How Singer-Songwriter Gentle Bones Is Beating The Pandemic Blues
The Singapore musician shares how social isolation has helped him to fall in love with songwriting all over again and why boredom fuels his creativity
The opening lyrics of Gentle Bones’ latest song, Positive Procrastination, are thoughts that you might have had in the last year as your city opened up—“Busy making these plans / Say I miss all my friends / But today I don’t want to move / So I’m muting my phone / I would leave me alone / Believe me I ain’t playing it cool.”
While last year’s lockdowns were difficult to get through, some of us have gotten so comfortable with staying in that dressing up and going out no longer have the same draw as before. Covid-19 has made the homebody mainstream.
As expected of the Singaporean singer-songwriter, whose real name is Joel Tan, his bop nails this feeling, while also letting us know that we’re not alone in wanting more time to ourselves. The 27-year-old’s relatable songs often describe matters of the heart, from heartbreak to self-love, paired with contemporary pop tunes. They sometimes also feature other artists, such as Charlie Lim, Benjamin Kheng and Myrne.
Tan first debuted on the music scene in 2013 with the single, Until We Die, and has been writing music since he was 16. By late 2011, he was pushing out covers of other musicians’ songs onto YouTube, where he gained thousands of followers.
His self-titled debut EP reached number one on the iTunes chart and got the attention of Universal Music Singapore, which signed him on as the first Singaporean artist in 2015. Major milestones after that include seeing more than 34 million streams for his 2018 single, I Wouldn’t Know Any Better Than You, on Spotify and releasing his first Mandarin single, 你还不知道？ (Don't You Know Yet?), with fellow local singer-songwriter Tay Kewei in 2020.
As much of the world felt languished during the pandemic, Tan's creativity remained on fire. He pushed out 13 songs—eight of them in 2020 alone—and an album. With live performances on pause for the moment, he took advantage of the extra time to dive deeper into songwriting.
“I fell in love with writing music again during this time. I felt like I was 18 again, when there was no expectations of music being a career and it was just a hobby.”
As someone who is familiar with working from home, the pandemic has only emphasised to Tan what he already knew: that rest is key to his creativity. “I’ve always seen rest as productive and a blessing. That’s why I love to sleep. You need sufficient rest to be productive.”
He also sees boredom as a positive emotion and embraces it as part of his creative process. “I don’t see boredom as something that needs to be resolved. I allow myself to be bored because it gives me room to think and get inspired.”
“We all use our phones a lot to look for the next thing to distract ourselves, but this gives us less time to process all of the things we have going on in our lives. If we force ourselves to be productive all the time, we tend to think about what we’re missing out on rather than what we’re genuinely interested in.”
Resting also helps him overcome burnout, which he says “happens quite a lot” due to long working hours and creative frustration. “In the past few years, I’ve been trying to write songs that exceed my expectations. I don’t want to write something that is a result of my current capabilities, but it causes me quite a bit of stress and makes me feel burnt out.” Thankfully, a good night’s sleep usually suffices in reducing these feelings and re-energising him for another day of creative trial and error.
His songwriting process is fluid, with a lot of experimentation and no deadlines as much as possible, he says. “I could be on my piano, playing a tune that I just came up with to see if anything sticks, or I could be cooking a meal and recording a voice memo of myself singing randomly hoping that I land on something—there’s no fixed starting point. I also try not to set deadlines for my creative work, because I’m more productive when I can play music without pressure.”
Quoting Ed Sheeran to describe his creative process, Tan says, “It’s like a running tap, where you have to let all the dirty water flow out first. So I keep writing, just anything that comes to my mind until I see clear water.”
Listen to the playlist that Gentle Bones has curated for Gen.T below to help you beat the pandemic blues.