Sapporo Safaris… not actually from Hokkaido

No, it’s not some sort of beer festival nor is it an extension of the River Safari—Sapporo Safaris is a promising local band that has emerged in the Singapore music scene with their own unique blend of indie pop and anthemic rock with influences as diverse as the members themselves. The band played their first live show in July at the Prince of Wales — a 45-minute set of purely original songs, surely a feat for such a young band! Slowly gaining recognition and along with that one superfan, they have since moved on to bigger shows at The Pigeonhole, NUS Live Lounge and most recently, MAAD Sounds.

Lead singer Kevin met guitarist Roy in their time at NS (so maybe good things can come out of it!) five years ago and since coming together around March this year, the band has evolved through several line up changes into its current eight-strong roster of musicians. The pair likens their relationship to that of legendary couplings Morrissey/Marr and Albarn/Coxon, but they are quick to answer my follow-up question with a hasty, “Except we don’t fight!” The young band, with its current line up, “found” each other in March earlier this year, and it is clear that they have become close friends, like brothers and sisters in a pack of wolves.

“I had this idea to form a band that was ridiculously big and grand in sound,” Kevin said, “and I guess the rest liked the idea and jumped on board.” The super duo found the rest of the band in a matter of weeks, made up of friends, mutual friends, and even a sibling, with Kevin’s sister Jacq playing keys/synths for the band. Just one member stronger than Arcade Fire, their rehearsal schedules are planned months in advance, but getting the whole band to attend isn’t the hard part, the biggest problem lies in finding studios big enough to fit them all in!

“I had this idea to form a band that was ridiculously big and grand in sound, and I guess the rest liked the idea and jumped on board.”

It hasn’t taken long for Sapporo Safaris to gain fans, but the band members are still surprised when they are recognized. They elaborate on their first ever ‘superfan’ encounter with fellow musician Lennat, who discovered them at rehearsal at a studio. Lennat, drummer for fuzzy dreampop band Obedient Wives Club, was excited about the band’s musical direction, enthusing that it’s so great to find young bands diversifying the current pool of genres currently played in Singapore and bombarding Kevin with an intense set of questions about their influences. The band appreciates that there are people so genuinely excited about their music but also acknowledge that they have formed at a time when the local music scene is really buzzing, and bands are more easily being recognised for their work. “There’s generally a higher public awareness of local music and gigs have been made possible with the Internet”, says Kevin, possibly referring to Lennat’s support online when in true social media form, she took her enthusiasm to Facebook on the same day that she discovered the band, raving about this new gem she’d found.

All of the band members agree that it really is impossible to define their sound. All coming from different musical backgrounds and influenced by such a diverse range of genres, each one interpreted differently by each band member, bringing it all together in the writing process gives this hugely exciting “mishmash” of their sound the uniqueness that it has. Guitarist Justin tells us, “What I love is that while we try to make good music, we don’t take ourselves too seriously and I think you can hear that element of fun in our songs,” which is certainly clear when the band is on stage, all eight instruments including an ocarina, which Kevin says he hopes to change the weather with.

You will find in the list of the band’s influences a massive disparity, covering everything across the spectrum from baroque band Neutral Milk Hotel to some epic symphonic power metal! Have a look for yourself:

Kevin – Arcade Fire, The New Pornographers, Mumford & Sons, Fleet Foxes, Titus Andronicus, Neutral Milk Hotel
Roy – Blur, Radiohead, Oasis, Foals, Deerhunter, Mogwai, Arctic Monkeys, WU LYF
Justin – Radiohead… and Radiohead
Ed – Damien Rice, John Mayer Trio, King Lychee
Jacq – The Cure, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, MGMT, Vampire Weekend, Adam Lambert
Shaun – Xandria, Kamelot, Nightwish
Cheryl – Beirut, Beach House, Bon Iver
Scong – Arturo Sandoval, Maynard Ferguson, Dizzy Gillespie

Songwriting surprisingly isn’t a problem – amazingly, every song they have released so far has seen involvement from all eight members. The process starts with Kevin coming up with a few chords, followed by ongoing input from the rest of the band when they meet.  They currently have five free demos on their Bandcamp – teasers to an EP they are releasing in January.

“We want to record this EP with our heads in the right place, so that we can deliver with the best that we are capable of. We’ve been waiting for this moment since forever.”

The as yet untitled record will be produced by someone the band describes as “the nicest guy you’ll ever work with,” Patrick Chng, whose well-acclaimed work includes production credits on records by PADRES and more recently, Shelves. “The moment we heard his production work on the Pep Talk record, we knew that he was the man for the job.” This will be the band’s first time in the studio together and while all the material has been written and everything is ready to go, the band is careful not to rush into it. Kevin says, “We want to record this EP with our heads in the right place, so that we can deliver with the best that we are capable of. We’ve been waiting for this moment since forever.” And some artists they hope will like the final product? Ellen Page, Kermit the Frog and John Lennon—apparently he will re-animate as a zombie just to hear and watch them perform!

‘Sasa’, as they are affectionately called, seem to have a good amount of creativity mixed in with a balance of savvy that is so crucial to new bands hoping to break into the industry. “It would be a dream come true if we could get a thousand people to sing along to our songs,” Kevin says, demonstrating the band’s determined and excited outlook. Perhaps what is most striking though, is the amount of fun that they seem to have, all the time. And as for the direction that the band is moving towards, it is a constant, organic evolution. As Roy’s hippie vibes permeate throughout the interview, “Things happen. And sometimes they just happen for the right reasons.”

Where do the Sapporo Safaris band members rate on this scale?

 

By Melissa Yong

Playing Favourites: Aloysius Lim

It started with a knee injury that left him on medical leave for two months. In that short span of time, he developed a keen interest in Lomography and subsequently music photography. Six years on, Aloysius Lim is one of Singapore’s top music and entertainment photographers, and has to date photographed some of the world’s biggest artists such as Green Day, Morrissey, Linkin Park, Kylie Minogue, The Smashing Pumpkins and Elton John. We interview the father of one and avid soccer fan about his journey and life in the photo pit so far.

What was the first gig you ever shot?
The first local show would be Electrico back in 2003 when they played a set for the World Cyber Games. I shot that for fun with the family’s point and shoot camera. My first big gig was Franz Ferdinand in 2006.

Who is your favourite photographer?
I don’t really have a favourite photographer but I do love Todd Owyoung’s work a lot. He’s been a great inspiration and help when I started out.

Who has been your favourite artist to shoot so far?
There are a few but if I had to pick one it would be Switchfoot. They were the first band I encountered who allowed us photographers to shoot their entire show when they first came in 2008. Paramore comes in a close second. Their set is full of energy with great lights and all of them love playing for the camera.

Is there a band you dream of shooting one day?
There are many still on the bucket list but for now it would probably be KISS.

What is the last song you listened to on your iPhone/mobile device/iPod/whatever?
Astreal’s Fragment of the Same Dead Star right now as I’m answering this. Actually, the song ‘Death and Glitter’ just ended.

What are five things you always bring to a gig?
Besides the usual camera, lenses and camera bag;
1. Earplugs
2. A packet of tissues
3. Business cards
4. Lanyard with pass holder
5. A pen

If you could only pick one lens to work with which one would it be?
The 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.

Tell us some funny or interesting stories you have from shooting gigs.
I have so many! I’ve made many, many friends from gigs and being involved in the music community. It’s always nice going to gigs with friends or even seeing people you know or recognise at shows. When Paramore first came, I took a few photos I really liked; Hayley actually posted one of them on her Tumblr and used another for her Twitter profile pic for a while. Later, when they came to Singapore for the second time, I’d hoped to pass Hayley a print. When I got the chance to say a quick hello, I was stopped by her management who wanted her to prepare for the show. I quickly took the print out and showed it to her and she immediately recognised it and asked if I was the one who took it. I said yes, asked her to sign a print for myself and gave her a copy. We took a quick photo and she went back to her dressing room.

Do you have any good luck items?
Nope.

Favourite colour lighting?
Anything but red!

Pink or purple?
I like both actually. Ok, purple.

The best tip you can give to young gig photographers?
Learn to respect your work and yourself. Only then people will respect you and your work.

By Dawn Chua

Mystery Jets: Fine as cream gravy

English indie rock band Mystery Jets are back in Singapore on the back of their latest album Radlands, to give us a taste of their new Americana-themed album and of course, perform their classic sing-along tracks like ‘Hideaway’ and ‘Young Love’. We had a chat to guitarist William Rees about their escape to Austin and their fond recollections of their last trip to Singapore in 2009, when they played at our very own Zouk.

Recalling his experience in Singapore, Rees tells us he misses the weather – “a lot actually, I love it” – the lush buffet spreads and the local food. And alluding again to their time here, he tells us about lead singer Blaine Harrison’s fascination, no—“obsession” with zoos; undoubtedly his main attraction during their stay and another stop to add to their itinerary. “The animals we have back in England are so boring, whereas in Singapore you’ve got snakes and tigers.”

The same could be said about their reasons for leaving England to write and record Radlands in Austin, Texas. They felt as if they’d reached the end of a chapter of being an English band with pop hits and they needed to find new things to write about. “We wanted to break away, nothing there was really inspiring us anymore,” Rees says. The move to the US felt like a natural progression for the band, so they set up a home studio about half an hour out of Austin and stayed put for two months, writing and recording material for Radlands. “America has always been calling us. We’d always felt that one day we’d make an album there and the time just felt right to do that.”

The vastness and openness, the “real feeling of liberation” that they found in Austin, was refreshing. “There’s a lot of idealism in America, it’s a place where people aren’t afraid to set up their own cults or religions and they really experiment with their lives. Their attitudes are very candid, and you meet a lot of people a lot older who are still behaving like they’re twenty. That was really inspiring to be around.”

“America has always been calling us. We’d always felt that one day we’d make an album there and the time just felt right to do that.”

The band hadn’t spent much time in the US before this, the longest stint being a tour with The Klaxons at the end of 2007, but all of their preconceptions came founded when they arrived. “Everything we imagined it would be was true and you almost feel like you’re in a cartoon sometimes. It’s kind of unreal. You feel like you know it, but you’ve never experienced it.” The disconnect but simultaneous immersion into this foreign culture and lifestyle is exactly what they were looking for in the move. Rees says, “Everything about the US is true: the way people talk, the things they laugh at and the things that upset them. You do feel at times like you’re in a caricature.”

Rees tells us that the two months were spent very isolated, sometimes going out to bars and meeting people on weekends, and then really seriously working on Radlands material during the week – “it was just the four of us and it was a very concentrated amount of time.” When not writing or recording, the band spent time at a river that ran along their house and at “target practice with some guns we managed to get a hold of.”

Much like their move to Austin, their return home after the intensity of two months in isolation was a natural progression. Having spent two months in Austin, writing and recording the album, the southern influence on Radlands is evident. When asked about discovering new musicians and bands while in the ‘music capital of the world’, Rees names garage rock band, White Denim, who he describes as “incredible”. However, a ten-member band’s name eludes him – “they’re a sort of psychedelic Captain Beefheart-style band and they all wear white suits.” [Editor’s note: Any of our readers know who he’s referring to?]

“Everything we imagined it would be was true and you almost feel like you’re in a cartoon sometimes. It’s kind of unreal. You feel like you know it, but you’ve never experienced it.”

In terms of their live show, Rees tells us his favorite Mystery Jets song to play live is the 6-minute track ‘Lost in Austin’, off the latest album. It is indeed an epic track and we can only imagine it live. When comparing the band’s live performance with their studio recordings, Rees believes that the dynamic of their music becomes critical. “I think we come into our own as a live band. It’s on stage that our songs sound as they really should sound.” Playing live gives them opportunities to improvise and develop the music to give the audience a real experience. He explains, “In the live process, things change a lot and certain sections get extended and certain structures might change.” He points out that there’s always an element of risk when they perform live, depending on how they’re all feeling. “It’s very exciting to be a part of.”

Rees was less certain about the band’s future direction. “You never really know how a record will turn out until it’s been mixed and mastered. You go there and you have to make it happen. You have to put everything into it, let it form its own identity and, in the process, evolve.” And so the band didn’t have any expectations for Radlands. “It should all just unravel like a ball of string, all of it.” And it’s certainly exciting listening to the album; the clear shift in direction from excitable pop hits to a more introverted, reflective tone.

Mystery Jets plays Hard Rock Café on Friday, 14 September at 10:30pm. And just a heads up, Rees is anticipating some lychee martinis while he’s here. You guys know what to do…

By Nigel Lopez, Shawn Ng and Melissa Yong