.gif on how songwriting evolves with its musicians
Founded in 2012 as a passion project and hobby, .gif has gone on to become Singapore’s own brand of indie-electronic music. Formed by Chew Wei Shan (weish) and Nurudin Sadali (din), they are known for their immersive vocals that accompany dark beats and deft lyricism.
They first released their EP Saudade in 2013 and went on to perform at festivals such as St Jerome’s Laneway Festival and Java Soundsfair. Their recent LP soma looked to theatre and film as artistic references, moving towards a more kinematic and cinematic approach for their musical expression.
As the musicians look to various aspects of life for inspiration, how has their songwriting process evolved?
How long have you been involved with music?
din: We have always been going to local gigs, really. But if you mean when we started out as a band, then that would be December 2012.
From when you first started to now, how has your approach towards music evolved?
din: That is a tough question. If I am answering with regards to our approach towards making music… I used to think that if I had the best and latest gear or plugins or whatever, then I would be able to make great music. I saved up to buy things that I never fully utilised. Over the years, I have come to concentrate less on acquiring new gear and more on getting to know what I already have better and more fully.
weish: For me, it has evolved immensely in some ways, but stayed very similar in others. Initially it was all about virtuosity, being bitter that I could not do crazy vocal runs or improvise on a keyboard as well as other musicians, practising and going over technicalities over and over. That is still very important to me, of course, but over time I have come to realise that you really have got to lose yourself in the music and not lose sight of that feeling. Emoting a raw and honest emotion has always been my main priority, and sometimes I need to remind myself to strip back all the fancy effects and just be in the moment.
Share with us your most comfortable approach towards songwriting. Do you write together, or is there a designated songwriter?
We do it in a variety of ways. Because we have had crazy hectic full-time jobs for the past five years, most of our released music has been written over Dropbox. Din sends over an Ableton file with beats, and I send back some chords layered over it. He throws on a bassline and I sing over some harmonies. We sort of ping-pong like this until we feel a track is done. Only then do we get together to debate over things we liked or did not like, and edit it down until we both like it as much as the other.
On the rare occasion that we do have time to jam together, we sit somewhere and set up all our gear and sort of just improvise on various instruments, recording along the way when we like certain elements, then eventually put them altogether. The only thing I do on my own is lyric or melody writing, in the privacy of my own bedroom when everything is over, because I get a little self-conscious about that sort of thing.
What is one most misunderstood perception of songwriting?
weish: I have not really heard anything weird about songwriting! And you know, the process can be so different from person to person.
How do you gain inspiration?
din: I personally think the whole “I need to be inspired to create art” thing is quite silly. If you are going to sit around to wait for inspiration, then it will never come. You just have to start. I mean, if you are feeling saturated or sick of something that you are working on, take a break and come back to it whenever. The point is, you just have to start.
weish: We inadvertently are inspired by everything around us, really, without ever explicitly looking for inspiration. Life is so rich. Many of our songs were actually responses to other work, too, like films or literary texts.
Godspeed, first single from .gif’s soma
What is one key towards honing your songwriting skills?
din: Never be satisfied with what you have created. Always look for a way to improve.
weish: We recently chatted with drummer Teo Jia Rong, who sessions for us at bigger festivals and is one of our favourite drummers of all time. He was waxing lyrical about how learning to play the trumpet has changed the way he drums. He has learnt so much about expression and phrasing from a melodic point of view. He put himself in the shoes of a pianist or bassist and realised that some of his initial approaches to drum fills or grooves may be off-putting, etc. That really reminded me that we need to keep learning new things and step out of our comfort zones, and it might really change our perspectives on things in surprising ways. In short, what Din said.