These Brittle Bones x Esther Lowless: An Acoustic Adventure

Chris Jones, or more familiarly known as the young prodigy behind These Brittle Bones has impressed us time and time again with his gloomy folk music that displays maturity beyond his years. Esther Low recently released her debut solo EP and anthology film Strange Place To Meet under her moniker Esther Lowless to great reception. Two of Singapore's most prolific singer-songwriters with a penchant for dark, moody, piano-based tunes combine their talents for a flash tour (3 days only!) and we were tremendously intrigued when they approached us a few weeks ago with their collaborative concept. We had an in-depth chat with them ahead of their Acoustic Adventure, and we gotta tell you, it's really something to look forward to this coming September.

What are you guys up to now? 

Chris: Hey Bandwagon! For my own work, we’ve got a lot of very exciting things in the making. I’ve just finished my debut LP which has taken over a year to record, and now we’re going to release and EP at Christmas to get fans excited for the big full-length!

Esther: Probably a renewed sense of confidence. The EP launch was almost like the final year project of my quarter life. And I passed!! :D So now it’s time for me to “graduate” from quarter life and progress to the next level. 

Tell us more about this collaboration. 

E: Chris and I are going to pay tribute to some of our favourite duets by making them our own (moody and piano based). We will be recording the covers live with a string quartet (2 violins and 2 cellos; Josh Wei and Karen Skylove on violins, Lisa Enharyono and Nigel Png on cellos), and then release the videos one by one on YouTube. Over the final weekend of September, we will bring this collaboration to 3 different venues and perform our music live. Apart from the songs we are covering, we will also be performing our own originals. The whole project ends with Chris and I releasing a song that we wrote together. It’s a duet that’s moody and piano based of course. 

C: This collaboration between Esther and myself is a journey for the both of us as our material is similar in the sense that we are both ‘gloomy piano singer/songwriters’. We decided to work together during this time to pay tribute to some of our favourite duets and songs and we’ve also taken it about ourselves to write a song together on a topic we both have discussed and thought deeply about. It is exciting for me to work with someone so talented as Esther, and I’m very excited myself to share the outcome of our work together.

How did the idea come about?

C: This collaboration commenced after Esther told me about her idea of working together. It was initially meant to be just a one-off YouTube cover, but after seeing how well we worked together, we decided to make it into a 3-show tour where we could expand our creative horizons and make it bigger.

E: Chris is the only other singer-songwriter based in Singapore I know whose music has a similar vibe to mine. We both write piano based songs that make people feel suicidal. So why not collaborate and see how intense our work may turn out to be?

We know you guys are going for a big sound with this project (violins and strings included), what is it about the orchestraic element that you appreciate? 

C: To me, strings add so much more depth to the music and provide such a beautiful accompaniment to the piano (or in our case, two piano’s)! We have put together our own string quartet especially for this project. It’s comprised of extremely dedicated local sessionists and it makes the music so mesmerizing.

E: The strings are so damn good at emoting! Play an energetic line with staccatoed notes in the major key and one instantly feels positive vibes all around. Drag long and somber notes regressing down the minor scale and it just gets so depressing. And when you combine many violins, cellos, and all their cousins together, the sound you can achieve is so amazingly grand and majestic, and it truly emphasizes the mood one is trying to go for. I suppose that is why these strings are so heavily utilized in many movie soundtracks, because of the above reason. String instruments are really so powerful.

Is there a specific sound you are aiming towards or are you taking a more experimental approach to things?

E: We are being experimental in the sense that we want to allow both our ideas to flow freely with each other to see what we can come up with. Even though our music has similar vibes, our thought processes and ideas are very different. But yet at the same time, we don’t want to sound too “out there” and be “difficult to digest”. So whatever we are working on will still be easy on the ears. I suppose we are aiming to create something that will be quite moving.

C: As we both come from neo-classical and indie/alternative influences, we have found that the style of the piano has been structured very carefully, so that our two pianos do not clash at any point throughout the song – unless it fits for a darker piece (oooh). This has been a challenge at times, but made the project so much more enticing as we are both able to learn a lot from each other. We know that people are expecting quite a dark collaboration from the two of us based on our own music, and we’ve got a lot of exciting things up our sleeves.

How would you describe your creative partnership? 

C: I’d say that we have worked very well so far and have been very productive in our sessions together! We are able to get things done at a high quality and we think quite like-mindedly which helps us to keep on the same page.

E: Instinctive, dynamic, and open. Both of us are very open to the ideas each other has. Yet at the same time, we are not afraid to reject ideas we are not so keen about. And it’s been really fun working with Chris so far (I’m not saying this because I’m trying to be diplomatic, it’s true.). Both of us are really on the same page most times when it comes to the music. And so it’s really easy to get the creativity out. Times like these, two heads really do work better than one.

I feel that the both of us have different good things to bring to the table. While I am more keen towards exploring using strange discordant chords, he reminds me that we need to go easy on some of the chords to make it sonically appealing to a larger audience. On the other hand, I spice up some of Chris’ chords by adding a 9th or a sus somewhere. We are working really well together.

What did you learn about each other during the project? 

C: It’s been so funny to meet with Esther and rehearse our collaboration, and then go for coffee somewhere only to see her in a KFC advert! It makes you feel special to work with someone so talented.

E: CHRIS IS SUCH A NAUGHTY BOY!!!!! Teenagers these days….. (shakes head). That is all I shall say.

What do you admire most in each other's work?

E: I absolutely love Chris’ lyrics, and the melancholic nature of his chord progressions and riffs. Very very deep stuff.

C: Esther is such a hardworking person. She is extremely dedicated which is so inspiring in itself, and I feel that we have both connected and understood each other deeply from working together on such a personal basis. I extremely admire Esther’s delicate piano work, and her ability to put exactly how she feels into her writing. It’s been a  real honour to work with her in all.

Will you ever get the urge to change what your solo music sounds like?

C: I’ll definitely be inspired to try new things, especially in arrangement of orchestral parts. We’ll see..!!

E: Of course! How uninteresting to stick to one type of sound for eternity. Maybe I’ll try sounding happy for my next album. That would be an interesting challenge for me. 

What can we look forward to in your shows?

C: We don’t want to give too much away, but we are very excited to play with a string quartet live. It’s going to be an experience, both for us as the artist’s but also for the listener. As we say, we’ve got a lot to show you. 

E: Seeing a cute white boy and a quirky Asian chick playing music together. One can’t get more hipster than that. (Kidding!!!!!)

We purposely chose tiny and cosy locations because we wanted our audience to be very close to us, so they could hear and feel the intensity of our music. We want our audience to leave the show feeling moved, and “in the mood” of our music, and that’s what you can look forward to.

Top 3 Duets

Esther Lowless

Whitney Houston & Mariah Carey | When You Believe

Beauty & The Beast | Something There

William So & Kit Chan | Gorgeous

These Brittle Bones

David Byrne & St. Vincent | Love This Giant (album)

Mew | Symmetry

Ben Howard & Monica Heldal | Burgh Island

(Plus all the songs we are covering!)