In June, we had the pleasure of sitting down with the band SINE – Marcus, Eugene, CJ – for an in-depth conversation on creative identity, their debut EP, and personal thoughts about progressing in the local music scene. SINE BAND SG talked to us rather candidly, and we couldn’t be more grateful for the interesting and insightful conversation that transpired. Check out their Facebook page here.
CARPE: We noticed that you guys describe yourself as a band that comprises of individuals. Interesting – how do you guys manage to measure the level of individuality that comes out into your pieces?
SINE BAND: Even though we are JUST three people, we cannot agree on a lot of things.
(Athena to Trevor): That sounds familiar.
CJ (SINE BAND): [laughs] So, we created a democratic system – so it’s based on two-thirds majority – definitely one guy will be the loser. We have quite a lot of disagreements on certain things and how we want to approach certain things – but I guess what keeps us somewhat civil and sane in this band is our democratic system.
CJ (SINE BAND): I think, in my opinion, our personalities are quite strong – all three of us. At least for the EP, we worked with one type of system. Which was the democratic system. Now things are changing for the “ democratic system”. We created a new way of writing songs.
EUGENE (SINE BAND): Did we?
MARCUS (SINE BAND): Last time, it’s very democratic – more democratic.
EUGENE (SINE BAND): But now we try to write everything together.
CJ (SINE BAND): Last time we were more about finding a way to work things out between us – the democratic system is good, but honestly, we can think about it that – it was an excuse for not coming to a decision together. However there are many ways – we are still trying to find a way to work.
MARCUS (SINE BAND): We’re definitely trying different things – in terms of creative work; creative things; it’s about a balance. So if you don’t set a time-line, it can take forever. But you don’t want to rush it because you still want to retain quality. I think for us, the majority was working with that balance we had set for ourselves – trying to find the EP date – we want it to be good – we realize that we cannot keep disagreeing. Now that we have a bit more time, so it’s a bit more relaxed, we’re trying different ways to find out how to work in a smoother manner!
EUEGEN (SINE BAND): Conflict or competition is still a good way to find the final product. Let’s say we’re writing a certain part of a song. He says “I want to do it A”, and I say “I want to do B” and he says “I want to do C”. And our first response would be like A sucks, or B sucks [laughs]. Then we decided, why not we just not scold each other, and try out A, B and C and really understand what works. Sometimes, we find out that one of the options stands out better than the other, and that means that two people were wrong – okay not wrong, but not the right way to do things at this time. After doing that, we realized that each of us individually are not always correct and have things to improve on, so that’s something we are trying to learn about.
CARPE: Actually ah – What’s the history behind SINE?
MARCUS (SINE BAND): We were in the same unit in N.S. We were all in the office watching certain videos. We noticed math rock was cool. Then asked each other if they liked to play music. Then they brought their guitars and asked why don’t we play covers. Then all of a sudden we wanted to go beyond playing covers. At some point we might want to go beyond that, so that’s how we started SINE.
CARPE: What kind of identity are you guys striving towards?
SINE BAND: If you want to move professionally as a band, you must agree for a certain identity la. There are a lot of bands in SG where they don’t take themselves seriously and that’s the image they provide. They make a lot of jokes, and they’re real.
CJ (SINE BAND): I kind of like that. That’s very real and down-to-earth.
MARCUS (SINE BAND): Each image has a good and bad. If we don’t check ourselves or don’t agree on it, it becomes very hard to present the image we want to show. The kind of image we want to portray is that we’re very in-the-zone/ Some musicians, when they play, you can tell they are very focused on audience. Then there’s also the kind of experience where people are engrossed in emotions and music, people are drawn to it. This is one of the things we wanted to portray.
It was a very long journey for us to decide what kind of image. It’s kind of both. When we’re not playing, then we’re very retarded. Then when we play we’re in our own world. [Ed’s Note: YEP we can agree! Going to their gig recently at The Music Parlour was an amazing experience because the passion we felt from their performance was very real and not-for-show].
C: On the topic of your MUSIC: to us, the tracks in The Average of Everything seemed to be about unregulated emotion, and reflective elements – there’s so much outpour and overflow – so why is it called the AVERAGE of everything?
SINE BAND: Why is it the average…hmm….in your opinion what should it be called?
CARPE: Hey! [laughs] This is an interview and we are the interviewers.
SINE BAND: There is a story-line behind it.
CARPE: Is this a sensitive thing?
SINE BAND: No la! – Wait it IS. Music is a sensitive thing.
CJ (SINE BAND): So it’s like – at least for the first few songs, like the emotions and stuff – there was a lot.
We wrote a few songs for the EP – all different styles and content la – but the emotion is one of the most consistent themes that appears in all songs. We did not take that as a guiding point into how the album would turn out. Because all the songs are kinda about emotion and stuff, we felt that the ‘[the] Average of Everything’ really highlights the difference between the songs, and if you combine everything together – you get these songs. You get these songs, you get this album. So, okay, the styles are quite different; the emotion is similar. And this – CONTROVERSIAL! – I feel that a lot of bands make it a normal thing to stick to a certain genre and be the best at it, but we are very distracted and kinda just write things – anything – on impulse. The common similarity across the album is that there is emotional highs and emotion fronts each song; that’s why you get the AVERAGE of everything.
MARCUS (SINE BAND): The songs sound very different from one another – we are influenced by a lot of different things, but in terms of whether they are towards more poppy or more heavy genre, across the spectrum- we touch on all these genres. That’s why we decided on the Average of Everything. Funnily enough, when we thought the songs were very different, when we asked for feedback from many people, they said they sounded the same – or maybe they prefer one song over the others coming from a different genre – they said that regardless of genre, all songs sound like US – so that’s pretty encouraging [laughs].
So that’s us, we’re the Average.
SINE BAND: Or are we above Average…?
[Ed’s Note: There certainly was an awkward silence here :-)]
CJ (SINE BAND): I also realized that in terms of the lyrics – I feel that the constant theme, or the concepts behind the lyrics – they all look at achieving that equilibrium. I think this is quite new, but I literally just thought about it –
MARCUS (SINE BAND): – That makes sense
CJ (SINE BAND): For One Day for example, we talked about how we want to try and be better One Day and stuff. But when we wrote it, it was kind of saying (speaking to the audience) that it may be good today, but always remember to not be complacent and stuff. So it shows that we want to constantly find that equilibrium. It’s yin and yang kind of shit. That balance is important in life.
MARCUS (SINE BAND): To some extent, a lot of this is in hind-sight, it is post-rationalization.
CJ (SINE BAND): I think that’s art though. Sometimes we aren’t going to be very intentional in the things that we do or the things that we come up with, and we think – why did we write that? But then I think – oh this was what was going on.Or you could totally have forgotten about what you wrote la.
CARPE: But you know how the Singaporean music scene is really pop-driven – So what motivates you to carry out this progressive, great experimental project?
SINE BAND: Oh, we give up already – we doing POP already!
CJ (SINE BAND): Uh no la [laughs]. Okay. Hmm.
For me it’s always been kind of intrinsic, so – when you play something, you play something passionately – when you play something very very hard, or very “driving” – there’s a sense of fulfilment for me. So i’m always leaning towards that kind of genre la, naturally.
However, at the same time, when you realize that you’re playing a certain kind of music that you’re never going to get a following from, like when you play a less popular genre, that’s what we realized after creating this EP as well. ‘ Cause Singapore’s market is really small right, so that’s something we are thinking about and looking to balance as well. So how to balance playing what you want versus what you can get recognised for? Because as an artist, you don’t want to just play something you like and not get recognised for it as a whole; you also want both yourself and others to like whatever you are doing.
EUGENE (SINE BAND): Uh, I also got my own thoughts on it.
CJ (SINE BAND): Shit, is it like we very incoherent as a band? [laughs]. We each got our own thoughts on it, got their own views. But that plays into the narrative. Of our ‘individual identity’.
CARPE: Yeah, individuality is obviously very prominent in your band and that’s perfectly fine!
EUGENE (SINE BAND): I think at first we did whatever we wanted to do. We wanted to do whatever we wanted to do.
CARPE: Wait ah, let me push the phone towards you [laughs].
CJ (SINE BAND): HUH? You recording?
CARPE: [laughs] Gotta make sure we hear your voices properly when transcribing! Y’all have said many remarkable things.
EUGENE (SINE BAND): [laughs] So, yeah, thinking back to what Marcus said about the EP and wanting to move forward – I think that’s true la. After releasing the EP, we think about lots more things moving forward. Even though we said just wanna do what we want, at the end of the day, if we were gonna record, ultimately it’s not just for us but for people – the audiences who want to listen to us. We have to kind of think about what the audience want. We have to look in their perspective, at the end of the day. Of course we aren’t gonna be a sell-out [laughs]. We still haven’t really fully processed whatever that has happened in the last EP. Hopefully we get to do more – yeah la we see how.
CJ (SINE BAND) So doing music, I feel that it’s a product. Like y’all have your own start-up.
CJ (SINE BAND): Although you have that passion, and often listen to your gut telling you what to do – like let’s say your gut tells you that you need to do it in that certain way, but then you also gotta be realistic.
It’s about finding that balance – that’s why average of everything. I feel that recently I listened to a lot more listen-able tracks and stuff. And I feel that there are elements to learn from it. So the challenge for me and for us is for doing it in an original way while still have that essence – like what is a very poppy thing to do in music nowadays – like maybe have a whoa – [SINGS] – focus kind of thing at the back.But we can do it in a progressive way, I feel like that’s something kind of different.
MARCUS (SINE BAND): To add on to that, some of the genres we listen to, such as math rock and progressive – we find that the ones that are making it very big nowadays actually have quite a lot of pop elements. I mean there are some die-hards that say that oh they are not being true to the genre and stuff like that, but in the end that’s also what drew us to them in the first place. We think that it doesn’t matter whether they are sticking to a certain formula – as long as it sounds nice, and as long as we like it, then that’s okay. So I think we can also learn something from those bands as well and be inspired as well.
CARPE: What advice would you have for future musicians?
EUGENE (SINE BAND): Not gonna be easy la. That’s for one. Good luck.
SINE BAND: Who are we to advise them? HAHA I think we need the advice. Just keep doing what you love.
CJ(SINE BAND): I just got realization for something else.
MARCUS (SINE BAND): I feel that practicality and reality of life will always cock-block you from reaching your end goal. So every time you want to bag a certain performance, or go see a certain gig – you think to yourself, how does this help me achieve my goal? Does this help me? Will this help me to achieve my goal? This will make the journey worthwhile. Meeting short-term goals. Sometimes it gets quite depressing. Help you reach the long-term goal. Not just for music ah, this is for everything in life.
CJ (SINE BAND): I feel that there’s an over-used concept of people being themselves. Like it’s a societal pressure – you wanna be yourself, but it’s so hard if you’re from a minority of any community. So I think that staying yourself is good. But when being yourself – you must be prepared to ensure you make compromises. Happiness. In terms of music, sexual identity.
MARCUS (SINE BAND): Wah deep ah.
EUGENE (SINE BAND): I got a short diversion. So I read this short book and it said nobody cares about you. So keep improving yourself. But that’s not the advice I have.
Keep doing what you love. Then you don’t feel it’s work. You feel that it’s something you want to do. Then when you do it, you are happy. Don’t try and satisfy someone else or another group of people. Do it because you want to do it, don’t satisfy others who are a moving target.
MARUCS (SINE BAND): I think ultimately passion;. Don’t do it for money, do it for love. Don’t do for fame. If got love then take. If got money then take. Passion is one driver that helps each of us. Take the first step. This is weird because even if you take THE FIRST STEP YOU can always regress. Let’s say you wanna go to the gym right, hardest is getting out of the house. So a lot of people say oh making music is expensive, I can’t make music, I’m sucky at it. But once you take the first step you realize it’s not un-obtainable, it’s not impossible. First step for us came when we recorded the first song. We felt that the first song, we caught on, moved one.
CARPE: Out of everything you’ve done, what is the most enjoyable thing you’ve done? Your most enjoyable takeaway from this journey thus far?
EUGENE (SINE BAND): For me, it’s the sense of recognition from the journey you’ve met. We’ve received quite a few compliments here and there. It’s these small things that make you happy – finally there is something you strive for and achieved.
CJ (SINE BAND): I think that there is always something better. There’s always room for improvement and stuff. But that itself makes me learn. The fact that I’m not really up there – it makes me interested in continuing my journey. I feel that it’s damn boring if you feel super satisfied about something. Happiness is not the end goal but the process.
CARPE: There will be other people who can always enjoy.
MARCUS (SINE BAND): It’s a bit similar. I definitely like our songs – like, the album. You guys might find it strange but – it’s rare that we are happy after releasing something. You would think that these guys just released an album. They must feel very happy about what they achieved. But on the day of EP release itself I was quite unhappy – I was unsatisfied. I was telling myself, I want to make more. I want to make more songs, more albums. It’s a pursuit, it’s a journey. When you reach the end of the journey, you kind of have nothing to live for.
Featuring SINE BAND, Interview by Athena Tan and Trevor Wee.
Photography by Trevor Wee.