Interviews — March 4, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Homecoming with Charles J Tan


Charles J Tan is a man who dons many hats. Beyond the typical singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist combination – as if that wasn’t impressive enough – he now also lists directing, editing and also producing music videos as part of his many talents. Currently based in Melbourne, Charles J Tan will be playing his nostalgic blend of folk, blues and soul back on local shores this March for Mosaic Music Festival, hot on the heels of the release of his brand new music video for ‘On Your Side’ featuring the ever-so-lovely Aarika Lee. The team at Music Weekly couldn’t help but swoon at the juxtaposition of lush, pastoral Australian landscapes and the quaint Singapore heartlands so we simply had to jump at the opportunity to chat with Charles prior to his homecoming. Read on to learn more about his journey behind the making of the video, his eagerly-anticipated upcoming album and his thoughts on performing back on the Singapore stage. 

Charles J Tan

Music Weekly:
Hello Charles! Congratulations on the new video – it looks amazing! What was the inspiration behind it?

Charles J Tan: Thank you very kindly indeed. I had a lot of fun making it. The video is inspired by those indie road trip movies such as Sideways and most recently Django Unchained. Well I guess one can’t really say the last one is a road trip movie, but such movies take the audience on a “road trip” outside of their normal city living rhythm and immerse them in a natural wild landscape, which can be a feast for the senses. I personally really enjoy the lush landscape of the Australian outback and spend a bit of time out of the city when I need to recharge and find my bearings. I wanted my fans and viewers to get a piece of it. At the same time I wanted to also capture elements of my birthplace and where I came from. And it was perfect – Aarika was in Singapore and I was in Melbourne. Two teams with different storyboards, one to capture the natural beauty of Australia and the other to capture the nostalgia of what Singapore really stands for. I dreamt up the storyboard for it but wasn’t specific about the locations. I wanted to empower the team in Singapore to go find the perfect locations to interpret and capture the mood. And it was a very pleasant outcome. There are scenes of a typical coffee shop, a neighbourhood street front of a HDB void deck. All very heartlander, Singaporean elements that I grew up around. There’s a real happenstance with the scenes shot on the beautiful man made architecture of the Henderson Wave in Telok Blangah. Half of the album was recorded at Beep Studios, located in Telok Blangah itself!


According to the credits of the video, you’re listed as director, editor and also producer. What was it like juggling these 3 roles, while also starring in the video itself? 

It was a great experience juggling these roles making this video. I practiced in front of the mirror to get over being self-conscious. I mean, other than stage performances and the odd YouTube cover I made in the last few years, there was a bit of work I needed to do to be comfortable performing in front of the camera. Then, having to watch myself on screen, I noticed so many weird facial expressions when I sing!

I’ve always had a keen interest in making short films and music videos and this was a great opportunity for me to get my hands dirty. One of my bucket list is to make a full length movie at some stage of my life. So this is the beginnings of it. I am only just starting but I’m so addicted to it, I’m already plotting my next video. 


You embarked on a crowdfunding campaign for your upcoming album – how was the reception? What are your thoughts on crowdfunding and how it helps artists and musicians such as yourself?

The reception was good. There were many people who showed their love throughout that campaign. Unfortunately I didn’t quite raise the target amount. Which, to be honest was one of the greatest things to happen to me. Failing was painful and embarrassing but it gave me so much perspective. I learnt to make do with what I raised and thrive in a harsh and tense season of my career. I mean the album was recorded, but without the finance, I had to be creative about marketing it – which includes album artwork, logo design, photography, merchandising, making music videos and then there is the tour. All that comes at a price. The amount I managed to raise went a long way. It was an exercise in creative accounting and learning how to manage the small plot of resources given me to travel as far as I can go.

Well, as it turns out, whatever I could not pay for with money I did with my blood and sweat. And this music video is one of those miracles. I spent close to nothing on the video. With the good graces of friends who believed in me, we made it happen. I picked up Adobe Premier Pro software editing skills from researching the internet. I can’t believe in the matter of the last three months, I managed to pull this together. I’m still pinching myself.

Tell us more about your next album which will be released soon – what can we expect?

I can’t wait for the new album to go see the world. These songs were written while on the road touring through parts of Australia, Asia, America and France. 12 songs from a list of around 200 songs written over the last 2 years. To be honest, releasing an album seems counter-intuitive, given that we are in a singles market. When I was choosing the songs to be included on this album, I wanted to put together a platter of material that is authentic and true to who I am. There are so many stories that cannot be told in a 3 minute single. The result is a very honest statement with a very soul barring nakedness about it. They represent a spectrum of folk, pop and bluesy influences ranging from Paul Simon to Counting Crows to Tracy Chapman. I think listeners and my fans will be treated to a pleasant surprise on this offering. This album is really an emotionally charged plethora of colours that will take the listener of their own journey. Don’t just expect the guitar or ukulele to drive this new vehicle. There are some really nice turns that will leave a sweet aftertaste.


You’ll be playing here in Singapore for Mosaic Music Festival. What are you most looking forward to, performing back home?

I am really looking forward to performing at the Esplanade Waterfront outdoor stage with my band – the original studio band who played on the album! This feels really good cos my homeboys (and girls) will be with me onstage and it’s going to be like a family affair. We spent a long time together in the studio, sharing music and letting our voices and instruments meld together to create the sound on this album. I’ve been long-time friends with most of the band half of my life! And of course I am looking forward to show and tell these new songs to my homeground – the place where I grew up. Homecoming is always close to my heart. Nothing beats being able to perform in front of my hometown people, especially my own friends and family who have supported, celebrated, cried with me and walked with me through my career so far. That in itself is the best reward any artist can have. Everything else, is icing on the cake.


Any parting words?

Watch this space. Let’s grow up together. =)

Watch Charles J Tan’s new music video for ‘On Your Side’ featuring Aarika Lee below!

Charles J Tan
: Facebook / Twitter / Official Website
Catch Charles’ sets at the Mosaic Music Festival on Monday 11 March, 8 – 8.40pm and 10 – 10.40pm at the Mosaic Music Station (Esplanade Outdoor Theatre).