He may have been handpicked by Forbes to be one of Asia’s “30 Under 30” alongside BIGBANG’s G-Dragon, Super Junior’s Choi Siwon, “My Love From The Star” actor Kim Soo Hyun, and Malaysian darling Yuna, just to name a few.
But for Gentle Bones, there’s still much to do and discover.
The 22-year-old singer-songwriter is Singapore’s rising regional star and the country’s first homegrown artiste to cinch a deal with Universal Music Singapore.
Gentle Bones, real name Joel Tan, first shot to stardom when his debut single, “Until We Die”, rose up the ranks and claimed the #1 spot on Singapore’s iTunes charts a day after its release.
“Darling we will sing until we die, we’ll never waste these tears on fears and cries. And now the world is ours to take, and every single move is ours to make.”
The success surprised even Joel himself, who worked on “Until We Die” for about a year before it was released in December 2014. He quickly amassed a huge following of fans, earning praises and stealing hearts along the way.
In 2014, Joel released his first self-titled EP, “Gentle Bones”, an introduction to a sound that he would later depart from with the release of “Geniuses & Thieves” in April 2016.
But between “Until We Die” and his 2-night sold-out concert at the Esplanade Concert Hall in Singapore last weekend (10th and 11th June), lots have happened to the young musical genius, pushing him forward in his journey of self discovery.
We caught up with him right before the 2nd night of his sold out concert and here’s what he told us:
So many people came out to your show last night! How does that make you feel?
I don’t know yet! (laughs) It’s crazy. People from Thailand and everything all came to the show.
Congratulations on the release of “Geniuses & Thieves”. What does “Geniuses & Thieves” mean?
Thank you so much. “Geniuses & Thieves” is a song about..so I always write love songs, you know, my previous EP had a lot of love songs and songs about infatuation. For the first song of this new EP I wanted to write like a love song. Not a love song to an actual person but a love song to temptations and vices in my life. It’s really about how much I love it but yet..I realise the sins of it. “Geniuses & Thieves” from the lyrics kind of stuck with me and then I figured out that I wanted it to be a concurrent theme for the entire EP because when I was dabbling with the music..it was quite hard for us. Like, picking the sample as well..to just draw the line of what is actually good music, especially with the whole idea of sampling and using the sample for “Geniuses & Thieves”..yeah, I just wanted to put it out there. You can look at it in different ways and do whatever you want but I just need you to enjoy the music.
What do you think is biggest difference between your first EP and “Geniuses & Th..” so hard to pronounce that word, “Geniuses & Thieves”..
Yeah, I had to practise pronouncing it for a while too (laughs) I guess, when I first started out there were a lot of limitations. It was a small team – just me and the producer – we sat down and worked. I was very new, I just wanted to write songs, so I picked the best possible producer I knew and then we worked on those songs. But then as it grew bigger and I found out more about the industry, and with this whole new approach, we managed to pull in a lot of different other people. So when it comes to super specific stuff like how a kick drum might sound in the whole EP, we would actually get just one person to help us get that sound. It’s a lot more specific than it was before. Just getting a bigger team, essentially. Now we have a lot more freedom especially with Universal Music Singapore’s help so whatever we need, they kinda sort it out. Because budget is always an issue.
That’s true. And you got to work with Yves Rothman, who produced for Post Malone and Charli XCX. What was it like to work with him?
It was insane. It was over the span of 6 days, we flew there, and then we started pre-production so everything was done from scratch – from the demo all the way to the final product. It was all done in 6 days.
How long did you take to work on the “Geniuses & Thieves” EP?
So we did 2 songs with Yves Rothman. 3 of the other songs, “Geniuses & Thieves”, “Liar”, and “This Hurts” were all done locally. Production for the entire EP..I would say about 3/4 months. The songs were written across 2 years.
I’m not sure if you’re allowed to talk about this but..in what ways have your experience in Indonesia changed you?
It definitely was harrowing and disappointing to know that like, someone..because we were the opening acts so it wasn’t in our place to demand for visas or permits because you’d assume that if the promoter was going to tour someone as big as Kina Grannis, everything would be sorted out. When we got there, the hotel was super nice so we were like, “Oh, this is going to be good!” but then we got held up after the show. After we performed, people in plainclothes were outside asking for our passports. If random people overseas asked you for your passport, you probably wouldn’t give them your passport, right? So they took us to detention and we waited 100 days before we got our passports back. We just spent a lot of time travelling in Jakarta alone trying to find stuff to do. It gave me a lot of time to sit down and think about the new EP also because we knew that we wanted to approach it that way. I guess Jakarta forced me to think about it harder so it was a blessing in disguise. But obviously I wouldn’t want to go through it again!
I think this is the first time a lot of us will see you perform with a full band. It looks amazing!
I hope so! :D
Just out of curiosity, have you been working with this band for a long time?
With this band? The main guy that I work with a lot is Josh. He’s the guy who plays the violin, my musical director, and he helps with the production as well for the songs. He’s the one who helped me put together the whole band. I’ve been working with the band since..the end of 2014. Quite a while already, yeah yeah.
Do you guys have nicknames for each other yet?
Not really. We’re just into, like, insulting each other. (laughs)
Is there anything that you wish you could do better at in terms of music?
Uh. I guess my theoretical and musicality side isn’t that strong. I’ve always been obsessed with music as entire product, so not just the songs themselves but how the artistes portray themselves, how the marketing happens, and all the side collaterals that support the acts at the same time. I’ve been a huge fan of a lot of artistes for a long time, since I was a kid all the way until now. A lot of bands, especially like 1975, you know, they really paved the way for..just..a holistic vision that fans can really delve themselves into and be a part of their world. I wanted to approach that as well for “Geniuses & Thieves”, and just build a whole world around it. But I guess I would want to keep improving on my musicality because I think that when I improve on that, I’ll slowly be able to find my own sound. There’s still a lot of work to be done and I realise the need for commercial songs, so I want to focus on that first – come out with the best songs that I possibly can. And if it does well then I’ll get a bit more..indulgent.
Are you looking at doing any collaborations with any international artistes or do you have any dream collaborations?
Yeah! There are a lot of people that I would want to work with. Actually, anybody. I always enjoy working with people..even the local acts in Singapore, I always ask them if I could feature in one of their songs.
You..have to ask them? No. Seriously?
It’s quite casual lah! We’re all friends so usually I try to hint a bit. I enjoy songwriting as a whole and not necessarily all the songs that I feel like I can pull off are the songs that I can write. You know what I mean? I always like to experiment with different sounds that I may not be able to pull off as Gentle Bones. Writing songs for other people as well is one of my big enjoyments.
Yeah you helped Narelle Kheng (of The Sam Willows) write her debut single, “Some They Lie”, right? So awesome!
Thank you, thank you, thank you :)
One of our readers want to know when are you coming to Kuala Lumpur for a full concert.
I really want to come. Anytime! I just need to be invited to come. Seriously, I want to be able to play there because I feel like there are a lot of Malaysian fans who are really into the music. I see their comments on social media.
Can you list out 3 things that rhyme with Gentle Bones? I’ll give you a head start – triangle cones.
Triangle cones! That’s good. Nice. Uh.. (silence) ..plastic phones? Uh.. (silence) ..raspy tones. Crunchy scones? I did my best!
You did quite well! Thanks for the chat, Joel :)
And special thanks to our awesome friends from Universal Music Singapore as well as Universal Music Malaysia for the opportunity! We’ll leave you now with the Gentle Bones’ latest music video, “Run Tell Daddy”: