Arts & Culture

.gif: Songwriting Through Dropbox

.gif on how songwriting evolves with its musicians.
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Featured image (on left) By Jensen Ching. (above) By Md Hanis B Isahak

Founded in 2012 as a passion project and hobby, .gif has gone on to become Singapore’s own brand of indie-electronic music. Formed by Chew Wei Shan (weish) and Nurudin Sadali (din), they are known for their immersive vocals that accompany dark beats and deft lyricism.

They first released their EP Saudade in 2013 and went on to perform for festivals such as St Jerome’s Laneway Festival and Java Soundsfair. Their recent LP soma looked to theatre and film as artistic references - moving towards a more kinematic and cinematic approach for their musical expression.

Looking to various aspects of life for inspiration, how does the process songwriting evolve together with its musicians?

By Fhage

How long have you been involved with music?

din:We’ve always been going to local gigs, really. But if you mean when it was we started out as a band, then that would be December 2012.

From when you first started to now, how has your approach towards music evolved?

din: That’s a tough question. If I’m answering with regards to our approach towards making music… I used to think that if I had the best and latest gear / plugins / whatever then I’d be able to great music. I’d save up to buy all these things that I never fully utilised. So over the years I’ve come to concentrate less on acquiring new gear and more on getting to know what I already have better and more fully.

For me, it’s evolved immensely in some ways, but stayed very similar in others. Initially it was all about virtuosity; being bitter that I couldn’t do crazy vocal runs or improvise on a keyboard as well as other musicians, practising and going over technicalities over and over. That’s still very important to me, of course, but over time I realised that you’ve really got to lose yourself to the music and not lose sight of that feeling. Emoting a raw and honest emotion has always been my main priority, and sometimes I need to remind myself to strip back all the fancy effects and just be in the moment.

Share with us your most comfortable approach towards songwriting. Do you write together, or is there a designated songwriter?

We do it a variety of ways. Because we’ve had crazy hectic full-time jobs for the last 5 years, most of our released music has been written over Dropbox -- Din sends over an Ableton file with beats, I send back some chords layered over it, he throws on a bassline, I sing over some harmonies, etc. and we sort of ping-pong like this until we feel a track is done. Only then do we get together to debate over things we liked or didn’t like, and edit it down till we both like it as much as the other.

On the rare occasion we do have real time together to jam, we sit somewhere and set up all our gear and sort of just improvise on various instruments, recording along the way when we like certain elements, then eventually put them altogether. The only thing I do on my own is lyric / melody writing… in the privacy of my own bedroom when everything is over, because I get a little self-conscious about that sort of thing.

The ByIdealiste

What is one most misunderstood perception of songwriting?

weish: I haven’t really heard anything weird about songwriting! And you know, the process can be so different from person to person.

How do you gain inspiration?

din: I personally think the whole “I need to be inspired to create art” thing is quite silly. If you’re going to sit around to wait for inspiration then it’ll never come. You just have to start. I mean, if you’re feeling saturated or sick of something that you’re working on, take a break and come back to it whenever. The point is, you just have to start.

weish: We inadvertently are inspired by everything around us, really, without ever explicitly looking for inspiration. Life is so rich. Many of our songs were actually responses to other work, too, like films or literary texts.

Godspeed, first single from .gif’s soma

What is one key towards honing your songwriting skills?

din: Never be satisfied with what you’ve created. Always look for a way to improve.

We were recently chatting with drummer Teo Jia Rong, who sessions for us at bigger festivals and is one of our favourite drummers of all time. He was waxing lyrical about how learning to play the trumpet has changed the way he drums - he’d learnt so much about expression and phrasing from a melodic point of view, he put himself in the shoes of a pianist or bassist and realised some of his initial approaches to drum fills or grooves may be off-putting, etc. That really reminded me that we need to keep learning new things and step out of our comfort zones, and it might really change our perspectives on things in surprising ways. In short… what Din said.

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