Photo Credit: Adriel Manoe
In this interview, the duo shed some light INside Hail Nothing, our latest offering on TAV Records.
Photo Credit: Din
"It’s eerily apt––and so surreal––to be releasing HAIL NOTHING in times like these; a time many of us are learning to cope with a very palpable nothingness, day to day. It's an album about embracing the void, dancing in the face of it, and we hope that in whatever funny or tragic or hopefully comforting way it helps you tide over these bleak months." - .gif
What was the writing and production process like for Hail Nothing and how would that compare to how you approached things for Soma?
Weish: We started way back in 2016, but hit bumps and lulls along the way. We perpetually had too many half-developed tracks but not enough time to complete them––we’d been travelling and gigging a lot, and got involved in a bunch of challenging projects and collaborations. By the time we sat down to revisit old sketches, nothing sounded fresh or exciting anymore.
So we decided to start from scratch. Hail Nothing was much more deliberate than Soma, both in concept and process. Production and recording were far more gruelling, too.
Production with Jason was this ongoing conversation, with multiple revisions and new approaches to each track along the way. We love the way he used some of his own analog synths, too –– to layer over, counterpoint and complement our synths, which gave everything this raw human touch and unpredictability. It all culminated in this stark, aggressive sound that we were hoping to achieve, and more.
Vocals on past records were all done in my bedroom, where I was my own recording engineer (and worst critic). I could do hundreds of takes and cheekily patch in phrases I wanted re-sung. But this time Jason constructed a booth for me at his place, and limited me to very few takes and no punch–ins. Some of my vocal melodies have strange off–rhythms that don’t sit within the beat, and I had trouble memorising those idiosyncrasies (even though they were my own) in order to sing perfect harmonies or doubles over. I’m a nervous wreck and a perfectionist so it was quite a nightmare for me, but Jason managed to calm me and be firm with me all at once.
The entire album sounds so concise, how long was the writing process for you guys and how did you decide on the direction of the record?
Din: “Let’s Go” was the first to be written fully and considered for the album –– I remember writing the synths for “Let’s Go” after watching Stranger Things and being blown away by the theme. From the first draft of that, to recording the last bit of vocals on “My Darling”… the whole process spanned about 4 years.
It helped that we finally decided to throw out all our folders of old ideas, and start on a blank slate. We wrote with a single vision, as opposed to earlier releases which sometimes felt like a collection of arbitrary songs we happened to have lying around.
But honestly, a big reason why everything sounds so coherent and the direction so clear, is Jason. He played a tremendous role in pushing us and reminding us what we wanted the album to convey, and with what sonic language. That’s the magic of having a producer like him. Not only is he a technical whiz, he also helped shape the overall sound.
Pretty crazy to be releasing this right now. How were you feeling about the record as it developed? Any stand out moments?
Din: Honestly I think we were getting a bit tired of the material at some point, heh. At the time we just wanted to just release whatever we had. It was when Jason convinced Weish to re–record her vocals at a higher fidelity that things started to change I think. We buckled down to record and produce everything proper in 2019 and worked with Jason till like 2am almost every day. As we did that and heard everything being put together, it kind of renewed our faith in our own music, because we started to see (or hear rather) how nicely everything was coming together.
Very fresh collaborators here too, with Bani Haykal on the first track and Usaama Minhas on B2. How did each of these come about?
Din: We’d always wanted to work with Bani Haykal. We’re both big fans of B-Quartet, and all of Bani Haykal’s projects, really. I remember ages ago when we were first starting out, we joked that the ultimate dream would be to collaborate with him––it was so funny at the time because we thought it was impossible. Fast forward 6 years, and we have “Only Yours”.
Weish: We met Usaama when we were playing in Cambridge a couple of years ago. He did a spoken word set so charged with conviction and emotion and artistry it made me cry. Like, sob.
Din: We stuck around after to tell him how much we loved it. He didn’t realise that we were also on the lineup and was getting ready to leave because he had to drive back up to... London, I think. He only stayed when he realised we were up next on the lineup. I think he enjoyed the set and we hung out for a bit after, and we’ve stayed in touch ever since!
Fantastic artwork too from Marc Gabriel Loh who also worked on the cover for Soma. The theme spills over really nicely too, how and why did you decide to do this?
Weish: We really owe it to Marc for being so relentless in his pursuit of capturing the album’s essence. He went through so many rounds of drafts––all of which I loved and was happy to run with––but it took him quite a while to be happy with his own approach.
He wanted to convey the religious (well, more like a-religious) overtones in Hail Nothing –– our surrender to, almost worship of, nothingness… which was quite a recurring motif in the lyrics. So he decided to employ a visual language commonly associated with religious iconography –– the gold ornamental framing of the subject, etc. Cleverly, that also doubles up as a changing room divider for the women –– striking a paradoxical balance between the grandiosity of “Hail” and the silent, domestic vulnerability of “Nothing”.
And these are the same women from old Shanghainese posters that he drew on for Soma –– he wanted to find some continuity with the previous record, since we’d still retained that raw, personal voice. This time, though, he glitched out their faces, rendering their identities irrelevant –– exactly the kind of erasure and emptiness that we wanted to express in the music.
He also added the “ø” –– the null or “empty set” symbol, which was such a nice touch.
Lastly, any shoutouts or people you'd like to thank for this?
Of course. We cannot thank these people enough ––
You guys, for putting faith in us and releasing our very first vinyl;
Jason Tan, our incredible producer;
Jonathan Kiat, Safuan Johari and our Syndicate fam for all the gruelling work;
Marc Gabriel Loh for engaging with the album so deeply;
Bani Haykal and Usaama Minhas for their special voices;
Lucius Yeo and Natasha Loh for their help in promoting the album;
Spotify Asia, Sarah Sim and her team for their support;
National Arts Council Singapore, for their patience and generosity;
And of course, all you listeners out there who have been showing the record so much love. It really means the world to us.
Listen to 'Songs that made Hail Nothing', a playlist by .gif:
Order your copy of Hail Nothing online: https://theanalogvault.com/products/gif-hailnothingpre-order