Not your typical Engineering graduate, 29-year-old Jon Chong is also an aspiring singer-songwriting who happens to be a PhD graduate from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singapore-MIT Alliance (SMA). At the same time, his debut album, State Of My Mind, was released a few months ago.
Jon hails from the East Malaysian city of Kuching, where he led a peaceful and simple life in Sarawak putting up in boarding schools near mountains. Later on, he traveled and lived in cities such as New York, Boston, Tokyo, Moscow and Singapore.
I caught up with Jon to talk about his life experiences and how they have coloured his songs.
When did you start writing songs?
I started singing in choirs when I was younger, but only picked up guitar when I was 15. Initially it was an attempt to impress girls – I'm sure many admit to that! But it soon grew to a passion, almost obsession, for music. Since I was about 18 or 19, I found the ability to express myself and record my thoughts and experiences through lyrics and song, a most rewarding and fulfilling pursuit. The opportunities for me to be able to share this with others, was a constant motivation.
Who are your influences?
I struggle to answer this question a lot! Growing up, I never was the type to have a favourite genre, artiste or group. I guess my music is the culmination of all the various genres that I have been exposed to: Pop, rock, blues, jazz, funk, and soul. But I have to say I remember fondly the days of my dad playing vinyl records of Michael Jackson, The Carpenters, Eagles, Bee Gees... then it went on to Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, Guns N’ Roses, Radiohead, Incognito, John Mayer, Jason Mraz, etc...
When and why did you come to Singapore?
I came to Singapore in 2002 after being accepted to a graduate study programme between NTU, NUS and MIT (Boston).
I read that you've lived in several cities around the world. How did it happen?
Part of my graduate studies was spent at MIT in Boston… yeap, the 'nerd' school across the river from Berkley. I went to Japan as an exchange student back in 1994 and revisited it twice since to look for my foster family and friends. The most exotic place I've ever been to however has got to be Siberia! Was there for work at the oil fields at places where there are virtually no tourists!
How have travelling and living abroad affected your worldview, personality and songwriting?
When I was a young boy I was privileged to be able to experience the simple life travelling up the rivers of Sarawak and staying at boarding schools near mountains, mostly due to my involvement in competitive sports. It taught me about living independently and making things happen for myself. It also allowed me explore my imagination. Also, importantly it taught me about not taking things for granted. This shaped the bulk of my character.
When I had the opportunity to experience different cultures, both the poor and rich, it made me more tolerant and respectful – I realised that deep down inside we are not that much different after all. Having seen what I've seen, I believe that even if we can't change the whole world, we can play our part and have a good account of ourselves.
What was your state of mind when you were recording State Of My Mind?
For the most part I was being hopeful and positive. It was my first experience recording my own music at a studio and I really wanted to give it my best shot. I wanted to present Singapore-produced music that was refreshing and original, and hopefully see it appeal to even the mainstream listener.
What will you be performing at Originals Only Open Mic (OOOM) at the Singapore Art Museum on May 21?
As featured artiste, we will be performing four songs – all songs are found in the album. I'll be joined by a couple of good friends on bass, keys, cajon and backing vocals so it'll be a groovy and heartfelt experience I hope! Also, we'll be making the album available if anyone would like to grab a copy.
Jon Chong will be performing as Featured Artist at OOOM@SAM on 21 May, 7:30pm at the Singapore Art Museum (Glass Hall). This is an acoustic open mic series. Admission is free.
State of My Mind is available at the following stores in Singapore: The Esplanade Shop, That CD Shop, Gramophone, CD Plus, Laser Flair, RDH and is currently distributed by Top2 Music Pte Ltd. The album can also be purchased online via www.jonchong.com.
About Patrick Chng
Forever young at heart, Patrick Chng loves going to gigs and checking out Singapore bands. He has also been playing in bands since the late 1980s, writing about music and being an important mover and shaker in the Singapore indie music scene. When he's not checking out or playing gigs, he's at home playing with his guitars and updating his Facebook.