The Singapore-born singer and songwriter on the songs that make him laugh, cry and want to dance
The first song I learnt to play
What’s Up by 4 Non-Blonde. I started learning the guitar quite late, at the age of 18, and only because I was injured while doing my National Service (compulsory for Singaporeans). I wasn’t fit for active training for six months, during which I was sent to help out at the cookhouse. There wasn’t much to do most of the time, so I just played around with this rusty guitar that belonged to one of the cooks.
The song that reminds me of growing up
Together In Electric Dreams by The Human League. When I was an undergraduate, my friends and I used to go to Zouk every Wednesday night. Zouk is known for its house music, but every Wednesday, it’s Mambo Jumbo night, and it only plays retro songs from the ‘80s – mostly synthpop tunes, and Electric Dreams was often the last few songs on the setlist. Most of time we were all pretty high and whenever it came on, it just felt like the good times would last forever.
The song I want played at my funeral
Meet Me In Heaven by Johnny Cash from the Unchained album. It’s really the perfect song to tell your loved ones that even though you’re no longer around, it’s just a temporary separation.
The song that makes me cry
The Drugs Don’t Work by Verve. Richard Ashcroft (the band’s chief songwriter) said that it was a song about depression and boredom and how sometimes you can get so low that even drugs don’t help. But when practising for a recent gig of Britpop covers, it struck me that every line also aptly describes a person struggling with the helplessness of watching a loved one succumb to terminal illness. I almost couldn’t finish the song when performing it.
The song I’m most proud of
I had written many songs in the last two years. But here is only one song that is on every set list for both bands I play in (Boxchords and Parallel Impulse), and that is Love Has Its Own Mind. It came from this realisation that love – true love – carries you along with it, and makes you a bigger, better person. You also suffer more because the loved one’s pain is also your pain, but you bear with it in spite of yourself because love takes away that self-centeredness.
The song I wish I wrote
Waterloo Sunset by Ray Davies (of The Kinks). If only because I am way out of my league when it comes to evoking an idealised picture of a place with my songwriting. I made it a point to stop by Waterloo Station one evening during my last trip to London; the place and its surroundings didn’t quite fit the wistfully pastoral image the song had painted in my mind. But I knew I was in paradise.
The song that gets me dancing
Too many! So I’ll just stick to last song I heard for the first time and immediately felt like dancing – Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) by Arcade Fire. It starts off with a disco-ey rhythm very similar to Blondie’s Heart of Glass, and then slowly builds into this grand synthpop anthem. And anyone who pays attention to the songs in Boxchords’ setlists know that snythpop and disco is my guilty pleasure. (Several songs I wrote for Parallel Impulse also reflect these influences but I am not allowed to actually announce them as such!)