Close to Culture, Close to Creativity, Spot on Asia.

Photo by Gary Elsasser.
Photo by Gary Elsasser.

Hong Kong – A City for Dreams

Posted on April 14, 2014

When I land in a city I love, I feel nervous. My countenance turns eager as I try my best to drink in every second, knowing it can’t last forever. After the raw nerves settle, I become thankful for the sweet days I have and do my best to see, to experience, and to pocket away gems of inspiration for the future. A few weeks ago, I experienced this when I travelled to Hong Kong.

To me, Hong Kong is magic. The energy, the attitude, the frantic pace of the city will forever be charming. In most cities, I appear impatient, always trying to get ahead a little faster. “Don’t people know there are things to do, places to see?” I joke. There’s no need to explain this to residents of Hong Kong. Whether waiting for the exit escalator at the MTR station or simply walking down the street, they are the ones challenging my usually most-aggressive walking style and veering me out of the way. It’s a nice feeling, meeting a global counterpart.

In an unfamiliar city, there are certain aspects that are grounding. No matter where I am in the world, I always find inspiration in skylines. Their vast, expansive nature always awakes feelings of wonder in me. Little surprise then after a meeting in Tsim Sha Tsui  that I couldn’t resist walking across the road to the Promenade and staring across Victoria Harbour at the tiny lit-up boxes on the Island’s skyscrapers. Powerful lives and ideas packed together so densely. I wondered, what was being created at that very moment? Perhaps the joy of cities can be encapsulated as places where anything can happen. Cities are places for dreamers, both young and old.

IMG 9839 1024x1024 Hong Kong   A City for Dreams

In Sheung Wan.

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Band photo (above) by Jeri Soh. The Cave, from left: Huxley, Emerson, Haadi  and Harry.
All other photos from Fran Lebowitz.
Band photo (above) by Jeri Soh. The Cave, from left: Huxley, Emerson, Haadi and Harry. All other photos from Fran Lebowitz.

Adventures Of A Rock Band Mom In Singapore

Posted on April 2, 2014

People say it’s hard to make it as a musician in Singapore. Meet a determined mother who spent the last seven years on a quest to try anyway.

The Cave is made up of four teenage boys who riff and roar in a style somewhere between Foo Fighters and The Doors. They are: Huxley Rittman (lead guitar, backing vocals), Harry Darling (lead vocals), Haadi Moochhala (drums) and Emerson Gonzalez-Park (bass guitar), all 17 years old. While based in Singapore, they have already been featured on music TV in Russia, opened for Taking Back Sunday, and secured a partial worldwide deal with music distribution company ToCo International. Not bad, right? But behind every successful band you’ll find a hardworking manager, and this is no exception for The Cave. Fran Lebowitz, Huxley’s mother, is the band strategist that takes care of their business bookings and creative well-being.

This not-so-regular-mom candidly sums up her career history as “former agent, briefly novelist, humour columnist, and now mom-ager”. Before moving to Singapore in 1997, Fran was based in New York as a literary agent with the likes of William Morris and Writers House, where she focussed on young adult and pop culture books. (Not to be confused with the other Fran Lebowitz, writer and TV personality.) “I had a few books on the New York Times bestseller list,” Fran recalls, “A couple of clients made it to the US National Book Awards; I negotiated television shows and movies and merchandise and had two babies while still yelling at people on the phone.”

When her husband was posted to Singapore for work, they brought along their two kids. Once the younger one, Huxley, was old enough to play music with his schoolmates, Fran found herself devoted to one consuming mission: take the group of eleven year olds and whip them into a kick-ass rock band. Sounds like a wacky Hollywood comedy, but every bit true.

If you’re reading this and you’re young and talented, based in Singapore, with rock star dreams, you’re probably getting ideas of having Fran manage your band. Well, I wish you luck with that. The next best thing you can do is read this interview, where she very kindly shares what it took for The Cave to earn their stripes as musicians and performers.

FROM CRADLE TO CLARKE QUAY

How did you get involved with The Cave?

I bore the guitarist, for one thing! I just said to Huxley and his friends when he was about 10 or so, “Why don’t you all make a band!” We had so many instruments at home already including mics and stands. I gave them a song I thought they could do, “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett, and then I hired a music teacher to teach them all the parts. I always thought they sounded great, and that’s probably why I took it seriously and never let it sizzle out. At one stage, we had two music teachers come every Sunday; one for bass and drums and one for guitar and piano.

How would you describe The Cave?

Smart, exciting music, a big sound, four very proficient talents and a voice that stops people in their tracks; a voice that can sing to the back of a stadium without a microphone. The Cave met at Overseas Family School. Harry is from the UK, Huxley is a New Yorker, Emerson is Japanese-Mexican and Haadi is a Pakistani-born Singaporean. Going to school together, eating together, having the same group of friends means they are extraordinarily close. The flip side to this beautiful mulitcultural band is that you also get four sets of parents guided by the mores of their heritage.

What did it take to promote the band?

I never turned down a chance to meet people. I started a three week long battle of the bands called School House Rock, at a bar in Clarke Quay, pitting the international schools against each other. It was a big nail-biting success. And from there, School House Rock got the bands to perform on commercial stages, usually with several bands at a time. So there was often a gig to practise for and people to play to. And that way I met bar owners who would later – when they got good enough – invite The Cave to play. Also, going all out to get them into the Music Matters event and then attending myself and shmoozing, handing out thumbdrives, getting name cards, making follow ups. I have confidence in them and I feel credible. I don’t feel subjective about their music or performances and I can prove it: I’m the one who got Harry (vocalist) in the band and fired Huxley as lead singer. My son. Fired. At eleven years old.

photo 3 band Adventures Of A Rock Band Mom In Singapore

Very early edition of the band with Huxley and Emerson (extreme right).

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Creative Teams Don

How a Creative Team Loses Steam

Posted on February 25, 2014

It seems like almost everyone today has a job that involves making content and attracting an audience.

The age of social media, brand journalism, content marketing, self-publishing, self-promotion, idea-preneurism, etc, has turned many of us into professional creators. Unlike the old days, you also have to be your own proofreader, photo editor, publisher, video producer, digital strategist, and more.

It’s just a matter of time before you hit a wall and feel overwhelmed. When an entire creative team experiences this, the situation can quickly evolve into a new level of hell for everyone.

While it’s a crazy way to make a living, I’ve managed to get by with a code of creative conduct. I call this The Way of The Writer, because that’s what I spend most of my time doing, but it could work in other creative fields. It’s just five simple ideas that help me keep a project from going off-track. Hopefully, the ideas below will resonate with you too.

1. The way is inside you, not anywhere else.

Creative teams lose steam when they get busy working on something they don’t really care about. They justify the reward and bully themselves to finish the work. That’s always when people start overdosing on coffee, cigarettes, junk food, etc, because their natural sense of motivation has shut down. Eventually, this may lead to a ‘shut down’ or burning out.

Creative teams can keep moving forward when they commit to something they feel is worth making, because they genuinely care about the outcome, and this gives them a quiet power to see things through. This is why creative teams should value honesty: it actually translates into real energy.

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Natalie Hiong — Right at home with music

Posted on February 21, 2014

natalie 1024x768 Natalie Hiong — Right at home with music

Photo: Hoong Wei Long

Natalie Hiong, SINGAPORE

Independent Singer-Songwriter

Akin to starting a business, kickstarting a professional music career and building a name from scratch is by no means easy. Many would dream to bask in limelight with their favourite music idols, yet few would take a leap to pursue their passion relentlessly and eventually play alongside their idols. Not Natalie Hiong, she traded the bullion for the piano and has never looked back since. Her latest EP, Beautiful Mess, pens a heartfelt rendition of love and ambiguity. Inspired by experiences true to life, nothing is quite perfect. Yet in music, she finds comfort knowing everything can end (or begin) on a good note while she sings.

What inspires you to keep writing and singing songs?

Love and personal experiences in life.

What has been some of your most interesting experiences to date as a singer-songwriter?

Opening for Marie Digby’s concert here in Singapore, writing lyrics for the magic extravaganza show, Incanto, previously shown at Resorts World Sentosa and performing at the MEOW Con Showcase in Austin, Texas.

Who are your muses?

Singer songwriters like Sara Bareilles, Christina Perri and Brooke Fraser.

So you’re a fan of Glee?

Not exactly, but I do admire Rachel Berry (played by Lea Michele) and Finn Hudson (played by the late Cory Monteith) performance in Season 1. That’s as far as I’ve watched for Glee the TV series.

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The value of living a full life

Posted on January 22, 2014

If ever you’ve heard the short excerpt on What if Money was No Object speech from Alan Watts, you’ll be no short of feeling fully inspired and just, well, gosh darn it, you want to do what you love right now.

As Watts eloquently said “Better to have a short life that is full of which you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.”

alanwatts 08 s 300x209 The value of living a full life

Alan Watts – Philosopher, Writer and Speaker, spreading the Eastern philosophy to Western audiences

It seems rather unfortunate, isn’t it. We’re so wrapped up in bills, and payments, and loans and mortgages and the never ending cycle of paying off someone or some thing that we’ve seen it as the norm to lead our lives. As if we’re just living to pass by this stage of life to move on to the next. Not really realising that if this is our only chance to be here, how do we want to experience it?

Of course, we can’t deny that the world runs with money. We pay taxes to feel safe and secure. We pay rent to have a roof over our heads. We pay the creation of food, art and entertainment to enjoy life. So yes, having money can provide us opportunities. It can get us out of debt and it can allow us to experience new things. But when we start thinking it’s the only means to obtain all those things, or even appreciate what we have, then we’ve missed the true value of self, life, and relationships.

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