Gentle Bones justifies why it took 8 years for his debut album, expanding his sound, and opens up on bilingual beginnings

Gentle Bones justifies why it took 8 years for his debut album, expanding his sound, and opens up on bilingual beginnings

When discussing Singapore's music scene, it's hard not to have the name Gentle Bones come up in conversation, especially early on in the past half decade when online Singaporean artists were just beginning to proliferate.

The singer-songwriter has been a mainstay in the industry for a while now, with tracks like 'Settle Down' and 'I Wouldn't Know Any Better Than You' resonating with fans far and wide. Known for his svelte vocals, authentic lyrics, and charismatic but enigmatic dual persona, Gentle Bones has played sold-out shows across and beyond Southeast Asia - and was even included in Forbes' prestigious '30 under 30' list in 2016. Fast forward to 2021, and the songwriter has armed himself with wisdom from industry greats, collaborations with some who would've been antithetical to his earlier sound, and an album emerging from it all as a turning point in his career.

We talked to the 27-year-old about why he waited eight years before releasing his debut album, how Singapore's music scene today compares to when he made his debut, and his love for hip-hop, amongst other musings.

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It’s been eight years since you broke into the music scene so it’s safe to say this album has been in the works for quite some time. Why the long wait?

A couple of practical issues really. The budgeting, timeline-wise and also as I explored music, I tend to want to try new genres and write new music so it’s been awhile to finally get to a point where I could make music that I feel was a ‘Gentle Bones’ genre. So with the help of the producers I worked with, putting together this album has been quite an amazing journey and I can’t wait to show it to you guys. 

How has your sound grown since your debut in 2013?

I would say my sound has definitely grown a lot. I think I’ve been dabbling in many different genres and different sounds and understand the whole production process all the way down to the mixing and mastering which has allowed me to have a better oversight over the final product. Hopefully that’s been showing in the music I’ve been putting out. 

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You worked with Singaporean artists Jasmine Sokko and lewloh for this record. How did the collaborations come about?

So there are two new songs in the album. One is a song co-written by Jasmine Sokko and another one is a song with lewloh himself. I’ve been friends with both of them for quite a long time and it’s just nice to be able to work with people I really respect and look up to and can learn a lot from.

lewloh has inspired me a lot with his folk sound and he’s also been a strong foundation in the folk-pop scene in Singapore. Jasmine Sokko is an amazing artist in her own right and has created such good electronic music that I’ve learned a lot from and been greatly inspired by. It’s been a beautiful process to be able to make music with them and I can’t wait for you guys to hear it as well. 

Apart from local artists, you’ve also teamed up with regional artists like Clara Benin from the Philippines as well as Taiwanese-American artist Karencici. Is there anyone else you’re looking forward to collaborating with?

For me, collaboration is really a privilege and to be able to work with anyone that’s willing to work and put out a song together is a great thing. I’m always down to explore different sounds and create different kinds of music with all the different artists that I’ve worked with. I think everyone brings something fresh to the table so as long as we’re able to put together something that is genuine to both of us, it always comes out as this whole new co-created song and that’s a beautiful thing. 

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How do you think the Singapore music scene has evolved over the last decade since you put out your first track?

I think it’s evolved tremendously.

A lot of it mainly started with YouTube cover content, at least when I started out. To be able to have it be an abundant, original music scene now is just great. What has been really inspiring for me is to see the hip-hop scene in Singapore grow so much over the last few years. That has really kind of kept me going in a sense, because I’m a huge fan of hip-hop in general. I can’t wait to see what more we can do. I think it’s very important that not just Singapore, but us as Southeast Asia develop our own eco-system and have an industry be built. I hope my album can be part of that history. 

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Tell us something about each song on the album.

I think the feature track ‘Help!’ is really an honest, confessional piece. It’s always nice when you’re vulnerable and share your love for someone and you realise that it’s being reciprocated immediately. There’s no need for any push or pull, everybody is just glad to be in this mutual agreement where feelings shared. It’s really a cause for celebration.

The song with lewloh is called ‘What Are We Doing?’ and it’s much more of a existential questioning kind of song. Having an honest approach to relationships or romance, and being aware that sometimes maybe we don’t know what we’re doing and there’s a lot of growing together to do.

‘Better With You’ is my favourite song. To me, musically it’s perfect. For Ben [Kheng], Jason and MJ to come together to create a song like this with me, it’s just beautiful. The message stands for something important and it’s an encouraging song that I’m very proud of. 

You dropped your first Mandarin track with Tay Kewei last year, and this new album is also a bilingual record. What was it like venturing into Mandarin music?

It was definitely scary but at the same time, I knew I always wanted to do it. I’ve been a huge fan of Chinese music for a long time and I actually grew up on a lot of JJ Lin. To be able to work with a veteran like Tay Kewei and put together this song is an honor, and to have her open the doors to the Mandarin industry has been an amazing process. This album is partially a Mandarin record because I feel like as I step into this world of Mandarin music, I realised that these were the two languages that I, as a Singaporean, grew up with. I like to have my music not be limited to any language at all so I think this bilingual record really speaks for itself. 

You’ve already had two sold-out concerts and was even included in the Forbes ‘30 under 30’ list. What would you say has been the biggest defining moment of your musical career thus far?

I would like to think that this album would be my biggest defining moment. As a creative, I’ve always been the biggest fan of having an environment that truly allows everyone to create and give input to make a great product. I think the work and the creative collaborations that have gone behind the making of this album is a journey and a coming together of great minds. It’s been a first for me and really a breakthrough in terms of having Gentle Bones bear the fruits of such a process.

Listen to Gentle Bones below and leave a review on Hear65.

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