Turning dreams into reality can be considered a near-impossible feat and a daunting task to many. But this is exactly what motifs have accomplished.
On 16 September 2022, the homegrown shoegaze/dream pop band, comprising Elspeth Ong (Els) on vocals and guitar, JJ Tan on lead guitar, Paul Yuen on bass, Badrul Amin on synth, vocals, and guitar, and Jolin Chiam on drums, released their first single ‘fluorescent’ through Singapore-based independent record label spikyfruits. It was their first step into a cooperatively forged musical career that would lead to them becoming one of Singapore’s most anticipated music acts.
Having played an excellent set at Baybeats as part of the Baybeats Budding Bands artist development programme just last year, it comes as no surprise that they will make their eventual return to the Esplanade — Theatres on the Bay. Only this time, it will be for their first-ever solo concert.
View this post on Instagram
Following the launch of their debut album remember a stranger, which was produced by Snakeweed Studios’ Leonard Soosay, motifs are celebrating the launch in the most remarkable way by once again bringing their distinctive post-punk, “reverb-drenched nostalgia”, and dreamlike sounds to the Esplanade later this month to play a live show, one that will solely be theirs.
At their core, motifs are a talented group of friends who share the same music dream. Their undeniable chemistry with each other has let them turn that dream into something tangible and allowed them to experience many musical firsts together in a short span of time — from creating their debut album to now performing at their upcoming concert.
But it is through their perseverance that we get to see their passion for music.
Through working tirelessly to bring unforgettable live performances to their audiences, battling bouts of COVID together, and discovering more about each other along the way, the quintet have come to acknowledge and treasure the little quirks and habits that make them uniquely motifs.
Els shared: “Everyone has their quirks and distinct personalities, and I’m learning to appreciate them as my bandmates deal with mine too. All that aside, we genuinely care for each other and I’m really grateful for my bandmates.”
In an interview with Hear65, motifs talked about what went into creating remember a stranger, how they’re preparing for their first concert, as well as what’s next for them.
Hi, motifs! What local bands have you been listening to lately?
JJ: The Oddfellows and Cashew Chemists.
PAUL: Subsonic Eye’s ‘Fruitcake’, The Great Spy Experiment’s ‘Class ‘A’ Love Affair 2007’ and ‘Wasted’, and .gif’s ‘good night green light’.
“[Our music is] emotive and nostalgic.”
How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t had the chance to experience it yet?
PAUL: Emotive and nostalgic.
ELS: Music for a night drive (just my imagination I can’t drive).
You released your debut album, remember a stranger last year. Tell us more about what it means to you and what messages do you hope to convey to your audiences through this release.
JJ: remember a stranger was narrated in a way to tell a story of loss and memory as a band. We wish for the audience to interpret this album on their own and create their own experiences while listening to it.
View this post on Instagram
“remember a stranger was narrated in a way to tell a story of loss and memory as a band.”
ELS: One of my childhood dreams is to be in a band and I feel really lucky that motifs exist. This debut album will always be special because we worked on it together and it’s the first LP that any of us has ever put out into the world. I guess we hope that people remember to keep the tender moments of their lives close to them.
“We hope that people remember to keep the tender moments of their lives close to them.”
Which song from the album are you the proudest of and why?
JJ: ‘spitzer’. I think it’s one of the deepest songs we’ve ever written and a perfect narrative for our album.
PAUL: ‘lovelost’. It was the track that we worked the longest on, and went through the most number of revisions before the final version you hear today. It took close to two years and demos of this song could be heard through the walls of Snakeweed Studios, Lithe House (now Lithe Style), Treble Cube Productions, and back in our humble space in Snakeweed. It was a long-drawn process but the end result is rewarding. We love playing it live!
ELS: ‘remember a stranger’. It was the last song we wrote for the album, and most of the other songs were written much earlier, maybe two to three years earlier. Lyrically, I think I’m proudest of this song because I feel like I grew quite a bit after writing the earlier songs of the album (similar to ‘lovelost’ being one of our most-worked-on songs).
The change wasn’t solely in writing lyrics and melodies for the song, but also in the way I processed how I felt about my experiences and memories. The demo for ‘remember a stranger was very stripped down with just keys and bad vocals, and it was so nice to put the final arrangement together as a band and with Leonard Soosay in the studio.
“The change wasn’t solely in writing lyrics and melodies for the song, but also in the way I processed how I felt about my experiences and memories.”
Your upcoming concert as part of Esplanade’s 2023 Mosaic Music Series will be yet another milestone in your music career. What are your thoughts on holding your first-ever solo concert?
JJ: It’s still very surreal to us. We grew up watching our favorite local bands doing their launch shows and now we are doing ours. The Annexe Studio also has a special place in our hearts as a lot of the bands we are inspired by have played at this venue too. My favourites are when Elephant Gym and Say Sue Me played.
PAUL: We did not expect it to come so soon, but it all came together for us. And this boils down to the blessings showered on us by the local music community. We are incredibly grateful to have our first solo concert as part of the Mosaic Music Series! Imagine being sandwiched between Last Dinosaurs and Men I Trust. If you had told me this a few months back, I would have said you were mad! So very very lucky! And thank you for the faith shown in us.
ELS: So grateful. So lucky and thankful and grateful. Thank you to the people who support us and always look out for us.
View this post on Instagram
“It’s still very surreal to us. We grew up watching our favourite local bands doing their launch shows and now we are doing ours.”
What is the preparation process for your upcoming concert looking like so far? Are there any challenges that you’ve faced and how did you overcome them?
JJ: Three of us have COVID right now, so that’s quite a bummer and scheduling is pretty tough. But at least it won’t hit us during the album launch.
PAUL: Unforeseen circumstances like the three of us getting COVID at the same time (during a rehearsal). Coincidentally, it’s the first for all three of us. At least we can rehearse and gear up for the launch show without this monkey on our back. Another would be scheduling as we have commitments too. But we make it work.
ELS: I’m proud to be the COVID origin spreader. I’m back to work now but I think Paul and JJ are still sick.
Is there anything that you’ve discovered or learnt more about each other while preparing for this concert?
ELS: I think the five of us are really different people and we’ve been in a band for three-plus years. Previously we wrote the album together and furnished our little rehearsal studio together — but learning to deal with an album release and trying to get shows, learning to deal with a release and gigs as a band was more stressful than we imagined.
I’ve learnt to be grateful for our disagreements and differences because we balance each other out. We might miss certain important points of view if we agreed with each other all the time. Everyone has their quirks and distinct personalities, and I’m learning to appreciate them as my bandmates deal with mine too. All that aside, we genuinely care for each other and I’m really grateful for my bandmates.
“I’ve learnt to be grateful for our disagreements and differences because we balance each other out. We genuinely care for each other and I’m really grateful for my bandmates.”
Do you have any pre-show habits or rituals?
JJ: Nothing fancy, just old school hugs and words of encouragement are all we need for each other!
PAUL: I would do a quick warm up on the bass and I must listen to these three songs before every gig —‘Under Control’ (feat. Hurts) by Calvin Harris, ‘Sometimes’ by Miami Horror and ‘Summertime Sadness (Cedric Gervais Remix)’ by Lana Del Rey. They are all part of a hype playlist that I created for myself. And yes, a group hug before taking the stage! That one is a must.
ELS: I try and exercise the morning of a gig because it makes me feel better! I also try and sleep early the night before.
Finally, what else can we expect from motifs this year?
JJ: We’ve been trying to prepare our first-ever tour soon at the end of the year. So stay tuned!
PAUL: Enjoy the journey, play more shows, write new material, hopefully, and see the world.
“We’ve been trying to prepare our first-ever tour soon at the end of the year. So stay tuned!”
As part of Esplanade’s 2023 Mosaic Music Series, motifs will be holding their Remember a Stranger concert at the Esplanade Annexe Studio on 29 April at 7:30 PM. Tickets are priced from $23.80 to $28, and are now available for purchase here.
Listen to motifs’ remember a stranger here: