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.
How did you approach this band manager job?
I’m more of a mom-ager. On-my-feet training. For example, when they had ten songs written, they went to a studio and recorded them in one day. I proudly announced that to someone and they said, “Sounds like it!” I had no idea what a real recording took until they did their current EP, Light Years. We paid some people to help us and we learned a few important things there, some good and some cautionary. People started gravitating and it grew into a small community of people doing things with and for the band. (Crazy Elephant founder) Keef Ong threw them a listening party. (Singapore musician) Isa Seow got them some gigs and jumped in to help with their sound. Today we are surrounded by excellent talent in a lot of fields.
What kind of budget does it take to support The Cave?
Everyone charges us a friend rate and some people I have to force to charge us. Even our engineer in New York, who is the engineer for some Grammy winners, charges a friend rate because I think I surround us with people who want to see them go places. Nevertheless, you need studio time, art work, engineers, producers, etc, so four songs can cost about S$5,000 or more. A photo shoot is a few hundred dollars. I’ve thrown parties when important people are in town, which is a couple thousand. And I’m flying to New York and LA and attending a rock music expo. So I would not sneer at the cost of making things happen, but we are not ever getting any government money, support or recognition. Because only Haadi is Singaporean, the boys are ineligible for many of the local music development programmes here.
In your opinion, how is the music/entertainment industry in Singapore different from that in the US?
Unless you’re comparing a single city in the US to Singapore, there’s nothing really to extrapolate. America is huge and hugely varied in what people do for a living, in terrain, in climate, in religions and backgrounds. Nothing can be contained neatly. No one is given a hand up in the US. There’s no organised schemes to help people become rock stars. Our audiences are more enthusiastic because Americans are a lot less reserved, for better or worse.
What was the lowest point in your journey so far?
The band broke up for a few days. I couldn’t leave my room, it was devastating.
FOLLOW THE DREAM
Has social media been useful for the band?
I haven’t cracked social media. It’s good for getting things posted and putting the word out but the race to have ‘Likes’ is a bit shallow.
How the band get their breakthrough in Russia?
Our licensing deal with ToCo International includes Russia, so the music was sent over to their partner label, RDS. A young person working there just ran with it. From that point, The Cave were on Russian television and now they have a lot of Russian and Georgian
fans whose names are in Cyrillic so I don’t know what they’re called.
What advice would you give to young musicians in Singapore or Asia who might want to try Russia too?
Russia likes music but its not necessarily a place that musicians think of. So maybe that’s why it’s a welcoming place for new bands. I think Russia will be like Germany for the Beatles. Get lots of practice there and come back great.
What’s your vision for The Cave? What would success look like to them?
A combination of someone of influence working with them, a chance to do a lot of shows and write a lot more songs, and then unleashing them on a big stage to a big crowd and just knowing you are riding the escalator up.
The Cave will be launching their EP at Timbre on 16 April 2014.