The Steve McQueens: "Hephaestus is about finding beauty in all things"
Bloom where you are planted
In Singapore, The Steve McQueens enjoy a cult popularity. To fellow musicians and ardent followers of the creative scene here, they're big. From their birth in 2013 till now, the local soul-funk band has played at numerous international music festivals, including Tokyo's SUMMERSONIC and Australia's Jazz by the Bay. They even caught the attention of veteran acid-jazz producer Jean-Paul Maunick when he watched them perform in 2014 — so enamoured was the Incognito founder that he flew them to London to record their second album, Seamonster.
Yet, for the average Singaporean who listens occasionally to The Sam Willows and Tabitha Nauser, the mere mention of the eclectic outfit's name is met with a puzzling, "Who are The Steve McQueens? Are they local?" or, "That American actor from the '70s?" Well, to answer those questions: The Steve McQueens consist of members Eugenia Yip (or Ginny Bloop, as she's commonly known, on vocals), Joshua Wan (keyboards), Jase Sng (bass), and Aaron James Lee (drums). No, they're not related to The King of Cool in any way — though he undoubtedly inspired their "anti-establishment escapism" musical style and name because of his anti-hero persona. And yes, they hail from our sunny isle and have, nota bene, performed live on national TV during the 2015 SEA Games — which is, quite frankly, considered phenomenal for a homegrown group who didn't rise from a singing competition. The quartet describes their music as neo-vintage, jazz-soul, groovy and sultry. Think Amy Winehouse meets James Brown, Erykah Badu married with Robert Glasper. In all, a sound that's pretty rare and unique in the local scene here.
So why hasn't The Steve McQueens gained the recognition we think they deserve? Could it be the local audience's lack of interest towards jazz music? Quite possibly. But hopefully that will change with their third and upcoming album, TERRAЯIUM. Anticipated to be their biggest one yet, the electric foursome explore fresh terrain after two years of soul-searching. A listen to first single, 'Hephaestus', is evidence of how much they've grown artistically; a fresh, yet familiar, offshoot from their existing body of work.
Before they jet-set off to their first multi-city tour in Japan, The Steve McQueens fill us in on their upcoming album — from their creative process to upcoming plans.
TERRAЯIUM is a reflection of how much the band has grown over the past two years. How different is The Steve McQueens (SMQ) now from back then, and what remains the same?
Wow, what hasn’t changed! The world is a different place. We are different people, hopefully a little more evolved. SMQ has been together making music since 2013 and as musicians and artists we reflect society and the world around us through our individual and collective filters. So the music will definitely have changed, evolved as a musical unit, more confident, more daring, perhaps a little more personal and vulnerable too. What hasn’t changed is our commitment to being musically truthful and always searching for that new expression of life’s breadth and depth.
Could you share more about the creative process in turning vulnerable experiences and feelings into words?
The expression of an honest emotion through music is one of the more profound things we can hope to be part of. Sometimes it starts with the music, sometimes a chord progression, sometimes just a melodic fragment. Sometimes it’s a picture, a cleverly worded turn of phrase, it's always different. To look for a formula would be to not get it. At all. But when it's true and it's honest you’ll feel the emotional weight and you hit record or write it down immediately!
Where were the songs for TERRAЯIUM written? Do the locations of where you write songs have a profound impact?
Written at home, on the train, in the shower, in the rain; then picked apart in the studio as a band, then re-assembled as an SMQ arrangement. It really doesn’t matter where it started. Location has no profound impact.
‘Hephaestus’ is about the set of unfavourable circumstances that may seem to plague your life. Hephaestus is also a Greek god who was thrown off the cliffs by his mother because of his deformity. So why the Hephaestus reference, and how does it relate to the band’s journey?
Hephaestus is about finding beauty in all things. And sometimes having to find solace from negativity in a created dream world. Don’t we all do that sometimes?
What’s the dynamics of the band like, and how did it affect or help the songwriting process of TERRAЯIUM?
SMQ is like a family, it’s a safe place, to try stuff out and get stuff wrong, then get it right, without judgement. Being our second major outing, we had a clearer picture of what the album should sound like, and were able to go for those specific sounds quickly. Most of the material had been in our tour repertoire long before the recording so they had been played and honed quite a bit before committing to tape.
You’ve performed in various countries, from London to Australia. How different is it playing in Singapore and overseas?
Singapore audiences generally internalize their enthusiasm. Or they are really polite, still, or reticent. Aussie and Japanese audiences are my favourite; they give off a generous energy that really powers the gig on to another plane.
What’s each member’s favourite pair of shoes to perform in?
We’re kinda staunch about our Doc Martens. Jase is always in his 2976 Chelseas and Ginny is either barefoot or in her pink Docs 1461s. Josh wears DM3989s and Nike AF1s and Aaron favours Nike SBs and Palladiums.
If The Steve McQueens was a seed, which flower or tree best describes the band, and why?
A hybrid. Part Snapdragon cos they’re sly, part Cactus for their resilience, part Dahlia cos I just like saying “dah-lia” and part Angsana cos we’re just regular everyday people.
Lastly, what’s next for the band? Are there plans to do a world tour?
We’re gonna try and play as much as we can, travel as widely as we can, make the best music we can.