A Far Cry From Here

The Observatory

The Observatory’s legacy is already secured, and a new release from this Singapore band is always a matter of keen anticipation. This experimental collective gained pockets full of brilliant reviews for their bang-up albums, Time of Rebirth (2004) and Blank Walls (2005). Their music is a mesmeric mix of electronic soundscapes, and an enchanting snapshot of another world that will make you want to go back for more. The band just finished recording their third album, A Far Cry From Here, with Norwegian producer, Jørgen Træen. They will be opening for Jaga Jazzist during the Mosaic Music Festival and will be playing their first ‘live’ concert of the year at the NUS Arts Festival on 25th March. In an email interview, the band tells us more about the new album, which will be unleashed this March.

How did you start your new album? Somebody has to write the rudiments of the songs. How do you work together?

Victor: For this album we decided to go on a new approach to how we would go about writing the songs. Instead of working out the structure of the songs from Leslie’s skeleton arrangements, like we did before in the previous 2 albums, we decided that every one of us has to take turns to come up with that “skeleton” arrangement for this new album. So the album essentially comprises six ideas from each one of us. We would then work the arrangements together in more detail as we go along.

The new album will be titled ‘A Far Cry From Here’. What is the meaning behind the title?

Leslie: One of the meanings: A distant cry from the mind. After going through a long list of alternatives, we settled for something that means nothing and at the same time means more than one thing.
Vivian: It’s about desperation that’s fighting to come out, finding a voice. It’s about repressed hopes and dreams and yet… the self will is strong.

What are the themes of the album?

Leslie: A lot of the lyrics have been written quite spontaneously without mulling over them too much. So it sort of covers all sorts of different things. And I don’t think there was a conscious effort to edit too much of it as time went along. I think it is mostly about existence. Random thoughts. Alternate possibilities. Self-admonishment. Anxiety. Opposite poles of the mind. These are the few things that come to mind.

the observatory

Blank Walls (2005)

Your second album ‘Blank Walls’ had an entirely different, more experimental sound from your first album ‘Time of Rebirth’. I read on your website that the songs on your new album will contain a lot more instrumentation. Are you venturing into new territory with this album?

Evan: We always try to venture into new territory for every album. For this one, each of us had to write a song or at least the basics of one and the rest will try to come up with something on top of it. I think that is also partly why there’s more instrumentation. Instrumentals are not easy to do and that was quite a challenge for us.

Was the making of this album more challenging?

Vivian: I think how we started out was unnerving. We simply decided to totally switch gears and change our usual way of working. Everything was eked out from scratch… including chords, melody, progressions, structure, choice of instrumentation, etc. We all had equal freedom in creating the songs. It was disconcerting at first being a totally unfamiliar way to work. I for one, felt a little insecure, without one of Leslie’s demo songs already there to arrange or add to. But the more we exercised our creative brain, the more things fell into place. It was intensely rewarding. The best part of course was when we recorded with Jorgen. It was challenging in that most people these days don’t record a whole band live. We did that with Jorgen, who himself hadn’t done it this way for a while. And it was incredibly spontaneous and unfussy. The irony during recording was that it took so much time to get ready, such as setting up mikes, changing the drumset, hooking up more gear, getting everyone sounding right, plus adjusting our monitoring for us to be able to hear and play properly…it’s practically like getting ready for a gig! But when we finally rolled tape, it was over in a matter of minutes… And the rest of the time was just us letting loose and mucking around, adding creative overdubs… playing around with sfx … experimenting.

the observatory

Recording A Far Cry From Here

I read on your website that you ‘were excited by the prospect of doing most of the tracks as live as possible.’ Tell me, how exciting was it?

Ray: It was a great experience. I’ve always wanted to do a live recording. It’s absolutely challenging but satisfying when you nail down songs after one or two takes. I’ve always preferred the ‘live’ feel of recordings. They have more character and sound more human.


Would you say that you have been influenced by particular bands/records for this new album?

Victor: I’ve been pretty influenced by what I’ve been listening to lately, like Dave Holland, Pat Metheny, Tortoise and also listening to bits of what the rest of the band are listening to.
Leslie: Nick Drake, Robert Wyatt and Soft Machine.
Ray: I had no time to listen to other records for reference for this album coz I only had 2 weeks to learn the songs before our first rehearsal. I listened to Adam (former drummer) on the CD demo they passed me and had to decide whether I was going to follow what he was doing, or come up with my own drum parts. I chose the latter. Adam’s drums on the demo gave me the initial feel of the songs and it did help me create the final ‘package’ on the album.
Vivian: I was listening a lot to The Beach Boys, Yes, Soft Machine and Leslie Low.
Evan: Pink Floyd, Sinistri and Flaming Lips
Dharma: Maybe it would be Wilco, Steve Reich, Raoul Bjorkenheim, Soft Machine and Pat Methney.

the observatory

Leslie Low

How long have you been working on the album? And how in the hell do you manage to combine this with your full time day jobs?

Dharma: We started working on the first tune around December 2005 and finished recording about just before Christmas 2006. It’s been hell trying to deal with the day job at the same time but somehow we still push on. There are times that it’s totally frustrating and the body just kind of breaks down. But after a couple of days we’ll be back at it. I’m not sure how long we can mentally and physically deal with this status quo… there needs to be a change somehow. But I really don’t have any answers….yet.

I understand that Jørgen Træen came down to Singapore to do the recording? How come? Was your band blacklisted by the Norwegian Government after your last visit?

Evan: Yes, the Norwegian authorities thought we (particularly Dharma) were Chinese nationals trying to sell pirated DVDs and software on their shores. They had the common thought that Singapore is a small province in China that looked like a little red dot or an irritating pimple (or spore) that refuses to burst. … It also coincidently happened to be cheaper to just fly Jørgen to Singapore, than the six of us to Bergen.

The new album marks the recording debut with the group of drummer, Ray Aziz (Throb). How did that impact the recording?

Victor: Some of us actually worked with Ray before. He’s currently playing drums for Throb, he used to play with Evan, and I had sessioned with him before during my time in Concave Scream. This, along with his talents and discipline, definitely made it very easy for us to achieve what we were trying to do. It took only a short time before he caught up with us and even started contributing in the arrangements, which we were very appreciative of.

When will the CD hit the stores?

Evan: We are still in the midst of mixing and coordinating for the album design. Hopefully, it will be out early March this year.

the observatory

Any launch gig planned? What about promotional tours?

Vivian: We are working something out. We’re targeting a release in March and a launch gig sometime in April. With the ban on smoking in clubs soon, we thought it might be worth having our launch gig in a slightly more unrestrained environment, for the last time! We have a slew of gigs both locally and overseas in the coming months. Keep an eye out on our website.

You will be opening for Norwegian band Jaga Jazzist at the Mosaic Music Festival on 13th March. Can we expect to hear some new material?

Ray: But of course.
Dharma: Looking forward to hear Jaga’s new material.

Any final comments for the people reading this?

Victor: Hope Obs fans will like it.
Ray: Ya. Buy, listen to, and support our local bands. We ain’t half as bad as people make us out to be…..
Vivian: We love connecting with people through music. Talk is cheap sometimes. The whole idea of making music as a group is not just a narcissistic outlet for us. What we believe, the things that bother us about our world, the change we hope for… all that hopefully comes across through our music.
Dharma: We hope to let the music speak for itself.

Photo: Mary-Ann Teo, Lurgee, Akiko Koga

(Originally published 4th February 2007)

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