It has been quite the adventure so far for Singapore’s favorite connoisseurs of fuzz. Since wrestling our attention with their self-titled debut in 2012, Obedient Wives Club has quickly outgrown their label as ‘up-and-comers’, with their solid 2013 follow-up, Murder Kill Baby, proving that the band is more than just a catchy name.
Their quirky brand of lo-fi fuzzpop, dubbed ‘Spectorgaze’, has won over hearts not only in Singapore, but internationally as well — one of their labels, Soft Power Records, who released Murder Kill Baby on coloured cassettes, is in fact, from Scotland — so it may come as a surprise that the band are only now playing their first show overseas, in Malaysia’s longest running creative arts festival, Urbanscapes.
We caught up with the band to discuss their first international gig, what to expect from arguably their biggest show to date, and their plans for the future.
Hey guys! You’re finally bringing Spectorgaze across the causeway for Urbanscapes later this year. Tell us, how did it all come about?
Keith: Our friend Willy, who’s based in KL, contacted us on behalf of the organisers.
Lennat: Willy is a long time friend of the band and was there when it first started. When he contacted us about Urbanscapes’ interest in having OWC over, he also shared some insights about the festival. It has a pretty good history as one of the coolest music festivals in Malaysia, so it’s awesome to have been invited to play.
You’re on a bill with some pretty huge acts, including Franz Ferdinand and Two Door Cinema Club. How does that feel, any nerves at all?
K: We treat all shows equally. So we’re going to do what we always do.
L: I’ve missed Two Door Cinema Club and Tegan and Sara when they played Singapore so now, it’s like a double whammy — I get to see them as well as play on the same festival as them. And it’s always exciting to play at a venue you’ve never been to before. I think right now, we are more psyched than nervous.
Cherie: It’s exciting! The prospects of bumping into them backstage and maybe hanging out are pretty high. I want to make friends with Tegan and Sara! As far as nerves go, I’m not feeling them yet. It usually hits me like, five minutes before I get on stage.
“Move away from emo-core and pop punk and you’ll have an interesting scene.”
Yinqi: No nerves yet! We know when we are playing, but I haven’t found out when everyone else is on, so I’m looking forward to actually being in the same sphere as these bands. Like Lennat, I missed the key headliners when they came to Singapore (Franz Ferdinand, TDCC, Tegan & Sara) so the cheapo in me is looking forward to seeing them for free.
Sul: It’s our first show overseas, so yeah we’re pretty excited to be going on a ‘band holiday’ together. All these amazing international and regional bands playing together are an added bonus. I’m pretty curious as to how the crowd would take to our band name too. We’ll work on our new songs, arrangements, and hope for the best.
How are you preparing for the big stage?
K: We will be spending the next month or so finishing up our new songs, maybe do a warm up gig or two as preparation.
L: We’ll hole up more in our basement rehearsal space (which Cherie has fondly named ‘Sous-sol Studio’) and kick out the jams! We have intermittently taken quite a fair number of breaks this year so it would be great to get the new songs done and be able to start incorporating them more into our live sets.
Y: The good thing about us is we don’t do a fully rehearsed set — we know of some bands that rehearse right down to banter. I know I’m a nervous babbler, so all we’re working on is getting the songs tight and smooth.
S: Besides jamming, hopefully I can lose a few pounds and look better on stage!
Is this perhaps Obedient Wives Club dipping their toes into the waters of overseas touring? Are there plans to do an extended tour of Asia maybe?
K: No plans at the moment but shows in Bangkok or Hong Kong would be nice.
L: It would be cool to do a tour. Rhys from Pairs and Jared from Screaming Females have encouraged me to head out to the wild and just do it, even without any rose tinted tour stories for me! But for now, I guess regional shows would make sense, in terms of location and proximity. We’ll see how it goes!
C: We don’t have anything planned; we don’t usually make plans, it just happens! So we will see where the future takes us. I would love to tour Asia though — in particular, Japan.
S: Hopefully this will lead to more gigs overseas and finally convince us to tour one day, given the chance.
Y: I’ve said before that the prospect of gigging overseas is extremely challenging, with three of us having day jobs, one of us running his own business, and Cherie job-hunting, so we’re waiting to see how it goes. This has worked out pretty perfectly as a first foray, as it’s a weekend gig in our friendly neighbouring country.
Can we expect any surprises from your first international performance? If your show at the Night Festival is anything to go by, KL has a pretty spectacular show to look forward too!
L: Festivals always have this very different energy and vibe, as compared to smaller, intimate shows. Bands play almost immediately after one another and festival punters are there to soak it all up. We’re going to put our best foot out there, like with every gig we do.
C: I guess if we told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise anymore, would it?
“We don’t make music to gain popularity, we make music solely because we enjoy it, and I think when you have the right agenda and mindset towards making music, you are less likely to perform acts of ‘selling out’.”
And what about the set list? We know you’ve been playing new songs for a while now, and it will have been almost a year since you released Murder Kill Baby — what do you have in store for us?
K: We’ve got two new songs in the works, which sound nothing like us. One is a jumpy, dance-y number. The other is a slow-burner that is slightly country tinged.
L: Right now, we have quite a number of new songs that we are working on and have already played some of them at previous shows. We are definitely looking at previewing some of the newer ones that are going to be on our next record. It’s just so hard to play favourites with your own songs and make that difficult decision to leave out older songs out of the set list for the newer ones!
Y: We’re trying our best to crank out new songs. Cherie owes us three more!
A lot of bands hold back new material for certain, more ‘special’ shows, preferring to prep a solid lot of new repertoire before showcasing it to the public. You like to play them even as works-in-progress — can you tell us a little more about that?
K: We try not to do the same set list twice. We’ve got enough material to mix it around. We don’t like to be predictable, and we’re constantly writing.
L: We’re not a touring band that plays night after night for endless weeks on a roll, so every show is pretty special to us. The new songs are constantly evolving until we commit it to tape, so it’s always good to let them loose and see how the crowd reacts.
C: Every show is a special show for us; we put a lot of work into our setlists, always mixing it up, and making it new and exciting. We do write very frequently, and our song turnover rate is pretty high. We’re dropping new songs all the time!
Y: Readers who may have seen us live before, know that we leave everything to the wind; we’re very likely to try out a new song with a certain arrangement, check out the audience reaction to it then tweak it (or not)!
Do you think that in evolving your sound, it’s key to remain relevant to your current fan base or the current trends? How do you do this, without ‘selling your soul’, so to speak.
K: We just do what we’re comfortable with. The band started out not expecting anything, so having fans is a bonus. We’ve evolved as a band and our newer material reflects that. We are happy with what we do and can only hope that people like it.
“We don’t have anything planned; we don’t usually make plans, it just happens!”
L: Music is always evolving. Our common influences still run very strong in all of us but at same time, we have definitely evolved together as band after these two years of playing and writing as a unit. I have my favorite bands that I have grown up with, as opposed to grown out of. For instance, the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album sounds nothing like their debut, but at its core, is still very quintessentially Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It would be great if our fan base could grow along with us too.
C: I think that we have finally found our own sound, something which we can keep going back to, and that feels like home. As for its evolution, we constantly have different musical phases, and I would say we dabble in many other different styles. Essentially, we are still who we are and we always stay true to ourselves regardless of what’s happening around us.
We don’t make music to gain popularity, we make music solely because we enjoy it, and I think when you have the right agenda and mindset towards making music, you are less likely to perform acts of ‘selling out’.
Y: Actually, we don’t really know how to write music just for the sake of doing so! For any track that we’ve written so far, a lot of thought goes into each person’s contribution, whether it’s Cherie/Keith’s guitar lines, or a simple decision like whether Man should play sparse bass notes or a riff, right down to which of Lennat’s crash cymbals sounds better.
Malaysia has one of the most saturated and established music scenes in Asia, what do you think needs to happen in Singapore for us to catch up?
K: Move away from emo-core and pop punk and you’ll have an interesting scene.
L: I’m not so sure if it’s ‘saturated’, but more established and diverse most definitely. Name any genre and Malaysia will have bands that well represents it. So, I do share the same sentiments as Keith. Like I mentioned, there are music influences that you grow up with and grow out of. And sure, every genre has its own clichés but seriously, there are only so many singer-songwriters banking on the same old emotional hurt that I can stand listening to.
C: I think we need to take music less seriously, let loose and not be afraid of being weird.
S: I guess their talent pool and fan base is bigger so that makes a nice mix to move things forward. We can start by playing more good music on radio and have home-grown bands and regional bands play at festivals here too.
Y: Experimentation. I came from a background where I played covers in school with some friends, essentially rehashing the originals. We did it quite well, but there wasn’t much re-interpretation of the songs where we injected any of our own style into it. I love my friends and don’t regret any of those days — we had great fun, and it was all fine and well for us students who were just playing — but if you want to make music, then experiment and break out of the Blandopop rut.
“I think we need to take music less seriously, let loose and not be afraid of being weird.”
And as a local band that has gained significant international traction, what do you put that down to?
K: Relevance. At least that was the case when we started out. People seek out bands with similar sound to what they listen to. Right place, right time for us, I guess. That being said, we might be irrelevant now. But we’re beyond caring. We’re comfortable enough with ourselves. And I think our next release will reflect the real Obedient Wives Club.
L: Let me put this ironically: no proper management, no professional publicist, and absolutely no crowd-funding.
Great. Now, tell us about this new EP: the ‘real’ Obedient Wives Club EP.
K: We’re hoping to record by the end of the year. We’ve got four songs that we’ve been doing live with a few more in the works. I don’t want to label the next release as an EP or an LP yet, we’ll just see what comes out of it.
L: I love that a string of EPs can provide a broader context to a band’s sound. There will come a time to make a statement with that long, ambitious record, but for now I’m just looking forward to what our next release will be!
By Andrew Koay
Obedient Wives Club will perform at Malaysia’s Urbanscapes Festival this November 23-24. More details here.