He is sometimes heralded as Singapore’s Ed Sheeran. But singer-songwriter Joel Tan, who goes by the moniker Gentle Bones, is shedding that ginger comparison with his upcoming album Geniuses and Thieves. R&B – of the hipster, The Weeknd-endorsed variety – is his new game.
That’s not stopping fans from rushing to see him perform live – his gig this month sold out within ten days, prompting a second date to be added, making him the first Singaporean artist to stage two shows at the Esplanade Concert Hall. It's a big deal to cap off another huge one earlier this year, when the 22-year-old was the only local on the Forbes ‘30 Under 30 Asia’ 2016 list and the first in our country to win the Super Nova award at the Hong Kong Asian-Pop Music Festival. As they say, go gentle or go home.
'I just wanted to come up with new stuff that I like to listen to at the point in time that I’m working on it.'
It’s shaping up to be a great year for you so far. Were you expecting this?
Being named in Forbes was quite unexpected. I remember clearly the day I got the news: I was sleeping and when I woke up, I received a notification on my phone that someone tagged me in something. And that was how I found out. Initially, I thought it was one of those websites that misspelt the publication's name, but looked just like the actual website!
It wasn’t too long ago when you were opening for Us the Duo and Christina Perri. And now you’re having your first solo concert with two local acts (.gif and Linying) opening for you. How does that feel?
Amazing. And I’m really honoured to be able to put up a gig that people actually want to buy tickets for and watch. I wouldn’t say that people are ‘opening’ for me; I just wanted to get more local acts on board, especially those I really like.
'I prefer to see myself as a performer and a storyteller rather than someone who wants to be successful.'
You say your new album is more psychedelic than what we’re used to in your other tunes. Tell us more.
Yes, this is the new direction I’m going into. I hope people like it, because I didn’t want to write the same type music I used to write. It’s not that I don’t like my own sound – I just wanted to come up with new stuff that I like to listen to at the point in time that I’m working on it.
One band that started me exploring this style of music is Majid Jordan. They do a lot of alternative R&B stuff. Listening to them started a chain reaction that had me delve into the genre, which influenced the sound that I have for my music now.
Your music videos have a distinctly Singaporean vibe. Did you consciously go for this?
Define ‘consciously’, because we definitely didn’t have the budget to fly overseas! I’m not ashamed of Singapore at all. But some places can get too common so I try to pick ulu spots that would make interesting settings. I studied near Bukit Timah and there’s lots of greenery around the area I used to explore with my friends. For example, the field in [the video for] ‘Until We Die’ was where I used to hang out a lot when I was 16. I want to portray Singapore in a different way – you can tell it’s Singapore but you just can’t pinpoint where it is exactly.
Moving forward, what do you hope to achieve?
I prefer to see myself as a performer and a storyteller rather than someone who wants to be successful. So, when I create my music, I try to a build a whole ‘idea’ that people can buy into. If I can bring more people into my world, that makes me happy. Just to have people listen to and enjoy my music is good enough for me. That said, I hope to bring Gentle Bones out to our neighbouring countries like Malaysia and Thailand, and it’ll be awesome if I can achieve that by the end of the year.