(Interview) Daniel Feiler — Life is what you make it.
Daniel Feiler — Born in Sydney, Australia, I have been living in Singapore for eight years with my wife and three children. I currently head up communications across the Asia Pacific for ServiceNow (a global digital transformation company) and started my professional career as a journalist over 20 years ago.
Music has always been a big part of my life. Some of my earliest memories are listening to my mums old 45s and LPs. She didn’t have a huge collection but it was all great records like the 60s British invasion bands and Ray Charles. I was hooked.
When I was around nine years old my grandmother bought me a very cheap guitar. I spent so many hours dancing around with that thing along to Beatles records, so my mum enrolled me into classical guitar lessons with a Ukrainian teacher. At the time I hated it. I wanted to play rock. However, the teacher must have done a good job because even though I quit after less than a year, when I picked it up again at the age of 14 I remembered enough of his lessons to start teaching myself.
Shortly after that, I scraped up enough money to buy a beat-up old electric guitar and a small amplifier. I was in a band before I had even made that purchase. What followed was 10+ years of playing in bands in and around Sydney, mostly rock music. Following that, performing music took a back seat for the next 15 years as I focused on family and career.
When we moved to Singapore, I started to play the guitar more regularly again. It wasn’t long until I stumbled on Singapore’s very vibrant and welcoming jam scene and it was like being a kid in a candy store.
The music scene in Australia — Most of my experience in the Australian music scene was in Sydney from late 80s until 1995. So I can only speak for that time and place (things may have changed more recently).
Historically, Sydney is responsible for producing Australia’s most successful bands; AC/DC, INXS, Midnight Oil and more. One of the reasons for this was the very healthy pub/club scene, where bands could hone their craft. Sadly, in the early ’90s two changes in legislation brought on live music’s demise in the city; the loosening of laws on poker machines in pubs and the tightening of laws on noise in suburban areas. As a result, a lot of the stages were either closed or turned into gambling rooms.
The venues that kept their stages, preferred cover bands that could guarantee a big crowd over supporting original music. The band I was playing with at that time was all original and we went from several gigs a month in 1991, to playing once every couple of months by 1995. Today Melbourne, which has done a lot more to protect its live music scene, has overtaken Sydney as Australia’s premier city for musicians.
Singapore is a very different beast to Sydney. Firstly, Singapore has a very healthy culture of jam nights. Secondly, jam nights here are very welcoming. Almost anyone will be given a chance here. Sydney never really had many places to jam and if there was a chance to jam, you’d need to know someone who knows what standard you’re at before being given a chance.
When I first started jamming in Singapore, I was blown away by how supportive people were of me, especially considering how rusty I was. This friendly nature made it easy to make friends and before I knew it I was playing in a variety of different bands.
I was especially keen to play Soul music, my love for it goes back to my mum’s Ray Charles 45s. I started playing with a Blues Brothers cover show, predominately comprised of expats, which was loads of fun. When that started to wind down mid-2017, as some of the ex-pats returned to their home countries, I was determined to enlist Singaporean musicians, who would be more likely to be here for the long-term (which is also my plan). I was also particular about working with musicians who I respected and found easy-going. I can be pretty demanding and pure democracy doesn’t really work in a band this size. It still blows my mind how these amazing musicians all agreed to be in the band. I guess that comes down to the welcoming nature of the Singapore music scene.
The other important thing to stress, especially now during this extended period of Circuit Breaker, is the importance of supporting live music venues. I pray that they can survive this period of closure and I hope that we all unite to support them when they are back in business.
Composing your own tunes, in Singapore — The Singapore live music scene is dominated by cover bands. And there are some exceptional performers and interpreters among this group. The majority of our set is also covers of classic Soul and Rhythm’n’Blues. So I don’t place playing originals in a higher category than playing covers.
That said, the satisfaction of performing your own original material, especially when it elicits a strong reaction from an audience, can’t be matched. As a parent, I would liken it to the pleasure you get when your children make you proud, over the pleasure you receive from your niece or nephew’s achievements.
I would like to see more musicians and bands take more risks and expose their audiences to original music. There is a tendency in the Singapore music scene to play it safe. I understand why that happens but I believe that we have a duty to bring the audience on a journey with us and expand horizons, both theirs and our own. One of the most beautiful and satisfying things about music is discovering something new.
The great thing about Singapore is that there is a fantastic network of creators and producers here to support you. On recording our original music, I wanted to have as much of the production come from Singapore as possible. After all, we are The Souls Of Singapore. Almost everything from the recording, to the artwork, to the video, was done in Singapore. The only exception was the mastering, which was done in Australia.
THE SOULS — When I first put the band together, I knew from the beginning that Soul music would be at our core. Especially the Soul music stylings from the mid60s to the mid70s. The combination of great groove and conviction of emotion in Soul is irresistible.
For me, the key foundations of genuine Soul music are exceptional and emotive singing backed by a rhythm and horn section, all in the pocket and focused on making the vocalists shine. The icons of Soul music are among the greatest singers of all time; Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Al Green, Etta James… the list goes on. I am blessed to have Vannessa Barker and Surath Godfrey on vocals who truly do justice to the genre.
As of now, while the live music scene takes a very unwelcome break due to COVID-19, The Souls Of Singapore are focused on releasing our original songs recorded at Snakeweed Studios earlier this year. In early April we launched our debut single Lift Your Eyes, featuring Vannessa. The second single, In A Hotel Lobby, comes out on 1 May and features Surath. We have two more that will follow shortly, both duets. I hope people like them and listen to them on the music platforms (Spotify, Apple Music etc) so we can justify going back to the studio as soon as possible. I’ve already started on some new songs.
Regarding our future, it’s hard for me to predict where this will all lead. When this started, I never thought we’d end up in the studio recording original material. I have a regular lunch with Danny Loong, who plays keys and guitar in the band and is a true patron of Singapore’s live music scene. We throw ideas at each other and the one that we keep coming back to is to have this very Singaporean R’n’B band tour the US, the homeland of Soul. That would be a dream come true.
”Life is what you make it.” — Growing up my dad always used to say; “life is what you make it.” You hear these sayings as you grow up and they just don’t make sense until you get some life experience. For 15 years I put performing music, one of my greatest passions, aside. At the time my focus was supporting my young family and the best way I could do that was through excelling in my professional career. I always knew I would get back to playing the guitar and performing in a band again, I just didn’t know when.
I never let go of my dream to play in a Soul revival band during those years. As I became more settled in Singapore, the kids were growing fast, I was becoming more confident in my professional life and I was able to find more time to reclaim my passion for performing. By the time The Souls Of Singapore were coming together not only was I more determined than ever to make it work, but I also had a much clearer vision of what I wanted the band to be about and how to achieve that… life is what you make it.