"In order for hope to live, you need to invest in the future": An interview with Lunarin

"In order for hope to live, you need to invest in the future": An interview with Lunarin

This is the era of the multi-screen experience. Everything that doesn’t align with the accelerated demands of your eye can be clicked/swiped away from your consciousness and given an unceremonious burial at the most obscure depths of your Feed . That is the milieu into which Singaporean alternative metal band Lunarin ushers its new EP Into The Ether. Six years separates the three-song set from its preceding transmission but its makers have seen to it that it’s fully, bleedingly aware of the cacophonous tenor of times, of the fact that the world going up in flames isn’t just a metaphorical conceit but the prevailing reality. The inmates have control of the asylum and frontwoman-bassist Linda Ong, guitarist Ho Kah Wye and drummer Loo Eng Teck have emerged as our chorus of rage, indignation and hope.

Stunning musicality aside, the EP’s power lies in its essence: Protest, not provocation is its provenance. At a time when performative ‘wokeness’ is the main coin in the realm of public discourse about society, the band has turned in a compromise-averse, answers-demanding work that is also a searing personal statement of the need for redress and change. You won’t find any heal-the-world platitudes therein – but you will experience music that quivers with its own monumentality, that, above all else, siphons the power from its titanic sweep of metal and rock and hands it back to the disempowered, which is all of us.

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Below, we speak to Linda and Kah Wye about the genesis of Into The Ether, their collaboration with Singaporean artist Clare Lee and their upcoming launch show that happens next week.

Hey, Linda and Kah Wye. Welcome back! What were some things that happened to you in the last six years that affected how Into The Ether turned out?

Linda: On a personal level, quite a lot of things have happened. Eng Teck and myself ended up having children. Not with each other (laughs). It was a period of a lot of change for us. Having children impacted our worldview on things that were happening, and to some degree, that impacted the music. In the time when we were working on the record, the world changed drastically. There's a lot of division everywhere, which had an impact on the music, as well.

The song that comes to mind that had directly addresses this is our first track, 'Rage'. A lot of it had to deal with the fact, that, suddenly, good and proper behaviour don't seem to be the order of the day anymore. It seems, that, now, you are filled by your own personal beliefs without having any regard as to whether or not whatever you say is correct or whatever you believe is right or wrong. And it's quite depressing to think that we're still grappling with issues like racism, facism and sexism; all those things did rub off during that period. 

Kah Wye: For me, we stopped playing music for a while because of the kids. Basically, I stopped playing guitar as well because it didn't make sense without a band. I'm way past the stage where you sit there and jam. So, when we first started getting together and writing the songs, it was pretty challenging. I'm not sure about the two of them, but for me, at least, it was about relearning how to play the instrument again. I would say, my style of playing has changed somewhat. I use more technology and I’d say I’m a more controlled player now.

And Linda, did your pregnancy affect your approach to music?

Linda: For some reason, music became more outward-looking. When you're younger, it's more about your own issues and your own relationships but when you have children, it does force you to be a bit more macro, in a sense. You tend to have a vested interest in the future. It used to be "I don't care if the world burns because I'm going to die anyway" but now, by having children, you want it to work out. So, I would think that I'm still angry but for very different reasons. That's the main difference. There is still some form of trepidation but I wouldn't say that I'm entirely hopeless – there is still a desire to find hope, at the end of the day.

So what would you say has kept Lunarin together all these years?

Kah Wye: During those years we stopped playing, we were still hanging out. I'm not sure what triggered the whole "let's meet up and play music again" situation. If you ask me now, I don't recall. I think it was because of Eng Teck, he had his child later and we had to wait for his kid to be slightly older. But, somebody must've triggered it because if you had asked me three, four years ago, I didn't think that this would happen. 

Linda: It's the fact that we're all very good friends. We met when we were 15; we were classmates and we hung out. As we embarked on other stuff such as NS, university and marriage, it was simply a situation of old friends trying to grapple with growing up and old together. When you start from that footing, it's not so much about keeping the band alive or the friendship alive because the music is a huge part of our friendship and it was natural that as long as we continued to stay in touch, we would continue to make music. Of course, there would be time constraints, but we will eventually meet and work on our music. Or, maybe, it's because we have very little friends (laughs).

Lazarus (Inspired by Lunarin's song, 'Rage') Credit: Clare Lee

It’s known that David Bottrill mixed the record. What would you say he brought to the table?

Linda: I didn't expect him to agree to help us. I emailed him by chance and asked for his help. But he was really nice and immediately asked for a sample. After which, he told me that he would be interested in working with us. We didn't really expect much but the moment the first mixes came, all three of us were completely blown away. What he did was to make all the parts cohesive and provide a balance that allowed the songs to be heavy yet refined, which was something that we struggled with ourselves. If he had not engineered or mixed it, the songs would've sounded very different from the final album.

Kah Wye: Right from the get-go, we knew we wouldn't do the mixing for this album because it was too much time and effort. So it was always on our minds to get somebody in and David has always been our guide. Like what Linda said, we weren't even sure if he was open to the idea of working with an indie band but everything fell into place. The most memorable thing about his mix is the bridge in 'The Flood’, for which I did most of the basic recording. He made that section much more spatial.

Let’s talk about the first song, which is political, earthily carnal and abrasive all at once. What would you say is the emotional centre of 'Rage'?

Linda: 'Rage' was actually the last song to be written. We started on 'Rage' amidst the outcome of the GE results. At the same time, we had Donald Trump, Brexit and a lot of other stuff happening along the way. All of which affected us quite deeply. One of the primary feelings of the song was betrayal. We’re devolving instead of striving to be better. That sense of betrayal seeped into the song but lyrically, I didn't want it to be full-on angry or political, I wanted it to be nuanced. And of course, being female and having a daughter, there's that element of wanting to rage against the patriarchy too. And as I sing the last line of the song, I didn't want it to appear as if I was just screaming, I wanted to do it on my terms, and that was to take advantage of my femininity and express it in a different way.

That was how the song evolved  – it started off being angry, with betrayal at the heart of it, and along the way, I decided that I had to make it more elegant so it would sound a bit less rough around the edges. I know that it's not everyone's cup of tea, but it was certainly one of the more organic songs the three of us worked on. 

 The Mark of Cain (Inspired by Lunarin's song, 'Bruises') Credit: Clare Lee

And is ‘Bruises' a progression from 'Rage' in terms of narration, or is it a different depth of the hell that we're in?

Linda: I guess, it is, but it might sound contrived if I say that we had it in mind all along. It certainly didn't happen that way. In hindsight, when I took a step back and looked at the songs in sequence, I could see the progression. 'Rage' is pure anger and betrayal. 'Bruises' is, perhaps, the taking stock phase while 'Flood' is about trying to get out of it and give off more of a healing energy. 

Kah Wye: 'Bruises' was tough because we threw away a lot of music. The chorus was the only one that survived.

Linda: I had to rewrite the song many times. I would say that it was the most difficult song. The verses where the ones that we struggled with the most. I had to change the lyrics all the time. Even with the chorus, the word 'bruises' itself came to me very late. I was singing gibberish for the longest time until I finally found that word. The reason I struggled with the lyrics is because I wanted to pinpoint where the song was coming from, emotionally. 

Jezebel's Sacrifice (Inspired by Lunarin's song, 'The Flood') Credit: Clare Lee

There’s something fundamentally regenerative about 'The Flood’. Did you want the EP to conclude on a note of hope?

Linda: Yes. I agree with that. We wanted to end it on a high and not be self-indulgent. We came from a place where we try to make the best out of a situation. It's not so much about moaning about why others aren't doing things when the onus is also on us to do something with whatever limited powers we have. So yes, there was a deliberate attempt to bring the mood up. Hope can come in many ways. It could be that you extricated yourself from a bad situation or simply looking at things from a different perspective, in order to gain a certain enlightenment. 

The entire EP is an ode to how power underpins everything. Given the problems this EP outlines, what, to you, is the way out of them?

Linda: There is a line in 'Rage': “There's no you and me/ The fault line in between/ Are running below us”. When you have a discourse with someone, you say that you have to look at the other party's point of view. But I think my point is, how can I look at look your point of view if it's inherently wrong? Let's say, you're a racist. If you're coming from a flawed place, how can we ever possibly have a proper discussion? 

First of all, we need to pick our battles and know which are the ones we want to win and which are the ones we’re not going to give airtime. Going forward, we need to identify the areas that can be improved upon. Secondly, in order for hope to live, you need to invest in the future. Education is important even though it's going to be very difficult. But I think we have a duty to spread the message. Ultimately, we have to recognise other human beings for who and what they are. That's the most basic message.

You worked with the artist Clare Lee to do the artwork for each of the songs. What made you want to give the songs a visual dimension?

Linda: We've been friends with Clare for a long time. We first met when we released our debut album.

It was so natural to call upon her to help with the artwork for this album. I must say I was overwhelmed because I didn't expect her to come up with individual pieces for the song. All I expected was the artwork for the EP but what she did was to be inspired by each song we sent over and create three separate paintings. It wasn't a conscious decision to have an artwork for each song, but it just so happened that she came up with something for each track. It was a privilege to work with her. At that point in time, other than the three of us, she was the only other person who was privy to all the songs, even before we sent it to David Bottrill. She nailed it. 

Kah Wye: The first piece she sent back was 'The Flood'. 'Rage' took the longest for her because she came up with two pieces and we latched on to the idea that there should be individual art pieces for each song. After she did the three paintings, we realised we needed a separate artwork for the EP and she did a fantastic job.

Lastly, what can people look forward to about your upcoming EP launch?

Linda: First, there's going to be a mini art exhibition. We're going to open the doors slightly earlier so that people have a chance to take a look at the art and have a chance to talk to Clare because she's going to be there. For the performance, we're going to be playing songs from all our albums. It’ll be a mini reunion of all the songs we've written through the years. It’ll be Eng Teck's birthday, too, so we'll see if we can sing a birthday song to him. We haven't been around for a long time so it'll be nice to see some of our old friends again and play. We are going to donate the proceeds to HOME, so it's all for a good cause.

Catch Lunarin live at the official launch of Into The Ether which happens on Saturday, January 12, at the Esplanade Annexe Studio. Tickets are available here.