POP POWER!!! PUTTING THE POWER BACK INTO POP!

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When Power of Pop started in or about 1998, ostensibly it was meant to cover a genre of pop music known as ‘power pop’. Although the genre was actually defined as “a style of pop music characterised by a strong melody line, heavy use of guitars, and simple rhythm” (exemplified by bands like The Raspberries, The Knack and Cheap Trick), Power of Pop expanded the definition to include concepts like an ability to convey spiritual and emotional meaning and a musical authority, which we would like to simplify as “music with heart and soul”.

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GEEK OUT! SPEECH BUBBLE – OPENING NIGHT

From BigO circa 1993, lyrics from Gum, illustrations by Eric Khoo.
From BigO circa 1993, lyrics from Gum, illustrations by Eric Khoo.

Organised jointly by cartoonist Sonny Liew and writer-historian CT Lim in conjunction with the National Library, Speech Bubble is a exhibition showcase of the marginalised art form popularly known as comic books. The opening night event was held last night at the National Library, Basement 1 Central Public Library and I was fortunate to get invited!

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SINGAPORE WRITERS FESTIVAL: BE HAPPY – THE BIGO YEARS

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BigO (Before I Get Old) was a self-styled indie magazine that existed in print form from about 1985 to 2003 (give or take). Founded by Michael and Philip Cheah (with Stephen Tan) from the ashes of the Singapore Monitor, the magazine would be a major pop culture force in Singapore in the 1990s. Though it still exists online, its influence in local culture has been deliberately curtailed for reasons unknown.

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BEATLES FOREVER!

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Regular PoP visitors will be aware that I am a massive Beatles fan. The Fab Four (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison & Ringo Starr) were the first band I ever obsessed over as a teenager and Abbey Road – the band’s final LP – was the first album I ever owned.

By that time, the Beatles had broken up a couple of years already and the individual members were busy releasing their solo LPs. I had friends who were equally besotted with the Fab Four and together we even formed our first band – the Beatles-channeling Hornets in the mid-70s! Like many Beatles fans, I dreamed of a reunion and this seemed even more possible when John came out of his 5-year hiatus in 1980 & released Double Fantasy with his wife Yoko Ono.

Of course, that dream was smashed into pieces when John was murdered outside his home on 8th December that year. It’s almost 35 years since that fateful day but the Beatles remain in my view the best band the world has ever seen (and ever will see). One could argue that the Beatles were at the right time and place as the universe conspired to provide the perfect conditions for the band to irreversibly change the world and to write their names into the history books.

Even as the music industry evolves decade after decade and music revolutions come and go, the popularity of the Beatles remains constant and the music they created fifty odd years still resonate to music lovers worldwide. Though the band was once closely associated with the sixties, it’s might be said that they have transcended that epoch to stand alone and become truly timeless icons. Consider the immense popularly of teen idol Taylor Swift, a search on Youtube – probably one of the most popular websites that teens frequent – will provide about 6.1 million results. Guess how many results a Beatles youtube search will provide? How about 5.5 million! Not bad for a band that last released a new album in 1970.

And so… whilst it has been more than a good 40 years since I first heard a Beatles song, I rest assured that years may pass and the latest pop thing may disappear into oblivion (how long more for TayTay?) but one thing will stay the same – it will always be the Beatles Forever!

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LONG & WINDING ROAD: PRESENT SENSE ALBUM LAUNCH

KMGP001 by Jazreel-Anne

Well, that’s done and dusted. As much as I enjoyed playing with The Groovy People (Patrick Chng, Ray Aziz, Nelson Tan and Josh Tan), I must admit that the whole experience was tiring – especially with the haze complicating matters. Still, it was seeing all the wonderful people come out to support us that made it all worthwhile.

If I needed to compare, the gig at Artistry was more satisfying, although it was fun to finally play on the Barber Shop stage. I don’t know what it is but overall it seems as if this whole music game has lost a little bit of its lustre in the last couple of weeks.

I guess you could say all the marketing and promotional efforts getting very minimal response has worn me down somewhat. You could say I am fed up with all the selling when folks aren’t buying. Y’know, after a while rejection takes its toll. But when you are in your 50s, it’s never ever going to be the same as a twentysomething no matter how good you think the music is.

That said, I am not hanging up my guitar anytime soon so too bad haters! It’s just that I am going to take it easy on the promotion and let things happen organically (whatever the hell that means in 2015!) and enjoy the rest of the year. I do have some ideas already for 2016 musically and we will see where I go with that but definitely the music will never ever stop. How could it?

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Photo courtesy of Jazreel-Anne.

SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION: KEVIN MATHEWS – PRESENT SENSE

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It has been a long & winding road to reach this point in my life.

22 years since I released my first album with Watchmen back in August 1993 and numerous albums later, I believe that Present Sense is probably my best ever. Why do I make that assessment? Mainly because this has probably been the most hands-off I have ever been about the making of an album. And I was blessed to be working with amazingly talented artists, who poured out their immense creativity to grant vitality to my humble songs.

PATRICK CHNG

Back in the early 90s, I was deeply envious of Pat – he seemed to have everything I wanted in terms of a music life. A number one single, a great debut LP and a breakthrough into the public consciousness of Singaporeans – The Oddfellows were the first Singapore band to accomplish that in 30 years! But when I got to know him, I realised that he was much more than his accomplishments – his humility, grace & generosity touched me immensely. Pat was never far away from being a part of the music since then – whether it be working on “Orchard Road” for New School Rock III, on the Love EP or playing second guitar in Popland on numerous gigs. Some of you might already know this but two to three years ago, Pat pushed me to record again – after a hiatus of about four years – and so we did, in his home studio (and the now defunct Thom’s Loft) and the ultimate result was Emo FASCISM (September 2013) – and that got the juices going again with #alpacablues barely six months later. With Present Sense, I wanted to keep my arrangement ideas to a bare minimum – with Pat not only recording but co-producing this time out, especially with his rhythmic contributions. But where Pat is now truly deadly is his mixing and mastering – which in my opinion is second to none. I am always amazed by how he puts everything together post-recording and I never fail to be impressed.

RAY AZIZ

I have to thank ex-head honcho of Pony Canyon Singapore, Jimmy Wee, for introducing me to Ray. I was looking for a drummer in the mid-90s and Ray turned out to be a perfect fit! Like Pat, Ray is a veritable local music legend – having played with numerous top local bands. Ray played drums on the three Popland releases viz. Groovy, Action! and the Camouflage EP. But it’s his infectious enthusiasm that is always a joy – it is impossible not to be buoyed by his seemingly boundless energy, even after all these years. For Present Sense, Ray came in for a day’s session at Leonard Soosay’s Snakeweed Studios (thanks to Daniel Sassoon) and finished 8 songs in 4 hours! Listening to the album, one would be unable to tell for sure! I feel privileged that twenty years later, we are still making groovy music together!

NELSON TAN

Nelson is a pure talent – he can do anything related to music. Music is his life and again, he plays in numerous bands and excels in each and every one. Nelson is a constant reminder to me that my music is not about sales or recognition but about the potential impact on people. When I finally sat down to have a serious chat with him, Nelson confessed to being a fan and shared that listening to the Democracy album as a 12 year old was one of the reasons he become a musician. Mind blown. How was that even possible? Far beyond anything I could have expected or imagined! It is an honour to be working with Nelson – apart from his wondrous bass playing – his passion and commitment to his craft and even to my songs – is an encouragement to keep going!

JOSHUA TAN

I first met Josh in 2007, when I interviewed his band The Fire Fight as part of Power of Pop’s Baybeats Festival coverage that year. Suffice to say, I have been a big fan of Josh and the band for its short lifetime and it was a memorable moment for me to share the stage with them on their farewell show in 2010 on “Train Song” (my favourite FF track). Present Sense was the first time collaborating together on the music and it was a revelation. Josh spent hours working on the guitar parts and his blood, sweat and tears are clearly evident on every track! Especially with “Magic” and “I walked away”, he made these songs his own, somehow tapping into the essence of my own artistic vision and painting in new vibrant colours! He is the soul of Present Sense – without Josh, Present Sense would not be what it is – my best album thus far!

Honourable mentions must also go to Eileen Chai for her stellar violin work on “Nothing Else” and “I walked away” and of course the voiceovers provided by Esther Low, James Khoo and X’ho.

Tonight, I will play the main bulk of Present Sense together with The Groovy People at The Barber Shop by Timbre in what might be my final show with the band for 2015. So I hope if you are free this Public Holiday eve you will make your way down and share this special occasion with us. The wonderfully talented melodic pop-rock band SUASION will be our guests, so please get there by 8pm.

Present Sense is out now at iTunes & streaming at rdio.com. I would greatly appreciate your support.

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PRESENT SENSE: PRE-ORDER AT ITUNES NOW!

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Present Sense started life as a germ of an idea earlier this year. I put together a rough lineup of songs written in the last couple of years and as I did so, I noticed that there was a story unfolding before my eyes. Which is why Present Sense ended up being a loose concept album of sorts. I don’t want to explain the story too much but it is imperative that you listen to the album in its entirety to get the full impact. Suffice to say that there are certain auto-biographical aspects but at its core it’s fiction.

I was very fortunate to be able to benefit from the contributions of Joshua Tan (The Fire Fight, A Vacant Affair) on electric guitars, Nelson Tan (In Each Hand a Cutlass) on bass and my old friend Ray Aziz (too many bands to mention!) on drums. In addition, Eileen Chai also provided gorgeous violins on two songs. To embellish the storytelling, I also managed to add voiceovers from Esther Low, James Khoo and X’Ho to the mix as well. But the biggest credit must go to my partner-in-crime Patrick Chng (That Locked Door studio) who co-produced, recorded, mixed and mastered the album brilliantly. In addition, special thanks must go out to Daniel Sassoon and Leonard Soosay (Snakeweed Studios) for making the drums recording possible. Last but not least, an appreciation to film maker Tzang Merwyn Tong for his assistance with the lettering design seen on the album cover.

So we are here. Present Sense is now available for pre-orders at iTunes with a download of “Vancouver Gurls”. The album itself will be released digitally worldwide by KAMCO Music on 11th September. I will support the release (with The Groovy People) with two shows in September viz. at Artistry Cafe on 18th September (tickets available from Peatix) and at Barbershop by Timbre on 23rd September (free admission).

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WHAT IS POP MUSIC?

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People sometimes ask why this website isn’t called Power of Rock when my musical tastes seem to gravitate towards rock rather than pop music. But this betrays a somewhat myopic understanding of what pop music actually is, and falls prey to the common misconception of pop.

Strictly speaking, popular music as a ‘genre’ is utilised to differentiate from other known generic forms of music – for example, classical music, traditional/ethnic music and art/avant garde music.

To illustrate…

Classical/Baroque Music

Traditional/ethnic music (in this case, Chinese)

Art/Avant-garde music (in this case, minimalism)

In this context, it is easy to see that popular music is ‘different’ in that it appeals to the masses and is more universally inclusive, compared to the above ‘genres’. This means that popular music includes country, folk, blues, soul, jazz, rock and pop, also combinations amongst the aforementioned and cross-pollinations with the other generic forms as well.

But of course, understanding the diverse ‘genres’ within the broad popular music category is really important if you are trying to describe a certain type of music. Perhaps less so in today’s environment where music can be heard over the internet on demand but for marketing and promotional purposes, this understanding still plays a crucial role.

Which brings me, inevitably, to my WRITING ON ROCK MUSIC course, which I will be conducting over 4 Saturdays in September and I will going over this issue of popular music genres. The fee is $300 and registration is still open till 4th September. Sign up at kamcomusic@gmail.com

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WRITING ABOUT ROCK MUSIC!

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Definitely something I’ve wanted to do for a long long time! This is my dream – to get remunerated for talking about rock music!! It’s going to be a blast.

Although targeted at music writers/bloggers, I believe that much of the content of this course will be relevant for anyone working or aspiring to work in the music industry.

So please write in to kamcomusic AT gmail DOT com to sign up. I will be waiting for you! Thanks in advance.

Writing For Rock Music 2015AWriting For Rock Music 2015B

 

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KEVIN SAYS …

Wow.

Just realised that I haven’t done one of these for some time now.

So where am I? Caught between life’s necessities and the ‘luxuries’ of following your own dreams. And even in the latter case, trying hard to be true to myself.

Over half of the year has gone by and I am putting together a brand new album of songs that conceptualise somewhat the lessons I have learned in the past five years.

I say somewhat because the concept behind Present Sense is not really autobiographical but definitely my own life experiences have inspired the story that will unfold when one listens to the new music.

As always, I keep my expectations as low as possible. Even if the local music scene begins to build higher expectations, I remind myself that my relative advance age will always be a prejudicial factor in the scheme of things. Hard to swallow perhaps, but a hard truth nonetheless. Coupled with utter lack of appreciation for the arts that continues to plague our society, it’s a constant battle against the odds.

I still hear flattering things about my so-called status within the music scene but the reality hardly bears that out. Mostly, what I find is disrespect and even worse, a flat-out cold shouldering. I try not to dwell on these things – these are facts – but that doesn’t lessen the hurt.

For the brave few true friends I am thankful and comfort myself with their support – you know who you are. Present Sense is a tribute to you all.

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THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD – WHERE DO YOU PLAY?*

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My continuing misadventures as a failed musician in art-adverse Singapore where cover bands rule the music landscape.

Against all common sense, I am recording a new album to be released in September. Look, I will be a senior citizen very soon and my name isn’t Dick Lee or Jeremy Monteiro, so who the fuck in this recovering cultural desert would want to listen to my music?

It gets worse when one tries to talk to venues about playing gigs to promote the new album. Most of the venues here exclusively feature cover bands and if you want to ‘use’ their venue to launch your album then expect an exorbitant charge!

To be fair, there are venues that do (on a regular consistent basis) support a Singapore artist playing his own music but you can probably count them on one hand – Artistry Cafe, Hood Bar & Cafe, Timbre outlets, the Esplanade and the Hard Rock Cafe!

For most of these venues, there is no payment involved for playing – simply because there is no grassroots support for music made in Singapore. That unfortunately is still a fact. I can appreciate the venue owners’ dilemma, I really do. It’s already amazing that these platforms even exist!

Thus, I do not perform regularly. For my ‘layman’ friends, this is hard to understand. The usual query is ‘where do you play?’ but the reality is ‘NOWHERE’. Unless it’s an annual string of dates for an EP/album launch, it is impossible for me to get a gig!

Which is why I cringe whenever people describe me as a ‘legend’ – what a fucking joke!?!? More like a ‘failed musician’ is the stark reality. Is this your musical legacy, Singapore? Don’t be mistaken, I am not griping for the sake of it, I accept the way things are and do my best (which isn’t much) to change things.

But what I will continue to do is to make music. So, I will release my new album – Present Sense – in September and will play a couple of gigs in support (with The Groovy People). I really wish I could play my music all year round but that, dear readers, is just not possible, unless something changes.

And that is up to you. Not the Government, not SGMUSO, not The Musicians Guild, but YOU, the music fan. The scene is what you make of it – if all you want are singing contests & cookie cutter cover bands, then good luck to you all….

*thanks to Keith Tan (Obedient Wives Club) for the phrase.