Remembering their roots, Count Vernon is ready to take on Baybeats 2023 and beyond
By Riqqah Hamjuri
Having undergone the Baybeats Budding Bands mentorship programme, Count Vernon is ready to take the stage at Baybeats 2023 with a high energy performance, sure to get you up on your feet and dancing.
Count Vernon is an alternative rock project fronted by Eli Ordonez. Currently a four-piece, the band comprises Eli on the vocals and guitar, bassist Marc Ho, drummer Joshua Yong and guitarist Norman Lee. Though the band has grown in many ways since their first appearance in the scene back in 2018, they certainly stay true to their roots.
Count Vernon… like the neighbourhood?
The first thing that might come to mind for many when they hear the band’s name would be the little neighbourhood near Woodleigh MRT station called Mount Vernon. True enough, frontman Eli shares that Count Vernon serves as a reminder of where this project first started—in the humble home of Edwin Wong, one of the band’s original members.
“Back in junior college, I wrote a bunch of songs. It made me realise what it meant to take control of my own life.”
Despite his talent and flair for songwriting back then, Eli was unsure how to approach his music or share it with the world. Not wanting to release music under his own name, Count Vernon, which is now a sort of alter ego for him, was born. He also shares that the name is a subtle nod to two of his many musical inspirations—Bon Iver and Justin Vernon.
Drawing links between music and aesthetics
If you scroll through Count Vernon’s Instagram and Spotify pages, you’ll notice their prominent aesthetic style through their colour-coded singles. Each release starting from Onedimension (2021) up till their latest single Sisyphus (2023), possesses distinct cover art. Despite having a different colour palette for each track, the visuals somehow gel together cohesively. What do they mean?
“I’d usually communicate my feelings from the song to our graphic designer and ask her what this would look like, visually, to her.”
This process of translating the sound and feel of their songs into their signature visual design has been going on for almost two years now, thanks to the band’s graphic designer, Rachel Hor. Many have also come to associate Count Vernon with their unique style and most notably the orange and black hues from their second EP, Fearless We March for Miles (Pt. II).
Putting the pieces together for their upcoming album
On that note, Eli reveals that the singles released thus far have actually been building up to Count Vernon’s first full length album, The Nomad Diaries. Set to release in early November this year, The Nomad Diaries will showcase how the band’s musical taste has expanded—with earlier records sounding more pure and happy juxtaposed against their more recent releases which were described to be “written from a place of frustration”. This album will tell a story of emotional reconciliation as well as “explore new ways to see the world”, hopefully ending on a lighter note, as envisioned by Eli.
M.Y.T.H’s music speaks for itself
By Swarnabho Sarkar
“My frappe is lactating!” exclaims Matt Tay, guitarist of the six-piece instrumental progressive metal band, M.Y.T.H, whose drink is leaking.
The band and I are making our way to the Funan rooftop for a quiet setting; McDonald’s was too loud. Everyone, except me, is lugging around their heavy instruments while carefully holding their frappes, ice cream, and nuggets. The first thing I notice is that the stereotypical standoffish nature of any band that plays music classified as “alternative” or “metal” is completely absent amongst M.Y.T.H.
They thank me for coming down even though it was actually I who approached them to try and slot myself into their busy working adult schedules for this Baybeats profile piece. M.Y.T.H is one of the five Budding Bands that got selected to play at the music festival after qualifying through a highly competitive audition process.
We settle down at a seating area at the rooftop with oddly comfortable mood lighting and soft jazz playing from a speaker somewhere. “You have background music for the interview now,” Ryan Tan jokes.
The band consists of Matt (guitar) and Ngoh Yu Hao (guitar), their primary songwriters, along with Aditya Nayak (bass), Muhammad Syahmi bin Aman (drums), Ryan (keyboard), and Fung Wing Ki Sami (keyboard). Syahmi, unfortunately, could not make it because his “knee popped” the night before at a Wormrot concert.
The concept of the band came to Ryan in what he called a “prophetic dream” where he saw Yu Hao and himself playing on stage with a banner behind them that said “M.Y.N.T.H: a combination of our names” he explains. The band was subsequently formed, even though Yu Hao had thought it was a “terrible idea” at first, but with the name M.Y.T.H instead because of Yu Hao’s concern that people would think the members did not know how to spell.
All the M.Y.T.H members are proficient instrumentalists who studied music together at LASALLE College of the Arts and neither need nor have a vocalist. “Music is music. It does not have to be a story that must be told with vocals,” says Matt. The rest of the band nods in agreement. The band tells me the lack of a vocalist actually allows them to show off their technical skills more and lean into the power of the instruments.
It also allows Matt and Yu Hao, who aren’t weighed down by the pressure of writing lyrics or constrained to the vocal key range of a singer, to arrange with abandon. Ryan adds that “Matt creates keyboard lines that are ridiculous.” “Impossible to play!” Sami says in agreement.
I ask the members what they personally listen to and hear everything from nu-metal staples such as Korn to Tchaikovsky to electronic music (that goes “pffbbbttttt” as Matt puts it). “The primary goal for M.Y.T.H right now is to take all these influences and take it to the next level—intertwine them.” Matt explains.
As I listen to one of their unreleased tracks, this lofty goal does not seem so impossible—the song is a carefully crafted concoction of sounds and symphonies. The guitars complement the synth-y keys, the heavy bass and drums groove in unison. Their talent is undeniable and now I’m more eager to hear this live.
From starting as a group of friends that joined the auditions for fun to being selected to perform, M.Y.T.H’s ambition is starting to grow to match their musical brilliance.
“I think we do have something special to offer,” Matt tells me. I agree with him wholeheartedly.
Introducing Taledrops: An Alternative Progressive Rock Quintet Ready to Tell Their Own Story
By Fidel Tan
As one of the five Budding Bands of Baybeats 2023, the progressive rock band Taledrops, comprising Pearly Tan (lead vocals), Zijun “Zee” Kan (guitarist), Hong Jingmin (bassist), Ang Qian Shan (keyboardist), and Kiara Tan Jiaxin (drummer), are raring to take on the coveted Baybeats stage for the first time this year.
I sat down with the band for a quick chat as they shared insights on finding their band identity, their Baybeats experience so far, and what fans can look forward to in the near future.
On the same page
“Where do we start?” the band chuckles collectively when asked about their history. It’s clear that Taledrops is a band who has known one another for a long time. Since their secondary school years to be precise, when they met in a music programme and were tasked to perform for a school assembly. Immediately bonding through their shared love for music, the members decided to put away their classical instruments and embark on a new adventure—forming a rock band.
While the members jammed together for leisure and played in school events, music took a momentary backseat as they pursued higher education. In 2019, a serendipitous realignment of life priorities brought them back together after several members went overseas and broadened their horizons.
“We’ve been together for so long and we realised we wanted to make something out of this,” Jingmin explains of their mutual spurt of ambition.
After two years of jamming privately during the pandemic, their turning point came in April last year. Taledrops organised their own gig Shut The Factory Up and invited other local bands such as Iman’s League and Tranquil to perform alongside them.
The result was a life-changing night of musical exchange, not only encouraging Taledrops to sharpen their craft, but also establish their own jamming studio. “It was very inspiring to watch the other bands up close, and their energy motivated us to take it to the next level,” Kiara adds.
An open book
Taledrops’ musical identity is a compelling blend of alternative and progressive rock, theatricality, and confessional songwriting. Zee explains how the band’s name is a cross between “tale” and “teardrops”, reflecting their penchant for weaving stories into music and their inclination towards expressive and emotionally charged lyrics. The word “drops” also doubles as a pun for remedy, representing the band’s shared belief in the restorative power of music. Seeking to create their own distinct sound, the band actively experiments with new arrangements.
For Taledrops, music is not just a medium; it's an outlet for authentic self-expression. “It’s the satisfaction of coming up with something original and unique to us, and knowing that the members are who I want to do it with,” Zee summarises about the driving force pushing the band forward creatively, as the other members nod in agreement.
Being in a band allows them to share stories, collaborate, and work towards a common goal. They thrive on the high of pouring their souls into something genuine, and in return, find the process doubly rewarding in creating music they are proud of.
The narrative unfolds
When asked about their decision to audition for Baybeats, the members agree that playing at the festival is a childhood dream of theirs. “It still feels surreal to us,” Jingmin remarks. For Taledrops, Baybeats holds a special place in their hearts, as they are not just performers but regular attendees. Kiara fondly reminisces about past post-Baybeats moments when the band would sit by the Singapore River. Moved by the performances they had witnessed, the band would indulge in long conversations of their collective ambitions for the band.
Indeed, the allure of live performances has always been a huge inspiration for Taledrops. They recall a recent trip to Kuala Lumpur, where they attended Muse’s concert just a week before their second Baybeats audition. The intoxicating magic of live music continues to ignite their passion and motivate them to keep improving.
The Baybeats experience thus far has been nothing short of transformative for Taledrops, thanks in part to the mentorship of Wormrot’s Rasyid. “He really went beyond and over, giving us deep insights on live performances, music arrangement, and band dynamics,” Jingmin says. The band also extends gratitude to the other judges too: “All the feedback has been very helpful, and hearing from these industry veterans has been our greatest privilege,” Pearly adds.
While the mentorship experience has benefited many bands in narrowing down their identity, Taledrops has embraced a different path instead. They've learned not to rush into boxing themselves in a particular style, opting instead for artistic fluidity. Shan elaborates: “We approached our music in a way that represents how we are feeling at that point in time.
Taledrops also attributes their versatility to the different music preferences amongst the members. With such distinct personalities, the band believes each member can share their own perspective to create something diverse but still cohesive to their shared vision.
Living to tell the tale
After months of intense preparation, Taledrops stands poised to deliver an electrifying performance on the illustrious Baybeats stage. Their set will showcase five original songs, including their brand new singles Kafka and Surrender. The band seeks to take the audience on a unique storytelling journey and let their turbulent soundscapes mirror the ebbs and flows of life itself.
“We hope that the audience can relate to the stories and emotions that we are portraying in our songs and hopefully find some relief in them,” Shan says. Through their performance, Taledrop’s evocative vulnerability aims to serve as a portal into the human experience and illuminate the beauty found in life’s struggles.
Keep a keen eye on Taledrops, for this is only the first chapter of their story. Fans can expect a steady stream of new music, with three new songs slated for release in early 2024. Meanwhile, as Taledrops continue to work on new material, they remain open to gig opportunities as well.
“Since we're still so new, we want to stay flexible,” Pearly concludes. “I hope our listeners can join us on that journey.”
The Workshop: Bridging Hip-Hop and Live Music
Debuting at Baybeats 2023, this five-piece wants to shape the future of Singapore hip-hop.
By Wayne Lim
All clad in overalls, The Workshop commanded the crowd’s attention with funky riffs, groovy rhythms and head-bobbing bars during the second round of auditions for Baybeats 2023. Despite their apparent chemistry, the live audition marked the hip-hop five-piece’s live debut.
Originally assembled to put together live arrangements of lead vocalist San’s existing solo work, the band had formed just in time to respond to Baybeats’ open call for Budding Bands this year. Guitarist Cusco Ng had roped in drummer Francis Koh and bassist Jack Gan, after San, partly inspired by local hip-hop band 730BEDSIDE, approached him and keyboardist Shan Tianyu with the proposition. Having rehearsed only twice before the first round of auditions, the band says they’ve put in much more time and effort since then.
“It seemed like we had good chemistry, but a lot of it boils down to the amount of time that we spent in the studio,” Koh says. “We were rehearsing at least twice a week [for] a span of three or four weeks. We had to make sure we all got it down.”
“Yeah, we’re mostly tight because of Francis,” Ng says. “Because this guy is like a complete disciplinarian whooping us into shape. Solid drummer.”
Shan adds, “He’s our second mentor, definitely.”
Some serious workshopping, indeed.
A Wordsmith Needs a Workshop
Having spent some seven years releasing music on Soundcloud and performing at underground shows as a solo artist, San says many in the scene who recognised his craft dubbed him “the Wordsmith.”
“A wordsmith, to me, is like a blacksmith, someone who is forging something out of iron and steel and all that,” the 24-year-old says. “I am forging rhyme out of pure nothingness. The anvil is my brain. Whenever I write, I'm constantly hammering lines together to make them work.”
When it came to naming the band, the group kept that metaphor in mind.
“Somehow, we ended up going for The Workshop,” says San. “It worked out because the leader of the band is the Wordsmith, and The Workshop is the one constantly working together to make things work. It makes a lot of sense to me now that I think about it.”
Translating San’s work into live arrangements proved more collaborative, with each member bringing their individual influences and ideas into the mix for songs that lack clearly delineated instrumental parts.
“All of us just put our own flavours in, and we just try to meld them together and get it to work,” Ng says, having written most of his own guitar parts.
A vulnerable, familial core
San’s first taste of hip-hop came courtesy of his late father who introduced him to 50 Cent’s P.I.M.P.
“I enjoyed the song, at that point in time, [not] because of the lyrics,” says San, who was in primary school when his dad first played the song for him. “It was because I was able to groove to the song. I was feeling the beat, I was feeling the rhythm, and I thoroughly enjoyed the genre.”
While his father wasn’t a musician, San’s admiration and respect for him comes through even in his music. For one, born Muhammad Hirfan Bin Haslin, the artist’s stage name comes from the Japanese honorific suffix for respect. Those who knew his father had called him Linjepon, combining his name, Haslin, and Jepon, as in Japan, because they thought he looked Japanese.
“San is a way for me to pay homage and to not forget about my father,” he says.
In the months before his father passed on, they went on more night drives together than usual. During those nights, they shared many raw conversations that often ended in tears and apologies.
“My dad was one of the manliest men, and it was because of the conversations I had with him, that I was able to understand that it’s cool to be vulnerable,” says San, adding that his father’s then-expressed faith in his pursuit of music continues to fuel him.
“If my dad believed in me so much while I had nothing, I’m sure that I shouldn’t disappoint him now, while I’m already this far in.”
Even now, he uses music as an outlet for vulnerable expression. In his earnest yet punchy 2023 track counting my days, San wears his heart on his sleeve: “I don’t know what I’m doing / You ain’t around no more / It doesn’t get much better / When I’m here all alone.”
“That was actually how I felt when I was writing the track at that moment in time,” says San. “Things that I can never say with words in a conversation, I put them in my music.
“Speaking through music has become my coping mechanism because I can be as vulnerable as I want while writing and recording. And when it's out, I don't have to feel embarrassed about it because people know it is part of my craft, it is part of my music.”
With such deeply rooted confidence, he not only hopes to become a Grammy-nominated artist, but also insists on giving back to the local hip-hop scene.
“If I know that I have successors after me, it’s more than enough for me,” says San. “In another 50 years, when hip-hop becomes 100 years old, I want to be able to say that Singapore hip-hop is here, and that I was part of the reason why it’s still here today.”
In the works
As they continue to cement their sonic blend of hip-hop and funk, the band, too, has big goals. Aside from a solo album he’s hoping to release soon, San says he wants to collaborate with the band on a five-song EP—with each song based on a different member’s preferred style of music. The Workshop is also in the midst of planning a tour with potential stops in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Japan and even the UK.
Yet, their deepest motivations remain closer to home, whether in the local scene or just among themselves.
“Fingers crossed, we’d actually manage to become sort of like a bridge. Right now, they’re very separate, the two worlds of hip-hop and live music,” Ng says. “[I hope that The Workshop can] act as a gateway for both sides to cross over and intermingle a bit more, rather than exist as two separate spheres of the industry in this country.”
As for San, securing opportunities for the band’s future after the festival is key, now recognising how highly his bandmates regard the Baybeats stage.
He closes, now speaking for the band rather than himself, “Hopefully we’ll keep growing until the day that we stop playing together as a band, which I hope never comes.”
Meet the new kids howling on the alternative rock scene
By Colette Hu
To be honest, I was quite intimidated to meet Thy Howler, the five-piece alternative rock band playing this year's Baybeats festival as a Budding Band. I was scared that they’d be as edgy as their music. To be fair, the first time I saw them was the picture in their Spotify header which boasts the members standing in V-formation, straight-faced and in all black while the vocalist, Joseph Lee, donned a blazer with no shirt underneath.
“Why no shirt?” I ask. Joseph explains, “I thought our new song was kind of like Bring Me The Horizon, so I suggested we do something like that.” Laughing, Denzel Queck, the bassist says, “But unlike Bring Me The Horizon, we aren’t handsome. And this guy doesn’t have tattoos like Oliver Sykes.”
Contrary to my first impressions, as we sat in an overpriced cafe in Marina Square, they quickly proved themselves to be good fun—just a bunch of friends who share a love for music.
How it all started
The five members met in Singapore Polytechnic and studied music together. Now having graduated, all are serving National Service, except Joseph, who is Malaysian.
Since the early days of school, they have been performing and making music, but experimented with all sorts of genres before settling on what they have now. When asked about what they used to play, they half-laugh, half-cringe shaking their heads. “Just ask that guy,” Joseph says, pointing to Theophilus Liong, the keyboardist, more commonly referred to as Theo. “He thought doing R&B would be a good idea.”
“We listen to all genres,” says Reuben Lam, the drummer (also the original drummer of Aggressive Raisin Cat, the progressive metal Budding Band from the previous year’s Baybeats). All the members have their own things on the side. He continues, “This guy,” his hand on Joseph’s shoulder, “sings folk. Denzel produces pop. Theo is a self-proclaimed R&B musician—who is also single by the way.” The boys chortle. The guitarist, Alex Hooi is a general session guitarist, who is featured in various artists’ songs, including popular local electronic pop singer, Jasmine Sokko’s Winter. Last but not least, Reuben does hip hop (“I make beats in my room”).
Through time and experimentation, the band landed on a “grungier alt-rock, modern rock sound,” as Reuben puts it. Alex, the guitarist and producer, explains that first and foremost, they wanted to find a sound that was marketable to a wider audience. “There are some genres that are oversaturated. The whole alt-rock thing too, right? But we feel like there’s more to it. And that’s something we can do.”
Of the songs they have on Spotify right now, Groom Lake is the most representative. “The other two songs were more of Joseph’s personal projects,” Reuben adds. The song, with rapper Jenk$’s guest appearance, features a math-y riff with growly vocals and a rap rock verse which morphs to a dreamy, shoegaze-y chorus reminiscent of Deftones or Loathe. They take inspiration from a bunch of artists, but most prominently cite the bands Tigercub, Nothing But Thieves and Deftones.
Despite their carefree demeanours, their professionalism and dedication is unmistakable and truly admirable. Alex explains that the band takes their branding seriously and are more selective with what gigs they take up. They pay attention to whether the venue can provide the level of production they want, so that they can put their best foot forward every time they play live. For example, they single-handedly organised, managed and played in Roses at the Esplanade Annexe Studio earlier this year in February, alongside popular local acts Saints Amongst Sinners, Subsonic Eye and Aggressive Raisin Cat. Even though they have played a couple of gigs before, they unilaterally agree that Roses was a turning point for them. “It made us realise our potential,” Alex says.
They are incredibly excited to play in Baybeats. “This is a step for us. But it doesn’t end here,” Reuben tells me. They are currently working on some new music that you can catch during their performance on 8 October, Sunday, 6.40pm at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre.
What’s after Baybeats?
After we wrap up the interview, we walk towards Esplanade for the band to attend the next Budding Band session. As we are crossing the road, I ask Joseph what he is doing now, since he's not in National Service like the rest of them. He told me that he was trying to find a job so he can continue to stay in Singapore. From the left, Alex remarked casually, “You don’t have a lot of time left.” Confused, I asked what he meant. “One year.” One year until the band packs up and moves to a different country. “Where?” I ask. “Wherever the market is good.”