“This song is called Physical. It’s about one night stands,” Gareth Fernandez said while surveying his audience with mock intensity. “Y’all don’t look like you had any so that’s good,” he concluded to outbursts of appreciative catcalls.
It may have been his first gig at The Music Market in Hard Rock Café, but Gareth Fernandez betrayed no signs of outward nervousness. Fresh from the local underground bar scene, the 24-year-old crooner has been making waves with his emotive vocals and “100 per cent pop and soul” groove, one that is reminiscent of stars from Sam Smith to Bruno Mars.
With a spine tingling falsetto to match his swell of a voice, the emerging singer-songwriter has been revitalizing our soundscape, with electrifying gigs such as Timbre’s Singapore Originals, Mosaic Music Festival, Razer’s Art of Sound and Music Matters Live 2014.
By marrying contemporary pop with good older sensibilities, his debut single, “Subliminal Love”, has also peaked at #7 on the local iTunes charts- a relative feat for a newcomer in an indie-dominated local scene. With his music video set to drop in months, UrbanWire speaks to him about his journey as a rising music artiste.
When and how did you begin your journey as a singer-songwriter?
I used to sing for fun as a kid at school and random events, but I never allowed myself to think of anything more serious. It only started at 19 when I formed my first band, Monogram. We were terrible but had a lot of fun. Incidentally, my bassist, Titus was also in the band!
We made lots of YouTube covers and then I got picked up by cover band Kings. I became a bar singer who went around doing cover songs, and it was good for a while but I realized that, well, I love Maroon 5 but you can only sing “Payphone” so many times before you get sick of it. It’s been a really good learning experience with Kings for sure, and after that, I ventured into original singing and songwriting with my own band members Sikai (keyboard), Anson (drums), James (guitar) and Titus (bass).
Could you tell us more about your new EP?
Sure! I would say the songs (“Subliminal Love”, “Physical”, “Moving On” and “Northern Lights”) are extrapolations of personal experience and in particular, “Subliminal Love” is about the aftermath of a girl having left her bad relationship, but her [emotional] baggage is affecting her current one.
I’m not sure how the songs are going to be lined up yet but “Physical” is about a one-night stand where there is a lot of “Should I have done that?” The second part could be “Subliminal Love” where you wonder, “Okay, where is this relationship going? Is your bad history affecting our relationship too much?”
“Northern Lights” is an exploratory song about hope and wanderlust. We’re in Singapore, we’re quite affluent and we’re able to travel. And you might even find a few friends to chase the Northern Lights in places like Iceland! So I think “Northern Lights” is a metaphor for chasing hope and what you’re looking for. And then the last song is about, well, “Moving On”. (Laughs)
People have compared you a lot to the likes of Bruno Mars and Sara Bareilles. How do you feel about that?
That’s incredible! I love Bruno Mars’ and Sara Bareilles as their songs combine musical technicality with commercial viability. I feel that every musician and songwriter faces this dilemma, “Should my songs be as artistic or as complicated as I want them to be? Or should it be simple so anyone can listen to it?” In a local context, I think you have to choose either one, and Bruno Mars and Sara Bareilles [make both work].
How has the process been so far since you decided to begin a career in music in 2012?
I’m actually a student so it’s been time consuming. There have been a lot of ups and downs like trying to reach everybody’s schedule. But things are really coming around and I think my band and I have found our voice a bit more with each rehearsal. It’s such a great process. I’ve had a lot of help along the way from my producer, fellow artistes, family and organizations like Timbré and National Arts Council.
So where are you studying now and do your peers know about your music career?
I’m entering my final year in NTU (National Technological University) in sociology. Actually, Jon Chua from The Sam Willows is my classmate and we do a lot of gigs outside. We’ll rush off together from class but our professors have been very understanding. And we have a few friends who will share our stuff and come for shows, so I really appreciate that.
Where do you see yourself and your music 5 years from now?
One, I hope that I won’t turn bald. (Laughs). Nah, I’m just kidding. I’ll be 29 in 5 years. I hope that I’ll release more than 2 albums and what I really want to do is play at some overseas music festivals hopefully at least once per year. I would love to play especially in Australia and Japan, as the pop and soul music scene is strong there. It would be awesome to have 1 to 2 number one hits in Singapore too. I want to be a brilliant songwriter, a great vocalist, I want to arrange my own songs and collaborate with local and regional artists. I just want to do something great.
Indeed, music has been nothing short of a wild journey for Gareth.
“To be honest, it’d be easier to go indie in Singapore because it works really well here,” he said of his unorthodox choice of pop and soul genres. But Gareth is adamant that the ingredient to long-term success is to follow one’s passion.
“My own style is really a mix of Stevie Wonder, John Legend and Bruno Mars, and I would rather stay true to myself, work really hard. I want to be the best version I can be rather than be a lousy version of something that I’m not.”
“I think music has to have heart. It’s something that I struggle with because I’ll always think, “Is this going to be commercially viable?” But at the root of it all, I think you have to be true to yourself. I really just want to have good, pure fun so that people can feel my sincerity. I think that’s what really matters.”
Gareth Fernandez – Vocals
Sikai Goh – Keyboards/Organ/Synthesizer
Titus Ng – Bass
Anson Koh – Drums
James Lye – Guitar
Stay updated with Gareth Fernandez and his band on social media:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/garethfernandez (@garethfernandez)
Photo Credits: Provided by Gareth Fernandez