Loud rollicking music and sing-a-long lyrics – these are the two things that every gig-goer raises fists for at concerts, right? But amidst the saturated abundance of bedlam-rousing bands performing at Neon Lights, lies – like a needle in a haystack – a rarity in the form of an instrumental (not)singer-songwriter. And what’s cooler is the revelation that we can call him one of our own. Hailing from the Lion City, Bennett Bay has sprung from clandestine obscurity to buzz-boy of the mo’, sharing the Fort Canning stage with international indie elites like Mercury Rev and Rachael Yamagata. To be perfectly honest, even we hadn’t heard of this 20-year-old young’un before his newfound hype. So naturally (’cos we’re snoopily ‘kaypoh’), we did some digging to learn more about this nascent wunderkind.
He’s actually been in the scene for a while now.
You’re not wrong if you thought otherwise! I only performed once doing this solo project before landing the Neon Lights gig, so its not surprising that people are going, “Who the heck is Bennett Bay?”. I’ve been in projects here and there since 2010, starting with this band called Weekend Firemen. Then, my first serious project came in 2012 with this instrumental band my close friend and I formed called Of Time & The City. We don’t play anymore; but he, the drummer and I are still part of this instrumental trio called Hauste. So I’d say I’ve been playing in the scene for about 5 years now!
He has local heroes, and they’re not all musicians.
Indeed I do…my parents!! That’s probably not the answer you’re looking for, but they’re awesome and I’ve looked up to them since forever. That said, the first time I heard local music was when I heard Electrico. I then slowly started to find more bands in the following years. To name a few whom I consider my local heroes at the moment, those at the top of the list are definitely Hanging Up The Moon (who I’m honoured to share the stage with at the festival), Caracal and aspidistrafly.
He owes his guitar greatness to Guns & Roses.
When I first started practising, I was just working on guitar solos from classic rock songs (Led Zeppelin, Guns & Roses and the like). It was only when I got my first electric guitar when I started practising for real. I would spend a couple hours each day nailing guitar solos from songs by Dream Theater, Racer X, Yngwie; you get the drift. Then I would work on technique for about an hour or so; I’d watch videos of Ritchie Kotzen, John Petrucci, Guthrie Govan and so on. To be completely honest, most of the time spent on the guitar in the past was never intensive and was just for fun. Luckily, I got something out of it.
He isn’t reluctant to share guitar tips for newbies.
It’s hard to narrow down my recommended guitar shops. For electrics, I’d say Sound Alchemy. As for acoustics, it’s a tie between Luthermusic, Maestro and this new up-and-coming guitar franchise called M.Tyler. When buying your first guitar, more often than not, people are more interested in the look and the novelty of it. People usually go for the signature models because they sound like your favourite guitarists. What you should look out for though is the sound; it may look look stellar and sound like your favourite guitarist, but after a while you’ll realise that you don’t want to sound exactly like them. Then comes the size of the frets and the fretboard; most fretboards can fit small hands, but some can’t, and its important to take note of that. Lastly is the price, I’d say guitars that are absolutely worth it for around a thousand dollars – that’s mid range. But I don’t have that kind of money; my guitars are cheap as heck. Really, my acoustic guitar cost $40 from a shop in Cebu.
He doesn’t need lyrics to give you the ‘feels’.
Actually, I’ve tonnes of songs with lyrics; I just haven’t had the resources to record them down. But sometimes, songs tend to stay decent being just instrumental. There’s definitely the same level of difficulty conveying emotions when there are words and when there aren’t. When I write songs with lyrics, the melodies are sung in a way such that the vocals hold equal importance to the other instruments. I mean, the voice is just another instrument (not hating on singers), so I’ve always written for it as it is. I love singers, but emotions being conveyed through music can be conveyed equally across all instruments – with lyrics present or not.
He’s obsessed with folk music.
I’m attracted to the rawness of it. Listening to wonderful chord voicings that can only be found in alternate tunings, the sound of a hand sliding up and down a fretboard, and the sounds made when fingers strum a guitar. Simple harmonies, simple melodies that hit you where it needs to and makes you feel the things you should feel. Voices, raspy, deep or dreamy, unrefined and only caring about the message they want to convey. These things attract me to folk music.
He has a love-hate relationship with the weather.
I love the rain. I love when it’s chilly; it’s like a cleansing. I like to stand at my window staring out into the open skyline, wondering when the rain will end, and when the sun would take this joy from me. When it gets too depressing, I go out, umbrella in hand, clothed (of course), and walk around to the calming of the raindrops falling on my umbrella. But when the sun is shining, I love to play basketball by myself. The court nearby my place is almost always empty, and when I’m there alone in that huge court, it feels as though the whole world is reduced to that small space. Other than that, rain is bae.
He loves the idea of getting lost.
Most of my music communicates that idea, but not all of it. In my view, the feeling of being lost is a joyous thing – to be happy living in the moment, and the escape you get from your thoughts. But it’s also sad to think that you’re so far away from home, away from the ones you love and care about. There is one such moment that I can think of: I was on a double-edged cliff in the mountains of Cebu, in this town called Barangay TapTap. It was night-time, and when you looked up, you could see so many stars scattered across the sky. There was a spot along the road where, on one side, you could see the sloping of the mountain going downwards into the forest, and on the other, the villages all the way down to Cebu city. You could see the ocean, lit by the stars, the moon and the light of the city. I think that was the most beautiful place I’ve been to thus far, just because of that image alone; it’s probably the first place I truly got lost in the moment in.
He promises not to be flash in the pan.
After Neon Lights, the goal is obviously to keep performing. For starters, I’m working on my debut EP! There’re a couple of recording sessions left before it’s done. and all that’s left is mixing and mastering. There’ll be the usual – a launch and everything – but it’s still ways away. I’ve also written tonnes of material for many future releases and albums. But until then, everything remains to be seen. And even though it’s exciting, it’s terrifying at the same time.