SIX SONGS AND A BOOMBOX: REMEMBERING “MILD” BY THE ODDFELLOWS
Posted on July 31, 2013
In May 1988, 20-year-old songwriter Patrick Chng entered a jamming studio with two friends, a boombox and a simple plan to record his own tunes and share these with his small circle of indie music fans in Singapore.
His band was The Oddfellows, and the result of those sessions was a cassette EP called “Mild”. This selection of six songs set the template for Singapore’s indie bands from then on: original songs, self produced releases, modest circulation. But more than that, it created a new chapter in the evolution of local pop music.
Over the next few years, against expectations, the band made the magical transformation from underground status to mainstream acclaim. Chris Ho, musician, DJ and music writer, calls The Oddfellows the “true sons of local indie”. He recalls: “They were the first Singapore indie band to top the local Top 10 chart. That does say much about how the band captured the hearts of music-lovers here at a time when support for original-local was at an all-time low.”
Avid fan Ivan Thomasz shared photos of his treasured copy of “Mild” for this article. “It’s been a long time since I last played “Mild” on my old tape deck, and it has brought back a flood of memories, bitter, sour and sweet, from that time,” he writes. “This is testament to the passion, faith, and love that Patrick and his band members (drummer Casey Soo and bassist Stephen Tan) invested in this little tape that is as deceivingly ordinary-looking as the persons who put it together.”
We spoke to Patrick about those pioneering days, twenty-five years ago, and the six songs the kicked off his esteemed career as an indie rocker.
The original trio: (l to r) Casey, Patrick, Stephen. Photo by Casey Soo
How would you describe the tracks on your “Mild” cassette?
It’s indie-pop that’s a bit quirky and whimsical. There were six songs:
A song about people who put on fake accents.
“Song About Karen”
About a punk rock girl that I was a fool for liking.
About a goody-two-shoes boy.
“Ten And Seven”
A song about growing up.
“Knocking On Heaven’s Door” (live)
A live bootleg recording of us covering this Bob Dylan classic.
“World Of Annie”
About a girl who is happy to be sad.
What else was happening in the local music scene that year?
The biggest thing that happened that year was the inaugural Singapore Arts Festival. The Festival had a free concert at the Botanic Gardens called “Alternative Pop” and that was the first gig that The Oddfellows played. And then in December that year, we played a gig called “10 Years Of Punk” with Opposition Party and Mortal Flower.
Why did you decide to make “Mild”?
I just wanted to showcase some songs that I had written.
What were your creative influences back then?
At that time, I was heavily influenced by bands like The Replacements, The Undertones, R.E.M. and Los Lobos.
Photo by Ivan Thomasz
How did you record the songs?
There was no budget really. We brought a boombox into a jamming studio and hit the record button. And that was how “Mild” was recorded. “Mama’s Boy” and “World Of Annie” were recorded in my bedroom with the same boombox.
What difficulties did you face during this process?
Lots of trial and error in getting the best position for the boombox.
How did you duplicate and sell the cassette tapes?
I bought blank cassettes and duplicated them at home with a twin-cassette deck. After duplicating Side A, I would open up the cassette, splice off the excess tape, close the cassette and duplicate Side B. I approached Skoob Books and Dada Records to carry the cassettes. A couple of record stores declined as they weren’t sure if this was legal, even though I assured them that I wasn’t pirating anything.
How many did you manage to sell?
About 100 copies.
What was the most difficult part of the experience?
Duplicating the cassettes was the tough part. I usually duplicated about five to 10 a day, depending on how busy I was.
What was the response from the local scene?
Response was really good. I received a lot of fan mail, which was nice and encouraging.
Bands today use social media. What did you do in those days, to connect with other indie rock fans?
Back then, there wasn’t much interaction except at shows. And I made it a point to reply to every fan mail. It’s so much easier these days with social media.
2013: Patrick (second from right) recording Shelves. Photo by Noel Yeo
NEW SCHOOL ROCK
What happened to The Oddfellows after that?
We released another cassette in 1990 and had two songs on a CD compilation called “New School Rock“, also in 1990, before releasing our debut album, “Teenage Head” in 1991. The second album, “Carnival”, came out in 1992. A cassette-only EP, “Seven Year Itch” was released in 1995. Around 2002, we took a long hiatus as our drummer Johnny moved to Taiwan. He came back around 2007 and we’ve been playing the occasional gig.
It’s been 25 years since “Mild”. How do you feel when you listen to it today?
I’ve not listened to “Mild” since the early ’90s. Now I think it’s just awful. The sound is terribly lo-fi, and not in a good way!
What do you remember best about the project?
The feeling that anything was possible. The DIY spirit that I loved, which has never gone away, even today. And I can’t believe that I actually opened up each cassette to splice out the excess tape. Looking back, I think that was insane!
What did you learn from that experience?
If you set your mind to it, you can do it.
What is it about indie rock that inspires you?
That you don’t need corporations to back you up to make things happen. Keep it real and honest, and work hard.
What was your biggest ambition as an indie musician, when you made “Mild”?
We had no ambition. Just wanted to sell a few copies of “Mild”, I guess.
Do you still make music today?
I’ve been a gigging and recording musician since 1988. Apart from performing, I also do mixing and produce recordings. I’ve helped to record The Pagans, Daze, Pep Talk, Shelves, Sapporo Safaris, Seyra, Jonathan Meur, Kevin Mathews, Lydia Low and more. Now I work part-time for Gibson Guitar Singapore and play guitar in a band called TypeWriter. My current production projects include EPs by Shelves, Yuji Kumagai (Cashew Chemists), Sapporo Safaris and TypeWriter.
What is the biggest misconception about you or the work you do?
That I’m a bum and what I do is not real work.