Laughing and shooting each other looks when a member seems to be giving away too much information, The New Modern Lights are incredibly candid and comfortable with being interviewed. One can really sense their chemistry with one another and it is no surprise that they have all known each other for years, with most of them coming from a musical background of sorts. “Darius pretty much roped everyone in. So he needed a drummer and he got me in because he knows I played Rock Band,” the drummer Bruce shared while guitarist Darius nodded and acknowledged: “Bruce’s current state of unemployment is because of me.”
Then more laughter ensued.
Casually calling their band one big decent accident, they have gone through milestones together like learning instruments, jamming together and finally playing for Baybeats this year. “I think we have grown as musicians together,” Darius added.
Their music making process is interesting, with each member sending snippets of their own playing through WhatsApp or Telegram recordings. Then they would meet to jam it out and see how things pan out. They seek for the feeling you get when you listen to the music, instead of prioritising or having that need to show off their playing techniques. Guitarist Ethan elaborated, “It is a very DIY approach. If it sounds good and if it feels good, then it is good to us. And we are very open to each other’s suggestions when we write or jam.”
“Sometimes we are jamming and one person changes just one note, it sounds good and then we’d look at each other and go: Oh! That is THE song,” recalled bassist Adriel and everyone nodded.
But of course music is meant to be taken out of the studio and they look forward to performing live. Speaking about the energy and that satisfactory high they get from playing to an audience, they go with the flow and just have a good time. Is there a preference to more intimate shows or bigger stages? Synth player Doran expressed that both are equally enjoyable and Baybeats will be one of the bigger stages for them to date.
If they get to build their own ideal band venue, they would want a dingy or grungy vibe, underground with a functioning air-con. Maybe even an in-build bar as well as good music and light facilities. One feature they definitely want to have: coat racks for people to hang their bags and dance. Who knew.
The boys sat down with Popspoken to talk us through what more can be done to boost the music scene and of course, what we can expect from their set for Baybeats Festival 2019.
With quite a number of bands coming up every year, do you think the local music scene has enough opportunities for all?
Opportunities to showcase music are plenty in Singapore, but with new entrants to the scene here there is never enough. Bigger names like Noise Music Mentorship, Ignite Music Festival, Scape Invasion, Baybeats, etc. have been shaking the scene and bringing some lesser known artists and more established acts together to create a more vibrant and diverse music scene in Singapore.
However, we feel that more can be done to welcome newer entrants to the scene, especially considering that some acts are consistent picks across (just a few of these) major events (although this a testament to these artists’ widespread success and popularity in Singapore).
Furthermore, we believe more funding and support is needed to establish entry-level gig organisers, art collectives and promoters in the scene and to bring a wider spread of music to people of all walks of life.
With the influx of new artists, these collectives and organisers are pivotal in creating an expanded reach to audiences the bands themselves are targeting — if not Singapore will reach a bottleneck between the increasingly massive input of artists into our scene and a consistently narrow output to their intended (or even unexpected) audiences.
Besides initiatives such as the Baybeats Budding Bands, what else would be good to see here in Singapore?
We think more initiatives that tie music together with various other disciplines of art like videography, fashion, visual arts, drama/acting, architecture, etc, will massively increase the overall participation of Singaporeans in our blooming arts scene.
The idea of interdisciplinary learning through not only the Budding Bands programme but the Budding Writers and Budding Photographers programmes is what really made this different from other mentorship/showcase events that allow new artists (of a few disciplines) to mature.
Some of us recently attended an event organised by local band Sub:Shaman in collaboration with the ArtScience Museum, showcasing abstract representations of Alice in Wonderland through visual graphics complemented with live thematic and original music.
It was just one of those performances that truly stood out both visually and sonically, birthed from the idea that various types of art should be presented harmoniously, and it was easily “world-class” in our eyes.
Speaking of performances in a unique venue like the Artscience Museum, Doran also had some crazy ideas of getting more performances “outdoors”, away from our comfortable, popular or underground gig venues. We figured being a land-scarce country, why not mobilise lesser-used/populated open spaces like vacant carparks, rooftops and parks for smaller to medium sized events that can host up-and-coming independent artists’ performances?
It’ll be a refreshing twist to live music when location/setting is a factor smaller indie artists can consider changing now and then to bring their material to a wider audience and expand our locals’ palette in terms of taste in music. Having played and seen the turnout in one of Scape’s Space Maximisation programmes (Spring Break 2019, by Radius) on the Scape Rooftop, we could tell our audience embraced the idea of an unprecedented venue to hold music performances.
Additionally, given the right sound settings, it was one of the most enjoyable nights we had with our old and newfound listeners in such a perfect atmosphere for energy and freedom. We could list places like the Punggol Container Park or basically any less-frequented HDB Carpark rooftops for a unique, holistic experience that helps enhance the artist’s music. This way, artists of different genres can volunteer for venues that they identify with, that basically “play” their music for/with them.
This can be a channel to promote music unfiltered to audiences who may otherwise never consider listening to some local artists, away from digital platforms where smaller/local artists may find difficulty in distributing their works widely in Singapore.
Effort has to be done to make these venues/programmes affordable for artists and audience alike, but it is also vital artists and organisers get paid their due share even if a small sum, to promote a culture of paying in recognition of music and the effort spent on producing art.
Do you think aesthetics should ever be an important element in being a musician?
Aesthetics definitely play an important role in being a musician as your image plays a part in listeners overall perception of you as an artist – especially in formulating your audiences’ first impression of the band.
There have been numerous bands over the years that have revolutionised culture through their looks! Also, we’re not gonna lie that we all suckers for awesome album art/merch, and naturally this artwork/merchandise that bands promote will represent what they truly believe in and identify with.
Looking at this in a different light, paying attention to aesthetics will really push the local music scene in terms of support not only of an individual artist’s music but also their image or whatever they stand for in society.
Pulling out the ‘interdisciplinary participation in arts’ card again from our response earlier, we believe music will be united with other artforms (like visual arts/fashion/photography/videography/etc) in creating a more vibrant culture of creativity in Singapore.
Talk us through The New Modern Lights look and image, and how that goes together with your genre of music.
Great transition from the previous question… Well… we used to look like nerds wearing button up shirts and hair wax all the time but we’re gonna pull the “it was just a phase” card on this. The NEW Modern Lights is all about embracing youth and nostalgia, so we think there’s a lot of 90’s alternative influence which is reflected not only in our music, but our looks as well. We dig the looks and the whole DIY movement of that era, and some of our favourite bands are from there as well. 90’s kids turn up! (Sorry Doran.)
What can we expect from your Baybeats set?
As with any TNML show, you can expect an energetic and loud live show, with a bad joke/pun or two thrown in. You’ll hear some of the songs that we’ve been playing over the past couple of years since we started out as a band as well as one of our singles that we’ll be releasing before the festival (stay tuned for that!).
Also, we will be debuting a couple of brand new songs on the Baybeats stage. It’s quite daunting for us but we’re always up for a challenge and we’re looking forward to seeing how the audience will react to the new stuff.
You’d probably want to bring a change of clothes and some caffeine just in case you feel the urge to dance along in our sweaty Singapore weather. Since its the first time we have such a big stage to ourselves, some bad dance moves are out of the question. See you there!
The New Modern Lights will be playing at this year’s Baybeats Festival that is happening from 23rd to 25th August 2019!
They will be on for 23rd August 2019, 7pm at the Livewire Stage (Esplanade Forecourt).
Photography credits: Darren ‘Merovign’ Tan