The humble musician song
Be it his vocals or lyrics, Singapore-based singer-songwriter Chris Jones will have you rethink the common teen. Juliette Lim and Lim Li Zhen find out what he thinks of the success on his shoulders.
Imagine with me, if you will, being in a foreign country. It’s exciting; the sights, smells, sounds of a new place. You meet people you wouldn’t meet back home, try things you wouldn’t normally try. You feel your mind opening up to new experiences and cultures.
But while that’s an incredibly enriching experience, you’re also filled with the knowledge; deep down, that this place isn’t quite home. In the quieter moments you think about the place you left and how, ironically, you miss even the things you hated most.
That feeling has a name. Hiraeth is a Welsh word that symbolises homesickness, but it’s also more than that. And if that feeling had a soundtrack, you can be sure that 15-year-old Chris Jones of These Brittle Bones is singing on it.
Admittedly though, a teenager-next-door is probably not the first person to come to mind for melancholic vocals and ambient music. Dressed in a white Fred Perry shirt and jeans, the coffee-drinkers around barely noticed the singer-songwriter’s entrance into the Starbucks where we met him right after his exam (sadly, not even musicians are exempted from those). But unlike some young people in the limelight, Chris fits the ‘teenager’ image to a T, all the while exuding just the depth we’re talking about.
Having released his first EP at the age of thirteen, it’s difficult not to place him on a pedestal. But it becomes blindingly clear as the interview proceeds that his desire is not to be labelled as a celebrity. “The musician should not be seen as superior to anyone else,” he says rather matter of factly, “We are people just like my friends are.”
Chris remarks, “I never understood the idea of being distant from the listener. You are the songwriter and you are giving a lot of yourself away. In a way you should be grateful to the people listening.”
Indeed, Chris has much to be grateful for, having come a long way since his debut. For the uninitiated, These Brittle Bones started four years ago as a form of escapism and at age 11 he began composing original songs and lyrics, all in the comfort of his bedroom (no wonder teenagers need their space).
In the intervening years, the local music scene has shown him incredible hospitality, and even though criticism abounds for Singapore’s burgeoning industry, Chris has nothing but praise for it, and is arguably as much a part of the growing scene as any other local musician.
“They welcomed someone who is not Singaporean, which is really amazing! But I think there is a lot of negativity in the scene and people being too negative about it being small. It is definitely increasing rapidly, ever since I started TBB. There is increased support as well with indie stations that promote pure local so it is definitely reaching a point of sustaining. I think a lot of advice I have been given is to take the music overseas and not be secluded in Singapore but there is talent, platforms and support here. And because of the small nature, it is only bound to increase.”
Fast forward now to 2015, where one half of his double EP, Hiraeth, comprises the songs written over those four years recorded in his bedroom. Through these precious years, it was a journey of self-discovery for an initially distant artiste to close the gap between his fans.
“I have been a very quiet person for a very long time. In the past, I did not have much to share. But this EP has forced me to come out of my shell a lot more. This idea that you are the listener and I am the artist, therefore there should be a difference, now I see that as being disrespectful, because even though I am giving you a lot, I don’t give you the meaning behind it.”
It’s as if he read our minds. In a partnership with Spotify, each track from his new EP came with an audio commentary by Chris himself, giving the listener a glimpse into the story and heart behind each spirit-filled song.
Going further behind the scenes, we uncover Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and English playwright Peter Shaffer as his inspirations and influences, Chris animatedly brings out the literature and drama freak in him. “I am very inspired by drama and plays, so my work kind of encapsulates a drama or whatever it is and translates into music.”
Speaking about his future plans, Chris says, “I am seriously considering doing an acting degree in university, or going into writing.” It quickly becomes clear that even if he wasn’t involved in music, Chris would still be a performer of some sort. In fact, creativity seems to run in the family.
“I like to think that (my grandfather) passed on some of these (literary) talents to me,” he says, reflecting on his grandfather’s recently-published book. “My Mum is an English teacher as well, so I have always been leaning towards creative stuff, such as writing. Especially the way I try to write my lyrics, I try to see it as poetry.”
At the end of the day, every performance be it singing or writing, has to go back to the notion of sharing. For Chris, being a musician is more about giving than receiving, and it is wonderful to find someone with as much success as Chris has had while remaining grounded; a humbling experience for us indeed. A young musician with a big heart – we cannot wait to see what else he has in store for us.
Meanwhile, we’ll just have to make do with Hiraeth. Not that we’re complaining of course.
Hiraeth is available for listening on Spotify. Hiraeth Pt. 2 The Studio is also available for purchase on iTunes.
Images courtesy of Chris Jones.