There’s no pom, chan, p’, khun, gu, tur [forms of address]. You speak the same way to everybody. That helps create the freedom to exchange ideas between generations and people of various backgrounds.

Good Thai musicians are as good as musicians from other countries in terms of ability, but Western musicians have that drive and ambition. That also makes them harder people, whereas Thais are more chilled.

Take every call or opportunity. Just go, it doesn’t matter if it’s shit. But if you’re sitting around waiting someone to do you a favor, that’s not going to happen. Interview by Sinsiri Tiwutanond and Monruedee Jansuttipan


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