Featuring Hell Low
THE FIRST TIME I heard Hell Low play was at The Arts House, which used to be the old parliament building. In its old (once hallowed) halls, where the past generations had built our country, I sat where a minister had once sat to listen to the guitar work Hell Low had to offer. He said that he was going to sing "sad songs about Singapore" and the irony of singing in parliament was not lost on him.
I managed to speak to him after his set and we decided to meet later on for a chat that eventually led us to a road side sarabat stall. Initially a metal head that progressed to punk covers with his peers, Jeremy now mainly focuses on guitar-driven folk music. "Folk is important to represent the times you are in. Like Bob Dylan. To be authentic in Singapore I have to write songs about the times in Singapore and about what I experience." it was imperative for me to find out what authenticity meant to him, as a veteran in the local music scene, and its role in local music and culture.
At the crux of it all was Singapore. Jeremy, or rather his moniker Hell Low, spoke, sang and wrote about his home, its problems and issues because that was what was closest to him. In a sense, it was most clear when I asked him about his stage name: "Singapore is a hellish place. So I became Hell Low. I thought it was appropriate. I used to stay in Boon Keng, a lot of one-room flats; it was where the really low-income population lived. There were old people just waiting to pass on, whole generations living in one flat. It's seems a little unfair to stay in these places in those conditions. But here, we were told that its a meritocratic system. We are conditioned to believe that if someone is not as well off, they didn't work hard enough. But honestly, it’s because they didn't have the same opportunity as others. If you come from a good place, you do good, but if you come from a poor place, then how are they expected to do good?"
What he had in mind, I thought, were hard truths, or something similar at least. He went on to say: "I just write really depressing songs about Singapore; it's the kind of music I feel comfortable with. It’s what I feel is most sincere. I could write pop songs and stuff and be popular, but I want to write songs I want to write." It made sense I told him. He wanted to sing songs about Singapore, very much like how other singers, writers, artists (almost every creative) create work that spoke about a passion; whether it is love, money, drugs or anything else for that matter. The difference was the things he sang about (his old estate in his song Boon Keng for instance) was about all of us, about Singapore and Singaporeans. His music is enthralling and melancholic, as if they came to him while he watched a boat slowly sink, and his songs were always about Singapore.