The boys huddle on the couch, conversing. Another sits a little away, content to sink into his seat and pluck away at a guitar, but mellow is the last thing we would use to describe the grit behind their soulful music.
Charles Lim, better known as Charlie, first showed signs of musical talent when he started playing the piano at age 6. For the next eight years, he lent his talent as well as his vocals to his church community. At 14, he moved to Melbourne, Australia to further his studies.
Even when he had to return to Singapore to serve his two years of National Service, his love for music was never far off. He joined the Singapore Armed Forces Music & Drama Company to keep tabs on his passion.
Two years ago, Charlie launched his debut 4-track EP in Singapore. To date, it has sold close to 1,000 physical copies and 3,000 single downloads.
He started out planning to stay as a solo artist, meaning that the band that accompanies him is ever-changing, but he has now found himself with a line-up that he can call his own.
The band consists of Charlie on guitar and vocals, lead guitarist Mark John Hariman, 29, bass guitarist Jase Sng, 26, keyboardist Euntaek Kim, 23, and drummer Wen Ming Soh, 29. Having come from very different musical backgrounds, the five full-time musicians never saw themselves crossing paths, much less performing and touring together as a band.
Charlie first met Jase at Caulfield Grammar School in Melbourne. They played trio gigs with another saxophone player around Melbourne and Singapore, but only Charlie and Jase’s musical chemistry stuck.
“Living on a shoestring budget” was how Charlie described their first tour around Asia. But that didn’t stop them from enjoying each other’s company
Together with their tour manager Sarah Sim, the band played to crowds in Hong Kong, Malaysia, South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Japan over four months. Only one tiny disagreement surfaced during the trip.
Playing overseas was a leap of faith for the boys. They received a grant from the National Arts Council (NAC), making them the first group of musicians in Singapore to receive funding for an international tour.
He says appreciatively, “I paid for the tour out of my own pocket, so the grant really took a huge weight off my back.” Charlie ended up breaking even on tour thanks to the grant and the sales from their merchandise and EP at the various show venues.
The ‘struggling musician’ cliché is in fact a constant worry for full-time musicians like them. But Charlie believes with clear conviction that failure only comes when one stops trying. “Momentum is better than direction. You can’t sit in a room and decide what to do next. You’ve got to keep doing and the more you do, the better you get at something.”
Charlie knows what he’s talking about—he is always sending countless letters to venue owners and other musicians for gig and collaboration opportunities. He’s definitely not the type to just wait for opportunity to come knocking.
“I know a lot of musicians who are very good but no one knows about them,” says Euntaek. “You have to find a way to get your name out. In this day and age, you have Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and whatnot. Use them.”
To these boys, making music is as natural as breathing — and just as essential too. They hold on to their passion with such tenacity and dedication that we’re convinced that if they one day stop making music, the essence of who they are may fade away.
And perhaps that is precisely why, despite achieving what many local musicians can only dream of, they don’t look back. They only look forward.
“Music is a lifestyle and I’m really fortunate that it’s working out for me,” states Jase. “You don’t even think about ‘what if it doesn’t work out?’ You just put everything you have into it and do it.”
As for what’s next for the band, Charlie discloses, “I’d like for us to play more festivals in 2013. Besides working on my own solo material, we also have a few side projects lined up which involve more electronic beat-making and coming up with interesting soundscapes. We’ve spent a lot of time trying to master our own instruments, but you can hit a ceiling doing the same thing. It’ll be more interesting to venture out of our comfort zones and more into the realm of production. Anything to keep the creative juices flowing and help us make the best music we can.”
Glancing at his fellow band members, Euntaek sums up, “It’s an endless journey that we’ve all signed up for.”