What more can be written after 10 years?
Tacit Aria is established in 2008 as a five-piece ensemble and Singapore’s answer to post-hardcore, emo and alternative rock music. Getting back together in 2016 after a temporary split in 2011, Tacit Aria is now a four-piece suit with lineup changes, consisting of lead vocalist Zahir Javier-Latif, guitarist Harith ‘Ris’ Jamal, bassist Hafiz Ramlan and sessioning drummer Ridwan Johari.
The quartet is working on an upcoming EP, which is slated for a 2018/2019 release. Previously named Indigo Children, the band has collectively settled for Safe Space instead — to embody the songs that will be a part of this musical narrative. Inspired by bands such as Dance Gavin Dance, Emarosa and Slaves, we wonder how songwriting over the years has evolved with the band.
Through lineup changes and a shift in band dynamics, we look at how the band’s songwriting has been influenced by these milestones.
How long have you been involved with music?
HAFIZ: I got into music around 2004 when I was 16, and it helped me get out of negative social situations. You know what it is like growing up at the void deck. I was introduced to nu-metal by my cousin, who also taught me how to play the acoustic guitar. Then the bassist role just kind of got assigned to me when the opportunity to play for Tacit Aria came up in 2008. It was not until 2015, after our four-year hiatus, did I get more involved in songwriting.
ZAHIR: I started playing the organ in the early 1990s when I was in primary school, but I stopped after I came clean to my mum that I did not know how to read music. I only played by ear, haha. Living in Brunei, we were blessed to be able to own a drum set, so I have been playing since I was eight or nine. I come from a musical family, so I have been involved with music for about 27 years.
RIS: I had a really worn out acoustic guitar in my house when I was young. I was not very involved in playing then because that guitar was almost completely broken. It was not until I turned 13 in 2002, when my buddies and I were in a studio that I instantly fell in love with guitar playing, with an electric guitar a friend placed on my lap. I continued practising, learning songs by my favourite bands through burnt CDs. I joined the symphonic band and was a percussionist for a couple of years. When I turned 16, I started playing guitar actively in the local scene. It has been a while, but I guess these things are what make me, me, no matter which stage I am at life.
RIDWAN: I have been involved with music since 2003, since the start of secondary school. I joined the school concert band and picked up the drums as my main instrument, and I have not looked back since. I started attending local music shows and festivals at the time and told myself that I wanted to be a part of it when I got older.
From when you first started to now, how has your approach towards music evolved?
HAFIZ: I had always thought that I was diverse when it came to music selection, but after training at a local arts hub in the past year, I’ve come to realise that my exposure has yet to meet its limit. I may play in a post-hardcore band but, right now, I have Irish singer-songwriter Gavin James and South Korean pianist Yiruma on my playlist. I think diversity is important because it will help a lot in songwriting. We may sound heavy, but if you listen closely, you can probably pick up a variety of different styles in our music, especially in our upcoming EP.
ZAHIR: I am definitely listening to a lot more genres now than I did before. When you are in your teens, you pick a scene and become a diehard fan. Now I just have my moods. Sometimes I like a good djent, or I just want to zone out and listen to coffee-table jazz. Performance-wise, you appreciate the efforts of your bandmates more over time, and it is definitely a team effort, from songwriting to performing on stage.
RIS: I always keep an open mind when it comes to music. You can only get so far or write so much within your comfort zone. You would be surprised with the things you can actually pick up and create by listening to music you are not familiar with, and then making it your own. Diversifies your range, basically.
RIDWAN: For me, there has been a change in my musical taste. When I was younger, I listened to a whole lot of hip-hop and then it gradually became punk and grunge when I was in secondary school. Then I got interested in hardcore and metal. Now that I am older, I have practically listened to the whole spectrum of genres, from heavier stuff like hardcore, metal and deathcore to fusion, jazz and R&B, and even K-pop.
Share with us your most comfortable approach towards songwriting.
HAFIZ: As the vocalist, Zahir has naturally always been entrusted with writing lyrics since the band was formed. Ris is the man behind all our latest compositions, creating the structure. Then we continue to work on his ideas in the studio. It was different in our previous lineup. There were not that many opportunities to work on songs as a group. I did not mind before as I simply enjoyed being in a band. During our hiatus, however, I realised how important making original music is to me. So when we got back together, I wanted the band to do things differently and attempt to write new songs together. Memories Are Better was one of the first songs we wrote together and the group dynamics got better from there. The vibe is better now, and our listeners should be able to notice the changes in our music.
ZAHIR: My approach to songwriting with Tacit Aria has always been the same since the beginning: take the song structure and riffs as they are and make something out of them. I take it as a personal challenge to write lyrics and melodies with what I have, without altering the initial structure too much. That way, we all have our say and songwriting stays purely as a collaborative effort in making our own inputs shine.
RIS: I would usually start with the bare minimum; a repetitive melody in my head that I can choose to fill with chords or a simple guitar riff. Sometimes I write based on my emotions. Whether they are made-up scenarios or real-life happenings, I will try to portray those thoughts the closest I can in a riff. Lyrics can be inspired by everything. TV shows, personal experiences, morbid thoughts. Anything.
RIDWAN: For Tacit Aria, most of the time, the song structures and riffs are decided by the other members. Being their sessionist, I try not to take away the main gist of the song. Instead, I play around with different grooves and throw in ideas that I deem suitable for that particular riff or whichever musical idea. If the band likes it, then we keep it. Essentially, I try to include my own personal touch to it, while keeping the band’s musical direction in mind. At times, trying to juggle these two elements is the trickiest part of my job.
What is one most misunderstood perception of songwriting?
HAFIZ: That songwriting is when a band comes together and sits for hours, days or months in a studio to produce an album. I think it is totally different here in Singapore, where most of us do not have the privilege of being full-time musicians. We usually work or write remotely. However, I think our band tries to make the best of the situation and we are doing alright as we are. But if given the opportunity to sit in a studio together for a dedicated amount of time to finish an album, I will not deny that we might be able to produce something even better.
ZAHIR: That perfection needs to be achieved the first time round. Write what you can and do not worry about how great it is. After some time, you will find ways to improve the foundation. If you can ever reach that point where you feel like you have done enough, the end product will be much better than what you started out with.
RIS: That sometimes, as a band, we need to set a specific theme or direction to showcase our range. I would not say it is wrong in any way but I think, sometimes, as individuals, we put too much thought in the process that it throws us right off our tracks. Never underestimate your strengths and your roots. Use your experience to guide you through your evolution as a songwriter.
RIDWAN: For drummers, the need to “stick to your groove” and “keep it safe” for the song. In my opinion— and this is coming solely from me — yes the groove is super important for the song so that there is a flow to it and the audience can relate to it. However, depending on the kind of song you write, simply keeping the groove is not enough. I always try to include a bit of fills or intricate drumming ideas to the song to keep the audience intrigued and interested.
How do you gain inspiration?
HAFIZ: YouTube and Spotify. There is a generous amount of content that is easily accessible and I will not deny the benefits. I obsessively watch music videos to songs that I like, then try to figure out how to incorporate similar styles into writing my bass parts and how to play other instruments to add value to our songs. I think oldies are just as inspirational as the modern stuff. Songwriting aspect aside, top-notch stage setups and sound designs inspire me too. I think musicians here tend to overlook them. I have been undergoing training this past year in the technical side of production, and I intend to apply the knowledge I have gained to help the band raise the bar in the scene.
ZAHIR: I gain inspiration from everywhere, as cliché as it sounds. You will find it in the unlikeliest places. Telepathy was based on a video game that I was really into years ago. What I write does not have to be from personal experience, but about what I can create from what is around me. Okay scratch that, I guess that is personal experience one way or another.
RIDWAN: I gain inspiration by watching other bands play and how the whole band portrays its sound live. Sometimes I get inspired by certain phrases and ideas that the band shows or even the grooves and fills the drummer plays. I take those ideas with me and try to put my own spin to them.
What is one key towards honing your songwriting skills?
HAFIZ: Songwriting is a progressive thing. It will change with time and environment. I believe the key is in having the ability to adapt and not give up.
ZAHIR: The key, to me, is keeping an open mind. From a singer-songwriter perspective, do not let personal skill get in the way of letting your creativity out. Believe me, because I am a pretty crap guitar player. I eventually find ways and means to put my message across and that is one lesson that I will never forget. Anthony Green taught me that.
RIDWAN: I think the most important thing is to never restrict yourself. Try to broaden your musical spectrum by listening to other genres and figure out the key factors that make each one up. I believe that there is always something to learn from everything and that anything can be put into songwriting, if it is done the right way.