Loneliness can kill. Even more probable in a year when an unprecedented pandemic strikes. The solitary stress from mandatory city lockdowns causes mayhem in mental health for some. With physical interaction barred, alternative activities such as music-making alleviate pressure caused by isolation.
Recognising these negative effects, Gentle Bones, aka Joel Tan, taps his musical craft to assure nobody is better off alone. Instead, we’re better with someone significant.
‘Better with you’, the warm and heartfelt main single taken from its eponymous EP, is a frank, thoughtful attempt at reaching out to a loved one and checking in on them—letting others know that the people around them value and appreciate them and that life indeed is better when they are around. Its second track, the experimental hip-hop driven ‘Put my hands up’ lightens moods with modern upbeat hooks and a catchy arrangement.
“[This song] serves as a reminder that this world is actually better with you around in this composition,” explains Tan. “It may sound cheesy, but if you reference the butterfly effect, you can create something positive and impact one person in a day, or a week, or a month. Such love will spread to more people, and even leave a huge impact on the world. Small things you do really can make a difference. I just believe that the world is better with you around. I think it is an important thing that some people may not gasp.”
He notes that “with this song, what I discover is that music can really be a fully positive force. Sometimes it’s neutral, it’s usually about emotion with a very neutral perspective of what is healthy. But I feel like with this song, [Benjamin] Kheng’s perspective really helps me realise how much a positive force [music] can be. I really hope it can resonate with people, I am very proud of being part of this project.”
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Roping in Kheng is no surprise because they are close friends. Tan says, “Although it has always been an isolated process for me when writing [music], being able to sit down with Ben in the studio for this collaboration is a huge inspiration that really opens my mind in a different perspective.”
They had previously worked on the song ‘Father, father’ in 2014, which both called their ‘first baby’ and shared the stage of YouTube fest in 2015. Kheng says they met at a wedding and he was stoked when Tan brought up the collaboration.
“Ben, being such a good songwriter, is multitalented as well in his contribution to the song. It’s really enjoyable for me because I am a huge fan of his contribution for The Sam Willows. He’d since been working on solo music. To be able to meet someone like-minded, whom I really respect to produce this song with, is a beautiful thing for me,” reveals Tan.
This rapport is even reflected visually on the EP’s artwork, as Tan sports a T-shirt with Kheng’s image on it. “The idea of that artwork is having the idea of me being such a big fan of Ben since way back. To be honest, I was pretty shy to talk to him back then. This song is inspired by Ben, the foundation of it at least, because he is such a positive light for me in this industry. How he has grown, how he stood so strong and positive throughout, and him being the most multitalented person that I have known. So I printed his face on a T-shirt and asked for his permission, of course.”
Likewise, Kheng feels the same affinity towards Tan too. “I personally took a break from music-making for a bit to focus on other things, so revisiting it with Joel at the end of circuit breaker was really refreshing,” says Kheng. “It also helped to see his handsome face [laughs]. I certainly prefer writing and singing from my home studio. But for ‘Better with you’, Joel lovingly asked me out to record with him. It was great. Sometimes, a change of environment improves everything.”
Kheng jokes that “Joel is obviously so much more assured of himself and a complete superstar in his own right. He knows what he wants and he’ll say it. Quietly, but he’ll still say it. He has such a keen eye for these things. He won’t accept this title, but to me, he’s one of, if not the best pop writer we have in Singapore.
“'Better with you’ is really a 2020 anthem—acknowledging the sludge of a bad year, and encouraging you to keep your head above it. We’re all going through the thick together. It’s really a year I found solace in music too, so it felt right to put this out this year,” Kheng expresses his thoughts on the song.
Better With You is now available digitally on Apple Music and Spotify.