Gentle Bones and MYRNE on B4NGER PROJECT: How they met, fused two different sounds and went into dark places
It takes too
Two weeks before the launch of their first album collaboration, B4NGER PROJECT, we were invited down to Universal Music Singapore's office to have a chat with Gentle Bones and MYRNE (real names: Joel Tan and Manfred Lim). Stepping into the room, the distinct scent of McDonald's was thick in the air — Ronald's babies were keeping them fuelled for an entire day of interviews. Lim, decked out in a black and gold printed shirt, stood up to shake my hand, towering over me, while Tan exuded a certain kind of seriousness; of someone who knows his craft very, very well. But of course.
Ask almost anyone on the street about which local artist they're familiar with, and Gentle Bones will probably be a common answer. This 24-year-old singer made a household name for himself after being signed to Universal Music Singapore early into his career. With two EPs to date, he's also been nominated for MTV Europe Music Awards' Best South-east Asia Act in 2016.
Lim, who is a year younger, caught our attention after being signed to American DJ Diplo's music label, Mad Decent, back in 2015. Teaching himself the ropes when it came to producing electronic dance music tracks, he went from experimenting in his room to jetsetting around the world to perform at well-known clubs and festivals, namely Djakarta Wavehouse Project and Ultra Singapore 2017. While still juggling school at Singapore Management University, Lim was added to the list of artists spinning at Ultra Music Festival in Miami this year, making him the only Singaporean to perform since its inception.
Their collaboration came as a sweet surprise. The duo has released two singles, 'JU1Y' and 'B4NGER', which received positive reviews from critics and fans due to Tan's soothing indie voice blending perfectly well with Lim's groovy tunes. When they realised the amount of potential they had together, Lim and Tan decided to join forces for a full album, B4NGER PROJECT. Before its launch, we sat down with the duo as they shared stories behind the album and their creative dynamics.
So the both of you released B4NGER and a teaser for 7OVE YOU just two months ago. Why did you specifically pick those to release? Would you call them a good introduction to your combined sound?
Manfred: He picked the sound and I thought that it was a good choice.
Joel: They're my favourite songs. I wouldn't say it's a conscious choice and it was quite obvious to me and us that these songs would sit best with most people.
Is there a significant meaning to the songs that you have chosen?
Joel: I think so. I write most of the lyrics and he helps with it sometimes, but I think the idea that we wanted to put across was that I didn't want to convey any bigger message. I don't wanna talk about any important issues and I'm just being really honest. It's like a diary and that's how we approach the songs. I wouldn't say we picked the simpler ones but more of the straightforward ones that people would get on the first listen. There's so much music out there now so the ones that I feel would capture your attention immediately will be the stronger songs, but at the same time, every song is well done in my opinion.
How did the two of you meet? You guys mentioned in an interview that once you guys met, you both wrote five songs right off the bat.
Manfred: I was doing my electronic music stuff and then I found this EP. His song, 'Until We Die' — I heard it and thought it was phenomenal. I've never heard something locally before that sounded like this, so it was very different and interesting. I wanted to put my own spin on it so I reached out to him and asked if I could remix it. I caught his live show at Tab when it was still around and I knew that this guy could definitely do big things. A few years later, he went into an electronic direction with Geniuses and Thieves and before it came out, he reached out for a listening session to hear what I thought about it and I thought it was super different from what he was normally doing.
His voice still fits perfectly in these kinds of electronic tracks so he asked me if I wanted to remix Geniuses and Thieves and I was like, 'Hell yeah', and we put that out. After a while, I just wanted to find out how he would sound on electronic beats so I thought we should write a few songs together. One day in March, exactly a year ago, he came over and we wrote five demos straightaway, and the first one was 'JU1Y'.
Did you guys ever expected that at that time, it would turn into a full album?
Manfred: Not at all. We just thought maybe we should just put out one song and see how it did, or maybe an EP at most. But then I realised that I was writing so much music I've never written before because I was so inspired by having him sing all the hooks so I really could imagine the final song in my head, like most of them. I knew that it would be really fun to write a lot more.
Joel: Coming up with 'JU1Y' was like a self-denying, hate and anger thing for whatever we wanted to do and in my opinion, that song is a really unique dance track while maintaining a lot of commercial aspects. As we progressed from there, we approached it in a way that we would just write a lot of songs and on the first day, we had five. Subsequently, we met for the rest of the one year period and then we came up with even more songs. There are a lot of songs that ended up on the album but it allowed us to navigate and find our way towards the sound that we thought would serve best for B4NGER PROJECT.
I noticed that the names of the songs that have been released all contain a number. Is there a special meaning behind it?
Joel: It's just a chronological order. As we wrote the songs, we just titled it based on the number of projects like 'project one' and 'project two', because we would finish the whole song and it would still be called 'project one'.
Manfred: We got very attached to the numbers. I'm a very 'calculative' guy. Like number one, with 'JU1Y', was just marking the time when we first put out the song and we're very proud and happy. That came in July or before, and then the rest of the songs just flowed naturally. There was always a word that fit the exact songs that have the number in it, so it kind of just turned into this.
What's the biggest difference in this album compared to your usual style of music?
Manfred: My usual style of music sucks (laughs), so we're trying to make something that sounds good for a change. I think he has more to say than me, but personally for me, you go into any club night and you'll basically hear the same electronic dance song for an hour so for this, we try to make it as different as possible in every single song.
It was a 180 for me because I've never written with someone so closely before for every single track, and dance music is always writing a full song and make someone guest on it. You pay someone and ask them to sing a hook and its always the same formula — there's a slow mellow, then a build up, and it gets really intense and there is a drop. But for this, sometimes we start with a hook or a chorus first. Some songs don't even have a chorus.
Joel: We approached this project by doing something that we totally have never done before. I think both of us looked back at our own music and we knew that we wanted to do something completely opposite. I wouldn't even say that we are going for a pop sound, but it's more of an opposite of what we're doing. It's like a cohesive product and very groundbreaking in my opinion, sound-wise. He had some beats ready even before we reinterpret those beats, and that's how 'V0DKA' came about, and we had Sam Rui on it and it turned out amazing.
Manfred: The original version of 'V0DKA' was a really happy summer song, And then he said: "I like it, but make it sad."
Do you guys think that your work dynamics are similar or different?
Manfred: I think they're really different but complementary. I like working solo a lot, but sometimes when I do that, I go off tangent, trying to do too much to a song. My discography is more of compressing everything and putting as many sounds as possible, but when Joel came into the picture, he gave me bit of direction with the voice in the songs. It's hard to flood it so he gave me a lot of advice, like I have to take this away or scale this back and give some space to breathe which was really helpful. The best advice he gave me was probably to stop writing bad music (laughs).
His input was crazy. For example, for all the choruses of the songs, he was singing through my mic and then I put it through a guitar amp which had this crazy effect on the vocals. There were a lot of experimental techniques that I wasn't afraid to try, because traditionally in dance music, if we do something new or different people would go 'What is this' or 'This doesn't sound like what I'm accustomed to'. For this album, there were no rules. We just wrote what we were feeling on the day.
Joel: What I learnt from him was that he opened my mind up to a lot of things. I used to be angry and with his sense of humour, it made things a lot lighter and it was a huge inspiration for the album, just taking things less seriously. I think that influenced me a lot, especially watching him produce. I think people don't really know the extent to how good he actually is and he's doing everything in his bedroom.
Why did you guys decide to collaborate with Sam Rui on 'V0DKA'?
Manfred: For me it was not only her voice, which is amazing, but we were all on the same wavelength when it came to anything we were talking about, like love, relationships, music and attitudes towards local music. We're all in the same point in our lives in our early 20s and figuring out what's going on in the world. When she came on, she wrote the hook in an hour and it flowed really naturally. I was just very happy to see her name on it and I've always been a big fan of her music.
You mentioned that there weren't a lot of dark emotions being put into the songs?
Joel: I think it's a question about what you view as dark, because I think there are a lot of dark lyrics that we're trying to put out. In terms of taking the world less seriously, which he really inspired me to do, the darkness comes out in a very nice and pleasant way. For me, even 'B4NGER' was the darker one but it's the happier sounding one.
Manfred: The lyrics are very dark and there's a deep story behind it, but I just enjoy the juxtaposition by making the instrumental parts either as happy as possible or sad as possible.
Are there any up and coming local musicians that we should keep a look out for?
Joel: Jasmine Sokko. She really won me over. She produces the stuff herself too. People like Yung Raja, they're really flexing a bit to be able to rap in their own language and still make it sound unique; almost setting the tone culturally in Singapore.
Manfred: I'm a fan of Jasmine too. She's the kind of person who would make a loss at a show just to preserve her artistic vision of the lights and visuals.
Gentle Bones and MYRNE will be holding a live performance, THE B4NGER PROJECT SHOW, on 27 April, 8pm to 10pm at The Pavillion @ Far East Square. Click here to purchase tickets.
Listen to B4NGER PROJECT here.