“Breaking down of any walls is always good”: An interview with .gif

“Breaking down of any walls is always good”: An interview with .gif

In partnership with Esplanade’s Baybeats Budding Writers Programme 2018

Written by Nabilah Ismail

A household name in the local music scene, .gif (pronounced dot jif), has become a reputable outfit to watch. Encountering each other in university, Chew Wei Shan and Nurudin Sadali, or to go by their pseudonyms, Weish and Din, began experimenting with their gear just to see what they could come up with and subsequently realised they were on the cusp of something glorious.

The two don’t always share the same musical influences but this only expands on how .gif’s music is layered with a myriad of genre-bending sounds. Even with only an EP and a debut album under their belt, .gif have proven that they have the creative chops for an impactful longevity in music.

They might not have set out to gain popularity as a band, but the two have achieved more than they would have imagined. The duo talk to us about the trajectory of their impressive music career, from playing in small spaces to performing on big stages such as at Java Sounds Fair and St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival, alongside international bands. They also give their take on the purity of pursuing passions, their partnership in the process of music-making and an update on new material that’s in the works.

Could you give us a short summary of how you two met?

Weish: The short version of it is, we met in university where we were studying Literature together. Din was DJ-ing and I was sort of singing on the side, trying to earn a little bit of money. We decided to just come together and see what we could make out of it.

What are your current occupations?

Weish: We were teachers for about four to five years, teaching English literature.

Din: They offered us scholarships and we took it.

Weish: But we are now into one year of pursuing music full-time, which is more like freelancing and doing different projects for different people. We’re trying to find a way to make it more sustainable.

It sounds like .gif has grown to be more than just a passion project. What motivated you to push the band into a more serious direction?

Weish: Teaching is a crazy thing. I used to complain that it was a 24/7 job because students would need you even after school hours. And you would have to bring marking duties backstage and to rehearsals – everything just to bled into everything else. It was difficult to cope sometimes.

Din: We also wanted to at least try doing it full-time before we got too old and regretted not ever doing it.

Weish: It’s been cool that now we get to do a lot of different types of projects that we normally wouldn’t have had the time to undertake before. I was getting frustrated during my teaching years because we kept having to say “no”. People would come up to us and say, “We have this cool collaboration, which is going to culminate into a multi-sensory show…”, and we would have to tell them that we can do our standard 30-minute set but there’s no way we’re going to have time to work on and rehearse a show for you. But now we’re able to say yes to everything and do work for film and theatre which is shiok.

Since you have a lot more time to focus on music, can you give us any updates on your follow-up album?

Din: We built our own studio at Golden Mile, it’s called ‘Go Je’ studios which is basically our ethos: Screw it, just do it. Now, there’s really no excuse for us not to write songs. But sometimes we get distracted because it’s too comfortable in there. But it’s also very different from anything we’ve ever released. There’s a bit more post-punk, which is something I don’t think you would ever associate with us.

From an emotional standpoint, how is it different from Soma?

Weish: I think, it’s a lot more free, which is a very obvious correlation with where we are in life right now.

Din: A lot angrier too.

Weish: I mean, that’s just the vibe. It’s less whiny, more angsty and I guess, we realised that anything upbeat is angsty by default. A big part of why we’re trying to be more upbeat is so it wouldn’t so awkward playing it at big festivals.

How did it feel to have your first full-length project to be so well received?

Weish: It felt nice, really. Three years back, we thought our album launch would be a small, cozy show but we saw people that we didn’t expect to see and it was reassuring.

Din: We have to give credit to our producer Jason Tan.

Weish: Yes, a big reason why anything we do is so well-received is Jason Tan, who’s such a sweetheart. He mixes, masters and produces our music for us.

Din: He’s one of Singapore’s best producers. His stuff used to be released and played by all the DJs in the '90s.

Weish: Not enough people recognise him for what he can do.

Would you agree that the music scene here is more of a scene and less of an industry?

Weish: From our perspective, yes, but we are also fully-aware that we inhabit a community that’s not necessarily shared by everyone. There are a section of people who are doing it more as an industry. One thing we've always prized about .gif is that we've been very malleable or that we are a part of many scenes, sort of like in the middle of a Venn diagram of scenes. We grew up together with all the underground shows; we went to hardcore shows at Home Club and Pink Noize. We’re just very lucky to be in a cross-section of different scenes. I think, from that perspective, the community aspect means a lot to us.

Din: I guess we are moving towards an industry. You can see all the major labels singing more and more acts.

Weish: Which is a good thing, if it makes it more sustainable.

Do you think it helps then that there’s no longer a strict divide between the underground and the mainstream?

Weish: Yeah, for sure. I mean breaking down of any walls is good. But I do think a more sinister reason of why that’s happening is because all the underground spaces are dying. There’s really no home to physically inhabit a sub-culture and it’s kind of sad.

But it’s also a good thing now that everyone’s online. I do hope, with this progression, that more people will reach outside of their silos and collaborate with different types of artists.

Din: I’d love to see Take-Off working with The Sam Willows. That would actually be quite cool.

Weish: Someone should just make this happen: Take the most unlikely pairs and task them to make a song.

Speaking of which, will you be collaborating with anyone on your new album?

Din: We have Usaama Minhas on our album. He does spoken-word in the UK and he’s a great rapper.

Weish: He was doing a spoken-word set in Cambridge that was so powerful that it made me cry. Thankfully, he stayed for our set and we became friends soon after. He told us, “Let’s work together anytime".

We also have Bani Haykal. We managed to get him to work with us and we’re excited for that, as well.

Din: We did a track with Wang/Yillis but we didn’t include it the album because it didn’t fit as a whole. We love the track but we won’t force it in. It’ll probably come out as a one-off.

Are there new acts you guys have been into lately?

Both: Yung Raja is dope and so is Fariz Jabba!

You guys have been part of big festivals including Laneway, playing alongside international bands. What do you think about the rising number of local acts being included these festivals?

Weish: It’s great and it’s shocking that it took so long.

How did you guys handle the jump from the small stage to bigger ones like Java Sounds Fair?

Weish: The small stages are somehow more draining only because I’m so invested in making it a really special show. I can see everyone’s eyeballs and once you’re in a tiny room, everything you do is kind of under scrutiny but on a big stage, you’re somehow blinded by the lights and you can just go je.

Din: For me, I’m always terrified that something will go wrong especially with computers, which actually happened at Java Sounds Fair. The power tripped twice and I had to restart my computer twice. This was at start of the set, too. So that was terrifying and now I’m always paranoid and bring protective gear.

Weish: The jump wasn’t too bad, either, because, when we were teaching, we didn’t have the headspace to overthink and stress out about big stages because we were more concerned on whether we could finish our marking.

Do you have any advice for those looking to have their hand at music but are reluctant to because of the fear of not making it?

Din: Go je! If you really want to do something, just go for it because what’s the worst that could happen?