At 22 years old, Joel Tan – better known by his stage name Gentle Bones – has already made a name for himself as one of Singapore’s most popular artistes.
The singer-songwriter recently won the Hong Kong Asian-Pop Music Festival 2016 Supernova award, played two sold-out shows at the Singapore Esplanade Concert Hall and was even featured in the inaugural Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30 Asia list.
Not having any musical background in his family, Tan first learnt how to play the guitar at 16, and started out by uploading videos of him singing covers onto YouTube.
He released his first EP, Gentle Bones, in 2014, and its first single, Until We Die, hit No. 1 on the Singapore iTunes chart, making him an instant star. Subsequent singles Elusive and Save Me, did equally well.
During a phone interview from Singapore, Tan said that he never expected to hit the ground running the way he did.
“To be honest, I never expected to be where I am when I released that first single. Everything that has happened since then has been way past my expectations. I’m happy to be where I am, but I know I have a lot more to cover,” he said.
Tan recently released his new EP, the five-song Geniuses & Thieves, which he says is a departure from the more acoustically inclined debut EP, and is influenced by the likes of Majid Jordan, The Weeknd, DVSN and Chet Faker.
“The style has more electronic and R&B influences, and lyrically, I wanted to express myself more honestly,” he offered. “I am still proud of my first EP, but my songwriting has matured and I wanted to speak of topics outside of love.”
1. How did you come up with the name “Gentle Bones”?
It’s a funny story. They don’t really have a specific meaning.
When I was 16, I wrote a demo on my laptop and wanted to upload it on Facebook. But I realised that there were a lot of Joel Tans in Singapore, and I needed a band name because “Joel Tan” music would be impossible to find.
So, I just came up with these two words randomly, which made no sense, but I didn’t expect it to stick! But in the end it suits me – there’s a weird balance between cool and lame at the same time!
2. What can fans expect from the new EP, Geniuses And Thieves?
It’s a bit of a departure from my first one. I decided to take a leap of faith and put out music that I really like.
The switch (in style) was when I heard (Australian electronic musician) Chet Faker and realised the electronic world was beautiful. I also rediscovered R&B. I was a huge Michael Jackson fan, and I sort of wanted to go back to my roots.
3. You mention that you want to express the real you on the new EP. Does that mean the music in your first EP was not really, well, you?
No, I don’t mean that at all. What I mean is … my first EP was created when I was 19, and now I’m 22. The past few years have been my formative years, and I’ve changed quite a fair bit.
I’m still the same person, but I’ve grown up a little bit more as a person, and my music has grown with me as well.
The style of my voice, and the way I sing and portray my ideas in the lyrics … It’s still easily identifiable as Gentle Bones.
4. So far, you’ve only released singles and EPs. Do you have any plans to do a full length album in the future?
I grew up in the MTV era, which is all about singles. But I’m also a perfectionist – I still think I need time to be ready to do a full-length album.
It took me two years to write 30 songs and trim that tofive (for Geniuses And Thieves), so to do an album would probably take longer.
So, in the meantime, I would rather squeeze the funds I have into making singles and EPs.
I also want to spread my music around a bit more first; the second EP is to allow people to get to know me as an artiste.
5. You’re already quite established in Singapore, and even had two sellout concerts last month. Are you planning to go international anytime soon?
I’m still passionate about the music scene in Singapore, and I think there are a lot of great acts here. That said, I’m also planning a lot of trips outside of Singapore – to Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, China, and maybe Australia.
For now, I’m happy to tour the EP and play to as many people as I can.