These Brittle Bones: “I don’t want to impress people”

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

These Brittle Bones: Onwards & upwards

Since moving to Singapore from Wales four years ago, Chris Jones, the teenage sensation behind These Brittle Bones, has gone from strength to strength. He is conquering the local music scene one venue at a time (aided by his band and some “haunting” tunes), recently taking to the stage at Music Matters for his biggest show to date. The high-schooler has so far released two singles from These Brittle Bones’ as yet unreleased debut album, recorded in Singapore’s own Snakeweed Studios with local legend Leonard Soosay.

Prior to his Music Matters debut, we sat down with Jones to talk about his music, Singapore, and what the future holds.

Hey Chris, thanks for hanging out today. Firstly, let’s talk about your debut album. How did you come to work with local musicians like Mark John Hariman and Leonard Soosay?
I recorded the first EP out of my bedroom using a really basic set up. If I talked to musicians about it now, they’d sort of laugh at me having used that sort of equipment, but I was happy with the sound that came out of it. So I went into Snakeweed Studios where Leonard works and did a couple of sessions with him and we got on really well, so he invited me back to record the rest of the album and introduced me to various sessionists who I became good friends with, like Mark John. Since then, we have just grown into great friends and enjoy playing music together.

How did your ATC Management come about?
I can’t really remember, to be honest. It happened about a year ago when I was sending demos in, and ATC came back and said that they’d like to have me. I think I found like a big spreadsheet of emails to send it off to on the Internet or somewhere like that — I can’t really remember — and ATC came back to me and said they liked it. So I met with them in London and we’ve been working closely together ever since.

That is exciting! What’s your favourite venue to play in Singapore?
The most memorable gig so far was the Esplanade. We’re playing Baybeats again this year, which is a great honour, so that’s great.

Do you go to gigs much? What’s the last gig you went to? 
Wye Oak played at Home Club, they were really cool. I try to go to lots of shows; I think I go to more international acts that come out here than local gigs in Singapore.

What are some recent musical discoveries you want to share, anything in particular that’s exciting you at the moment?
I’ve been really excited by a British singer-songwriter called Marika Hackman. I think she’s in her early twenties and she’s got a really distinct style of guitar playing and indie writing – her lyrics are so deep and metaphorical. That’s really inspired me; I’d love to see her live in the UK someday.

And anyone local to Singapore that you’re keeping an eye on?
Yeah, I’m good friends with Inch Chua; I’ve listened to her new album and that’s definitely something to look out for within the next few months – it’s absolutely incredible. And Charlie Lim, MONSTER CAT, Seven Nights at Sea, lots of different bands out here. There’s so many that everyone seems to know, everyone seems to be friends with everyone and the same people play with the same musicians so I guess you get to know bands after a while. It’s nice like that, and you get to bounce ideas off each other which is healthy in an environment like this.

We’ve been told that you bought your first record recently. Are you interested in vinyl?
I did, I did! I’ve become obsessed with it actually; I bought Atoms For Peace, their new album called ‘Amok’. I’m kind of stupid because I put the record on the record player and put the needle on; my dad showed me how to do it and like, within a week, my dad’s old record player broke – the needle snapped. So that’s not a great first experience, but I’d love to get into that sort of listening.

So is your family musical?
They’re not actually. I’m the only one in my family who is musical.

Really? So how did you get into it?
The primary school that I went to in the UK was very supportive of music. I think I was in advanced recorder class by Year 2. I was considered a music nerd by everyone else at school, so I guess being schooled about it and being taught from a young age was one of the biggest things in my musical development.

On the songwriting front, what kind of stuff do you draw on? Do you have any one standout life experience that you think has shaped the emotional content of your music?
I think moving up to Singapore a few years ago and being away from my family was a big influence on my songwriting. I found it very hard to settle initially, and to meet friends and sort of start in a completely different place — from Wales, where you lived in the mist and small villages, and then coming out to Singapore where it’s like this big, vibrant city is definitely quite a huge contrast for anyone to adjust to.

At the moment, I guess, I get told quite a lot that I’m a bit too young to write about my life experiences, as I haven’t had as many as some of the musicians out here who are double my age. I see it as storytelling – sort of writing about different ideas; it’s very conceptual and symbolic in a way. I’d like to see in a few years time when my writing develops how the meanings will have changed.

You’ve been promoted on the radio back in Wales, that’s pretty exciting?
It is, it’s very exciting. A lot of my family are listening in and calling me to tell me it went ok from like 9,000 miles away, so its kind of crazy.

Do you think you’ll be able to get the same kind of exposure in Singapore? Do you think that being an expat makes things harder for you at all?
No, I wouldn’t like to say that because I’m an expat, things are harder, because I think Singapore’s been so welcoming so far; I have been very welcomed into the local scene, which has been a really great honour. I’m happy with how it’s gone so far – we haven’t got that much radio in Singapore, but I’m just happy with it in the UK at the moment, that things have really kicked off there.

Where would you say your main focus is in promoting your music right now?
Well, I’d love to promote it in the UK more, definitely. That’d be one of my dreams, I guess you could say, to be able to play to a British audience and be able to play to different crowds. I know Singapore is a great place to be. They’ve been so supportive of music here. But you seem to end up playing to the same people after a while – it is quite a small scene.

Have you played any gigs in the UK?
Not yet, but we’ve got a few scheduled for this summer, so that’s something that we’re looking forward to.

Sounds exciting! And finally, when you’re not playing music, what do you do?
I guess read, I do a lot of reading. Between school and music, it’s very hard to balance everything else. I’m very happy with where I am at the moment and hope it continues for a good few years.

By Eleanor Turnbull

These Brittle Bones’ third single ‘Bloom’ is available now on iTunes.
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ASPECTRUM EP Launch @ Home Club (14.06.13)

Godzilla released their first lot of new material under their new moniker, ASPECTRUM, at the Home Club on Friday night alongside a bunch of support acts and just as keen a crowd.

The night kicked off with acoustic act Gentle Bones, who crooned the crowd with his soft, yet catchy and heartfelt tunes, followed by These Brittle Bones, also known as Chris Jones. Karen from Tricks & Cider accompanied his set, tinging Chris’ piano parts and mellow voice with her graceful violin playing.

Next up were The Summer State who, as usual, put on a great show to which the young crowd enthusiastically sang along. They invited Lan Alexander, lead singer of the following band, Undervienna Skies, to sing the song, ‘Love, That’s What They Call it These Days’ with them, and a girl named Sam to fill in for Siti Zahidah’s part during ‘I Do, I Don’t’ their YouTube hit that scored over 30,000 views in just about 24 hours.

Undervienna Skies, a Melbourne-based band took the stage next, bringing out their cheerful Australian brand of pop punk to the audience. The influence the American band All Time Low had on their music was telling, further shown by their cover of ‘Somewhere in Neverland’.

Finally as the headlining band of the night, ASPECTRUM prepared to take the stage to launch their new EP Prologue, a sizable crowd consisting mostly of adolescents from various international schools gathered in front of the state. And, despite their age, or for some, their curfews, the crowd enthusiastically cheered and danced throughout their set. They played a setlist consisting mostly of their new material, which seemed to show a small, but noticeable growth in their maturity of songwriting. It was a fun set nonetheless, as it was clear that despite the exterior overhaul of the band, it was still the same people behind their instruments having the best time playing music.

Perhaps it was due to a different culture owing to many of the members in the audience studying in an international school, or the audience’s young age, but the vibe of the event really shook up Home Club’s usual Friday night energy — it was as a show should be, just a bunch of kids having fun, smiles all around, with friendly handshakes and pats on the back; but it also felt like a massive party, in addition to being a band performance. Balloons were hung, strobe lights flashed, and (soft) drinks were clinked.

If ASPECTRUM planned for the EP launch to be a party, they sure got what they wanted and here’s hoping the band’s future gigs continue to be equally as fun.

By Louis Foo

Music Matters Live announces international line-up with surprising choice of local acts

Music Matters Live will return to Singapore this May as part of the annual international music industry conference, Music Matters.

Titled ‘Make It Matter‘, this year’s installment will be held from 22-24 May, showcasing emerging and established bands from Asia and the world alongside some of Singapore’s best and most-loved talents.

In 2012, the festival saw over forty bands from 18 countries play 150 shows in eight venues over three nights, with over 5,000 fans in attendance and a live broadcast  to over 1 million viewers on YouTube.

This year, the festival will feature sixty bands from more than fifteen countries, traveling from Australia, France, Hong Kong, Latvia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Scotland, Singapore, Taiwan and the USA to take to the stage for three jam-packed nights at Clarke Quay.

While previous years acts have leaned towards rock, Music Matters Live 2013 will showcase a more diverse line-up of acts, including award-winning indigenous folk singer Gurrumul from Australia, and Prata Vetra (also known as Brainstorm) who were the very first act to represent Latvia in the Eurovision competition.

Singaporean bands who performed last year include The Auditory Effect, Dropbeat Heartbeat, The Great Spy Experiment, The Guilt, Inch Chua, LGF, ShiGGa Shay, Shimona and SIXX, a solid balance of both current and established bands.

This year’s line-up however, reveals a somewhat surprising choice of bands — a host of currently relatively inactive bands with no new releases in recent years.

Instead of being curated by the Music Matters team, interested bands looking to perform at the festival were required to apply via SonicBids in February this year. And while it remains unclear whether or not younger, more active bands applied for the opportunity, it seems like a shame that the range of exciting new acts that the country has to offer will not be given the chance to perform, in lieu of veteran bands to take the stage.

‘Music Matters: Make It Matter’ line-up:

Cub Scouts (AU)
Gurrumul (AU)
Katie Noonan (AU)
Monks of Mellonwah (AU)
New Cassettes (UK)
Prata Vetra (Brainstorm) (Latvia)
An Honest Mistake (MY)
Guba (MY)
Salammusik (MY)
Me N Ma Girls (MY)
SWISS (New Zealand)
Carlos Castaño (PH)
Caracal (SG)
Electrico (SG)
Kevin Lester (SG)
Natalie Hiong (SG)
Plainsunset (SG)
The Observatory (SG)
The Sam Willows (SG)
The Summer State (SG)
These Brittle Bones (SG)
The Chairman (TW)
Guntzepaula (TW)
The London Souls (US)
+ more TBA

[EDIT: New Cassettes and Guba have been removed from the line-up (8/05/13)]

By Izzan Haziq

Dreaming of Tall Mountains

Sydney Yeo, aka Tall Mountains, is more a 21st century Romantic than a city girl. Born in Singapore and currently based in New York, the singer-songwriter pens music infused with day-dreamt nostalgia for nature and idyllic, rolling pastorals. The impeccable folk-pop tunes weave her dainty vocals through landscapes from arid deserts to green daisy fields. We speak to the 20-year-old, who released her five-track self-titled EP just last week.

How did you become a singer-songwriter?
I started playing the violin when I was 3, and I got pretty good at it, so up until I picked up the guitar when I was 15, I was primarily a classical musician. I love the violin, it’s really expressive and has a wide range of expression, but writing songs holed up in a room with just myself and my guitar feels honest, simple and good. I wrote my first song (which doesn’t appear on the EP) by accident. I was playing around with some chords, became inspired by the Absurdist play I’d been reading, and it just came out. The music was pretty folk-y right from the start. I remember it was called ‘Lover’ and I still occasionally play it at gigs.

You travel between New York City and Singapore quite frequently. How would you say this shuttling has manifested in your songwriting?
I travel the route at least once a year and have done a roundtrip 2.5 times so far — it’s terrible. I hate long flights, I can’t stand watching a tiny screen at such close proximity, and I can never get any sleep. But it also gives me the chance to ruminate about life and my goals for the period of time I’m going to spend in the city I’m heading to. Having two homes also means that I don’t feel very connected to either one, and being in New York without family can get really lonely especially during the holiday seasons.

I’ve been a city girl all my life, but while taking roadtrips around USA and in my other travels when I was younger, I find myself most amazed by natural beauty. Singapore and New York are suffocating in different ways. For the former it’s the politics, the attitudes, the fact that not many there believe in the local music scene and therefore support from the public is hard to come by. For the latter, creative-wise things are great, but silence and peace is hard to find. So I guess part of my music is the intent to transport myself and my listener to another place, one where it’s just nature and open space for miles.

What are your key influences and inspiration?
I must admit that I don’t abide by the songwriters-must-write-every-day thing because inspiration is fleeting for me. It most often comes from images I find beautiful or striking — be it the ones I see or the ones in my head — or a phrase that I find poetic. For example, the opening line of ‘Monster’ (“hold on to your gloves/put them on my cold hands/collect a cup of snow and/pour into my mouth“) came from a particularly bitter and snowy day in NYC when my hands were so cold (I’m especially susceptible to cold — go figure) that I could barely move them to put on gloves. I felt like I had swallowed the cold air and it was freezing me right down to my bones.

I really admire what Justin Vernon, Sufjan Stevens, and Angus & Julia Stone do with pop music and how they add a dimension of distinctive individuality through weird or quirky instrumentation. Watching gigs can also be a great source of inspiration; I saw The National at Radio City recently and they were amazing. I thought their music was brilliant on record, but they brought this fantastic energy, drive and charisma to the stage. They had some pretty mindblowing live-recorded-and-edited visuals as well. I’ve probably dreamt about that gig again since then, I think. Watching and hearing good musicians inspire me to be better and work harder at my craft.

“So I guess part of my music is the intent to transport myself and my listener to another place, one where it’s just nature and open space for miles.”

Who is one musician you’d most want to collaborate with and why?
I would probably be super down to collaborate with Yeasayer or just sit in on one of their recording/jamming sessions. I just got into them and their music is so multidimensional and powerful. Great rhythms and really weird (but awesome) melodies and countermelodies. Other thoughts: Kimbra, Kings of Convenience and Damien Rice.

Locally (i.e. in Singapore), I’m actually planning to do something with Nick Chim when I’m back for the summer. We both recorded our albums at different times at Snakeweed Studios, but I only just got in touch with him over Twitter and I’m excited to write a song or three. I’ve also collaborated in the past with These Brittle Bones and Deon Toh. I love working with other people because it shows you how much you can push your own boundaries to make something different from the usual. Singaporean musicians in the indie scene are some of the nicest, most hardworking, and sincere people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. I’m very proud to say I come from that group.

What are some of Tall Mountains’ other interests?
Food is a major pursuit of mine and it’s great (but also terrible) because NYC has such a great restaurant scene. However, I just got into the habit of cooking almost daily. I couldn’t get any home-style Chinese food before I started cooking it myself, because Americans really don’t know their Chinese food.  I still stalk food blogs religiously (like the NYTimes food column and Serious Eats) and check out restaurants I find interesting. I also (engage in activities like) film photography with my reliable Ricoh SLR and reading novels and poetry. I’ve just finished (reading) Crush by Richard Siken and it blew me away. It was wildly visceral, thrilling and it reminded me of why I make art (or rather, music).

“Singaporean musicians in the indie scene are some of the nicest, most hardworking, and sincere people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. I’m very proud to say I come from that group.”

Lastly, New York or Singapore?
Oh wow, what a loaded question! I dig Singapore — it obviously still feels more like home considering the fact that I’ve lived here my whole life. Also, (I prefer) Singapore because New York doesn’t know what good char kway teow or chai tow kway is. However, the creative energy in New York is unparalleled and I feel that I made the best decision of my life in choosing to study music here. My direction as a musician has evolved immensely and I doubt that would have happened had I stayed in Singapore. I have to come back eventually after I graduate to serve my bond with MDA, so yes, I’ll be coming back to Singapore and I definitely don’t hate that idea.

Will we ever get to see you perform here?
For sure! I wanted to play Baybeats 2013 but I’m not sure if I can make it back for the auditions, which I’m not happy about. I think that events like Baybeats and Mosaic bring life to the festival scene in Singapore. If not Baybeats, I’ll definitely do some gigs with the EP band at other places. The Pigeonhole has hosted me twice so far, maybe third time’s the charm?

By Zixin Lin

These Brittle Bones premieres new track ‘Flecks’

These Brittle Bones is 13-year-old singer/songwriter Chris Jones from Swansea, UK, who has just released the first single from his upcoming debut album Anchor Bleed.

An intimate, acoustic track, ‘Flecks’ features only Jones’ vocals and piano, in a very sparse yet articulate style that he has made his own. It is perhaps the darkest sounding of his tracks so far, and if we’re not mistaken, he debuted the song live at Home Club in September.

The Singapore-based musician describes the track as “A song that symbolises change and sums up a lot of emotions I’ve been feeling lately. In a way, it’s been a great release of old ideas and dark concepts so naturally, it feels right to put this out as the next single.”

The forthcoming album is the product of six months spent recording at Singapore’s Snakeweed Studios with producer Leonard Soosay and ‘Flecks’ is the first single released since Jones was signed with ATC Management, run by Radiohead’s manager Brian Message.

‘Flecks’ is available now on iTunes and Bandcamp.

Check out the rest of These Brittle Bones’ unofficially released tracks at his SoundCloud.