What are The Glad Stones up to? Recording an album in a month!

It all started with a crazy idea – Given exactly four weeks to complete a project, what would you choose to accomplish? It was part of a life development course that Jaye attended last month. and as an act of courage, he must take action and complete a project successfully within the given time-frame. So I said to him, let’s think big and do something nearly impossible, something that we’ve been talking about for so long but haven’t even come close to finishing… What if we recorded an entire album in a four weeks?

And that was how it started.

So far, we have picked 8 songs for the album, found a producer who’s going to help us arrange, mix and master the tracks in two weeks. One of the 8 songs is going to be a new one, which we are halfway through writing. We’ve got t-shirts designed and they are being made as we speak. We’re also designing the album artwork, and did I mention we’re going to shoot an MTV for our new song?

*Takes a deep breath* Wow, that was a mouthful.

And when is this all coming together?

APRIL 25

Oh, and we’ve emailed everyone about it too.

Watch this space.

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Hangin’ By A Thread (Or how we tried to write a song for the environment)

In this post, I’d like to share a little about how my band, “The Glad Stones” came up with an original song about the environment. But before that, you can take a listen to it in the video above 🙂

Writing a song about “green” issues is challenging. I say that because it’s so difficult to be fresh and original when your message is usually the same as everyone else’s.

I mean, how many times can people listen to a song about the Earth dying without tuning out, right? You really need to stand out from the crowd.

So, when Singapore’s National Environment Agency launched the second season of its Eco Music Challenge, a songwriting competition for aspiring composers to express their love for Mother Earth – and spread the Green message far and wide –  Jaye and I took some time to decide on whether to take part or not.

After all, both of us sent in separate entries for the first season last year, and neither of us won, so we wondered if we should do it all over again.

I must add, however, that the contest is quite a novel way to get people engaged with such issues, through the powerful medium of music. As a songwriter myself, I appreciate the fact that my government is including original music as part of its environmental campaign.

Finally, we decided to take part again, as a band this time.

I’ll go into that in a bit, but as I was saying earlier, it is pretty darn hard to write a brand new song about saving the planet…

That’s why I really like the song “I Need To Wake Up” by Melissa Etheridge, which she wrote for Al Gore’s famous environmental documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth”. It was nominated for the “Best Song Written for a Motion Picture” Grammy in 2007. Take a listen to it below:

When I first heard it, I was moved because it spoke to me as a person. It was insistent without being preachy; it did not go into the details about what I already knew was going on in this world; it did not have the word “green” in it at all.

Instead, it appealed to a deeper sense of responsibility, a personal responsibility to change. That’s something I thought was fresh and unique.

Taking a leaf out of Melissa Etheridge’s masterpiece, we deliberately chose not to write an overtly environmental song.

Instead we wrote a love song, yes a love song – from the perspective of Mother Earth herself.

“Hangin’ By A Thread” is all about love’s ingratitude. A woman has given everything to the one she loves, but all she has gotten is hurt. She is empty.

Sound familiar? Yes, it’s a painful experience many of us can relate to.

And that became the premise of our song: Mother Earth pleading to us.

We are the ones she loves and she has nothing left for us to take from her. We’ve taken it all, and more. She’s hanging by a thread, and yet she’s holding out, hoping, knowing that there’s still time if we change our ways – now.

If you put yourself in Mother Earth’s shoes as you listen to the song, you’d come a lot closer to feeling her pain…

We chose the lovely Singapore Botanic Gardens to shoot our video. (One of the many “green” enclaves on our little island.)

In case you’re wondering how we did the outdoor shoot, both of us wore wireless clip-on microphones, which fed both our vocals and guitars directly to a receiver connected to Jaye’s MacBook. Everything was recorded in Logic Pro.

And as for the video, we propped a digital camera on a tripod and just let it roll.

After we were done, we went to a nearby cafe called “Hatched“, opened by a friend of mine, and sat there for a couple of hours mixing the tracks and editing the video.

There, that’s about it. It took us an entire afternoon and we were really pleased with the result!

Oh, and by the way, we performed the song in a single take with a small impromptu audience of kids and their parents who happened to be walking by.

If you look closely, a little girl comes into the frame somewhere after the halfway mark. Isn’t that adorable?

As I said earlier, I sent in an entry to the same competition last year, called “This Little Earth Is All I’ve Got”. You can check it out here:

I tried to write from the perspective of a child telling us that Earth is the only place he has, so please take care of it. I admit, however, that I was guilty of going into the above-mentioned descriptions of the planet dying, etc.

Plus, I did a slightly-cheesy picture slide show to go with the lyrics, and put it on YouTube.

Well, it didn’t get into the finals, but the video has over 10,000 views now!

Let’s see if the new song does any better…

So please, please, please visit the Eco Music Challenge 2011 submissions page and click “like” on our song, “Hangin’ By A Thread”!

(You’ll need to scroll through the entries to find our song, because there isn’t a way to link directly to it, but do listen to the other songs too!)

52 Weeks, 52 Songs: Looking back on “A Song A Week”

I thought I’d spend some time to reflect on my songwriting journey over the past year in this post. (Warning: It’s going to be a long one so please bear with me :))

Honestly, I am still in shock over how fast the 52 weeks went by. Scrolling through my previous entries, I ask myself sometimes – did I really write all this?

Now, I’m not the kind of guy who talks about his feelings that much (I’d rather much sing about them ;)), but this blog has become more than a place for my music. It is my personal diary, and that’s saying a lot because I have never kept one. Every week, I’ve written about the inspiration behind each song, and shared a little of my life in the process. Putting your own music on the world wide web, baring your soul with each song… it exposes you to both the compliments and the barbs. It takes getting used to.

“Songwriting is a stream of creation that flows faster and stronger the more you give”

… That was what I wrote on 3 May 2010, the day I started this project – and I’ve found it to be true.

I’ve always felt a burning desire to express myself through songwriting, but because of work and other commitments, I knew I could never do enough unless I threw myself entirely into it.

It’s funny how life gives you what you wish for.

Last year, I lost my job, thanks to the financial crisis. Lo and behold, right in front of me was a real opportunity to launch myself into what I was truly passionate about – with the blessings of my wife of course, without whom I never could have done this.

And so for the past year, songwriting became my life. I lived and breathed it. One song every week, for one whole year. Frankly, I didn’t know how I was going to do it; I only knew I had to compose something by midnight every Sunday.

The only thing I could do was to keep going at it, week after week. I kept my eyes, ears and heart open. I tuned in to the smallest details; everything around me became a potential song idea: a newspaper article, an overheard conversation, the book I was reading, even my dreams at night…

After several weeks had passed, I realised that I had unconsciously developed a system of sorts. It went something like this: brainstorm an idea, write the lyrics, put them into music. I’d divide my week into writing days and recording days. Generally, I’d spend the early part of the week crafting the lyrics and music, and the weekend recording the video. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?

Far from it.

Coming up with ideas was a big challenge, of course. Some people say you can’t force an idea out, no matter how hard you try. You have to wait for inspiration to hit. While that’s true to some extent, I firmly believe that being disciplined and consistent about creativity stimulates us to do more good work at a faster rate. That is, the more you create, the faster the flow of new ideas, and the better and quicker you become at creating something. That’s one thing I’ve learnt from this project.

Ideas aside, the biggest stumbling block I faced in this entire journey was – me.

… You see, I had one entire week to devote to a song, but I’d find myself getting distracted easily, going online, eyeballing my Facebook page, obsessing over how many (or few) views I was getting on YouTube. I had to constantly push myself, no, discipline myself to write.

Always, I heaved a sigh of relief by the time Sunday came and I had a new song uploaded. Then, I’d worry about the next song, and the one after that. Often, I’d find myself crippled by self-doubt… was I doing the right thing? Was I wasting my time chasing a silly dream instead of settling down and looking for a job? These were the demons that I battled, day-in, day-out.

Isn’t that the way with any dream, any creative endeavour? Perhaps, but I know I needed a lot of encouragement. My wife was a major inspiration to me of course. I also drew strength from the positive comments I received from complete strangers about my songs. Lastly, I believed wholeheartedly in my music – and I still do.

All this kept me going.

As the weeks went by, I began to pay more attention to the videos themselves. Before this, a passable recording was all I needed. I didn’t really care much about how I looked, whether the audio levels were too soft, or if the lighting was bright enough. I began to realise that on a platform like YouTube, I was competing with songwriters who were churning out professional-sounding recordings and classy-looking videos all the time. I certainly could do a lot more.

Thankfully, I had a pretty decent audio/video recorder – the Zoom Q3, which was able to give me good sound levels, and pretty okay video quality.

I experimented with different camera positions and settings. I remember once placing the device at a corner of my room to allow sound to bounce off the walls. I hoped that it would create a natural reverb, but I felt the difference was not noticeable in the end. So much for that.

At another point, a friend told me he was tired of watching the same old room in the background. So If you check out some of my later videos, you’ll see a completely black background, which I created by stringing a black cloth behind me to hide the mess. To add some variety, I also experimented with photo and lyric slide shows in my videos.

Yes, slowly but surely, I was writing one song every week. But if you ask me now whether I have a formula for writing a song – I’d say no.

… Sometimes, I’d finish a song in an hour. Other times, I’d spend days crafting the lyrics. It always varied. And do the lyrics or melody come first? It really depends. I often started with the title, which gave me the general theme of the song, and then went on to write the lyrics, coupled with a rough melody which I would fine-tune once I had the lyrical structure in place. That was one approach.

However, my recent collaborations with Jaye Foo were done using an entirely different method. Jaye would come up with a basic chord progression – we would “feel” the rhythm and the music, and think of the kind of song we wanted it to become. Then, I would focus on developing the lyrics and let him expand on his chords. After that, we’d finalise the lyrics and chords; and finally, sing countless melodies out loud until we heard something we liked.

Like my dad always says, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

If you look at the past 14 or so weeks of my project, you’ll find that they’ve been collaborations.

… I’m thankful that towards the end of my journey, I found a fellow songwriter to come along with me. The Glad Stones was born early this year, and I’ve been nothing short of stunned by the feedback we’ve received.

Interestingly enough, we both initially felt that our styles were worlds apart. When we tried writing songs, however, it just worked out. It’s been a blessing to have such a hardworking and talented songwriting buddy, especially on the last leg of my journey, when I felt that it was getting harder and harder to produce fresh material. Plus, with Jaye’s home studio, we were able to produce videos that not only sounded good, but were entertaining as well!

I’m tremendously grateful for the many high points of my journey, one of them being my first solo showcase at the Esplanade Library in August last year. I was really encouraged by how it went and the audience turnout was larger than I expected. The show was such a confidence-booster for me; after that I continued to perform whenever I could.

My performance at TAB early this year, as well as the gigs at the Maestro Acoustic Lounge, were some of the ones I enjoyed tremendously. (In fact, it was at my second Maestro gig that I met Jaye, who performed immediately after me.)

So, what’s next?

Well, Jaye and I will be working on a Glad Stones’ album! It will include some of the songs we’ve written together, plus others that both of us have written individually. I’ll keep everyone posted on our progress in the weeks to come.

We’ll continue to write new songs and upload videos on YouTube, that’s for sure. We’re even planning some outdoor shoots, so look out for that on our channel!

“A Song A Week” has well and truly come to an end.

Looking back, I have no regrets whatsoever. I’m glad I did it. I’ve met so many people on this journey, and learnt so much from it. It’s a cliche to say that this is only the beginning, but it is.

Thank you for being a part of it, and please continue to walk with me.

Week 50 – Gypsy In The City by The Glad Stones

Gypsies are people who live by their own rules. They go against the flow, they stand out, they travel from place to place. They evoke a sense of adventure, a life that is out-of-the-ordinary.

When we were writing this song, we wanted to say something about that kind of life – about walking a path that is different from the norm, different from the usual routes that people choose.

Sometimes, we get the feeling that we are “gypsies in the city”, because of the goals we’ve chosen. Not many people, especially here, go out and pursue the life that they want to live, or the dreams that they want to achieve.

And we feel that the gypsy defines that experience for us. We hope it inspires you to choose your own direction in life 🙂

Gypsy In The City

I’m jivin’ down Orchard Road
Guitar’s my only load
Don’t have a care at all
I’m feeling ten feet tall

I trust my own beliefs
Like a fish swimming upstream
I know which way to go
I stand up and start a show

Trust me my dreams ain’t small
My voice can fill the hall
I’m always on the move
Feel free to disapprove

Chorus
I’m just a gypsy in the big bad city
Got blues in my shoes and nothing to lose
Wake up at noon but I don’t dilly-dally
So baby don’t tease me with your you should be’s

I’m just a gypsy in the big bad city
Got the blues in my shoes and nothing to lose
I write the tune to my own symphonies
Choose to walk the path beyond the trees

We only got so much time
But don’t rush to make up your mind
Find what you really want
But don’t be blinded by the sun

Love with all your heart
If you don’t we’ll fall apart
Grab hold of your soul and begin
The life you’re meant to be in

Trust me my dreams ain’t small
My voice can fill the hall
I’m always on the move
Feel free to disapprove

Week 47 – Sky Skating by The Glad Stones

Everybody wants to see the world… And “Sky Skating” is a phrase we came up with which means just that – going round the world as easily and freely as if you were on a pair of skates.

It’s certainly a fresh way to say it, and the good thing about writing a song is you have the license to create a new phrase just for the heck of it 😉

When we were composing the verses, I thought it would be a good idea to write about some of the places we’d like to see; and so we sat down on Friday afternoon to come up with list of dream destinations – not an easy task considering there were so many of them! Well, you’ll hear all about it in the lyrics.

Come sky skating with us, won’t you? And do tell us about the places you’d like to visit too 🙂

Sky Skating

There are so many places I’ve never been
No, you can’t see the world through a TV screen
Pack up our music and leave this shore
‘Cos I ain’t going to stay here no more, let’s go explore

First stop Tokyo, next bullet train to the sumo show
Hula dancing, ukulele in Hawaii
Beating the drums in Rio when the carnival comes
Strike the jackpot on a neon bright Vegas night

Chorus
Don’t be waiting
Don’t be debating
Troubles start fading
When you’re
Sky skating
Around the world we fly
Sky skating
Won’t stop until we die

Go pack your bags
Let’s get jet lagged
My legs are numb
But it’s just so fun

Sipping coffee by a street in Paris
Rowing a boat down romantic Venice
Pretend I’m like an Egyptian king
Watch 99 penguins play on the South African bay

There’s just too many sights I have to see
My Gladstone bag is all I need
When you’re sky skating, your truly free
There’s no reason to stay where you don’t wanna be

Week 46 – Love Over Love by The Glad Stones feat. BBS

Watching the tragedy unfold in Japan the past week, we felt compelled to write this song.

Love Over Love” is all about celebrating the spirit of giving, spreading the love, and paying it forward. It’s about love and goodness building up with each good deed, again and again, until the world becomes a better place.

Our hope is that it will inspire you to do something to help the ones who need it most.

For this song, we collaborated with the extremely talented rapper, BBS, from Jaye’s hip-hop duo New Fro Matter. (Btw, he wrote the rap in about 10 minutes, just before we recorded the video!)

Love Over Love

Your heart’s down, but you’ve got friends around you, let the love
surround you
You’re lost we’ve found you, got your back
Gonna get you off the ground

Don’t cry, but if you do you can dry your tears on my sleeve
I won’t leave you hanging, don’t you fear my friend
In the end, love grows over and over

CHORUS
Love, over love, over love, over love, over love
It’s more than enough
Love, over love, over love, over love, over love
When life treats you rough
Love, over love, over love. over love, over love
Rays shine from above
When love gets together, bet’cha things will get better
And you’ll never haf’ta stand on ya own

The world’s too small to ignore all the people left behind,
Open the door, let your neighbour in, not them but friends
For us for all

More than the thought that counts, it’s what you give, a chain reaction
A spark of passion, start a flame, small actions
Go round again and again

There ain’t nothin’ more powerful than the power of love
Beaming like the sunlight
A gift from above
Let’s share it and spread it
And so I shall declare it
Love is the solution for everything I merit
And so we declare
For everything fair and righteous
We might just get through the problems and fight this
And I’ll risk everything for life is a gift from His Highness
So spread the word and spread the vibe
Heal the world and open your eyes
Hear your heart and your mind
Love will keep us alive

Week 40 – Dancing In The Storm

Somehow, amidst the festivities of the Lunar New Year week, I managed to write something… (Frankly, it was one of those weeks where I thought I wasn’t going to make it – so a big sigh of relief!)

This song was inspired by the spell of intense rain over Singapore just before Chinese New Year. For something like three days in a row, heavy rains and winds swept down upon us without any signs of stopping. Driving home one night, the roads were so wet that I couldn’t tell if I was in the right lane or not. All I could see were the reflections of street lamps on the waterlogged road.

“I’m driving on a road of mirrors”, I thought to myself – and that line was how I began the song.

You’ll notice that there isn’t really a chorus, just four stanzas telling a story, which I’ll leave you to listen to right now…

Dancing In The Storm
© Music and Lyrics by Marcel Lee Pereira, 4 Feb 2011

Walking on a road of mirrors, we shiver as the rain pours down
We slip, we slide, we try to hide somewhere safe and warm
But the sky is like a waterfall, I’m glad I’m not alone
The crumblin’ world that scares us all don’t matter anymore

We are soaked right through the skin, and chilled to the bone
Yeah we don’t care, won’t care at all, no we won’t
Cradled by the heat of love, we wait till dawn
I take your hand and we begin dancing in the storm
Dancing in the storm

Arm in arm we watch the sun breaking through the mist
Gentle rays of gold and yellow touch us as we kiss
All is bold and new and true as the darkness retreats
Our love it stays as strong as the ground beneath our feet

Today we laugh at the rain, we laugh at the rain
We walk in the sun, we run with the wind
If the nights are long and things go wrong
That’s when I’ll take your hand and we’ll begin dancing in the storm
Dancing in the storm