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2017 was a fairly quiet year for Joel Tan, who is better known by his moniker "Gentle Bones".
On the other hand, 2016 was a totally different story. That was when he landed a major label deal with Universal Music Singapore; released his critically acclaimed sophomore EP Geniuses and Thieves; headlined and sold out two nights at the Esplanade; opened for Selena Gomez and toured the region; won two major Compass Awards (Top Local English Pop Song and Young Songwriter of the Year); and made it to Forbes' 30 Under 30 Asia list. What followed next was understandably not going to top all that.
To say the least, 2016 was a breakthrough year for Tan, who like most budding musicians today started off byposting his music on YouTube. He even emptied his bank account to make his first professionally filmed musicvideo. After his self-titled debut EP shot to the top of the iTunes chart in 2014, the Nanyang Technological University's Business School undergraduate decided to put his studies on hold to purse a full-time career in music.
Alongside The Sam Willows and Nathan Hartono, he has since become a poster boy for the current generation of Singa-pop artists.
But the 24-year- old also wasn't exactly resting on his laurels last year despite keeping a low profile.
He previewed a new single with fellow homegrown musician Myrne in the second half of 2017, and the track, Ju1y, marked a change of musical direction for Tan who is often labelled "Singapore's Ed Sheeran" because of his brand of introspective folk-pop.
Myrne, whose real name is Manfred Lim, is a DJ who was spotted by Diplo and is signed to the famed American DJ-producer's label. Tan and Lim's collaboration has led to a full-blown digital album titled B4nger Project, released last month, and they will play a show together on April 27 to launch it.
Both first met over the Internet on music-sharing website Soundcloud when Lim reached out to Tan to put a Myrne spin on Gentle Bones songs.
As the saying goes, opposites attract and the pair boasts a sizzling chemistry despite working on different genres of music. Look no further than B4nger Project for proof as the 10 radio-friendly dance anthems will ensure you won't miss a note from Gentle Bones in 2018.
Both Myrne and you make distinctively different types of music. What made both of you think this partnership could work?
Music is at its most interesting time right now and the Internet has erased the need for classifying artistes into genres. Myrne and I wanted to create something that was unfamiliar to our creative process but still very much influenced by the music we like. The aim was to blend our sounds and bring our fans together to listen to our music.
What was the music-making process like?
We produced the music, wrote the melodies and penned the lyrics together. We also experimented and wrote more than 20 songs before deciding on the final 10 tracks. The entire project was produced, mixed and mastered in Myrne's bedroom studio.
I had way too much fun with this project and it is a real blessing. We also spent a lot of the time over at a coffee shop in Balestier nearby Myrne's studio; the conversations we had, me getting to know Myrne and understanding the perspective he has with his music, were an eye-opener for me.
With your first two EPs, you worked on your own. What was it like working with somebody else on a full album?
It was a lot of fun. I'm a big fan of Manfred and the process was more about how we could put our music together. He's also a producer so he's really good with computers and music-making programmes so I've learnt about production. When I write, it's usually just me and my guitar but now I've also come to realise music isn't just about the lyrics.
The album clocks in at just 29 minutes and some songs don't even hit the two-minute mark.
We try not to extend songs for the sake of it. Some of it just sounded better short.
Musically, how much would you say you've matured over the years?
Quite a bit I hope! I am growing and learning every day. Having my music touch the hearts of others is what inspires me.
Can we expect Gentle Bones' music to become more dance-oriented after B4nger Project?
Music is a constant adventure for me. I like to dabble with new sounds and styles as and when I see fit. This gives me quite a bit of room with being able to get the best music produced... Some people were quite surprised when they first heard B4nger Project but both Manfred and myself have worked together prior to this so it wasn't that big a shock to many.
You put your studies on hold to pursue music - any regrets so far?
Not at all. Music has always been my first love and I want a happy future just like anyone else.
From your experience, what is the reality of the music business? Can anyone really carve a viable long-term career here as a pop artist in Singapore?
The art scene is vibrant here and, as with any creative industry, music in Singapore is a constant struggle competing with others from abroad. I think hard work and having an open mind leave a lot of room for a long-term pursuit of music.
Things are working out well for you and your music but do you feel like it is also making you miss out on some of the fun your friends are having?
Yes, of course there is a huge difference in our lifestyles - a lot of my closest friends are either still in school or have just started working - but I also have a lot of friends in the music industry as well so I feel OK.
The older Gentle Bones material tends to be moodier and more introspective than the party-like dance-floor bangers on the new album - which is closer to the real Joel Tan?
I'm not so sure myself, you'd have to ask the people around me.
Lastly, you made it to Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list in 2016 - be honest, are you rich and living a baller lifestyle?
It was a great honour to be on that list. I do live humbly and prioritise a financially sustainable future. [LAUGHS]