Interviewed by yun
PR: Ok, first up a rather stupid question, Clinton, but you know, to the many metal and hardcore lovers out there, funk is a whole new ball game. So, what exactly is funk music? What are its defining characteristics?
Clinton: That is actually a very profound question - you could write a book based on that question. I’ll try to put it in a nutshell, but I don’t claim to be any kind of an authority on the subject. Funk is a genre that emerged in the early to mid ‘60s and although there were strong elements of it in the music of soul singers Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding, it was, to me, defined by James Brown. To me James Brown set out to create his own brand of music with his own set of rules and in doing so defined the sound of funk - the rhythmic and harmonic structures that today are immediately identifiable with the genre. The syncopation and emphasis on the upbeats in various subdivisions are what it’s all about. It gives the music its excitement, drive and danceable quality - the funk. The premise of funk is that it is music to dance to. It invites the audience to lose its inhibitions and to participate in the music in an almost primal way.
In a much broader sense, funk is a feeling prevalent in all music. The blues can be funky, and so can jazz, and rock and metal. When a hardcore band is rocking out and everyone in the moshpit is head banging, they are doing it because they feel the funk - they just relate to it differently. Even some classical music is funky if it moves you in a certain way. Funk is the spiritual connection between the music and the audience, facilitated by the musicians.
PR: Did you grow up listening to funk? Who would you say are your greatest influences as a guitarist?
Clinton: I grew up listening to all kinds of music, mostly pop from the 60s and 70s -- the Beatles, Bread, Three Dog Night, the Carpenters - whatever my older brothers were listening to rubbed off on me. One of my brothers also played guitar and he had a good ear so he was always picking up songs from the radio and playing them -- he was definitely one of my early influences from the point of view of just being musical and having fun with music. I didn’t grow up listening to funk per se but I was aware of James Brown because ‘I Feel Good’ was always playing on the radio. I was also aware of the pop-funk bands like the Commodores and Earth, Wind & Fire because of their successful crossover to pop radio in the late 70s.
As for my guitar influences I started listening to rock in my early teens. I had 2 close friends at St Patrick’s School who were really into ‘rebellious’ rock music and because of them I started checking out Led Zeppelin, Ukiah Heap, Cream, Jim Hendrix and later on the more progressive stuff like Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, The Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever. When I was 17, I wanted to be a ‘jazz guitarist’ so I was listening to Joe Pass, Howard Roberts, Herb Ellis.
So I would say that no one musician has been my greatest influence - I am the product of many influences. And I still look up to them with deep appreciation and admiration to this day.
PR: Was playing & making music your aspiration since the days of childhood?
Clinton: I knew I wanted to be a musician from the time I was about 15. I still have the ‘demos’ I did from that time, overdubbing with 2 tape-recorders - hours of stuff, baby steps that we all have to take.
PR: When did your journey with Soul Satisfaction begin?
Clinton: I joined Soul Satisfaction after the 2002 Europa Battle of the Bands Competition (Soul Satisfaction walked away with the top prize) when the 2 original guitar players and drummer had left the group. Creative differences, I guess. I was playing in a couple of other bands and I would bump into Soul Satisfaction at the rehearsal studio and I must say I was taken by their enthusiasm and hunger to play. I could see they were doing their best to really ‘nail’ the music and were doing it better than most. They were definitely rehearsing a lot - 3 or 4 hours at a time, several times a week. I had worked with their singer Sherman Aw a few years before playing at the Hard Rock Café. We had a rock band called StraitJacket. When Soul’s guitar players left, Sherman suggested I join.
PR: Give us a rundown of who's who in Soul Satisfaction. I remember reading somewhere that the age gap between the band members 'is not a problem'. You mean... you guys have an age gap?? But, all of you look wonderfully compatible on stage! Hehe...
Clinton: I would have to give you a rundown of the history of Soul Satisfaction here. Haha. When I joined the lineup, it consisted of Sherman Aw on vocals, Joel San Juan on bass, Leo Mendoza on sax, Ian Su on keyboards and Patrick Ang on drums. I was the oldest cat in the band! - this must be the age gap you had read about in some of the earlier interviews. But we all got along very well. We played several gigs and festivals with this lineup - regular slots at Crazy Elephant and Voodoo Shack at Clarke Quay, the now-defunct BBB’s at Cuppage Terrace, the 2003 Ublues Festival, CHIJMES’ Jazz Weekends and several performances at the Esplanade Amphitheatre.
Patrick Ang left the band in October 2003 to play with pop singer Wendi Koh. Edmund Branson Jr replaced Patrick on the drums and performed with us at the Esplanade in November 2003. Unfortunately he passed away from a congenital heart problem in February this year. When Joel San Juan left the band after the Esplanade gig in November we considered another bass player - Ignatius Bong - but Ignatius was too busy with miscellaneous projects and his international tours with popstar Stefanie Sun. Ignatius ‘recommended’ David Ng although Sherman and myself were gigging with David and drummer Mark Boatman regularly at the Crazy Elephant at the time. Ignatius said that the chemistry between us was incredible and that we "sounded like a CD" playing together and that he didn’t want to get between us. Probably one of the greatest excuses ever given to not join a band! (Just kidding Bong...)
In March this year we debuted the new Soul Satisfaction lineup at the Esplanade Amphitheatre. The ‘new’ band consists of Sherman on vocals, David Ng on bass, Mark Boatman on drums, Leo Mendoza on alto sax, Stephen Rufus on tenor sax and myself on guitar. With this lineup for some reason the sound is so full and complete we don’t need a keyboard player.
PR: You have several other projects besides Soul Satisfaction. Tell us more about them.
Clinton: Soul Satisfaction is kind of a club project. We aim to just get out and play live as much and as often as we can. We have a lot of fun onstage, there is a lot of improvisation and group interaction and we seldom play the same song the same way twice.
I have another blues-rock band called Rawsugar. We perform regularly at Crazy Elephant at Clarke Quay.
My other main project is Supagroova. This is a very danceclub oriented group consisting of DJ Eddy Elias on turntables and grooveboxes, Stephen Rufus on sax and myself on guitar and guitar synthesizer. Around this core group, we augment the band with other sessionists on tabla, bamboo flute, guzheng, bass and drums for a very East meets West sound. We have had regular stints at dance clubs like Liberte and Newsroom Bar, and performed at international fashion shows and corporate events. We are putting the finishing touches on our album which should be released in August this year.
My other big project for this year is my second solo album ‘Santiago’. I would classify the music as ‘melodic jazz with teeth’ incorporating elements of world music, fusion and jazz-rock. I put this album on hold for over a year because of the SARS situation and the gloomy economy. Universal Music has just picked up the album for distribution. I was also privileged to hook up with some incredible international talent for this album - former Frank Zappa sideman Chad Wackerman played drums and his engineer Guy Dickerson mixed the album. It should be available mid-June.
PR: What is the local funk scene like? Are there many bands/musicians around? Any friendly competition among the various bands? Is it hard being a musician, playing funk, in Singapore?
Clinton: I’m not really too aware of what’s happening on the local funk or rock/underground/indie scene right now. There seems to be a lot happening but it all seems to be in a state of flux and constant change.
One band has caught my attention -- I think Throb is trying to step out from the crowd with its brand of ‘acid-funk’, if I may call it that. I compliment them for sticking together and doing what they believe in. The members are also good musicians, really nice guys. They have an album that’s definitely worth checking out.
Funnily enough I don’t perceive any competition among bands as such, friendly or otherwise. The more mature musicians will realise that the best philosophy is to be cool and not step on anybody’s toes - there is always the possibility you might have to work with that person sometime in the future!
It’s hard being a musician - period. But I think we have it a lot easier here in Singapore than in other countries where gigs are fewer and farther between with many good bands competing for few jobs.
PR: Still on the topic of the local scene, any improvements that you'll like to see, or feel can be made?
Clinton: Another profound question. In my opinion we have a lot of bands and a lively music scene. What we lack are good producers to work with these bands to help hone the tunes, get the best performance out of them and ultimately get a good marketable product. ‘Marketable’ might sound like a bad word when used in the context of music but what band or artist wouldn’t want to be able to create a better album and sell more CDs? I think there are less than a handful of good producers in Singapore. I think Paul T is the one with the ‘international’ sound at the moment. He is very in touch with and aware of prevailing musical trends and forces.
PR: You have performed live many times -- any particularly memorable gigs or performances?
Clinton: This would have to be the most memorable -- I was performing with SupaGroova in front of the Sentosa museum last year. We had our tabla player K’mal with us. A small group of men and women (from Bombay they told us later) appeared and proceeded to dance. Their other friends soon joined in and before too long we had a huge throng dancing in front of us like a scene from some big-budget Bollywood movie! What I appreciated most about the whole scenario was how spontaneous all of it was. They felt the ‘funk’ and they responded to it.
PR: If you were to describe Soul Satisfaction & its music as a yummy-licious delicacy, what would it be?
Clinton: Yummy-licious delicacy? This is the hardest question of all. Hmm... a really good bowl of laksa - with extra cockles?
(Picture of Clinton taken from his official website.)