Break It Down: Islandeer Dissects Their Self-Titled Debut Album

Breaking into the music scene in 2019, Singaporean Indie-rock duo, Islandeer has been known for their ever-evolving play on genres such as modern psychedelic, rock groove. Written over a span of 4 years, and detailing life events from falling in and out of love, adulthood transition and trying to find one’s self in the process, their self-titled debut album, ‘Islandeer’, was released just shy of Christmas 2020. The duo consisting of Christian Jansen and Michael Garcia recently dissected their self-titled debut album for us.

To start of, tell us more about yourselves. How did Islandeer come about?
We met in Singapore Polytechnic in 2013 while studying Music and Audio Technology. We had a three-piece band called Advance Press during that time, but we disbanded in 2015. Since then, the two of us continued writing together going through different band names, before settling on the name ‘Islandeer’.

We understand that the album is on life itself, falling in and out of love, transition into adulthood and finding yourself in the process. Some of the singles have already been released previously in the last couple of years too. Is the tracklist based on a specific timeline of these events? What made you decide to package these songs as a full album, rather than say 2 EPs?
We had the intention to do an album right from the start. It’s more common nowadays for artists to do singles and EPs but we had enough songs and wanted to go all out. We had a talk about whether to follow the singles and EPs trend after this album, and decided we’ll still do albums, just maybe with less songs. Track list wise, the songs don’t really follow any plot or time-line, we just tried to make sure the songs had a flow to them, because they were written over a 4-year period and we didn’t want it to sound too messy.

1. Momento
This is about falling for someone in a club, but you’re too scared to approach them. Christian had the rhythm guitar part that plays from the start and from that idea, we

fleshed out a rough demo which slowly became the final song after adding idea by idea to it. We wanted to be freer with the synth arrangements because the drums and guitars were pretty much looping, and it ended up being one of our most psychedelic songs.

2. Lost Bicycle
This song captures the album’s overall idea of growing up, from the awkward beginnings of puberty to the identity crisis of young adulthood. It’s a reminder of who you were before you grew up into a young adult. Michael wrote most of the song when we were just starting out, with his music influences at the time inspiring the song’s title and its indie rock sound.

3. Daytona
Probably our most feel-good song in the album. We wanted to make the listener feel nostalgic especially with the chorus, which is about looking back at the good and bad of your wasted youth. Michael wrote most of ‘Daytona’ when he was in BMT, National Service days  while waiting to throw dummy grenades, so it was a challenge to keep the idea of the song in memory until book-out day. The title is a reference to an arcade racing game that was more ubiquitous in our childhood.

4. What To Do In Times Of An Existential Crisis
This song is heavily influenced by the space-glam sides of Uptopia’s Todd Rundgren and Tame Impala. Christian laid out the main synth chord, organ line and drum beat after watching, ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’. Michael came up with most of the lyrics, keeping some optimism within an otherwise dreadful theme of going through your first existential crisis. What to do?

5. Legs
This song was actually written by Michael when we were still in our three-piece band –Advance Press, so it was actually just meant for a music arrangement of drums, bass and one guitar. We took that old song and added more guitar parts and synths to make it fit our current music influences and styles.

6. The Bad Taste
On the surface, ‘The Bad Taste’ is about being jealous of a former flame’s new companion and thinking that he/she has bad taste in their new choice of partners. The drums here are probably the most complicated we’ve come up with so far, but it solidifies the grooviness that we wanted out of this song.

7. Get Along
Get Along’ is about two bands breaking up, our old band Advance Press, and another local band called Angry Outer Space.

8. The Colours
This is the most technically complex song in the album, Christian wanted to infuse different time signatures and key signatures into one song. Michael added in the chords in the outro and did the melody of the song. The imagery in the lyrics were inspired by the infamous washroom scene from, ‘Trainspotting’.

9. Amirul’s Song
Thie one is a  homage to our friend, Amirul, who was in our course studying music. During the last year, he kind of lost his interest in music and we felt like writing a song about him giving up his passion. We’re still friends though. 

10. Blue Accordion
This song is kind of about a break up, but Christian didn’t want to be too upfront about it, so ‘Blue Accordion’ is just a metaphor for the feeling of losing love or falling out of love. 

11. Cliché
The oldest song in the Islandeer catalogue. Michael wrote it for a school group project back in 2014 so the instrumentation here is pretty conventional for a typical rock band setup. It’s about feeling the pressure to fit in, but trying to maintain your own identity when it seems like it’s slipping away. It’s a reminder to be yourself and do it your own way, even when you feel like the rest of the world is doing something else.

12. Seahorse
This song isn’t about anything in particular but the narrating words were taken from the Wikipedia entry on seahorses. We came up with the song while rehearsing for our final year project back when we were in poly, and during a break, we both sat on the piano to jam something out and we came up with ‘Seahorse’.

13. 13
This is the last song we wrote together for the album, Michael came up with the bass line and we layered up the rest of the instrumentation together one day. Lyrically, the song kind of sums up the whole album as a reminder that life goes on, and to not be so hard on yourself when life goes haywire.

Can you pick out 3 tracks in the album that really stood out for you more than others, and why these 3 tracks?
They would be, ‘Momento’, ‘Cliché’ and ‘Seahorse’. ‘Momento because it was our first ever single, and we put a lot of effort into making sure it gave us some sort of presence in the music scene, and I think for a first single, it did the job. ‘Cliché was the first song Michael ever wrote, and it was the catalyst for the both of us working together. After hearing ‘Cliché’ in 2013, Christian asked Michael if he wanted to make music together, and we haven’t stopped since. ‘Seahorse was written in a day and was one of the first proper songs we wrote together, most of the other songs took a few days to complete, and some are more swayed to being either Christian’s or Michael’s song, but ‘Seahorse’ is a perfect blend of the both of us working together.

You’ve also released music videos for the singles, ‘Cliché’ and ‘Momento’. Were they suppose to be related in some way, since there’s the recurrence of the pigeon heads in both videos. Could you perhaps share on the timeline of video events that were going on with both videos?
The directors of both ‘Momento’ (Grace Song) and ‘Cliché’ (Malcolm Chen) are friends, so they were both involved in the shoots in some way. It was Malcolm’s idea to bring the pigeon masks back for the ‘Cliché’ video, but we’ll leave it to interpretation on how the viewers think the plots are linked.


How would you define your sound for this album?
This album had no real direction to it. It was just a bunch of songs we collated over the years. It wasn’t until we decided that we were going to be a duo called ‘Islandeer’, that we decided to collate them into an album. The sound of the album would probably be indie rock in general, but we leave it to people to decide what they wanna call it. We’ve been labelled from things like “psych-pop” to “jangly pop-rock”. We also like to think of it as a mixture of all the genres we like together and individually.

I get the sense of genres surf and psychedelic rock in your tracks from the likes of Tame Impala, Gypsy & the Cat. What are some of the artists you draw inspiration from? And what do you like about them?
Tame Impala is definitely up there, we both discovered them at the same time, and we both fell in love with their first two albums. We’re also heavily influenced by our parents’ music, so The Beatles are a big part of the music, their harmonies and melody writing in particular, and their array of genres and sounds. We also like Fleet Foxes for their vocals and arrangements, Real Estate and The Strokes for their guitar-work and chill songs.

Would you have new music genres you might be interested to explore for future music and what are they?
We did have a talk about where we’d go from this album, and since this first album didn’t have a particular direction, we felt we could have gone anywhere with it. We kind of decided that we wanted to try doing groovier, dancey music. Christian is into Parcels, Jungle, Still Woozy and NEIL FRANCES. Michael is into Foxygen, The 1975, Phoenix and old Britpop bands.

Lastly, what’s upcoming for Islandeer in 2021? Any new music plans you might be releasing?
We are already starting to brainstorm and write songs for the next album, which we plan to release next year. And we’re hoping that with the COVID situation becoming more relaxed, that we’ll have some gigs to play. We have a gig at Esplanade on the 30th of January 2021, and we also have some other projects in the works, but we want to keep them secret, keep them safe.

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