Music

Interview With Dexter: Beauty from Pain

Now, everyone has their own way to deal with a breakup. We all mope, drowning in self-pity and tubs of ice cream. Some go onto social media and share depressing or incredibly sulky and angry posts, some stay in and play angst-filled music with a glass of wine, and some people channel their hurt into their craft, creating beauty from pain: Taylor Swift and Adele come to mind when it comes to making millions art from breakups.

DANamic.ORG spoke to Dexter Choo, a new name in Singapore’s local music scene. We caught up with him as he rides on the release of his new single, “Snow”, in a short chit-chat about the inspiration behind the song and the melancholy of a breakup track, his struggles in production and recording, and what he’s learned from his perseverance. Dexter is an eloquent man and he’s got plenty to say – so prepare for intricate and meaningful textwalls ahead.


1. Congrats on the new single! How did the song “Snow” come about? What was the hardest part about producing and recording the track yourself?

As cliché as it sounds, “Snow” was inspired by a personal experience, specifically a breakup. The idea behind “Snow” – especially the chorus – really revolved around the dynamics and ironies of a relationship; how exciting and warm they can be at the start, but turn so sour and cold at the end, as referenced to by the lyrics “Our hearts are lost in snow, our burning passion now gone will never grow”. There is also a clear bitterness about the way an individual can be the one to both initiate the relationship, as well as the breakup, which became the main inspiration behind the lyrics “Lift me up to put me down” and “Pick me up to shoot me down”.

The verses were written in a way to portray the performer (in this case, me) as the victim. I’ll admit, it indeed is a very one-sided and arguably selfish point-of-view (hey, we all like to dwell in self-pity a little), because the truth was both parties were victims (in my experience at least). The interlude/bridge was really just lamentation and realisation that sorrow is no way to live.

Oh! The title “Snow”, to me, is symbolic of love’s purity and high, as well as ability to lead someone into a cold, dark place – akin to how a snowflake falls from the clouds, melts and seeps into the ground, irretrievably lost.

Recording & Production

The hardest part about recording and producing the track myself was the fact that I literally had no prior knowledge and experience in doing so. I did my best with whatever equipment I had, spent hours and hours on YouTube watching tutorials on how set up my microphone for recording, how I could make use of my software to give me a certain sound, how I should mix my tracks etc. Then hours and hours again, actually recording, producing, re-recording and re-producing.

I distinctly remember almost giving up on adding drums for the track (at the interlude/bridge), but I’m glad I ultimately persevered in doing so, as they really did bring out a different tone/flavour and changed the feel of the track. I felt the drums added a much needed intensity to an otherwise dull song, and really brought out a sense of unease/urgency, which to me is the right kind of climax for “Snow”.

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2. Did the idea for the music video come easily to you while writing the song? How different was it compared to the YouTube cover videos that you’ve done?

Truth be told, the thought of doing a music video for “Snow” didn’t cross my mind till I sent a demo version of the song to my friend Andrea (she hooked me up with the architect behind the entire video). So the conversation went something like this:

Andrea: “Oh, is this the song for the music video?” (Because I did mention plans for a music video prior to this)

Me: “Not really… But why not, let’s do it.”

So then Andrea introduced me to Germaine (the mastermind behind the music video), which was the first time I really set down to think about the music video.

Due to the absence of physical snow in Singapore (we concluded that Snow City wouldn’t be a very nice place to film; Editor’s Note: we concur), we had to brainstorm on concepts – I was very adamant on having an artistic, white-themed video as a metaphor for snow, and we pretty much just went along from there. Initially, I didn’t even want to appear in the music video because I’m typically camera-shy, but was later convinced to do so.

I could really spell out the purpose of every scene, but I feel it’ll be more interesting to have viewers craft out their own thoughts and feelings on the video. After all, I feel, music videos are about storytelling and the same story could be interpreted differently by unique individuals.

Covers

My cover videos were more or less all live performances (with the exception of “Bitter” by Charlie Lim) that required only my mic, camera, and the occasional cameraman, so they were pretty straightforward.

This music video, on the other hand, was a completely different experience. After booking 10 hours worth of studio time, my team of 4 and I slogged it out, painstakingly filming scene after scene, the time spent on different scenes were really disproportionate and unpredictable. For example, the scene of the sinking paper boat (arguably the simplest scene) took over an hour to film, while the face painting scene (arguably the most difficult scene to film) was done in just two takes.

It’s worth mentioning that I only met the girl in my video, Min Chyi, on the day of filming! We quickly overcame the initial awkwardness and got down to filming, especially for the more “intimate” polaroid shots HAHA.

Oh, and unlike cover videos, I had to get props such as flowers, face paint, and even a fish tank for this music video. It’s funny how white chrysanthemums are thought to represent either devoted love or death across different cultures, thus we found it apt as a metaphor for lost love.

All in all, it was a great experience – from the planning stages right down to editing, and I’d really like to thank Germaine, Andrea, Min Chyi and Jasper who made this video a reality. Seeing my original materialise in the form of a music video is truly exhilarating – a simple lyric video just wouldn’t have been able to bring out the right tones and feelings.

3. Moving on to your personal playlist, who are your biggest musical influences?

It’s no secret that my greatest influences are local artists, namely Charlie Lim and Gentle Bones (on a side note, those who say local music has nothing to offer clearly hasn’t given it a chance).

Charlie Lim is pure genius. His music is profound, and his lyrics are robust enough to embody the multitude of inexplicable human emotions. I once remarked of Charlie: “Where was Charlie? Probably all along hidden in the deep recesses of our hearts, tugging at heartstrings we never knew existed.” Gentle Bones’ tunes are catchy yet fresh, and he effectively built his music career whilst serving in NS, enough reason to be an inspiration to anyone. He showed me it was possible to pursue my passion regardless of circumstance.

Other local artists who inspire me one way or another are Theodora Lau, DEON, JAWN and Lew. Local music is brilliant. I’m also heavily influenced by indie bands such as Local Natives, Death Cab for Cutie, Of Monsters and Men to name a few… though I’m not entire sure if they had a direct impact on the writing of “Snow”, not consciously at least.

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4. Can we expect to hear more from you this year? An EP, perhaps?

Yeah, more for sure! I’m looking at (hopefully) around 2 more music videos before I start school in August, an EP of maybe 4 songs would be possible!

However, I think it’ll be fair to note that “Snow” might actually be an anomaly in my song writing. Most of my other songs are rather indie and thus not so easy on the ears of the average music lover i.e. not the typical catchy melodies, hiphop beats, but more of the uncomfortably foreign music that reaches out to niche audiences.

Well, that being said, music is my passion and I’ll definitely be writing more this year! Maybe, JUST maybe, I’ll be able to find that sweet spot that lies between pop and indie, where both audiences and myself can enjoy.

5. What piece of advice would you give to local bedroom musicians who are hoping to get their music out there?

Write, record, repeat. Keep doing what you love. Find people with similar interests and work together, learn what you can from them and teach them all you know – that’s the way you’ll grow as a musician. I’ve recently started working with a friend who’s a guitarist, and we feed off each other’s creativity, it’s really quite amazing.

And always ask for opinion on your music, never be afraid to do so. Opinions are gold. Tweak your music accordingly, but remember that your own preferences and taste counts too, the most in fact – if not what’s the point of writing music you don’t enjoy?

Now for the “get their music out there” part. Well, there really isn’t a formula for this. What I often do is to first record a tune on my iPhone, send it around to friends, gather feedback, then continue working on said tune. Eventually, I’ll get down to recording, producing and in the case of “Snow”, filming and releasing a music video!

Even if all you have is just your cellphone to record your music, use it. The idea is to take baby steps in achieving your goals of getting your music heard, one way or another! Put your video up on any social media platform then share it around with friends and family, or even perform it live in front of them and gather their responses. The thing is to never give yourself excuses like “I don’t have a camera/mic, I can’t record my music, I don’t know how to produce my music”, really just to do it. Besides, YouTube is a really good teacher, I can attest to that. HAHA.

Keep at it, and before you know, people outside of your social circle will start singing along to your tunes.


Photos courtesy of Dexter Choo

Stream “Snow” from Spotify

Find Dexter Choo online: Twitter | | Instagram | YouTube Soundcloud

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