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"While I'm genuinely happy that local music is getting attention and airplay, I don't think the quality of the music is as good as it was in the 90s," says Mathews.

Going back to old-school music values

Oct 28, 2016 5:50 AM

KEVIN Mathews might be 55 years old, but he's certainly not afraid of technology. "I'm no Luddite," he laughs during a phone interview with BT Lifestyle.

In fact, the founding member of one of Singapore's most iconic musical acts, Watchmen, delights in the advances that have been made over the 25 years since he first came on the scene. "I don't own vinyls or even CDs - I go to Spotify or Soundcloud for my music," says Mathews.

His latest album, I AM, released last month under the Watchmen moniker comes after about 20 years and features eight songs, all made solely using the help of GarageBand, a free audio workstation available on Apple devices running OS X and iOS.

The father of three points out: "It's actually much easier this way. When I started making music, the recording machines had four tracks and you had to use a cassette. When I use GarageBand, I can customise the music however I want. The only limit to what you create is really your own sense of innovation."

I AM is a "declaration of intent," according to Mathews. "It means I am Watchmen." But it wasn't just that which made him decide to revive the name. He explains: "I recorded some solo albums, the last one of which was Present Sense in September last year, and I wasn't very happy with the overall response. The albums I released under my own name involved a lot of work and the rewards just weren't commensurate to the effort expended."

By using the well-known moniker, Mathews hopes to both leverage the brand recognition and tie it back because "for this album, it was a rotating line-up which meant different people helped with different things - and that's like what it was when I started Watchmen as well".

Eschewing the traditional marketing route, he's been sharing his last few albums with followers on social media instead of holding promotional or publicity events. It was a deliberate decision.

Mathews explains: "After the disappointing response to my solo albums, I resolved to just focus on the music, and put out as much stuff as I could. When you spend lots of time on promotion and marketing, it takes longer to release the music to the people."

The singer-songwriter plans to release two to three albums a year because he has "hundreds and hundreds of songs" in him. Why the rush? He replies: "Six years ago, my father passed away at the age of 83. He was 35 years older than me, so I feel like there's a clock ticking now. The time is just passing by so quickly and realising that gave me the motivation to focus on what's important to me - music."

Mathews doesn't have the best impression of the current musical talents. He notes: "Local music reflects whatever is current in the contemporary music scene and that's hip hop, R&B, indie folk or EDM (electronic dance music), which I'm not a big fan of. So while I'm genuinely happy that local music is getting attention and airplay, I don't think the quality of the music is as good as it was in the 90s."

He adds: "That's why the genre of I AM is retro pop. It's about getting back to the old-school values of sophistication in songwriting, arranging and producing. That's what I'd like to see down the road on a global scale - the quality of music and music appreciation improving."