Chris Jones, of These Brittle Bones, often has people tell him that he has an ‘old soul’. “I find it extremely annoying,” sighs the Singapore-based Welsh singer-songwriter, who began putting out records from his bedroom when he was twelve. It does seem that young musicians are frequently subject to this sort of trite remark when they display talent or depth ‘beyond their years’ – it’s practically inescapable.
It’s impressive, no doubt, that at fifteen Chris has risen to some fame within the local scene. “But I don’t want to impress people,” Chris counters, “I want people to be able to connect to my music.” The irony here is that Chris’ age helps to draw attention to his music, yet at the same time has an effect on the way his music is perceived. But he doesn’t want to be patted on the head and praised: he wants a real emotional response.
People might do better to stop reacting so effusively to Chris’ ‘precociousness’, and react instead to the actual music. Take These Brittle Bones’ latest single, ‘Hollow’, which was reworked from an earlier and less polished version. When asked what it’s about, he replies obliquely: “it’s about being in this place, and you can see something but you’re not quite able to get it, something intangible.” What Chris is hinting at is that there’s something deeper, and perhaps symbolic that lies in between the lines – it can’t quite be grasped or verbalised easily, it’s more internally felt, more visceral. “I don’t usually like to give specific meanings, I like to be quite implicit,” he adds. His lyrics are certainly ambiguous, but they are also inexplicably evocative.
For Chris, it’s important for his songs to be affective, to stir up depths, to strike a chord. “You don’t have art because it’s nice, you have art because it makes you feel something,” he states firmly. An avid reader, Chris also has a particular liking for the works of Edgar Allan Poe; whether coincidentally or not, the celebrated Romantic poet was part of a movement which emphasised the value of emotion and intuition in art.
“Sometimes when there’s another person involved, the direction can get confused.”
Three years have gone by since the release of These Brittle Bones’ debut, self-produced EP ‘Leaving the Woods’, and a lot has changed since then: the bedroom recording has been upgraded to studio production, and These Brittle Bones now play live as a band. “I’ve grown up a lot,” Chris muses, “I’ve had a lot of experiences musically, and even socially – to become a better person.” And now that Chris has ‘grown up’, he has developed a very clear idea of what he wants to achieve as a songwriter, how he wants his music to sound, rather than leave it to his producers.
“I want to have full control,” he confesses. “It’s quite selfish… But sometimes when there’s another person involved, the direction can get confused.” Chris is quick to add that “it’s not all the time I’m sure of the meaning myself – it just happens”. The idea is that in order for it to be able to ‘happen’, he needs the creative freedom to be able to explore what he wants on his own, not to always have to be accountable to his collaborators.
It’s because of this that Chris is contemplating going back to what this project originally was, going back to where it all started: self-produced, home recording. “I find that I’m a lot more creative when I’m recording in the bedroom,” he explains, “Rather than in the clinical space of the studio where there’s no windows, no daylight or anything.” But the difference is that Chris is no longer an amateur newly inducted into the world of Garageband; he’s bringing the experiences that he’s accrued in the studio and on stage back to his bedroom. Going further, he’s also planning to draw on the unique advantages of home recording, to “experiment with how you can use background noise and atmospherics to build on to the music, rather than have absolute silence”.
“You don’t have art because it’s nice, you have art because it makes you feel something,”
It’s an exciting time for These Brittle Bones, with a new approach to production, a new release in the works – he’s even got a new piano in his bedroom. He’s come a long way since he first started out, and now is the time to take things to the next level, to push the envelope and break new ground, to “do something that I’ve never done before”. Chris’ age may disadvantage him in some ways, but ultimately, it’s because he started young that he’s been able to learn more and develop himself more fully as a musician, taking the time to figure out what he wants, and where he wants to go from here.
By Li Shuen Lam