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What else is there to say about Joel Tan aka Gentle Bones? The young singer-songwriter burst into prominence with the release of his massively popular single “Until We Die” back in December last year, accompanied with an extremely well-produced music video - a dual format that would prove to be his trademark throughout the past couple of months. With singles straight to the top spot on charts and shooting him further into the mainstream, it’s hard not to hear about his music and his ever growing faction of fans should be glad to hear that he’ll be playing two pretty significant shows this month in IGNITE! Music Fest and his own debut EP launch at TAB. As he gears up for the big month ahead, we chat with Joel about his humble origins, emotional inspirations, his most meaningful song and more!
Hey Joel! What are you up to these days?
Hey there! The EP is about to be released and we have a lot of things lined up after, so my team and I are pretty busy with preparations and simultaneously promoting the EP and the new single! It's looking good so far!
You took us by surprise when 'Until We Die' first came out and became such a hit that pushed your name into the limelight. Tell us more about how Gentle Bones started out!
It started out as a side acoustic project type thing, which I did in my bedroom. I was 17 then so it was mainly just early experimentations with song-writing and establishing the sort of style I was going for. I vacillated between several types of music but eventually settled on the current sound I have now. Gentle Bones is very much an identity I came up with as I became obsessed with the idea of crafting tunes and lyrics. It began as more of an art project in which the final products were songs rather than a musical venture and practice. But as I went along I picked up on the sensibilities of musicianship, I guess.
So, a couple of big shows coming up including playing at IGNITE! Music Festival and your own EP launch. How are you preparing for it?
Loads of band practice. My band and I are working extremely hard on putting together the best sets we possibly can, because these two shows are probably the biggest shows I’ll be playing ever since I started. We’re also hoping the turnout for the launch will be successful, so promoting that show is on the top of our priority list right now.
What can people usually expect from a Gentle Bones live show?
Genuine expression, earnest music and a good time.
Let's talk about your debut EP - what went behind the making of this upcoming release?
It's been really long and tiresome process with the EP to say the least. I had long intended to record my songs properly since 2012, which was also when I wrote my first two singles "Until We Die" and "Elusive", and I actually did record them with a friend, all during my A-level period. But we eventually decided to scrap the whole project as we decided it wasn't good enough. That's when I approached Roland Lim from Sync Studios and started working on "Until We Die" as a single in January 2013 and only released it a full year later due to my national service commitments.
But it all turned out for the better as I was then ready to record a full EP and had received funding from the National Arts Council. The other 3 songs off the EP were all written early this year and I feel I've really matured in my song-writing. Creatively, the EP was all I envisioned my music to be and Roland really helped in the process as my producer. Recordings were also really difficult as there is plenty of gang-vocal and orchestral tracks in the album, in which I had to get more than 20 of my friends to sing the segments and also Josh Wei to single-handedly play the whole orchestra. It was really quite a grand plan and I never thought I'd see the end. Thankfully, the day has come.
Most of your songs strike as heart-on-the-sleeve, what inspires you to write music: life experience or idealism?
Both really - somehow both strangely intertwine during my experiences, at least from my memory. I've always believed in honesty when it comes to a song's lyrical message. And it's about being frank that would allow people who listen to fully engross themselves in a song's message and theme. Of course the melody and arrangements play a huge part as well, as having a good hook is always the basic requirement in pop music. These listeners live out their lives to the soundtrack of heartbreak, happiness and love. And I try my very best to contribute to that list of songs with experiences of my own.
What's the most meaningful track you've ever written?
It would have to be "Settle Down", the fourth track of my debut EP. It's the song that's closest to my heart among the five and was written on a very dark time in my life, which I felt was my best attempt at fully translating my actual earnest emotions lyrically and musically. It was also the easiest song to record in terms of arrangement, instrumental and vocal takes as I was so sure of what I wanted the end product to sound like.
As with many others, what are some challenges that you faced as a musician here?
It will be the conflict between musicians in Singapore; where people tend to judge music based on what they feel music should be instead of accepting music as something that can extend beyond that. Instead of judging it based solely on its technicalities, I feel music should be viewed more as a form of art, because music is a reflection of life, culture and its people.
Michael Jackson | Bad
First album I listened to as a child when pirated DVDs and Cds were still all the rage.
Ed Sheeran | +
The album I really latched on to in terms of the complexities of song-writing with the simplest of chords, which really helped as I was pretty new to the guitar then.
Ben Howard | Every Kingdom
Best album ever.
Haim | Days are gone
Being a big fan of 90s pop, these three siblings really showed me the light on the beauty of replication when it came to crafting songs.