Let the Sun

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Untwist yourself
from the life that you had
Oh we’re falling, yeah we’re falling
in the in-betweens

Let the sun sun sun
Wash away our shame

(“Oslo”, 2014)


I am a terrible performer. I’m not saying it in a self-deprecating way but because it is the truth – I really am.¬†I don’t have natural stage charisma & I have difficulty telling song stories & maintaining an on-stage persona or even calling my song “my song” in front of other people because I don’t like the way it sounds when I say that. I¬†shudder when people call me an “artiste” or a “singer-songwriter”. I have been surrounded by many people who do all the above things with ease & of course, it wasn’t fun¬†that these things just eluded me when it seemed to be a prerequisite for the creative field that I was in.

Whatever the case, I stopped gigging in early 2014 & shoved it aside for a couple of years because it all seemed too trying. People urged me persistently to give it another shot but there just never seemed to be enough time, or it wasn’t important enough, or I just couldn’t muster the courage to. The real push finally came at the tail end of 2015, when an artiste & friend who¬†I really respect told me rather firmly that I had better get over my stage fright & get my music out there or I would regret never trying in the years to come. Faith was then brought into the picture. She said¬†that ministering to people often happens through the most unexpected songs¬†in the most unexpected places & challenged me to not put God in a box i.e. ministering only through worship songs. Who was I to say that my “secular” songs couldn’t reach people in a profound way? If I got my act together, maybe something could actually happen. Ouch.

So I reckoned that if God really wanted me to do it, He would open up doors for me. So right there, over supper at a crowded dim sum restaurant, I kinda struck a deal with God (obnoxious, I know) & told him:¬†OK God, your move. Three shows for 2016. Your move.¬†Within a week, I had gotten a really unexpected call to do a gig¬†by Kevin Mathews. It kinda turned out to be a¬†big deal & even though I was incredibly nervous & mucked up all my lyrics & talked way too much / way too little at times & had a loud ringing sound in my left ear the whole time – told you I’m a terrible performer – I managed to pull through the 45-minute set, breathless but still alive. The biggest compliment I had that night wasn’t about how catchy the melodies or poetic the lyrics were, but¬†that it seemed that my songs were different as compared to the others in the way that they “emanated joy”. Bless your soul, stranger. I choose to think that this uncontainable joy comes from a love for Christ, & a subsequent overflow of that very love.

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him & rejoice with joy that is inexpressible & filled with glory. 

(1 Peter 1:8)

I managed to score two other gigs in 2016 (The Rooftop Sessions & The Night Festival) but unfortunate circumstances forced me to drop the latter. It was a tough year, & it was such a bummer to not fulfil a resolution that seemed just about attainable. So when the opportunity came up to do a spot in January when I was still in the thick of things, I felt like it was a fight against the flesh to say yes. Truth be told then, I had sincerely felt that I had been silenced by my transgressions, that God had taken away my gifting. I could feel a very tangible mental blockage whenever I tried to do anything creative. Simply put, my river of songs & poems had dried up. It was only a week before the show that I agreed to do it, mostly because I was seized one night by the feeling that this would be extremely important for me, spiritually & emotionally, & that I had to trust that the big guy upstairs was about to teach me something. So there it was Рthe moment to jump. & I did.

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Artistry Cafe, January 21st 2017

Long story short: with the help of my ridiculously talented friends (Nick the basslord who sacrificed his usual funk grooves to play folk bass for a night & Anthea who is a much better singer than me by miles), we put on a half-hour set of six originals & a cover. It wasn’t great, but it was a grand time all the same. My friends came & I made new ones; I sang & people listened. There was beer & food & chatter & laughter & for a single night, it was enough. I survived. I am still a terrible performer but at least I was still trying, & isn’t that what matters, the trying?

Artistry was one of the smaller shows I had ever done¬†but in many ways it might have been the most significant because unlike the others (which was mostly a mixture of fanfare & fear), it was then, on 21st January 2017, emerging right out of a rough season, that something in the spiritual realm shifted & I was hit square in the chest by this realisation:¬†Hey, I can still sing. Not fantastic, not fancy, but look – the voice is still here. I’m still here.

Watch the set here & here.

It Hurts!

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(currently listening)

  1. Way It Goes – Hippo Campus
  2. Super America – Bad Bad Hats
  3. Love That’s Gone – La Sera
  4. Brooklyn – Fickle Friends
  5. Jennifer – Little Comets
  6. Away from Today – Dan Croll
  7. Talk Too Much – COIN
  8. Drive It Like You Stole It – Sing Street
  9. Wait Up – Roosevelt
  10. Not A One – The Young Wild
  11. Until We Get There – Lucius
  12. Musicians – Gold Motel

Lo-Fi

(adj.) Short for lo-fidelity. The production or reproduction of audio characterised by an unpolished or rough sound quality. First known usage: 1957.


Once, I hitched a ride with an older couple from Malaysia to Singapore after a weekend church retreat & we got stuck at the causeway for a couple of hours. That was when the husband¬†said that we should all take turns to play some songs off our own devices¬†because all the radio waves were still staticky & it would be interesting to know each other’s music tastes & so I plugged in my phone & played them a few tracks off Gold Motel’s Brand New Kind of Blue¬†record. I thought they would like the songs because they were bright & nostalgic & summer-y but then when I asked what they thought, the husband turned around & said, they’re alright I guess, but they’re a bit juvenile, don’t you think?

Oof. Well, I suppose they are:

“Forget it all, it’s just a sun-drenched dream
I bet you make a good memory
I’ll come back soon, when you least assume
Oh, Santa Cruz”

(Santa Cruz – Gold Motel)

“Pluck a heart-string, duck for cover
Hear the phone ring, start to stutter
He wants to know why I sit & sigh so
I yelled your name like a secret out the window
Oh, the night is so young
It hurts!”¬†

(It Hurts – Bad Bad Hats)

The thing is, I would like to write a lo-fi, “juvenile” love song but I just don’t know how. I think it’s one of the hardest things to write. I did a gig last Saturday with some friends & while it was fun to play Quiet Man & Santorini & Waves,¬†the artists before & after us all had their fair share of juvenile love songs about high school crushes / cheesy declarations of love / bad break ups & I just realised that¬†I didn’t have anything like that in my song repertoire. Just¬†songs about cities or fictional creatures. Hmmm.

I suppose that artists like Gold Motel & Bad Bad Hats¬†appeal to me because the songs they write always seem¬†raw & tender & almost Bukowskian in all their juvenility. No¬†frills or poetic anguish to hide behind. Sometimes that summer road trip really feels extraordinary & transcendent, or that break up just plain sucks. Sometimes, the best way to describe what you’re feeling is to write a two-minute, two-chord song, & shout: It Hurts!