Lunarin are back with their second album after four years. Made up of two lawyers and a chemical engineer, the band wrote, performed, produced and recorded Duae completely by themselves and go pure indie this time
Fronted by singer and bassist Linda Ong, the band’s debut album, The Chrysalis, recorded at TNT studio and released in January 2006, received positive reviews for its dark brooding sonic textures.
For the new album, guitarist Ho Kah Wye and drummer Loo Eng Teck settled in a room at Linda’s home in Geylang and invested in their own recording equipment to bring the album into fruition.
There is, however, one external input to the album - mastering engineer Adam Ayan. Adam is a Grammy Award, twice Latin Grammy Award and TEC Award winning mastering engineer. His diverse list of mastering credits includes projects for artists such as Nirvana, Madonna, the Foo Fighters and Nine Inch Nails. In late May 2010, Linda packed her bags and flew 16 hours to New York and then drove from New York to Maine to knock on the doors of Adam Ayan’s studio.
The first single from Duae called Zero Point Red, will be available for free download at www.lunarin.com on August 1. The album will out in shops on August 20. Lunarin will be playing at Home Club on August 13 and at Baybeats festival on August 21. In celebration of the launch of the album, the band will also be performing a special one-night only concert at The Arts House, on October 1, 2010.
I chatted with Linda about the new album, recording at home and going DIY.
It's been slightly over four and a halfyears since your debut album, The Chrysalis. What has changed for you, on a personal level, as well as with the band since then?
I am a different person than I was four and a half years ago. In my early 20s I was grappling with issues of finding my own voice, deciding who I was and what I wanted out of life. That was the central theme in the Chrysalis. From 2006 onwards, I found myself being more interested in social issues. I was ill for a while and went through a period of actual physical pain. I think that changed me, to some degree, because I am reminded of the fact that we are mortal and that as human beings we are fallible and at the mercy of the elements. I think, coming from that source of pain, I could relate and empathize with people better, especially with people coping with grief and loss. Getting older, I found myself forming strong opinions about what I perceived to be morally fair and just. I got married in 2008. Being able to share a life with someone else and naturally placing that person as a priority before myself was also a milestone for me. It opened my eyes to a new way of perceiving things and re-discovering the definitions of love and commitment on a different level.
As for the band, the fact that Eng Teck and I are now married with our own homes has helped shaped the logistics of recording the album. Home recording would not have been possible if we were still living with our parents. On a visceral level, I think the fact that we are married people with day jobs but still wanting very much to continue to write music has helped the band in adopting a more mature tone in our songwriting, both in terms of the song arrangements as well as the lyrics. I wouldn’t dream of coming up with the parts that we did or singing the lines that we have now in these new songs four and a half years ago!
What are the reasons for going the DIY recording route?
The initial plan was to record the album in the studio like the previous album. However, as the album shaped itself, we found it a pressing need to keep the material a secret and not reveal it to any third party until it was ready. We wanted absolute control. I hazard to formulate a coherent reason for this. I think part of it stems from our disappointment that we tried so hard to market and sell The Chrysalis in a way that the label wanted us to without success that we were certain that we would produce and release this album strictly on our own terms, even if it means producing an album that was even more obtuse than The Chrysalis. Another part of the reason stems from the fact that we were so sure of our vision for this album that we would not stand for any third party input because we knew that we wouldn’t compromise our vision even if we had any third party feedback. I think our fixation for absolute control eventually led to the decision that we would have to do every aspect of production ourselves if we wanted this album to be truly reflective of our vision for it. This would include all aspects of recording and mixing right down to the album artwork and design. It was a frightening decision to make. But also an exciting one.
How did you record the drums?
All the drum tracks were recorded at Eng Teck’s flat on his electronic drum kit. We transferred out the midi signals and loaded them onto the Macpro in my home studio. The rest of the bass, guitars and vocals were recorded on the Macpro at my home.
What's the most difficult and painful part of recording at home?
We were always quarrelling. It got so bad that I almost called it quits and wanted to leave the band. It didn’t help that we were doing this for the first time and we were unsure about what we were doing. During the recording of The Chrysalis, Ah Boy (from TNT studio) never used Pro Tools, so we didn’t have the benefit of acquiring some kind of ‘observer’ experience before deciding to dabble recording on Pro Tools ourselves. And here we are, doing everything digitally on Pro Tools and using all kinds of samples and plug-ins on a juiced up Macpro. There was a teething period when we couldn’t get the levels to work well in a mix. Tempers started to flare. There was a lot of screaming going on in that soundroom. I think it could well have bordered on physical violence. I guess that’s what happens when you put three egotistical people together in a small confined area trying to bang out a vision together. It’s a miracle we are all still alive.
Who mixed the songs and how long did that take?
Kah Wye was the ‘engineer’. He did the basic cleaning up, EQ-ing and blending of the parts. For mixing we all sat down together and made decisions together on the mixes. I think mixing took us about three months all in all. The good thing about having your own studio is that you have the luxury of mixing and re-mixing a song until it is a 100 percent to your liking. The downside is that it encourages OCD behavior. It got to the point when we were lowering or increasing the levels of individual tracks so minutely that Eng Teck’s wife once commented that she can’t hear the difference between one mix from the other and that we were insane.
Why the title Duae? Is there a story about it?
We brainstormed long and hard for an album title to no avail. We resorted to flipping through dictionaries, closing our eyes and fingering any particular word in the middle of any random page in a book to no success.
In the end we settled on Duae. It’s Latin and it’s an inflected form of ‘duo’ which means two. “Why two?” you may ask. Well, it’s our second album, so ergo, Album No. II!
You've got Grammy award winner Adam Ayan to master your album. Tell us about your trip to New York and meeting Adam.
I flew down to New York to meet up with my friends Roxanne and Eunice who were based there and all of us (together with another friend Joyce) drove up to Maine together. So yes, I travelled to New York but the mastering studio itself was actually located in Portland, Maine.
Adam was one of the sweetest guys I have ever met. He was polite, enthusiastic, curious about music in Singapore and open with his views about the music industry and developing young music acts. He shared with me how he started a Portland Musical Foundation to help nurture and groom their local bands. He even told me that he would be more than happy to share his experiences with us here in Singapore if we were interested in doing something similar. He spoke about mastering Nine Inch Nail’s With Teeth in 5.1 surround sound and showed me some of the gears they used in the mastering process. He taught me how, through the use of high quality analog compressors and equalizers, he could enhance my vocal tone and shape the dynamics of a song.
During lunch we ate at the same table as Bob Ludwig and Ben Folds. Everyone in the studio was polite and enthusiastic. They had no qualms working with an unknown independent musician and accorded me with the same degree of professionalism and respect as they would to a famous client. I was very humbled by the whole experience and wished that the musicians here in Singapore could be treated with that same kind of professionalism and kindness. Another thing that I learnt was that this perennial complaint of a lack of support for ‘local acts’ is prevalent everywhere, not just in Singapore. Even in Portland, I am told that there is a constant campaign amongst the music community that the city should support their local bands and create awareness by way of radio airplay and media support. I have come to realize that making music and getting recognition is a struggle everywhere.
At the end of the mastering session Adam asked if I could sign off on his guestbook. When I opened his guestbook guess whose handwriting and signature I saw? Melissa Auf der Maur!
Is Duae an angry album? What are you angry about?
Funny you should ask this because we were jamming on the older stuff from The Chrysalis a few weeks back as preparation for our shows and we have come to realize that the material on The Chrysalis wasn’t angry – it was just depressing. Duae on the other hand, has an uncompromising and unrestrained anger that scares me sometimes. There are songs on this album that could well be a war anthem. I think the anger stems from the fact that, as I mentioned earlier, we are delving more into social issues on this album; and the songs make up a need to ventilate things that could not be said. I don’t want to dwell into specifics as I really want the listeners to decide for themselves what the songs mean, but I think a lot of the anger in these songs are also felt by the average man on the street, who works hard to make a living but questions whether this is all that he deserves. What is the concept of power? Does wealth control power? Who has control? Does information merit being controlled? What is the value of mercy in the society we live in today? Is mercy subject to our right to take away another man’s life? How can anyone profess to be religious and yet be intolerant?
The good thing about being songwriters – as opposed to being a politician or activist – is that we can afford to leave the message open for interpretation and to rely on the use of metaphors or double entendre in our material. I can’t tell you what exactly what this song means or whether the message is right or wrong. I can’t tell you what to think. You have to decide for yourself.
How are rehearsals coming along for your upcoming shows?
We are jamming every Friday and Saturday at TNT from now until the end of the year. We sometimes bump into TypeWriter during their mixing sessions so that’s been fun! We just did one show at the Night Festival at the Substation. I am not happy with that performance. I think we are rusty and still need to improve. Fingers crossed we will!
13 August 2010: “That Friday the XIII Show” - A pre-release party for friends and fans at HOME Club (22 Upper Circular Road). Pay $15 at the door from 8pm onwards.
21 August 2010: Lunarin will also be performing at the Esplanade from 7.30pm to 8.00pm as part of the Baybeats Festival.
1 October 2010: A special one-night only concert at The Arts House, on 1 October 2010, 9.00 pm. Tickets are available at The Arts House Box Office at $12.00 each from 1 August 2010.
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.