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As part of BigO's 18th Anniversary, BigO Records presents our latest CD release, Genetic Habit's From Outside. Genetic Habit was originally formed by Clifton See as the solo producer and songwriter. Last year, he met another producer, songwriter-musician Calvin Nam, and they decided to form Genetic Habit as a band instead. The other members roped in are Yashub and David Kok. Genetic Habit's music falls under a wide spectrum of influences and styles, and the members employ a loosely defined musical approach. PHILIP CHEAH talks to Genetic Habit's Clifton See.
Pictures by Cyril Ng.

We first heard the Genetic Habit demo over a year ago. I remember calling you and asking when you were releasing it and you said that there were no plans. Had BigO not come along, you wouldn't have done anything with the demo?

You guys definitely gave me the push. The demo was out but, sad to say, there was no response from anyone. I kinda meant it as a project for fun's sake, just to see how far it could go. We had some encouraging comments from the ground — about the music and all. Then I had to find the dough and, seeing the reality of the local music market, I went on to do another two full-Mandarin albums.

It seems to me the last year plus was all writing, composing, producing and recording! So this kinda explain the lag I had with the Genetic Habit demo. It was also good timing as after I was done with the Mandarin stuff, BigO called again, indicating their interest to promote Genetic Habit. Now with time on my hands again and improved production knowledge, I was more confident of doing a better job with Genetic Habit’s material.

When I first heard the Genetic Habit demo, I remember liking it for the sense of melody and arrangements. You like layering different instruments and effects. Which pop composers do you look up to?

It's really hard for me to pin down a particular composer. All of them have their strengths in different areas, say, in drum programming, melody or lyric writing. I look up to all composers who sing, write and produce their own material. I was listening to a whole lot of shit from R&B, modern rock, even '30s Shanghai music and there is beauty in each of them. There are my influences and I think this mish mash kinda shows in my music. I just like the sound of fusing elements.

I hear a lot of funk, acid jazz and even rock. I once spoke to Leonard Soosay of Snakeweed and he correctly pointed out that Jamiroquai is one key influence for you. What other bands did you grow up listening to? Who are some of your favourite vocalists?

I have an appreciation for electronica, be it chill or dance in nature, I like Jamiroquai for their jazz and electronica, how they blend things to perfection. It’s the groove and vocal rhythms that captivated me. Nirvana had a huge impact on me when I was younger, just love their melodies and energy. Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed (Velvet Underground), I love them all. I love Garbage too for their fusion of rock and electronica.

So in all, my fav vocalist are Jay, Kurt Cobain, Hendrix, Morrison, Cohen, Lou Reed. They are all so distinct. However, I just don't see that with me, do you? Maybe after listening you guys can tell me.

"Sometimes we are so caught up with ourselves, our country, our pride, that we inflict pain in attaining them."

My favourite track on the album is the title cut, From Outside. It seems to have a non-violent theme to it. What inspired the lyrics?

It's my personal fav too, It is an anti-war song, about all this senseless strife for power and domination, revenge. I can't remember which war inspired this song… there had been like 9/11, the Afghan and Iraq wars in just two years and countless border battles around other regions.

Sometimes we are so caught up with ourselves, our country, our pride, that we inflict pain in attaining them. The message is just to look from outside, from a bigger community picture of humanity and peace, to exercise common sense and restraint from whatever anger and justification of violence we might have. Violence only breeds violence, there is just no way it could work unless there is restraint.

For In Our Souls, you even sampled a news bite stating that "the allied invasion has begun." Tell us about this track.

This song talks about the almost innocent, pure friendly nature of some of the Nepalese living in the mountains while I was on a trek there. It was like a paradise on earth, as there was joy and contentment in their faces despite their subsistence livelihood. But there were some who were setting their sights out of the country, pining for greener pastures beyond the mountains in the big cities. The news snippet is a metaphor of the pollution, the ugliness and the chaos in the modern world that they seek but do not yet know. Just after writing this song, there was this huge royal family murder spree in the city of Kathmandu.

School's Out seems to be a relief that school life is over for you. What were the memories that led to this track?

My university days were academically torturous, not because it was difficult but I discovered I had absolutely no interest in the subjects. I sought "solace" in the Electronic Music Lab (EML), I just felt so comfortable, alive with creative possibilities and secure among the instruments (ha!). I think I spent most of my uni years in the lab rather than attending classes! It kinda showed me how lethargic life can be doing something you have no soul for. I hope people out there don't make the same mistake that I did. Only in being true to yourself can you go the distance.

There are many love songs on your album — Transient Love, Only Love Stays, Without You. Were they all autobiographical?

I never really enjoy writing romantic love songs, they just don't inspire me much. Calvin is the romantic who wrote most of the love songs like Saturated and Only Love Stays. Transient Love is about how temporary love is, how quickly its lovely nature turns ugly, it's only good while you have it. I believe romantic love only exists due to certain conditions. Without You was written about a close friend of mine who fell out of a relationship. I was kinda trying to bring them back together with the lyrics of this song then. I think it backfired. You could also say it was autobiographical, Transient Love is about my own hideous self in a previous relationship. With a better understanding of what love is all about, I am better able to manage the one I am in now. There's other love like family love in Beside Me, about my grandma and me.

Your tracks are all long. Nothing clocks in under three minutes. What accounts for this? And what do you think will happen when you do these tracks live? Will it be an all-night jam?

Yeh, I realise that. I think only punk songs can be below three minutes… Or maybe I am just naggy about my point and music. Also I tend to have a long intro to build up, and a long ending to wind down, evident in Living, Being The Rat, From Outside, School's Out and In Our Souls. I think I just like to wrap things up nicely to have a feel-good effect… to think about it, I hate movies with sequels!!

We are still working on live versions of the songs. There are just some parts that are too dredgey to play live, while some slower pieces will get a whack in their tempo. I wished I had three more keyboardists who can fill in the parts as recorded on the album… An all-night jam of 12 songs would be nice!

You are an equipment junkie. I think you spend a lot of time scouting for cheap gear to build up your home studio. When did your quest for your own home studio begin and what have been some of your prized equipment finds?

It all started when I learnt music production in EML. I guess it’s a natural progression where musicians build their own home studio these days, as things are more affordable. Having a studio empowers you with creative possibilities and you can experiment more and learn in our own time. I am always listening to CDs and always going "how did they get that sound"? Other guys lust after cars, I just lust after audio equipment and their specs! Well, I had always wanted to produce my own material and one acquisition led to another.

What's next after this?

I guess I will be trying to promote this CD, to be able to spread the message behind… living the band dream. Career-wise, I am in the process of starting a studio with a friend. I'm also hoping to carve a niche in the Mandarin pop market as a songwriter. Writing music is still the one that turns me on always.

I guess at this point of my life, my path and focus is as varied as my music, but all in all, I see music as a career, a hobby and a vehicle to spread a message of peace and love.

CLICK HERE order the CD and for soundbites.

Genetic Habit's From Outside is available at Centrepoint Music, HMV (Heeren, Citylink), Memphis Music (Jelita), Roxy Disc House (Roxy Square), Roxy Records (Funan The IT Mall), Sembawang Music, Sing (Lucky Plaza), Sonic Disc (Far East Plaza), Supreme Records (Takashimaya), That's Music (Midpoint Plaza), The Attic (Centrepoint), Tower Records, Valentine Music (Parklane) and Y Vision & Music (Raffles MRT).

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