Tatler sits down with Gentle Bones to find out what it was like collaborating with his childhood idol
It’s not every day that you get to check something off your bucket list (that was so incredible it wasn’t even there in the first place), but local singer-songwriter Joel Tan, or Gentle Bones as he is more famously known, got to do just that when he released a single with his long-time idol, JJ Lin, on November 19.
The song, At Least I Had You, is Mandopop singer Lin’s first English collaboration with a male Singaporean artiste, which makes the achievement even more significant for Tan, who is certainly a very accomplished musician in his own right.
Tan is the first Singaporean music act to be signed by the Universal Music Group and has performed at sold-out concerts, festivals and more in countries such as South Korea, London, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Malaysia.
He started out as a Youtube cover artist in 2011 before moving on to launch a full-fledged musical career in 2013. He has since gone on to make a significant name for himself with a slew of singles, EPs and local music collaborations.
Fresh off the high of releasing his first full album after eight years of making music, and seeing incredible success with the launch of his new song with Lin, Tan sat down with Tatler to talk about what it was like working with a singer he has idolised since he was a child, what the process was like and what he is planning to do next.
You’re a huge fan of Lin. What was it like finding out you were going to collaborate with him?
Gentle Bones (GB): I’ve actually been a fan of JJ since I was about nine years old. My family were big fans and would play his music all the time so I really grew up listening to him and admiring him.
When our managements linked up and confirmed the collaboration, it was like a dream come true. I couldn’t believe it and neither could my family. We are all still trying to process it, to be honest.
Was this the first time you met him?
GB: Yes. JJ has mentioned in the past that he is a fan of my music and in 2019, when he performed at the National Stadium, he invited me to watch. But we did not get to meet.
We started speaking through our management in about June this year and I finally met him in the studio in September.
Wow, that must have been incredible. Were you starstruck?
GB: I kind of was actually. It was really a dream come true to be standing in the same room as JJ and not just that but also the fact that we were going to work and write together. The whole meeting just exceeded all my wildest expectations.
I mean, to be honest, meeting JJ and actually getting to write and put out a song with him was never on my bucket list of goals. It was one of those dreams that were just too massive for me to ever even consider you know.
What was the songwriting process like?
GB: We pretty much had an equal hand each in writing the song and then we recorded the vocals separately. I still remember sitting in the studio with him and writing and I was engineering the session and just struggling to keep up with him because he was so talented and would come up with things so quickly.
He certainly has a really spot on skill set and is very creative but he was still patient and brave when coming up with the lyrics with me. He does respect the music I make as well which made the whole process very fun and easy.
I was just trying to be a functioning human being while starstruck and that’s mainly what I remember about writing At Least I Had You. I really just felt like I was dreaming.
Could you tell us a little bit more about the song both you and Lin came up with?
GB: It was a very existential song that was also very cathartic for us I believe. We talked about how we live in a world that is so uncertain and how we will always have things to manage in the future and how overthinking won’t change anything.
It’s a hopeful song for sure and we hope to be able to present pure emotion that might help someone eventually. It’s a song that really encapsulates why we write music and put it out into the world.
Do you have a favourite part of the song?
GB: Yes, for sure. My favourite part is the first few lines of the song. It goes, “Better to be lonely. Cooler to be empty. Why the hell is this even going on?”
JJ sings this part and I just love the raw emotion and the slow piano in the background. I think it’s an incredible start to the song.
Even though Lin is from Singapore, he is certainly more of an international presence. What does this collaboration mean for the local music scene?
GB: I think it’s great that JJ has gone out to put the Singapore flag out there globally and that he still returns home to push our music scene further by collaborating with musicians here. This is obviously a big win for us.
Final question. This was obviously a career-defining moment for you. What’s next?
GB: Well I’ve just released my first self-titled album after eight years of making music and I am of course still promoting that and working on more music.
I am also hoping to be able to collaborate with more artists like Yung Raja, Eric Chou and Fariz Jabba who I have always dreamed of putting out songs with.