In the water, we’re beautiful. But in dreams, we’re so much more. Now, newly minted local trio Sobs is taking us on a journey into this sunken, slumberous world divulged by twinklingly psychedelic pops of capricious guitar riffs, prodigious textural depth, and indelible lilts on its debut EP Catflap. Its five-track world weaves pop-leaning hooks and indie-minded sensibilities into a fresh experience – one where the payoff envelopes the senses and lingers after the tape ends. Chanteuse Celine Autumn, Jared Lim and Raphael Ong have furnished an antidote to the overly connected, accelerated present. And it sounds great. Here they go on how it all happened.
How did Sobs come about?
Celine: Jared and I had this project called Coleslaw. It had a more dancey, electronic indie-pop feel. We still have it, actually, but we haven’t been working on it as actively as we are on Sobs. Anyway, we started writing stuff for Coleslaw and were like, ‘Hey, this doesn’t sound like it aligns with the project’s, you know, feel.’ So we decided to just start up a side project. We didn’t really take it seriously, till Raphael heard it. That was when we started working on it legitimately.
Jared: We needed a band name. Celine says ‘sobs’ as a response a lot, and since nobody could think of anything better, we stuck with that.
And how did you find your sound?
J: “Girl” was the first song I ever wrote for Sobs. At that time, I was listening to a lot of ’90s, guitar-based indie-pop, and artists such as Beck, during his Guero era, for the vibe. For the sound, I was listening to Frankie Cosmos – the New York stuff. Simple. Minimalist. Just a guitar and good vocals. I listened to Avril Lavigne as well. You know, for moral support. I think she’s very inspiring. She was a really good songwriter. Pity she died. (Laughs.) I like to work with new song ideas all the time, so “Girl” just came out, and it was catchy, so I sent it to Celine. She sent it back immediately with the lyrics and the vocals as they are now. Everyone liked it so we went with it.
One of the most unique things about it is that Celine’s voice isn’t smothered in reverb.
J: Yes. You can’t hear the vocals clearly for a lot of dream pop songs. It’s all very smothered-sounding. We wanted Celine to have less control over her voice – to let go – because that adds to the unassuming, awkward element we were going for.
C: I don’t feel like I am particularly influenced by any female artist. People say my voice sounds that of Chvrches’ Lauren, but I’m not consciously inspired by her vocals at all. I love Lana Del Rey, Melanie Martinez, MUNA and Carly Rae Jepsen though. Honestly, I just love pop, so I guess that’s maybe why my vocals sound the way they do.
How did Raphael get into the picture?
Raphael: I met them at the Chvrches show in 2014. We stayed in touch. Jared has his own project called jorud, and I was honestly very inspired by his unconventional way of understanding melodies and rhythms. It’s groundbreaking and so unique. I’ve always been a fan of his stuff. Before he worked on “Girl”, we were already starting to think of starting a Frankie Cosmos-esque project, and after the fact, listening to the track, I was like, ‘I have to be part of this, man.’ He decided to get me on board. We were going for something kind of wonky and awkward – bands reminiscent of Crying and Dum Dum Girls. My approach to him was that there’s no other band like that in Asia right now, so there’s a market we can fill.
What is the larger vision behind Catflap?
C: The Catflap EP just takes its name from the third track. There’s a scene from the show Skins, where Naomi and Emily are holding hands through a cat flap and talking about how much they love each other but lamenting that they can’t be together because – well, it’s complicated. I was watching it and crying and feeling so much that I wrote about it. That’s how the song came about.
“I listened to Avril Lavigne as well. You know, for moral support. I think she’s very inspiring. She was a really good songwriter. Pity she died.”
Did you write the EP with an arc in mind?
J: I was developing a lot of song ideas and they all had a similar vibe, so I think it was more the instrumentation choices, along with the mix and the production, that made everything sound cohesive.
C: But we also didn’t finalise the production till the very end, so to an extent we did have to consciously try to make it all gel together.
R: I’m more of an album-based person, meaning I like listening to and judging albums as a whole – nowadays people listen to music song-by-song, jumping around a lot – so I wanted the EP to flow nicely, starting with “Hunchback”, which slowly builds up into something bigger, then having an instrumental interlude to act as a bookend for the first part of the album. Essentially, I tried to go through a narrative.
The music you’re playing right now has a niche audience. Do you hope for it to reach more mainstream listeners?
C: I think, for lo-fi music, our music is very easy listening. So, yes, hopefully we’ll get the crowd from the mainstream side.
R: Interestingly, I showed this project to regular, Top 40s-only music listeners and they really dig it. It’s surprising because we have really weird time signatures at times, and weird guitar riffs, yet our music nonetheless still remains understandable and pleasant to people, apparently. They like the EP and I think that’s what makes Sobs so unique. Our music is still written to pop sensibilities; it’s simple, understandable and quintessentially pop.