Photos in this story by Christopher Sim
Sobs' sound came as a pleasant surprise when they launched their song, Girl and subsequently released their EP, Catflap. Relaxed and positive (topped with sweet melancholia), Sobs seems to have laid out the ordinary life without a hint of glamourisation yet still keeps the listener fixated and putting their refreshing tunes on repeat.
Their release is especially crucial in a time when Singapore still receives mixed reviews, and our lifestyles remains an enigma to some. Turns out, we can be human beings, too. We sat down with the members of the band – Celine Autumn, Jared Lim and Raphael Ong.
What is Sobs about?
Celine: Jared and I met on a music forum and formed a band called Cole slaw with another friend of ours. For some reason the two of us then started writing more music that sounded nothing like Cole slaw’s electronic vibe so we jokingly said that we’d make a new side project.
Shortly after that, Raphael heard our first song Girl and really liked it so he came on board. As for the name, I kept replying to Jared over text message with 'sobs' to anything sad... So it just became a thing.
Raphael: Jared and I met at a CHVRCHES concert a couple of years ago and we have been friends since then. Both of us are really into the whole guitar pop with cute awkward vocals thing (among many, many other things) from the likes of Frankie Cosmos, Girlpool and Alvvays, and we wanted to try doing something like that.
Aside from writing an obnoxious Crying-inspired song with way too much feedback and fuzz, we also tried searching for a vocalist with some very questionable hashtags to equally questionable results... But once Jared sent me the track Girl that Celine sang on, we knew we’d found something special.
Can you take us through the narrative of the EP, Catflap?
(Album Artwork: Lee Wenling)
Celine: It is a collection of some of my real life experiences and fantasies along with inspiration from whichever melancholic rom-com I happen to be watching at the time. It is definitely intimate and raw, much like reading into a personal diary (which I do not own so I guess you now know my darkest secrets from listening to these songs). I’d like to think that our songs are somewhat relatable.
Celine: The EP is titled after one of the songs that we’ve written, which we named Catflap. I was inspired by a scene from the TV show, Skins.
In that episode, the protagonists Naomi and Emily were seen holding hands through a catflap while they talk about how much they loved each other, yet, were too complicated to be together. — Celine
The band adopts a very relaxed sound. You’ve also managed to insert seemingly ordinary elements (spoken thoughts, a neighbour’s dog) and present them in a beautiful way so seamlessly. Is this your attempt at stripping off all frills and loudness in conveying your thoughts through music?
Jared: I think the goal was to make straightforward and (hopefully) unpretentious music so I do think we tried to portray an ‘ordinary experience’ of our lives. The track Fender, I feel encapsulates this intention well as it was a spontaneous process of adding ‘field recordings’ of the sounds right outside Raphael’s house and drumming on his desk for percussion.All of the songs on Catflap came about and evolved through spontaneity, just going with whatever felt right.
I think throughout the process, I tried as best as I could to preserve the songs’ initial charm or whatever from their origins as casual musical ideas on my laptop. — JaredDo you find that the more personal the themes, the more challenging it is to present?
Celine: I would say yes, but for me it wears off with time. With more personal emotions and feelings I tend to not rationalise my thoughts well and get caught up in them. I think writing is a very cathartic process for me because of this, and towards the end of the lyric/songwriting process, I don’t feel too bad about the matter anymore. I just end up documenting it as a story or past memory that I’ve left behind.
Would you say releasing music is all about finding the right opportunity?
Jared: I think it’s a mixture of both finding the right opportunity and being spontaneous. With this EP and the band in general—in true bedroom pop fashion—we took a more spontaneous approach in terms of our formation, songwriting and recording, so everything fell into place relatively quickly and painlessly. But at the same time, finding the right opportunity and strategically planning the release with our label, Middle Class Cigars was an important step in bringing our music to new audiences. This pushed us to work in a more disciplined, organised manner with an end in mind, instead of aimlessly wandering and waiting around for something to happen.
Raphael: Maybe it’s just me, but being truly spontaneous is a constant challenge in a society that’s as controlled and calculated as ours—where more often than not the pressure to succeed is life or death.
I’ve recently been making a conscious effort to lean towards a more spontaneous approach to life, and Sobs was one of the first projects that I purposefully moved towards that direction. — RaphaelThere's a certain sense of energy that comes from creating art spontaneously that shines through – and it makes the creative process so much more fun, too.
Which era does Sobs belong to spiritually, and why?
Raphael: As much as references to 90s indie guitar pop artists like Liz Phair or C86-era Sarah Records twee / jangle pop can easily be drawn when it comes to our sound,
I think we very much belong to the musical era of the present—one where music and the means of creating music is more accessible and democratic than it ever has been. — Raphael
We wouldn't be making music—at least not like we do now—if we didn't have access to the music that molded our teenage years, and if we didn't have access to the technology that made it possible for us to create albums in our bedrooms.
There's more space for music that lies outside of the mainstream today, but at the same time a greater presence and appreciation for pop music, with the lines between alternative/indie and pop quickly blurring.
Should we expect a Sobs show anytime soon?
Raphael: We’re opening for surf rock band Splashh on 15 July together with our label mates Cosmic Child – come hang out with us!