Photo by Axel Serik

You have got to hand it to Deon Toh and his merry band DEON. For the last couple of years, the singer-songwriter has built a steady following at home and made a life for himself and his band as touring musicians. Read what Deon has to say about his latest adventure in Toronto.

Toronto, Canada. You’re one of those books that I keep returning to, with new discoveries each time I explore your pages. Every time I fathom the thought of shelving you indefinitely, you show me how much more you have to offer.

In 2013, I put together a line-up of band members to take on Canadian Music Week (CMW). Traveling to a foreign land that’s soaked in great music – the trip opened my eyes, and taught me new things that proved useful in years to come. I saw new bands, and developed new arrangement and songwriting ideas. In 2014, I extended the CMW experience by flying to the UK for another festival. 2014’s tour was so rewarding that many fine details are still etched in my mind. 2015 saw the third time I played at CMW, where we made more new friends; this eventually resulted in me getting invited for Indie Week Canada 2016. All these experiences changed my life and shaped me as a musician.

It is the first time in 2 years where we have a line-up change, with Stasha (Bass) taking an indefinite hiatus, but our band dynamics remain mostly the same. Jie (Guitars), Mindy (Keys), Jovin (Drums), Leonard, and I, were joined by Axel (from T-Rex SG). We’ve never had a more intense schedule in Toronto before. Imagine waking up, going for lunch, loading in to the performance venue, listening to bands before your set, going for a quick dinner, then taking on the stage late at night: repeat.

For most parts of the trip, I was physically exhausted, and at times jetlagged; but everyone enjoyed each other’s company, the cold weather, and awesome food, which more than made up for any hint of negativity – something that comes rather naturally under the pressure of tight schedules and weariness.

We thought that our Japan trip this year was productive, but we didn’t expect Canada to outdo it. We made plenty of friends (musicians and non-musos alike) in Tokyo, but in Toronto, we got to know even more people, hung out with new bands/friends, and got to know the city a lot better. We played more shows in Toronto that in Tokyo, and also had the chance to perform three new songs. Everyone agreed that it was an extremely fruitful trip.

Well, despite all this, the memories that I treasure most aren’t the ones on stage. (I don’t want to be too presumptuous, but) I think a lot of people assume that the best memories of musicians are the ones we have performing, and getting a kick out of that rush. There ARE good memories relating directly to performances, but the ones that stick the most are the good times the band and I share off-stage. The endless hours of car rides, locking each other out of the apartment in the cold, everyone shoveling portions of food onto each other’s plates, bad jokes, the many hot/cold drinks we have each morning and night, familiar weird noises/sounds we subconsciously make throughout the day, the nightly (sometimes silent) hangs we have around the dining table. These are the memories that I cherish the most.

Yes, we play music, we enjoy the process of songwriting, and we represent Singapore as much as we can while taking on the stage in foreign lands. But as humans, we don’t approach the tours or festivals with such a narrow perspective where we are ONLY driven by the music [I might be speaking for myself]. Rather, we deal with it in a broader sense, and take it on as a holistic life experience. Every part of the trip, from the people we meet to the food we eat, contributes to our growth as individuals, which fuels the spirit behind the music. There’s no secret to writing good tunes – you just tell good stories. And good stories, comes from a colourful imagination and interesting experiences related at the most human level.

So, the next time you see myself and the band play live, remember to think of us as a sum of our experiences, trying to relate to you as intimately as possible. We are just trying to paint stories, while have a good time doing so. After all, to me, this thing we call “playing in a band” seems to be the greatest hang-out of all time.

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… still there’s more …