Gentle Bones and MYRNE have come together to release B4NGER Project — a collaborative album that brings us from summer banter JU1Y to the slightly more commanding S3OUL. The all too familiar B4NGER (released last November) comes on right after, bringing out the play in art with subsequent tunes.
The album comes to a close with V0DKA, which charts the extremity of relationships. The song features R&B artist Sam Rui and for once we hear MYRNE stepping beyond his producer role in this album. The voices of three in this heavier setting further proved the fluid shifts of what could only be achieved from an intense combination of experience. Speaking of breaking new grounds, this album also ropes in digital artist Howie Kim to complete the visual package of millennial speak.
It may seem like MYRNE’s future bass and house groove have influenced the shift in flavour from the previous Gentle Bones sound. While looking back on their collaboration, the singer was quick to add that it also came from the desire to create something entirely new for both sides.
How did it all start, and what did a typical day look like for the both of you?
G.B.: We would start our day at a kopitiam along Balestier.
G.B.: We actually spent a good three quarter of the last year just coming up with half songs back to back… Then finished the ones that we liked.
Is it safe to say that B4NGER Project presented an opportunity for the both of you to explore new grounds?
G.B.: Yeah. I think that was the only thing it was about — really exploring new grounds, coming up with something we feel is completely different to what we have done so far. Just doing something totally opposite… I think we came up with a very unique sound and I’m really proud of that.
Joel, here’s a question about the more upbeat ones like 5HE DGAF & B4NGER. You’re still writing about feelings and experiences in these songs but do you feel like it’s somewhat easier to articulate your thoughts now that it’s sort of ‘masked’ in this dance-like direction?
G.B.: Yes, I think so. I’ve grown a lot as well since so this project really gave me the opportunity to write about my honest feelings without trying to convey any bigger message.
That’s what we wanted to do — fun, tongue-in-cheek type stuff and just have a whole bunch of fun.
Manfred would help me with the writing of the lyrics sometimes, and I would sit in with him for the production. The entire process was very liberating because it used to be just me writing a song, finding a producer, getting it mixed and mastered overseas. This time round, we could do everything in his room. Only when I recorded the final vocals I would head to the studio.
Manfred, were there any self realisations in creating B4NGER Project?
M: This was my first time working so closely with the vocals. Traditionally, the making of EDM has always been a certain way, write a full instrumental, find someone to guest on it, so the singers are writing to your specifications and direction.
For B4NGER Project, every single instrumental is crafted from within and we’re both in the studio.
We’d go grab coffee or something, talk about life for a few hours, come back, I’d lay down some chords and then he’d sing. We’d go, I like that… Oh, that’s good. Then we’d start fleshing out the beat.
We would write a lot of half songs, all the way till the chorus. And Joel would sing on them. After that, we’d just pick and choose our favourites. So, the whole process was very refreshing. I’ve never done this before. I’ve never sat with someone in the studio so closely and wrote every single track to fit his style and personality.
What was the process of finding the middle ground between Gentle Bones & MYRNE like?
G.B.: We came together and just started writing without any intention of an album or collection of songs even. Just writing. The first time we properly met to write, we came up with JU1Y already and that was huge for me. It was a great anchor towards what we wanted to build and the work after came in place quite nicely.
What did you guys see in each other that made you decide it would be a good idea to work on an album together? Was there a defining moment?
M: For me, it was the first day. He came over… This was the first time we have ever tried to write anything together in my studio. Joel started singing, writing and ended up with four half songs in a day. So I thought, wow, this process is quick. We started thinking of ideas that I’d never thought of before and so I thought it could be something more.
G.B.: I just wanted to work with Manfred because he’s the best producer that I personally know. To blend our sounds together would be quite groundbreaking, in my opinion. I would write the melody and he would create the drops in the songs. I think we reinterpreted dance music very well.
Do you think there’s a universal sound for music, and would that be a conscious or subconscious result?
M: I started music when I was young. The history of music, especially when recording studios came into play with huge walls and synthesisers, you got disco and the whole brand of R&B music like R. Kelly and Usher. It’s all very manufactured and every syllable is written for maximum impact, whatever the purpose was.
After that wave died down, you had punk rock — which was essentially any kind of four piece, all white band playing guitars and singing in whiny nasal voices. The melodies attracted the people, in terms of vocals and guitars.
In this current era, I think people got bored with the traditional instrumentation sound and moved towards more synthesisers and chopped up vocals.
The vocals in the range of human hearing is the first thing you listen to. It’s the most ear catching sound. With Lean On and DJ Snake’s entire discography, the vocal chop kinda sound was very new to a lot of people as musicians and producers didn’t use to work off one in a box recording softwares that you could slice and edit vocals really well with.
Once people realised that the sound would take off, the whole world really just converged. I reckon most dance music centers around that.
This is a switch in soundscape, especially for Joel. In that process, was there a need to be up to date with what people are currently listening to?
G.B.: Funnily enough, I felt like I wasn’t keeping up with that at all when we came up with this album.
That really helped, the fact that we didn’t care much. We were listening to mostly hip hop music that are very far off from what you hear now.
In the process, we decided to come up with stuff that was unfamiliar to the both of us. Besides that, I’ve always been a big fan of pop music so the way I wrote and approached this album along with his sounds came together really nicely.
I’ve got a question about the video for B4NGER — what was the rationale behind including 7OVE YOU instead of releasing a separate teaser?
G.B.: I personally just wanted mash up two music videos in one. Also, we had so many songs that we wanted people to hear, and so that was our way of showcasing more songs.
M: And we just really liked 7OVE YOU.
The part with ‘Save Me’ written on Joel’s soles — was that a reference to your previous song?
So there was no desire to break away from the ‘old’ Gentle Bones or create a whole new identity with this album?
G.B.: Not really. For me, I’ve always wanted to come up with work that I personally enjoy and surprise me.
When I worked with him, we instantly got to that stage. As long as I enjoy the music that I’m making, I don’t really care about much else.
I also love that you guys got Howie Kim for the visuals. It seems like you guys gave him absolute creative control over the output — keeping to his usual style while creating an alternate look for the both of you.
G.B.: We have been big fans for awhile. I’ve been following his Instagram for some time. It just naturally came together — when we first came up with JU1Y, I felt like it really suited his vibe, the way he illustrates and everything. To be able to showcase his work is a huge honour for us.
What’s the greatest takeaway for the both of you after having worked together for more than a year now?
M: I think it’s really important to find out where each other’s headspace is at. In cities like LA and New York where you want to write a song you just hit up a producer like, hey, do you wanna write a song? Ok, 9am at the studio. There was no time to get to know each other personally.
For us, a lot of the songs came up because of similar experiences or things we found equally funny or relatable. I think it’s also very important to really know who you’re working with.
G.B.: [For me] it was writing whatever you wanted and trying to be completely honest with yourself.
Listen to 'B4NGER Project' here