Believe me when I say that the guys in TypeWriter (Chang Kang, Pat, Des and Wan) are as likable and affable as their melodic power pop tunes – so fasten your seat belts for an interview that is just as fun as an Indian Head Massage…
How does it feel to finally release your debut album?
Chang Kang: It definitely gave me a great sense of relief. A very nice closure to a chapter of TypeWriter.
Pat: Yup. Feels like a burden has been lifted off my shoulders.
Did you have any doubts about ever releasing it?
Pat: Yes I did have my doubts the longer it dragged on. The Oddfellows didn’t get to release our third album because we just took too long and the momentum just fizzled out so there was a danger that the same thing was happening with TypeWriter’s album.
Des: The recording sessions weren’t like consistent and ideas of new songs kept coming so it’s like a never ending process to record ALL the songs. Years passed and we know that we have to put our foot down and finish the album.
Chang Kang: Hahaha! I always get that from the guys, “What? Another new song to learn?! What about finishing the older ones first?”. About the CD production itself, I was particularly doubtful during last year and the year before. It seems really weird to be releasing a cd (hardcopy release), when all around you people are just ripping and downloading mp3s instead. But somehow, deep inside, I knew that despite the odds, we should have a proper “home/shelter” for all these songs of ours. An online, downloading release would just not do enough justice to our songs. In a funny way, a change of tide perhaps, we felt really encouraged this year, especially with the releases of the Singapore collective +65 indie underground CDs, and along with our Indian Head Massage, the simultaneous release of Lunarin’s Duae!
The album is very collaborative album, with many guest musicians – what was the reason for going beyond band members?
Pat: We wanted what’s best for the songs so there was never any qualms about engaging other musicians. I think the other reason is that musicians outside of the band could bring something fresh to the songs sonically.
Chang Kang: I had a talk with the guys and we really wanted all our songs to reach their fullest potential. To keep the songs strictly under a 4-piece band format would certainly be a bore, not only for the listeners, but for TypeWriter ourselves too. That’s the main reason why we engaged different talented musicians to help us “open-up” our colour palette. We were mindful during the mixing process, so that even with the extra instrumentations, every song is well-balanced, so that the TypeWriter vibe/flavour remains intact.
What has been like for the band to work with both Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer?
Chang Kang: It is a real honour to have worked with both of them. Who would have thought that this was possible 10 years ago? Kind of like getting crash courses from truly great, consummate musicians. Totally inspiring.
Pat: It was inspiring just watching Ken literally banging the keyboards and singing backing vocals with so much passion and gusto. Jamming with Jon was really awesome too. He’s such an incredible guitar player and singer too. We’ve definitely learnt a lot from Ken and Jon.
What was the inspiration behind the album name and the cover concept?
Chang Kang: Probably started from my love of quirky album titles like Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, REM’s Automatic For The People & The Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin. Something quirky that can offset any serious/heavy undertones hidden there in our songs. That was the main impetus.
Then I spotted this interesting, instructional DVD at Mustafa Shopping Centre – Indian Head Massage. I love that irreverence of the title. That “cosmic” quirkiness does compliment our album very well. A massage gives relief and to me, songs work the same way. The songs on the album are songs of empathy and comfort. They provide solace and are a cathartic experience to both the songwriter and the listener. There is also that sense of wonderment that I like in this title. Plus, Indian Head Massage rolls off the tongue really well!
So I proposed this title during one of our jamming session, and the great thing is everyone listened, agreed and bought it!
Desmond, our bass player, came up with the Polaroid idea, and designed that fabulous album cover. I took that cover photo of this Sri Lankan businessman, Mr. Lion, who was at Little Indian, waiting for his transit flight to Australia. If you see the photo carefully, you can see his air-ticket in his pocket! I mean look just how cool and steady he is, just standing there, chilling with a can of Guinness Stout. In a big way, TypeWriter’s music is just like that too.
Des: And the picture itself says a lot of things so we kept the title and such at the back, did more edits to the primary picture with little nuggets here and there to spice things up. Do stare hard into the cover!
What was the easiest part about the making of Indian Head Massage and what was the hardest?
Pat: I don’t remember any easy part! The hardest part was finding time and money to record.
Des: It’s easy to get lazy and hardest to schedule sessions! And yes the usual money issue is quite apparent.
Chang Kang: I agree with them totally. To actually finish this album really took a lot of love and effort from Pat, Desmond, Wan & me. To be able to finally hold a physical copy in our hands, to see the CDs being displayed and sold in the music stores – that is just Pure Heaven.
Not the easiest, but there are actually a lot of fun parts during the making of this album. Like working with our guest musicians on their parts, and explaining the moods/vibes that we are looking for in each song. Bear in mind that these musicians are coming in fresh, not really knowing what TypeWriter’s music is really like. For instance, for Every Nite”, we managed to find Krassi Taslev, a Buglarian music teacher living here, to add her wonderful accordion playing to the song, making it sounding more sombre and beautiful.
On a different note, there was a lot of fun too, during the times when I brought in brand new, “last-minute written” tracks like Hospital Nurses, and totally rearranging tracks like Your Window (both on the Extra Service disc). We literally had to build on these songs, and finish recording them, each in a day. It was pure joy, bouncing off ideas and just working along with my peers – especially with Pat. It was certainly tense and stressful at many times, I assure you. But ultimately, this is something that I will remember very fondly in the many years to come.
What’s the story behind the Extra Service disc – how do these songs fit in or not as the case may be?
Pat: We wanted a tight compact album so 10 songs was about right. The songs we’ve recorded over the years didn’t seem to fit in so we thought of having an extra disc. To make it more worthwhile, we recorded a few more new songs and remixed a few of the older ones. Knowing that they were going to be on Extra Service gave us the freedom to just experiment with the songs.
Chang Kang: As our recording sessions progressed, the guys kept asking me “So how many songs do we actually have? Which ones are finished already?” I finally sat down and made a list of the songs, separating them in terms of their exposures to gig performances. I ended up with 10 good, usual suspects, which now nicely fit into the album proper – Indian Head Massage. The rest, as mentioned by Pat, are either “misfits” that we have only played during a certain period of TypeWriter, like Burn Baby Burn, The F Song and So Tired, or are really fresh off-the-oven songs like Hospital Nurses and Your Window. We also wanted to stretch our sound more here. That’s how Extra Service came about. (In fact, we have a few more “babies” that we have to leave out, due to the super tight deadline that we finally gave ourselves – Baybeats 20 August 2010. Songs like Tender Answer and The Heart Explodes will hopefully find a place on our next release then.)
We could have saved some money during production, and just squeezed all the songs we have into just 1 disc. But that, we felt, would be too cumbersome for the listeners, so that’s another reason why we kept the songs seperate into the 2 discs you see now.
What are your inspirations for instant S-ROCK classics like Enemy, That Deepest Blue, Where To Go, Beautiful Knows?
Chang Kang: Life in general, and those deeply-rooted, positive/negative emotions, I guess. Passion, frustrations, the human condition – wishing on our hopes, and fulfilling our dreams. “Being Hopeful, Feeling Hopeless. All about Hope.” – on hindsight, I think that’s what these TypeWriter songs are all about.
It is pretty easy just writing a passable song, but to write a really good song that “sticks”, that doesn’t come by easily at all. They often strike you at random. Perhaps, that’s one good reason why we had taken this long to finish the album properly.
You have been involved in the Singapore music scene for a long time, what are your views on its current state and where it may go in the future?
Pat: It’s better now than ever in many ways. There are more venues to perform at, with better gear and sound. The bands are tighter, understand showmanship and marketing. I just think that it’s not as diverse as the late 80s or 90s. Many bands sound alike or do not have their own distinct sound. But I’m sure that if they stick around long enough, they will find their own voice and sound. So I think the only way is up.
Chang Kang: We had a very vibrant Singapore music scence back in the 60s, with great songwriters like Shirley Nair, and groups like Naomi & The Boys. In the 70s, we had another great bunch of bands too, like Heritage and The October Cherries.
As far as I know, our brand of original music – the “local indie” scence, in particular, has been around since the mid-80s, when the iconic Big O magazine started. Ever since, the scene has always been there, just bobbing in and out of the water-surface, supported by the countable few, true converts, but largely not recognized or known by the general public. This trend, I hope, is changing, but the change is just way too slow, and can never ever be enough, in my opinion. It is really about time to be proud, and embrace good music Made-in-Singapore!
I am sure that many of my peers reading this would agree – For that great sense of camaraderie we had, I can only wish that The Substation garden/vibe is still around. It was certainly where a lot of Singapore independent music first bloomed. In fact, there was where I first met Pat, and the nice thing was that we both had already bought each other’s demo tapes, even before we knew each other. It is true that somehow the bands back then were much more original in their music, though technically and equipment-wise,the standard is much higher now. I really think that it is of utmost importance for any band wanting to do original-material, anywhere in the world, to put their emphasis on “content” over “form”. Writing a song that sounds exactly like what you already hear on the radio, can only get you so far.
For our Singapore’s mainstream music scene, I feel that there should be many, many more Stefanie Suns, J.J Lins, Taufik Batisahs and Sezairis. Because without a proper “mainstream”, where would the “alternative” be? So personally, I don’t discount these commercial artistes for what they are doing at all. That whole “packaged” look/deal, is just not what TypeWriter wants for our music. For our case, the freedom to express ourselves, on our own terms, comes first and foremost.
Desmond and I was just talking about this the other day. We feel that the presently-abandoned Capitol building/cinema should be refurbished and converted to a vibrant arts-centre, right smacked in the heart of town, where Singapore’s arts, including original music and film, can thrive. That would be really, really nice.
Where can a Typewriter fan get a hold of Indian Head Massage?
Chang Kang: Well, the album is being distributed by Universal Music Singapore, and is now available in music stores like HMV, Gramophone and at The Esplanade store. They are also sold in our cool independent music haunts like Roxy Music and Straits Records. But if you are talking about the massage itself, the 4 of us have all recently completed our professional masseur courses from Mr. Lion, our Indian Head Massage guru. Just write us an email at email@example.com.
We are all ready to please, Extra Service included.
How will Typewriter be promoting & supporting Indian Head Massage?
Pat: We’ll play gigs and do press to promote the album. Hope to make music videos so if any filmmakers or film students out there reading this would like to make a music video for us, please contact us!
Chang Kang: In fact, Little Ong and his guys at fFurious will be working on a music video for our 1st single, That Deepest Blue. We have more or less locked down on the quirky storyline. We are really excited about it.
When can we expect album #2?
Pat: I don’t even want to think about it for now! Hopefully it won’t take 7 years to make.
Chang Kang: Hahaha! I was just asked this question the other day. Well, I hope at least an EP, within the next 2 years. Jon Auer was really encourging. In his email to me after he got back home, he said “Hey man, you should start working on your next record NOW!” A perfect reminder. I will remember that by heart.
TypeWriter’s debut album, Indian Head Massage is out now.
Picture by Little Ong.