Arts & Culture

Thaddeus Lin: Music as Expression and Experiment

A Singaporean musician exploring the boundaries of various genres and his take on contemporary-folk music.

Words by
b-side staff

Text by Shawn Hoo.

At a time when live music venues and performers have been hit hard by the pandemic, releasing new music might not seem like the most instinctive idea. Yet that is exactly what Thaddeus Lin, an up-and-coming singer-songwriter in his second-year at LASALLE, did when he released his four-track EP ‘I Wish It Rained Forever’ at the end of last month. “These songs are suited for the rainy weather throughout our monsoon season,” Thaddeus explains, seizing this opportunity to provide comfort to people staying at home or on their transit.

Indeed, this slim offering—an eclectic take on contemporary-folk music—brings the listener on a journey through a mix of genres, styles, and moods. Throughout your listening experience, you suspect that the rain outside is conspiring with the album to tune everything a little bluer. You are surprised to catch your monsoon-weary self wishing if, indeed, it could rain forever. All the way from the catchy lovelorn hook of the opening track (“I will leave this place, away from you / pack my clothes and pack my shoes” Thaddeus slips gracefully in and out of a fine falsetto) that is worthy of endless post-heartbreak looping, to the upbeat groove of the final track that insistently questions ‘What’s this Feeling?’—the album makes its impression because of its variety and verisimilitude. There is even a track in between that imagines a conversation between the singer and Mother Earth. With such a generous range, the album’s experience invites both stillness and movement. 

B-Side speaks to Thaddeus about the release of his new EP, the stories he wishes to tell, and the case for experimentation. 

Tell us about how you started writing music and some of the milestones in this journey. 

In secondary school, I dreamt of being a clinical doctor because I was led by societal standards of success and happiness. Later on, my best friend Marcus Ong showed me his acoustic guitar and we started jamming out to pop songs—our very first song was James Blunt’s You’re Beautiful—and from then on, I was hooked onto the euphoria of expressing my feelings through music. Throughout my journey, music has always been a vehicle for expressing emotions that I could never verbalise with just words. 

At the Singapore Polytechnic’s DMAT Show in 2015, I performed an original song I had written, ‘Alone’. This was followed by many other minor performances at Dinner and Dance events, busking at Orchard Road, bar gigs, and performances at old folks homes. The next milestone arrived when I was serving National Service, where I made use of the little time I had on the weekends to record and produce songs—‘Clouds’ and ‘Fences’, both of which can be found on my Spotify page—with Producer Tan Chee Hian. Ever since then, I have been exploring other genres and songs that might amplify my expression the most through my songwriting. 

This EP marks the beginning of my journey as a musical artist. It is the first time I feel genuinely confident enough to publish and share my art. 

Walk us through your process of writing a song. What comes to you first—a hook, the lyrics, a story, or something else altogether? Is it a solitary venture or do you involve others? 

There are no fixed methods I use to write songs, it usually ranges from jamming on my guitar, to humming melodies in transit, to having random urges to express something. Some of my best songs come from melodies and hooks that I suddenly think of, and record in my voice notes while in transit. For this EP, with the many original songs that I penned, I sent demos to close friends who helped choose the top few songs they found meaningful before choosing which to record and produce. Sometimes friends feel particularly interested in songs which I do not really have high hopes for. 

In terms of collaborations, an example would be my track ‘No One’. I started off simply by singing over strummed guitar chords, when producer Chee Hian started adding RnB-influenced harmonies and percussions. I felt that it paired really well with my intentions and we finished the entire song briefly after. 

You describe yourself as adopting “a style of writing and production process that are not traditionally associated with the standards of perfection”. How do you see your work experimenting with and challenging these standards? 

These standards I refer to can be found in songs which are written solely for their radio-quality—songs which follow the trendiest styles of instrumental layers, lyrical writing, song structures, and other popular conventions. My process in writing and producing music relies on being experimental. In ‘Mother Earth’, to take an example from my latest release, I wrote a song in four verses—without a chorus—recording two voices where I panned full left and full right without a centre, stacking multiple guitar to form a thick melody, while using a soft but strong kick drum to keep the song stable. 

While I am not against perfect-sounding songs, it can steal away the raw and genuine effect of speaking to an audience. Indulging in the exploration of using all the elements in music—tempo, melodic structures, instrumentation—to tell a story feels much more satisfying for me as a musician and for the listener. A lot of times, it takes more than a few tries to find the ‘right’ pairing of a song’s meaning and it’s style.

Because you dabble in so many different genres, I am curious to see what your Spotify year-end wrap up looks like. What are some of your top songs and what do you think it says about your musical style?

Generally, I listen to songs that are mellow and sad—although there are a few peppy tunes too. The top songs on my wrap-up are: Don’t Keep Driving (The Paper Kites), Meet Me in Amsterdam (RINI), The Woods (Hollow Coves), Words (Gregory Alan Isakov), and Start A Riot (BANNERS). They all have the ability to bring me back to a particular feeling or memory. The first two songs for example bring me a feeling of warmth and comfort, whereas Hollow Coves and Gregory Alan Isakov get me into a nostalgic mood. Isakov is especially captivating for me—I wish to learn from his pairing of poetry with simple and effective instrumentations.

What are the kinds of feelings you hope to invoke with your listeners through this EP? 

By using a mix of production techniques from the eighties as well as modern ones, the EP is a representation of a messy mind. It makes use of layers of instrumentation with different rhythms and harmonies, as well as layers of vocals involving echoes and telephone vocals, to exaggerate the clash of thoughts in my head. 

In addition, each of my songs are also hooked to a particular emotional period for me. If I were to sing these songs after this period, I would not be able to sing out the original expression I first intended. For example, ‘I Must Go’ is a way of expressing closure for a relationship. The feeling of leaving someone that I saw a future in, realising how much of a personality clash we had—hearing this song again always brings me back to the dilemma I was thrown in, choosing to depart from a place of comfort. 

What is the next step for you after this EP?

I will be focusing on honing my craft in music whilst studying in Lasalle—a place which has shaped and influenced my music taste. I have plans to produce a follow-up EP or album in the upcoming year, and when collaborations are more feasible. I’d definitely love to collaborate with musicians that wish to expand our perspectives through storytelling. 

Thaddeus Lin’s EP ‘I Wish It Rained Forever’ is available to stream on most major platforms including Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, and Amazon. 

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