Singaporean veteran artist DEON has never been one to shy away from expressing sadness, melancholia and vulnerability in his music. Over the years, he’s touched on various topics such as grief, mental health, and self-identity, and it does not seem like he’s switching lanes anytime soon.
In fact, with his latest single, ‘Melancholic Weekends’, and his forthcoming EP Melancholic Pop, the singer-songwriter has decided to put the pedal to the metal and embrace his solemnity with a touch of colourful Pop sensibilities. Featuring vocalist NyaLi, the new track contrasts the weight of losing a beloved pet with an energetic Electropop number, making it a special canvas upon which listeners are able to project whatever they may be feeling.
We caught up with DEON for a chat about the unique sound of the track and EP, as well as the stories he’s collected from years of connecting with people through his music.
The new single, ‘Melancholic Weekends’, is part of your upcoming EP, Melancholic Pop. What can you tell us about the project? What’s the production process like, and can we expect any other collaborations?
You see, the idea of Melancholic Pop is how I’ve defined myself throughout the years: I want to write Pop music, but I also have a depressive and almost whiny side to my music. [Laughs] You don’t really see those kinds of emotions in English Pop. My heroes are people like Rachael Yamagata, Chris Martin from Coldplay, specifically his earlier works, and they are all kind of moody and dark. So, I’ve always been making “Melancholic Pop” music, just that, this time round, I’ve decided to go all-in!
As with all my other projects, I took a break after my last album to reset, and I started writing whenever I felt like it. The first track written for the EP was ‘Breathe In’, which was about my recovery period post-knee surgery when I decided to just “noodle around”. It was inherently moody as well because I couldn’t move around. I didn’t even start with a melody, I was just trying out some electronic stuff while sharpening my production skills. I ended up really liking the direction I was headed in, so I just kept going. The other songs followed quite naturally, especially with the pandemic. So, the EP and ‘Melancholic Weekends’ was essentially a reflection of my mood then.
In terms of collaborations, besides NyaLi and Don Aaron for my last release, ‘Don’t Bother’, the rest are all my stuff and there are no more collaborations per se. But the thing is, once the EP drops, after the Chinese New Year period, we might have a follow-up effort. It’s just that we are not sure how we want to do it yet. I’ll definitely want to do a show because I think it’ll be nice if people could sit down, close their eyes, and experience the music and the layers it’s made of.
Let’s talk about your collaboration with fellow singer-songwriter NyaLi for this song, how did this collaboration come about?
Actually, I’ve always been tracking her growth. We met a while back, when we were in University. Then, I dropped out of the Berklee College of Music, was bumming around for a bit, before deciding to go to the National University of Singapore (NUS). While at NUS, I played drums in its Jazz band, where NyaLi was a singer, and she was about to graduate – so that was how our paths crossed. After that, she decided that she wanted to pursue music full-time, so she went to Berklee.
Since then, I’ve been keeping an eye on her progress, seeing all the collaborations and back-up vocals that she’s been doing for all the big artists around the world – and it’s really cool! But, COVID-19 kind of affected her path a little, and she found herself back in Singapore.
That’s when I reached out to her with this song. Initially, the track was really Pop and happy, to me at least, but it was not something that I’d usually put out. If I sang it alone, it’ll be too depressing and it’ll take away some of that edge. So, I thought having a female vocalist on the track would do pretty well, at least at the places where the hooks were, and I asked if she would be interested. NyaLi and I met, reconnected over a meal, and that’s how the collaboration started.
But, because of the pandemic, it’s not like we could go to each other’s places to record. We had to work and record in a very “international” manner, if that makes sense – we recorded remotely and we’d send files back and forth. Communication is key, and we had to be open-minded to each other’s ideas. If not, it’s not a collaboration.
Aside from NyaLi’s feature, what can you tell us about ‘Melancholic Weekends’ that makes it so special?
I wrote it as a way to express myself when I was dealing with losing one of my dogs who I was super close with, and it was a very emotional time. I am a huge dog lover, so some people might find it weird that I wrote a song for a dog. [Laughs]
But, over the course of COVID-19, this whole time has become this grey, dull period that we are still stuck in. With the EP as a whole and with this track, which is probably the most energetic one out of the record, I just wanted to write and I want people to take away a sense of keeping their minds occupied. A huge part of this also came for me wanting to talk to more people but not wanting to be near them as well. So, all that culminated into this single track.
What does the contrast between the heavy subject matter and the upbeat Electropop instrumentals mean to you?
The contrast came very naturally! I wanted to do something more upbeat, and the melody that we had was already there, but the lyrics were more melancholic. I think it’s just part of me and my character – somehow when I try to write happy music, it still turns out like that. But I’m not a sad person, I’m really not! [Laughs]
I gave my producers a lot of free rein to bring the music where they thought would be suitable, but the idea that I want people to get is to just be able to soak in whatever they’re feeling in that moment. If you’re feeling moody, you don’t want to go out but you don’t want to be alone, just take that in and chill. If you’re feeling happy and you want to do a lil’ dance with the music, go ahead!
Losing a pet is never easy, it’s akin to losing a family member. Why is it important to you that you process your grief, or at least a part of it, in such a public manner, through a song that can be listened to by anyone in the world?
My heroes when I was growing up were songwriters. When I’d go through rough or awkward patches, the songs I listened to and the stories I heard were the ones that told me: “Hey, you’re not alone.” They gave me a space to emote, you see.
In our society, and in my generation when I was growing up, they didn’t really talk about feelings or mental health. For me, that was the way I did it. In my social group as well, I came from a school band, orchestral background, and we played music all the time. We were more open, in a sense, to letting music be the vehicle in which we express ourselves.
So, I thought, if I ever wanted to do anything with music, that’s the one thing I want to do. I don’t want it to be a self-centred kind of endeavour. I want it to be in a way that if my song makes sense to people, and helps them along the way, then so be it – at least we have that in common. I feel very lucky to be able to live out this thing, but also being able to share my music and stories with others at the same time.
You’re so open about your life story in your music, has anyone ever reached out to you to share theirs? Do you have any memorable stories to share from the people you’ve met over the years?
Well, there were a few people who reached out saying that my music helped them through some really dark times, but I don’t think it’s good to share specific details because they’re not really my stories to tell. But, yes, there were instances like that.
However, in more recent months, I befriended a male nurse working on the frontlines – we connected through music. He reached out when he found my music and we’ve been in-touch since. We’ve just been constantly encouraging each other and supporting each other throughout this period. So, that’s a nice story of friendship that I can share.
As a male artist who does not shy away from being vulnerable, what changes have you observed in terms of gender stereotypes in music over the course of your career? Is there a difference in audience perception between then and now?
I can’t say I do, actually. I’m always surrounded by musicians all the time, so maybe I’ve been in an echo chamber, but I really don’t see much of a change. I think you can always sing about whatever you want, regardless of gender, but it’s more of your own comfort level.
What I do see is, nowadays, we have musicians coming out at a very, very young age and it’s really impressive, the things they’re doing. It’s really quite inspiring to see how the younger musicians are going for gold and are doing things very differently – there’s so much to learn from them!
If we’re talking about gender stereotypes, back then it was more defined when we mostly had artists identifying as either male or female. Now, we get to see people who are non-binary or who express themselves in different ways. For example, you see male-presenting artists with more make-up on. It’s great to see that there’s a space for everyone to express themselves as they wish, and that’s one of the ways to create more awareness and conversation.
Finally, what is the rest of 2022 looking like for you? Besides the EP, what other projects do you have lined up, work or otherwise?
Okay, so, my new resolution is not to plan too far ahead! [Laughs] I think the past two years were a good lesson on that. I’m not trying to defend my own expectations but my attitude towards this year is to really take things as they come. But, for me, it’s always the same things: I want to play shows, and I want to curate my own show; if not this year, I want to at least get the conversation started this year.
After ‘Melancholic Weekends’, I still have one more track to put out before the whole EP drops. Thereafter, I’ll have to sit down with my musicians and producers to map out what’s next. Currently, there’s nothing and it’s a bit dry on the music side. I’ll just have to see what happens!
I also want to mention that I have new merchandise coming out! Pre-sales will start on 4 February, and the shirts are really good quality – it’s an oversized cut with our own custom logo, and the material is heavy but still comfortable. I’m really excited about that, and it’s a little treat for all the folks who’ve been on this journey with me throughout the years!
For more interesting interviews with Asian artists, check out our Music section.