“Well, I’m a lion in the haze and the lamb in the lightning/Oh these spears and chains of flames around my neck are tightening/So line up your armies, burn down my home please/Take the part that’s in my lungs, and the song I’m singing.”
King Charles (aka Charles Costa) is a good old fashioned singer-songwriter – cramming flowery words into his straightforward indie rock songs. After all, in 2009, he became the first ever Brit to win the International Songwriting Competition in Nashville for his song “Love Lust” and he’s basically kicked off from there.
For a singer-songwriter who grew up in the Noughties, the influences of Damien Rice and John Mayer cast longish shadows on one’s own music making. That’s neither here or there, in the final analysis, it’s what one does with your inspirations that counts.
Another music event that one should not miss at the upcoming Singapore Writers Festival is the performance of New Zealand artist Tiny Ruins (aka Hollie Fullbrook). Last time out, Hollie touched Singapore audiences with her gorgeous fragile folk-pop in May 2012 at the Esplanade Recital Studio. Since then, she has released a critically lauded sophomore effort, Brightly Painted One, and will be back on Sunday 1st November at the Arts House, Chamber from 8pm. We caught up with Hollie via email with our queries about her inspirations, influences & receiving acclaim.
What do you remember from your last visit to Singapore?
Moseying around the botanical gardens with my bass player Cass; delicious food from the night markets; taking a walk along Arab St & a curry in Little India; the humidity and walking around without a coat at night! All the lush greenery & flowers. Looking across the city from a tall building and seeing some of the crazy architecture; meeting many lovely Singaporeans, and being given a beautiful scarf which had a different material for each of the different cultures in Singapore.
Since then, you have released a critically acclaimed 2nd album – Brightly Painted One – did you anticipate the album being as well-received as it was?
Being an island nation, maybe you can sympathise, but as a musician working & living in New Zealand, you’re a long way away from the action, and the idea that your music could cross oceans and make any impact in what sometimes feels like an impenetrable industry is kind of crazy. So for me, the real feeling of success was actually getting to tour with my band overseas for as many months as we did last year – even though we are still small fish, so to speak, the feeling it gave me was that there was some momentum behind us.
What do you think is the strength of your songwriting?
I hope it strikes a balance between truth/reality, the real world, the way I really speak, for instance, and then also a sort of hyper-reality or dreamlike world, where I am free to tackle some bigger thoughts. It’s a bit of a mash-up of my real life, and the flashes from my subconscious & memory. I hope the writing is honest and relatable, but also with an element of strangeness or sort of contemplation about it.
Where do you get your inspirations for your lyrics/stories?
I try and be open to possible songs while reading newspapers, in conversations, observing politics, characters in books, films, or other peoples’ songs; just generally everything, everywhere! I also believe in the idea of the muse – one person, or a small handful of people, who are sort of mental gatekeepers.
There is a sense that Tiny Ruins is of another time & place – is the evocation of the UK 70s folk scene deliberate, or simply a by-product of your influences. In either case, why so?
Yeah, the British folk sound, well – it’s true that was an early influence on me. I was born in Bristol, and lived there ‘till aged 10. My Mum was in a London folk band in the 1970s, and I grew up listening to a lot of her & my Dads’ records. I was especially drawn to fingerpicking guitar, sad mysterious stuff – Fairport Convention, Lindisfarne, Pentangle, Donovan, Leonard Cohen (though not British, his was the first record my Mum bought when she was 12, and she gave it to me at the same age with a sense of ceremony!), Irish folk music etc. I was enthralled watching my mother and grandfather play the guitar, and they taught me my first songs. I also played the cello from a young age – maybe the music I was exposing myself to there was also of the more melancholic variety. I remember being thirsty for pretty much anything throughout my teens that wasn’t on commercial top-40 radio, which I found cheesy. Given how sparse a lot of songwriter stuff is, there’s often a lot to unpack in the songs – things to decipher and stories to keep returning to. So I did love songwriters such as Bob Dylan and Nick Cave and The Smiths in my later teens and then Joanna Newsom, Nick Drake, Smog/Bill Callahan in my early twenties, too.
Is the minimalist style evident on your first two albums, something you are exploring now and do you intend to add more textured arrangements or even change directions completely in the future?
The songs I’m writing now are still fairly minimalist, yes, but different too. I won’t say anything about them until they’re ready to be shown. I have no rules for myself in terms of ‘where I am going sound-wise’…it’s really just where the songs point to, and with whom I end up working.
There have been a couple of female Kiwi singer-songwriters that have left NZ – Kimbra, Gin Wigmore – do you see yourself following the same path one day?
Not really. I love to get home to Aotearoa, and at the moment there is no pressing reason to have a full-blown life upheaval.
What can Singapore fans expect from your performance at the Singapore Writers Festival?
I’ll be playing solo, and will be sure to visit every record I’ve released so far, as well as some new material.
What’s next for Tiny Ruins?
I’m releasing an EP in a month’s time (single, Hurtling Through, is out now), which I collaborated on with Hamish Kilgour from a great New Zealand band on the Flying Nun label, The Clean. I’m also writing our next album, to be hopefully recorded as a band early next year.
Tickets for Story Songs by Tiny Ruins, available from SISTIC. If you want free tickets for this show, simply write in to email@example.com with a 50-word note on why you love Power of Pop so much! (Also include your full name and NRIC No., please) Oh and winning entries will be published! Be warned!!
What makes new music worthy of anyone’s attention? Is it merely the fact that it’s contemporary and in a style and fashion that is popular and trendy? The pop music scene prizes glitzy superficiality over substance of any form to such an extent that the very art and craft of songwriting is in danger of withering away and going the way of the dinosaur.
Which is why every now and then, the discovery of a new singer-songwriter that adheres contrarily to the classic formats of 60s and 70s pop-rock is like a breath of fresh air, in a heavily polluted environment. Thus, ladies and gentlemen, in the background set out before, we give you Max Jury.
Jury released 2 EPs in 2014 – Something in the Air and All I Want: The Sonic Factory Sessions – and these seven incandescent songs represent some of the most promising rock ‘n’ roll (in the classic sense of that term) material of the last decade or so.
Songs like “Christian Eyes”, “All I Want”, “Black Metal” and “Something in the Air” uncannily channel the likes of John Lennon, Gram Parsons, Alex Chilton, Todd Rundgren et al through the razor-sharp perspective of a 21 year old American singer-songwriter.
We managed to get in touch with Max and he kindly responded to our queries.
How does a 21 year old get into someone like Gram Parsons who died 20 years before you were born?
I’m fascinated by the story and myth of Gram Parsons. I originally got into his solo work through Ryan Adams. And then I started listening to The Flying Burrito Brothers and his work with The Byrds.
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 the first Originals Sing @ Artistry on 11th Feb. A special one for me, personally, as the songwriters featured are distinct artists within the Singapore indie music scene.
Esther Lowless – I first met when she was fronting Indus Gendi – and whose musical career I have been following closely since then. Esther is also an award-winning actress and sometimes it does seem that there is no limit to what she can achieve with her talents. She released a well-received EP in 2013 – Strange Place to Meet – which was presented also as a short film, which you can watch below. A true artist.
Debra Khng approached me some time back to teach her about songwriting and last year she released her debut EP – Wolves in the Night. Debra has certainly come a long way with her unique pop-rock sensibility (Mariah Carey singing Tracy Chapman songs!) and it’s a particularly proud moment for me to present her at Originals Sing. One of the songs we worked on together remains one of my favourite of her songs. Check out the music video for “All of Me” below.
Support your local music scene, my friends – hope to see you pack out Artistry on Wednesday, 11th Feb from 8pm.
The songwriters are the future of Singapore music. Make no mistake about that. STAGEFRIGHT is a platform for the songwriter and in its 16th edition at Artistry on Wednesday, 21st January, we continue in our support of the songwriter.
Cloud & Shadows aka Andy Philip has a elliptical concept of a bio. To wit,
“The absence of pain does not guarantee love.
But the absence of love can be painful and bitter.
Clouds & Shadows explores the realities of life, love and loss through music.
Giving voice to such personal experiences, it hopes to provide solace to the souls of others alike.”
I experimented with 20 Originals performance events earlier this year at a local outlet, which was not perfect but was a good platform to push the novel idea that original music made in Singapore needed to build a fan base in order for the local indie scene to survive.
The biggest difficulty was as usual, getting people to attend. I always laugh when folks describe me as a ‘legend’ cos if that was true I would not struggle to get people to my gigs (especially when the admission is FREE). So that’s the reality — nobody really gives a fuck about original music in Singapore, and in particular, mine.
Of course, that’s a generalization – a sweeping statement. Sure, there ARE people who dig my music, even if it’s a minuscule group. There are people who pay ‘lip service’ – flatterers who maybe believe that they can get something out of me in return. But these are the same people who NEVER attend any of my gigs. So there you go, actions speak LOUDER than words! You know who you are! Aha!
But I digress. Despite the challenges, I plod on. Ultimately, I believe in myself and my music, even if the world does not. And that’s what it’s all about really. Perhaps it’s self-delusion – so what? At least, I know that the handful of people who do turn up on Saturday for this event are truly the people who do believe in me and my music. And for that, I am eternally grateful and that little encouragement drives me to keep moving forward.
So, here’s the deal. Two sets of 10 songs each. The first set will concentrate mainly on the 90s (and mostly ‘love’ songs) and the second set will focus on newer material (mostly ‘hate’ songs) and will also see the debut of four new songs that will form the bulk of my upcoming 2015 EP. See you there if you’re interested. And oh yeah, NO FUCKING COVERS!
Fuck nostalgia! For me, it’s always about the here and now – the singer and the song. Sure, you could describe singer-songwriter Glenn Tilbrook in those terms but that barely does any justice to the talent and wit that this man possesses. As the frontman of 80s ‘new wave’ band Squeeze, Tilbrook certainly had his time in the sun but the passing of thirty years have not diminished the artist’s ability to connect with an audience in a manner that escapes many younger musicians.
Forget about how small Singapore is or how you need to sing in the native tongue in order to play overseas, singer-songwriter Nicholas Chim has broken all these rules to find acceptance in Germany! Well, don’t just take my word for it, check out his Tour Diaries below.
Singer-songwriter Daphne Khoo will be performing at KEEPERS on Saturday, 29th November. Tickets are priced at $25 (with the Wonderland EP) & $20 and can be purchased from deetalk.peatix.com. All proceeds will go to the Singapore Cancer Society.
Also featuring guests Dee Kosh, Gareth Fernandez, Gayle Nerva and Nathan Hartono.
What I liked about Khairul Ridzwan was that he had the balls to approach me at Artistry and asked whether he could play! So let’s find out more about him, shall we and make sure you come down to check out his original music.
Khairul Ridzwan is an aspiring artist born in Singapore. He started playing the acoustic guitar since the age of 14 and eventually progressed to singing a few years later, Khairul has written and performed several original and cover songs. Occasionally, you can find him busking during weekend nights along the streets of Singapore or playing in local cafes. Currently studying Diploma in Music and Audio Technology in Singapore Polytechnic, Khairul aspires to be an original singer and songwriter, evoking feelings from his stories to touch his listeners.
Next up in STAGEFRIGHT XV @ Artistry — Yap Wei Chiang!
Wei Chiang is currently an aspiring singer-songwriter and college student. Whenever he’s not busy studying, trying to get to lectures on time, playing Ultimate Frisbee or Dota 2, he spends his time ruminating on life, love and what it means to live growing up in Singapore. Writing since 15, most of these personal experiences find their way into his songs; songs which he hopes are honest and relate!
A good friend recently suggested that I should emulate the renowned music critic Bob Lefsetz and cut loose on music and bands that I did not like – the proverbial ‘take no prisoners’ kind of commentary. Not that I haven’t done this in the 20 odd years that I have been writing about music and pop culture. And this includes telling the ‘truth’ about the music of local bands and artists as well. However, I find that it does not serve any purpose and often the targets of the criticism are not able to benefit from those remarks – so why bother?
Have been very excited by the many open mics/songwriter showcases popping up all over our little red dot in the past few months and I am glad to be involved in Stagefright @ Artistry together with Artistry Cafe and buddy Pat Chng. For February and March, yours truly will be curating this showcase. I’ll will be looking more at songwriting and the best way to present the song (usually acoustic) but ultimately am open to anything… drop me a line <firstname.lastname@example.org> with all the necessary links…
Simon Townshend released one of the more intriguing albums of 2012, the under-rated Looking Out, Looking In. We were fortunate and privileged to be able to pose a couple of questions to Townshend via email and we set out his responses below.
As a musician/recording artist, has being the younger brother of Pete Townshend been an advantage or disadvantage and why so?
I think it works both ways. I suppose I have a lot to live up to, especially when some people expect so much of me. Having said that my name has opened a few doors that would have perhaps remained shut. I am really proud of my brother and have always loved his music / lyrics – The Who are one of my all time favourite bands. However, I have many other musical influences and my sound is unique. I think once people realise that the sibling association takes a back seat they will judge me on my own merits. At the end of the day it’s down to me and my music to win music lovers over.
American songstress Rachael Yamagata returns to Singapore for a fifth time, in support of her new EP Heavyweight. Concert promoters Greenhorn Productions recently announced that Yamagata will be performing on 2nd March 2013 at the Esplanade Concert Hall and that tickets at $48, $68, 88 and $98 (excluding Sistic charges) will be available from www.sistic.com soon. Stay tuned for details soon at the official Facebook event page. In the meantime, check out the title track of her new EP below.