bittymacbeth (aka Beth Yap) launches her debut album Beauty for Ashes at the Esplanade Recital Studio tomorrow night. Guess what? SOLD OUT! In any case, Beth was kind enough to take part in our PoP Ten for our reading pleasure. Enjoy!
Singer-songwriter DEON has just released Oceans Remix, a free to download EP, available at various digital platforms.
One of the most refreshing discoveries of this year for Power of Pop has to be Glasgow-based indie band, Tuff Love.
Their new album Resort – a compilation of three previously released EPs is the perfect jumping on point for anybody who has not heard of this amazing band yet.
Best part of all this is that based on the answers from Julie and Suse, Tuff Love is as charming, witty and down to earth as their heartfelt music suggests. Enjoy!
The year is almost done but .gif (viz Weish & Din, above) probably delivered one of the best ways to see out an amazing 2015 for Singapore music with its debut album, soma. Here’s what the dynamic duo thought about what the year was all about…
And then just for a moment/You’re lost in the jukebox glow/Hypnotized you make your selections/Psychedelic rock and blue eyed soul (“Are You Ready?”)
For the first time in forever/I lay the needle down inside the groove/And for the first time in forever/I’m hearing bands like they’re all brand new (“Rainy Day Record”)
Two songs that caught my ear on The Light in You, the first Mercury Rev LP since 2008. Which is about the length of time since I saw the band in concert (at Baybeats 2007 at the Esplanade Concert Hall). The hiatus seems to have invigorated Jonathan Donahue & Grasshopper (aka Sean Mackowiak) – the prime movers behind these veteran psychedelic-folk-rockers – as evident on the new album as well as their electrifying performance at the Neon Lights Festival on 29th November at Fort Canning Park.
A good song is a good song!
People often think that pop music needs to divided into different genres and generations and never the twain shall meet. But artists never think that way. It would be fair to describe Swedish-born Berlin-based electronic music producer and DJ Axel Willner (aka The Field) as part of the modern day pop scene & fail to appreciate the fact that Willner is inspired and influenced by music from all genres and all generations. Critics may have labelled The Field under the ‘minimal techno’ genre but throughout his career he has resisted been pigeonholed to such an extent that he has utilised different monikers (Eg. Cordouan, James Larsson, Loops of Your Heart, Porte and Hands) to escape the straightjacket of critics’ and fans’ limited expectations.
As part of the effort to promote The Field’s performance at Neon Lights Festival at 6.15pm, we had an email exchange with the forward-thinking artist.
As promised, we present to you thoughts of the collaborative artists behind Dimensions & Demons, to be performed at the Esplanade Recital Studio on 5th November.
“Daren Shiau and Riot !n Magenta explore the surreal terrain in Lucid Dreams, where memory, regret and release intersect through a collision of beats, words, loops and phrases.”
“Dive into dream worlds coloured by words and music, the creative outcomes of three collaborative projects between Singapore writers and musicians. Each interprets a dream in all its intimacy and duality, navigating through the blurry spaces of consciousness and the boundaries of conscience.”
It’s been three years since The Sam Willows released its debut EP. Since then, the quartet (Jon Chua, Ben Kheng, Sandra Riley Tang & Narelle Kheng) have gone from strength to strength, developing into arguably the top pop group in Singapore and signing for Sony Music Singapore.
I caught up with Jon, Ben, Sandra & Narelle recently at the official press event for the release of their first full-length album, Take Heart, and found them to be the same down-to-earth, earnest, fun-loving group that I met in 2012, except now with a major label backing their music.
The China Blue Experiment describes itself as a “blues/pop fusion band with wide reaching influences, eclectic styles and troublesome personalities”, which demonstrates that if nothing else, the duo of Darren Forster and Gordon Cant has attitude in spades. Should be fun to check ’em out! Words by Darren Forster.
Why is it important for you to play in Singapore?
It represents a great opportunity to take our product to an international audience. We would like to the opportunity to (hopefully) impress the wonderful people of Singapore and beyond and would hope that we could establish ourselves in a way that means we can return regular and share our ever evolving musical experience.
These pop-rockers have just the right vibe for Power of Pop! Jake and the Cowboys are the 2nd band to be featured in PoP’s SWAM coverage. Words by Jarred Wall.
Why is it important for you to play in Singapore?
Beerfest Asia 2015 will mark our first international gig, so we are extremely excited to share our music to a market that we feel are going to really enjoy our sound. Jake and the Cowboys are fresh and exciting and provide a live performance which rivals that of the best.
It also proves timely for us as we have just finished completing a successful crowd funding campaign to record our next single ‘She Said’. The response we received from our fans was fantastic and the project itself has really provided us with a new platform to engage our fans and make them feel a part of the band. It also provided us with a chance to give something back to the fans for all their support. For example, fairly soon we will be heading to one of our fans houses to do some gardening and wash their car and then after that, we will be providing an exclusive performance to a group of fans, on top of cooking them a meal! We wanted to give the fans something different and put a personal touch to it. Of course these rewards were some of the more unusual ones, fans also had the opportunity to receive signed CD’s and digital downloads of the new track. It’s now closed but feel free to check out the project at http://www.pozible.com/project/195487
After spending a few days in the studio with Joel Quartermain of well known Australian Act Eskimo Joe, we were extremely happy and proud of the final product. We see the networking opportunities that we will be exposed to in Singapore as a great opportunity to source airplay in the region and ultimately future performances down the track. We will be armed in hand with ‘She Said’ Single’s!
What do you hope to take away from the experience?
We hope to learn a few things about the Singaporean market and what the people like. Eventually our aim would be to have our music receive airplay in the region as we feel our music will be quite well suited to the people and well received.
The networking opportunities are also a great chance for us to make some crucial contacts in the region which we hope will lead to future exposure for Jake and the Cowboys. We want to make the most of the opportunity and what the city has to offer, particularly in the way of music.
It’s always a pleasure working with singer-songwriter Deon Toh cos the man is genuine, down to earth and serious about his art. His new album is one of the best I have heard in 2015 and thus, it was illuminating to pick his brains for the stories behind the songs. It’s really in-depth so buckle up!
What was the primary inspiration behind making Oceans a concept album?
As a songwriter, I’ve always viewed the creation of an album as the process of creating a standalone piece of work; a piece of art. I’m one of those musicians who still believe in coming up with a good 10 songs LP, and making sure that those songs make a collective statement.
As such, I did not craft singles and slap them together, but rather, I crafted an entire album. With that intention in mind, I dedicated myself to the challenge of coming up with something magical.
No disrespect or offense to musicians who launch singles, or demos, or EPs that are just a collection of unrelated songs (there’s nothing wrong with that); on my part, this was a personal challenge to push my songwriting limits and come up with a concept album.
The theme of circles and cycles seems alien to Singapore where the seasons remain constant – so is the music a product of travelling beyond Singapore?
I traveled with the intention of personal growth. I wanted to discover more about myself and see the world, and to understand the value of coming home better. Back home, life was changing at a rapid pace, with my graduation from university, evolving relationships, and aging parents. I had constant emotional and rationality debates, epiphanies. And at the end of everything, I walked away with a deeper understanding of myself.
What was the motivation behind incorporating post-rock and ambient electronica into your pop-rock sonic agenda?
During this period, my band and I had the privilege to witness one of the best musical performances during an Iceland Airwaves showcase at Canadian Music Week. We stumbled upon singer-songwriter, Asgeir, and fell in love with his brand of music. He incorporates loads of ambient electronica, which influenced us eventually.
The post-rock aspect came out of listening to loads of music from local band Caracal. We are huge fans of the band, and also spent a short period traveling with them, it was fun.
As for my pop-rock roots, I still listen to loads of Rachael Yamagata, Brooke Fraser, and Coldplay, which always keeps me grounded to my roots.
Tzang Merwyn Tong’s Faeryville is a dystopian teen movie, a stylish coming of age film about youth making sense of their idealistic dreams in our increasingly surreal world – a fictional manifestation of very real issues prevalent in the Post 9-11 world. The movie features an original score composed by Alex Oh.
Oh is one of Singapore’s most prolific and versatile film composers. His philosophy to scoring is telling the story of the film through music. In his career, he has scored many award-winning features, ranging from comedy, family-oriented, action films like Taxi!Taxi!, My Dog Dou Dou, Imperfect, It’s A Great Great World to darker films like Bait 3D, Rule Number One and The Maid . He was nominated for Best Original Music Score from Asian Television Awards in 2004 for the TV Series, The Frontline.
Oh’s music score complements the movie perfectly with its edgy synthesiser ambience and choral nuances providing a contrast between innocence and danger. Also included is the dynamic driving “Baptism of Fire” which feature Jessel Yam and Alan Chan on guitars, Meryvn Lim on bass and John Ho on drums.
Read below what Oh thought and felt about working on Faeryville.
As the film’s composer, you’re probably one of the first few people to have seen Faeryville, edited and cut. What are your thoughts when you watched the first cut of the film?
Faeryville turned out beautifully. It has lots of depth. I like the characters, the Nobodies, Laer, Chloe, Belle, Fraternity members. There are debates on whether society is becoming or has already become dystopian. I like how Tzang uses the film to address certain issues we are facing in our society. In that aspect, I think he is successful in bringing these to light, as many will find after watching the film that they can relate to it someway or another.
Do you have a philosophy bout your music scoring?
I try to find where the heart of the movie is. I will watch the film with the Director and talk about it. I want to understand the film from his/her perspective and hear what he has to say. Why he/she wants to make the film? What is it about? What is it the story that he’s telling? Once I have an understanding about the film, I will let the film speak to me. I do not want to come with any pre-conceived ideas.
So here’s my TODAY interview with Jaime Wong. Now, I hope you figured out that that headline came from my editor! But to be fair, I chickened out from coming up with one, so….
Check out the article and don’t forget that Jaime launches her EP on May 15, 7.30pm at Lepark, People’s Park Complex rooftop. Tickets from http://jaimewongep.peatix.com. You can buy the EP on iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/album/jaime-wong-ep/id979791050)
I remember the first time Eugenia Yip caught my eye. This is what I wrote in a live review in TODAY, a few years back.
Riot !n Magenta is a relatively new duo consisting of singer/songwriter Eugenia Yip and keyboardist/producer Hayashida Ken and proved to be a totally different proposition. Yip is a dynamic soulful vocalist and managed to coax members of the audience to come to the front of the stage to groove to Ken’s contemporary-sounding beats. What the songs lacked in terms of conventional tunes, Yip make the most of with the range of her voice and her sultry on-stage persona. Certainly, the duo holds much promise for the future.
Now a quintet, Riot !n Magenta have a new EP out – Voices (I reviewed it here) – and will be playing at the So Happy: 50 Years of Singapore Rock exhibition opening at the Substation Theatre on the 8th April alongside The Oddfellows and Pinholes.
But Ginny (as she likes to be called) is at the centre of attention – whether it be fronting R!M or her other amazing band, The Steve McQueens. So I thought it would be awesome to get Ginny to respond to some of my queries and she obliged! Enjoy…
Are the new songs about relationships? Even damaged ones?
They’re mostly about personal realizations, or things I experience and feel for very strongly. I wrote “Voices”, inspired by the strength of three women I look up to very much. Nothing inspires me more than the giving of unconditional love, even through the toughest of times. The new songs are a little darker, a little older. “Running” was written about the process of letting go of a past made up of regrets, or even happier times that you struggle to forget, because they tend to remind you of what you’ve lost, but in an insanely more painful way. It is about finding happiness from forgiveness, both given and received.
An interview with one of Singapore’s finest, The Great Spy Experiment, for the STASIS 10 event. From 2007.
Do I really need to introduce this band? Suffice to say that GSE is/was the band of 2007. Take it away…
2007 was a good year for GSE – any particular high point that sticks in the mind?
Fandy: The US trips definitely and of course the release of the album after sooooooo long. The album marks a milestone in our otherwise mundane lives as rockstar wannabes. heh.
Saiful: Ditto. But there were also a couple of local gigs which won’t be forgotten for a while, like TPRawks (TPRiots!), Lime Sonic Bang, ZoukOut, Junk Launch, etc. This year we’re starting to see more and more people dancing and singing along at our gigs, and that for me is a huge highlight. We’ve also met some really wonderful people along the way, fans who’ve become friends because of our common passion for music. Yup, it’s been a good year indeed.
What plans does GSE have for 2008?
Fandy: A music video, a concert, several marriages hopefully and a second album.
Saiful: Several marriages?? In one year?? Haha.. Not likely. But the rest, for sure. And if possible, a regional tour for fans in neighbouring countries.
What can fans hope to see from GSE at Stasis 10?
Fandy: The usual champagne fuelled orgy lor.
What expectations do you have for the local scene in 2008?
Fandy: I expect more bands to surface from the abyss, each one better than the one before. I also think there will be more opportunities for bands to showcase with a lot more support from the media and people in general.
Saiful: I’d like to see our local bands break into television. Also, there are a couple of albums due our next year that I’m really looking forward to – I just hope that the general public would show their love for local bands and go out and buy these albums.
Which band are you looking forward to see in Stasis 10 and why?
Fandy: B-quartet. Why? Do i need to say why??
Saiful: Same, but I will say why. Because they’re brilliant.
Now, we understand that GSE will be playing again very soon – in June in fact …
… still there’s more …
There is a quiet self-assurance in the manner in which New York melodic rock outfit Lazy Lions approach their music. Certainly, a band has to be if it decides to play in the 60s/70s pop-rock sandbox. The pop-rock of the 80s to be more precise, as the band lays claim to the influences of Elvis Costello, Squeeze, Joe Jackson, The Cars and Crowded House. The tunes have an easy charm about them – on songs like “Tiny Little Cracks” and “Diane”, it’s not difficult for the unwary listener to begin humming to the refrains. Quirky numbers like “Let the Bad Times Roll” and “Scientific” help to keep thing somewhat interesting. Songs tend to be mid-tempo as a rule and a change in pace now and then would not have hurt. That all said, the slinky “You Can Run” and the smoky “Creep Across the Night” offer enough of a variation to demonstrate promising versatility. But if it’s straight-ahead rocking pop songs you want then “February” and most of When Dreaming Lets You Down, will not… erm… let you down. Jim Allen shared with us a couple of his thoughts about the band and their music.
Why did the four of you come together as Lazy Lions?
We had all done a lot of different things individually. I put out three records as a solo singer/songwriter, Rob had been a classical French horn player (who just happened to also be a killer guitarist), Anne-Marie had been in a band that ended up on a major label and did a ton of touring, and Sean had played with Richard Lloyd of Television besides being a singer/songwriter himself with solo albums out. To be totally honest, I just heard somebody say the words “lazy lions” one day and thought “What a great band name, I’m gonna start a band and call it that!” So I did. That’s really how it started!
Power of Pop is always on the lookout for new music that stays faithful to the 60s/70s template for melodic pop-rock or rock ‘n’ roll or power pop. Ransom and the Subset – one fine example of this – is the brainchild of singer/songwriter/guitarist RanDair Porter. It’s latest album, No Time to Lose, was released in September 2014 but it’s always better late than never when it comes to great music. For Pop Underground fans, this is really a no-brainer – from the opening Jellyfish-referencing power chords of the infectious “Anna”, it’s clear that Ransom and the Subset has got what it takes to hypnotise like-minded fans of The Cars and Weezer. In particular, the single “Million Out of Me” is an effective ear-worm that will have melody junkies hitting repeat. Read what RanDair has to say about the band and the music.
How did the band get together?
I had a cover band together for the last few years – The band was called “Subset”, because the members were a subset of a band I had in High School. The bass player lived in San Diego and me and the drummer up in Seattle. I had become interested in recording some of my originals but, for whatever reason the project wasn’t something the of the other members were able to participate in. I called the project “Ransom and the Subset” – I did this because I wasn’t sure who would be singing on the project and I did not want to name the band after a single individual. There is no one named “Ransom” in the band.
I met English singer-songwriter Ralegh Long last year when he visited Singapore and found him to be an unassuming, down to earth chap. You can listen to my interview with Long here. What I particularly liked about Long was the deep commitment to his craft and that he found inspiration from cult singer-songwriters like Robyn Hitchcock and Epic Soundtracks. This dedication can be seen in his songwriting, which can be best described as ‘traditional’ and ‘old-fashioned’ in that it relies on sophistication, orchestration and courageous musical choices to get the job done. Certainly not a bad combination! On his debut album, Hoverance, Long delivers a robust collection of deceptively simple songs that beg for closer inspection. Utilising tools of emotional resonance like pedal steel, a string quartet and woodwinds, Long imbues a baroque-like feel to the songs that engender a melancholy ambience that is impossible to ignore. I caught up with Long via email to get him to talk about how he put this gorgeous album of heartfelt songs together.
What were your inspirations for the mood and atmosphere generated for the album?
The mood and atmosphere came from sounds I’d had in my head for a while. I’ve always heard woodwinds in particular as a kind of synthesiser. I guess the pedal steel element came more accidentally. I asked Jack Hayter (Ex-Hefner) to play on a song called “Elizabeth” off my previous E.P The Gift and then we worked more and more closely together until he now plays in my band.
It’s certainly heartening to see Singapore Rock (or S-ROCK) finally begin to get its dues in its hometown in 2015. It seems that suddenly everybody in Singapore loves S-ROCK! Well, that’s an exaggeration of course but we have come a long way from 2005, to say the least. But whilst it’s great to see all and sundry jumping on the bandwagon now (including an app by that very name!), I just want to put on record that Power of Pop has been supporting S-ROCK for over 15 years and we will never ever stop! So, here’s your S-ROCK flashback for today. Enjoy!
THE FIRE FIGHT
Big Music for the Golden Age
“Our vision and mission is such that we want to change people with our music, in a sense to bring people together and to learn how to love. Music is something that engages every individual’s emotions, very directly in fact. In this way, we can have very personal contact with the listener, even without them being in our presence. That’s what we hope our songs can do” – Josh Tan
As a mission statement, I’d wager that there are precious few corporate entities, never mind fledging Singaporean rock bands, that can boast such vision, such singleness of purpose. But that’s exactly what the Fire Fight is all about. Believe it!
The Campbell Apartment, named after a bar hidden inside New York’s Grand Central Station, is the brainchild of Russian born singer-songwriter and oil painter Ari Vais. Ari’s new Sundogs EP is the proverbial breath of fresh air in a modern rock scene obsessed with superficialities. No such issues with Vais and his straightforward musical agenda. The songs take top priority – memorable melodies and relatable lyrics – clothed in classic pop-rock arrangements and instrumentation. Tracks like “Something in the Way” and “Heroic Audio Display” hearken back to a kinder & gentler times (the 90s), the last hurrah of the Pop Underground, where thought and effort are put into communicating a genuine emotional resonance through words and tunes. By the time one gets to the music hall jauntiness of final number “What Do You Think Of That”, it’s easy to feel a sense of regret that there isn’t more. But that’s the harsh reality of releasing marginalised forms of music in 2014. So if you love songs that balances intelligence with musicality, support The Campbell Apartment and the Sundogs EP! Find out below how and why Ari Vais does what he does!
How did you start writing songs?
I must have learned how to play guitar well enough as a 10 year old to learn a bunch of Beatles songs by the time I was in high school, and then Floyd, Zeppelin, finally some REM and Lou Reed songs, and then around 16, a slew of my own songs where the burst of writing didn’t cease until recent years. I still write but not as prolifically. I guess when I started as a teen, the tunes were based on traditional chords, as well as chords that I had no idea what they were, where my fingers were just doing some formation that happened to sound cool and go with the song, because I still didn’t know my way around a guitar that well, and trying for clever words or earnest poetic ones, hopefully with a tiny dash of humor, and a strong melody. The last bit was the most important, and very much still is.
Last June, we did an interview with Annie Ko, frontperson of Korean indie electro-rock trio Love X Stereo. Well, the group is now a duo consisting of Annie and Toby Hwang and is ready for the new year with a new EP, consisting of new material and re-recorded favourites. Part 1 of the We Love, We Leave album is already out now and indie pop fans will enjoy the new viz. the dynamic synth-pop energy of the sultry title track and the throbbing dance-able “My Anywhere” and the ‘old’ viz. the exciting versions of “Soul City (Seoul City)” and “Chain Reaction”. We caught up with Annie again to get some insights of where the duo is right here, right now.
Five of the songs on the new EP are re-worked versions of previously released tracks, why?
We were selected for government support provided by KOCCA in order to make a new record. Before we go any further, we wanted to take a step back to rearrange/rerecord our previous tracks, because we always wanted to. Originally, we wanted to make a LP with mixtures of old & new, but we had a strict time restraint, and that’s why we ended up splitting into two EPs. First one represents “We Love”, and the next one represents “We Leave”.
Yes so why does it seem that the music of yester-year is miles better than anything new? Seems to have been the case since Y2K (mayhaps that was what the Millennium Bug was really about?). Consisting of John Lowry, Greg Addington and Chip Saam, the Hangabouts bring to mind the wonderful pop-rock music of 90s bands like Fountains of Wayne, Pernice Brothers and Teenage Fanclub where melody is paramount above all else. Lovers of that special rock era will never tire of what the band has to offer and will savour Illustrated Bird from beginning to end. Of course, suffice to say that the three Bs loom large as influences i.e. The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Byrds. It does not get any better than this when it comes together this well. Check out the interview we did with the band below.
Rashie Rosenfarb & Matt Francis aka Feral Conservatives seem like your typical two-piece indie rock band, except that their style does not quite fit in with your White Stripes/Black Keys garage-blues-rock cliches. In fact, Rosenfarb plays a mandolin (!) and there is a pleasing alt-country direction that the duo quite excel in. Their four-track cassette/digital release The Feeling Noise Becomes is a refreshing roots-pop take on modern rock that deserves closer attention. Rosenfarb shared with us the thinking behind the Feral Conservatives sound.
Is contrast an important element in your music making?
Yeah, we like to create a balance between noisy/chaotic and soft and delicate. I think it’s become a big part of who we are starting with my voice and the shimmery tones in the mandolin vs. Matt’s powerful drumming style and it’s just progressed from there.
How did the mandolin become part of your sound?
The two off us started off playing together in another band that was more garage rock back when we first became friends and I was just playing mandolin for fun (I played bass in the other band.) Matt and I started a folky side project with the mandolin not too much later and eventually the band we were in broke up so we just decided to transition everything we were creating into our side project. That’s how FC’s came to be and then it just morphed into more of a rock band while maintaining the folky elements and the mandolin to the fore.
Gotta hand it to Chicago’s Treasure Fleet, not only did they release two albums within six months of each other in 2012 (the excellent Future Ways and Cocamotion), the band also expanded their horizons by producing a film – Sun Machine – which premiered last year at London’s prestigious Raindance Film Festival.
The soundtrack, available for pre-order now and out February 10th on Recess Records, is a timeless sounding psychedelic rock opus that might very well have been produced in 1969 for all we know! The music of Treasure Fleet is an absolute joy for classic pop-rock (The Who, Pink Floyd) lovers and will definitely appeal to fans of like-minded indie rockers Temples, Pond and Tame Impala.
Thankfully, Isaac Thotz (singer-songwriter) was cool enough to share with us everything (and we do mean EVERYTHING) we needed to know about Treasure Fleet and Sun Machine. Set your controls for the heart of the sun…
What is the motivation behind playing music that some might (erroneously) consider ‘dated’?
What’s funny is I don’t even think of it like that. I remember being a kid in the 80’s and the popular music that was coming out then, I didn’t like the tones and the production, and so I thought contemporary music sounded very dated, just like 70’s haircuts and brown plaid couches looked very dated to me then. And looking back now that music still does sound dated. But that’s always the case in art and pop art that people are going to trend toward certain conventions as a fad. Today there are conventions in popular music and underground music that sound very dated to me. In mainstream pop music, certain inflated acoustic drum and guitar tones are in. Anthemic choruses are in. In underground rock excessive unnatural reverb on vocals is in. In hip hop spastic hi hat sampling is in. Those sorts of production choices all sound very “dated” to me right here in the moment. In terms of our music sounding of a different era, I just have my natural biases and preferences. I like 90’s hip hop drum beats and tones better than today’s. I like the Beatle’s song structures. I like the four piece rock band arrangement. I like the mellotron. I don’t mind trashy rock drums, but I dislike poor singing. I love harmonies. Those are just my own personal biases. But then to get to the motivation of how we want to produce our music-I think we just want it to sound “timeless”. I think there are bands that try to sound much more of a particular era than we do-most often it’s the current era. We don’t approach it like that. Rather, we like to try and make something where people will hopefully go “when was this made”…”where were these guys from”. There’s definitely a starting point from which we’ve taken ideas, basically it’s been from the start of rock and roll. But that’s just a starting point, and we’ve always tried to pull ideas from all eras since. If some of those ideas seem old, it’s because they are. But others are very contemporary, and as I said, the goal is to make the whole thing seem timeless at some point out in the future.