Today, The Steve McQueens release their latest album Terrarium. The quartet of Ginny Bloop (vocals), Joshua Wan (keyboards), Jase Sng (bass) and Aaron James Lee (drums) has cemented itself as one of the most breathtakingly next-level engines of Made in Singapore music. Reconfiguring and repurposing jazz, soul and funk into a prog-minded, horizon-expanding imprint, the band must be also be acknowledged for its groove-proffering powers. All these gifts are present on Terrarium, which we learn from Bloop, Lee and Sng, is a deeper, more uninhibited plunge into their individual personalities and quirks than anything they’ve done before. To find out more about the stratospheric dimensions of their Terrarium, read our chat with them below.
Congrats on Terrarium! What would you say is the biggest difference between it and your prior work?
Ginny Bloop: We had a lot more time to work in the studio as compared to the previous albums. So, we could pay more attention the sounds and properly arrange the whole album. When we were recording Sea Monster, we only had two weeks in London. This time, we got to be more involved in the whole production of the album and for a longer time.
Instrumentally speaking, what was the approach on Terrarium?
Aaron: Generally, this record was just more of ourselves. I actually don’t think it’s all that different from our previous records. It’s a more in-depth look at our personalities. The process of curating this album was more hectic than the one we made in London, to be honest. Even though it was done in Singapore, everything felt quite rushed. But it was still manageable. We even did some arrangements when we were in the studio itself. We made huge adjustments while multi-tracking. On the whole, rather than forcing ourselves to explore new things, we just explored ourselves on a deeper level.
“There can be an ideal standard but it shouldn’t be something obligatory that discourages artists. It should not hinder someone from exploring what they want to do and becoming the artist they want to be.”
Ginny, since this album is a journey of intense self-discovery, does singing these new songs make you feel a certain type of way?
G: For me, singing is like telling a story. So, singing these new songs resonates a lot more with the person I am now and the experiences I’ve had to reach this point of my life. If I were to sing the older tracks, it will be a different me singing them. But from a technical point of view, it doesn’t feel very different because the process still begins with thinking of the words and writing them down, so it comes very naturally to me. What’s different this time is that a lot more thought has been put into crafting the songs, since the album is more of a reflection of our own personalities.
Would you say that there’s a general arc to the album?
G: All the songs came from the idea of a terrarium that is a space within which we could just be ourselves and make music. That vibe tied everything together.
The lead single “Hephaestus” is titled after the Greek god of metallurgy, masonry and fire – and the range you cover within the song is just as broad.
G: I’ve always been very interested in Greek mythology. The story of Hephaestus really spoke to me when I was writing the song. When the song was taking shape, the band was in a place where we were trying to explore a different way of songwriting. The story of Hephaestus is about making the best of your situation no matter how bad it is, no matter what obstacles you face. The whole idea of the song was really random. I was trying to craft a melody that I had never sung before. Eventually, I brought the melody I created to the studio. It took a few months for the song to be perfected. We tried different arrangements here and there too.
What is each of your favourite songs on the album?
J: I like “Most of the Time” because I got to play some fretless bass on it. It’s the first time I got an opportunity to use it in the band.
G: My favourite song on the album would have to be “Wolfboy”. I spent quite a bit of time working on it and it’s kind of my personal anthem.
A: Mine’s “Like Coltrane” because there is something about cyclic motion that’s really cool. When we play it live, there’s a section where Jase has to fight war and play the bass line and Andrew, Josh and I play freely. The first time we played it, I felt a vibe that I hadn’t experienced with the band before. It was the first time I experienced that kind of vibe with the whole band and it was really amazing. That song is special to me because of that.
You played at Summer Sonic 2015. How was that experience for you?
J: The crew was very professional. We had some last-minute changes to our band layout because Josh and Aaron had to face each other on stage and they were very quick to accommodate. They also did it willingly so that was amazing.
G: It was very heartwarming too. We had fans who came down to watch the gig and there was an elderly lady in a Stussy bucket hat and J Dilla t-shirt, who was very into it. She was so cute. We also met fans who followed us for the rest of the tour and they were very generous with their gifts.
We spoke to Robert Glasper a while ago and he told us that contemporary jazz artists are hindered by the immovable legacy of the greats. Do you feel that way as well?
A: Everyone compares everyone with everyone. It’s only understandable that the audience compares them, since the older acts weren’t just legends but masters of their craft. Miles Davis may not be the best trumpeter but he’s still Miles. It’s not necessarily a bad thing because younger acts can use that as a motivation too. However, I think it’s only appropriate that younger artists get recognised not just for their work but also for how much they fight for what they want.
G: I don’t think it’s a matter of comparison – it should never be. There can be an ideal standard but it shouldn’t be something obligatory that discourages artists. It’s wrong to make them feel that they should live up to be that example or achieve that level of success. It should not hinder someone from exploring what they want to and become the artist they want to be.