Close your eyes when listening to Peerapat "Be" Thenwong's rendition of a Marvin Gaye classic and you'll find it hard to believe the singer was born in Si Racha. Be has an unusual voice for a Thai male singer _ it has a deep, husky tone that calls to mind the soul-based Motown Sound. It comes as less of a surprise when you know Be counts Gaye, James Brown and Stevie Wonder as his favourite foreign artists.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Brunch features a story about Peerapat “Be” Thenwong, who had been due to hold his debut solo concert at Bitec Bang Na tonight. After Brunch went to press, the concert was postponed out of respect for the late Supreme Patriarch. The concert will instead be held on Dec 1.
Fans will be clamouring to have their first chance to hear that smouldering voice live.
The sellout concert had been scheduled for tonight at Bitec Bang Na, but was postponed for at least one month on Friday after the death of His Holiness the Supreme Patriarch.
When Brunch went to press, no new concert date had been announced.
"I want it to be perfect. I'm more than ready now," one of the greatest Thai vocalists of his generation tells Brunch during a break from rehearsal.
The 42-year-old's god-given voice never fails the fans, but hearing it on the radio or records is nothing like seeing him live.
"Naturally I was born to be a singer. That's why we came up with the title. Simple as that," he laughs.
"No one believes it is my first concert. It's like a dream come true but I must admit it's quite nail-biting for me."
It's hard to believe the former lead vocalist of Crescendo would be nervous. "But the more pressure I put on myself, the better I perform." The concert was originally planned three years ago but since then something has always come up to delay the debut _ such as performing in the Rak Ter Samer stage drama, his wedding, and sponsors cancelling their involvement. He then met I Wave executive promoter Wit Suthithawil, who was very surprised Be had never held a concert before. "Yes, I know. How odd," Be laughs again.
The concert will feature guest stars who are among the country's top musicians and singers. They include producer Neung Jakkawal, Crescendo drummer Ekapong Cherdtham, and singers Ben Chalatit, Sarunrat "Lydia" Visutthithada and Songsit "Kob" Rungnoppakulsri.
"They are components to my music career. I also would like to present the best to my audiences and they surely are."
Kob, who is Be's cousin, couldn't be prouder about the chance to perform a duet, and said in a TV interview that he knew from a young age that Be was going to be in a class of his own.
"I always knew he could sing. At the time when I helped take care of him after his father passed away, I was already a singer. But I didn't push for him at all. He made it happen by himself."
As a singer and songwriter, Be's music, which draws omnivorously from the soul, R&B, and pop genres, blurs the boundaries between improvisation and composition, which is quite unconventional in the current predictable K-Pop mutation that is the Thai music industry. This could be the reason why he struggled at the get-go. Looking back, his desperation to forge a unique music style seems the perfect place for him to have begun. He released two albums with his first band RRR&B _ critics loved them but at the time audiences did not seem to be ready. However, the single Song Rao (Both of Us) managed to become a sleeper hit. When RRR&B disbanded it wasn't the end of the road for him. Be joined Crescendo and had two hit albums with the band, parting ways after four years.
"I was voted out," says Be. "There were too many differences, conflicts of interest. On my part, I was very intense. Let's say it was not my decision to leave the band. However, I moved on.
"I guess sometimes we have to grow apart to be able to communicate again. I think we're good now."
The proof of the repaired relationship comes with Ek, a Crescendo band member who will be among thes guest stars.
Along with the support of his peers, there has been industry recognition. Be has won many awards during his stellar career. The multi-talented artist nipped two consecutive Seesan song of the year awards in 2004-05 for tracks from his two albums with Crescendo. His bold lyrics about infidelity and resonant rhythmic melody on the song Kwam Jing Nai Jai (Truth Inside Our Minds) from the band's debut album proved to be a masterclass in voice, mood and obsessive reverie. The song is played on radio to this day and has become a kind of anthem of forbidden love.
"I knew when we finished recording it that it would be a hit song. It's unorthodox to talk about the dark side of human nature."
He continues to receive rave reviews as a solo artist. In 2010 he was granted the Golden Phra Pikanet award from HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn for Naliga written by Prapas Chonsaranont, which he calls "the proudest moment of my life and the high point of my career".
Be was also named Thailand's best male vocalist at the Seesan Awards in 2009 for his second solo album Medium Rare.
Be says of his awards: "It indicates that there are people who listen to my music and like it enough to think it is worthwhile. It means a lot to me in that sense."
He takes a long pause and then smiles: "But whether I've won an award or not, you know, I'll never stop singing. It's like breathing to me. Just to hear the sound of a guitar literally makes my heart leap."
Be is scheduled to release his third solo album Soulmade later this year. This time he is going back to his roots, soul music, channelling the genre's mix of sophistication and innocence. "I think about how far I've come from the time I first started playing gigs at the Saxophone Pub 15 years ago. Then I was influenced by this genre [soul]," says Be. "One of the greatest things about music is it takes you back to the times and places you are attached to or hopeful about. To look back to a happy place in your life, sometimes it gives you hope. This is what I want my third album to be _ nostalgia, inspiration and vintage."
With nostalgia on his mind, Be reflects on the song that changed his life forever.
"It was Din Daen Haeng Kwam Rak (Land of Love). We were working on the melody and lyrics of this song and we couldn't make it right. I remember I came up with quite a catchy intro while I was driving and thinking about how lost I was in the game of love. The song was about searching for true love. I couldn't finish writing this song until I met my future wife [Paksorn Leenutapong] a few months later. She's also a songwriter and she's the one who wrote the rest of the song. As the matter of fact, she's the one."