Music brings people together and can even bond us. Hence, the annual Singapore National Day Parade theme song is hailed just as important as the live spectacle itself. Most citizens can sing to iconic classics such as Kit Chan's 'Home' and Stefanie Sun's 'We Will Get There' once the first beat drops. This year, local musicians Evan Low aka evanturetime and Linying penned a hopeful tune amidst the ongoing pandemic.
Titled 'The Road Ahead', the duo self-wrote, arranged and produced together to highlight the nation's staunch perseverance amidst obstacles. Furthermore, the song involves additional directing and supervision by NDP theme song veteran Dr. Sydney Tan. Music soloists Linying (of course), Sezairi, Shabir, and Shye helms the vocal duties.
The accompanying video for 'The Road Ahead', directed by Huang Junxiang (Ramen Teh) and Jerrold Chong (What Has To Be), juxtapose animation with filmed scenes of famous Singapore landmarks such as Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay.
We had a lightning round with evanturetime and Linying on their recording process and significance of every grain of sand.
Q&A with evanturetime (Evan Low) and Linying
What is the main inspiration for this year's NDP theme song and what are the messages you guys wish to convey with it?
Linying: My biggest inspiration in writing the song's lyrics was to also be a listener to NDP songs. If I want to achieve something good, I'll want to make a difference too. Like to result in any sort of effect or change.
I want people to remember that it's important to try your very best. What is an ocean but a multitude of drops? So that's the main vision and emotional inspiration from the lyrical point of view.
Evan Low: I echo Linying's sentiments. Basically, there's strength in numbers. So every one of us has a part to play.
The lyrics 'See this island, every grain of sand' suggests that every speck and detail matters. Is it because we don't usually observe details until we are met with the current pandemic that we realise we've to cherish what we have?
Linying: For that specific line, I wanted people to remember what a collective is. Because often we hear the words 'unity' and 'standing together in solidarity', but we don't think about what it truly means to be a collective.
A collective stands for an amalgamation of people—individual people and individual stories. Your friends, your family. I wanted to humanise that aspect of the collective.
How long did it take to conceptualise and record the entire song?
Low: The conceptualization and demo of the song were done pretty quick. It happened in my home studio and we took about a day. We ended up writing the first verse and the chorus on the piano. But the whole production process was an ongoing one.
There were many different versions of the song because we were reacting to the situation at hand, like how the country is reacting to the pandemic. The mood of the song has to reflect that. So musically, we had to change constantly. Thus, it is constantly shifting.
Linying: Writing a song is daunting. You want it to resonate with people currently, but you're not sure it'll still be relevant a few months later.
What we're attempting to do is to speak for an entire population. And that's such a difficult task. But we held on to the notion of writing about unwavering ambitions and what will always stay true. The fact on we should remember that we're only human. I want that to be the main message.
The NDP theme song is something that everyone in the nation looks up to yearly. Do you feel a sense of pressure to make sure that it's something that is, as what you said, resonates with people from all walks of life?
Linying: Yes! There's so much pressure. I think also just growing older when you get more exposed to different kinds of people in Singapore, you realise that everyone really has different and distinct lives.
Low: To speak for everyone can be very, very daunting. But We did plenty of research and pre-production discussions to arrive at what we had.
The song was positively received by the public. Are there any responses that stood out?
Linying: The feedback so far definitely surprised me because everyone I've spoken to who had done NDP before or written an NDP song has told me to brace myself for the comments and I've been mentally prepared for them. But so far, the positive responses have been quite overwhelming.
The one comment that stood out to me was my favourite one too. This person said, "What I really like about this song is that it's not just about Singapore, as a country, but about Singapore's people, about Singaporeans." And that was the biggest thing that I want to be able to convey in my song is to remind people of the humanity within us.
Low: I agree with Linying. We have been told by some of our veteran musicians to be prepared for whatever might be expressed in the comment section and brace ourselves just in case.
I can say for both of us that we are really overwhelmed by all the positivity that people have given to the song and we are very, very grateful and touched.
This is not exactly a comment, but it's a repost by PM Lee Hsien Loong. Because part of my extended family who might not understand what a creative actually do. This motivates some of my peers, my students, and even my friends who are pursuing or trying to pursue art for a living. This certainly motivates them. Not only musicians, but we're talking about all other creatives as well. That we can do this for a living.
The response that we got back from the effects of that post reflected people's thoughts. My friends and peers felt motivated and this was very heartening for me.
Do elaborate on the process of writing the song's melody? What kind of emotions were you looking to invoke?
Linying: When writing the melody, I feel like as long as you channel what you feel honest about, that emotion will come through naturally. When you try to fit into a brief or write something for a pitch, it'll always result in feeling disjointed and dishonest. So, for both lyrics and melody to go along well was to write them together and for it to mean something to you as well.
Low: We kept it simple and end up purely writing from the heart. There's nothing but the piano. She and I. That's it.
How do you feel about the breadth of creative freedom given because it's been a decade (since Electrico's 2009 and Corrinne May's 2010 theme song) that the singer (Linying) gets involved in writing and producing an entire original NDP song? ie. Singer-songwriter-producer.
Linying: Now, it's impossible to kind of divorce writing from producing a song. All writers also take on the producer role because you have all these opinions about how you want to make the song sound. This is all part of writing as well and both of us have collaborated equally on this.
Even though Evan did take the lead in production, I took the lead in writing. But we made sure to check in with each other at every point to make sure we were comfortable with what was going on.
This gives us so much more freedom because music fills the blanks in words. Music says things that words can't. When you write a song, you pass this [emotion] on to someone else. Maybe they don't have the exact same nuance or feeling. Sometimes this doesn't get translated well.
It's very liberating for us to be able to have some form of creative control over the whole process from start to end. Because we're able to really bring out the desired emotions when we were writing the song.
Low: We are very grateful for the creative freedom. Credit's partially due to the committee and the music director for letting us express ourselves as is. We didn't change any of the lyrics most of the time. There were hardly any revisions and they really let us express the song as it is.