Leslie Low's Uniquely Singaporean Music Featured In HBO's Invisible Stories

KKBOX Editor Gwen

If you take a closer look at the busker featured in HBO's Invisible Stories, you might find him familiar. Cutting a lean figure in a simple tee and pants, the unassuming musician is Leslie Low.

Leslie's music is featured in the HBO original series, which tells the untold stories of ordinary Singaporeans.

In the words of the series' director Ler Jiyuan, Leslie is one of Singapore's most talented yet under-recognised musicians.

Ler said: "His songs speak of what it is like to be Singaporean who is living in Singapore. This guy is my ultimate idol.Every single episode will end with his song. Sometimes we will use the song as well in the middle of an episode. His music completes what I want to say in this series."

"If I had to boil it down, it’s just honesty. His songs are an honest reflection of Singapore."

Born in 1972 on the tiny island of Singapore, Leslie started his musical life with Twang Bar Kings, Humpback Oak, and was also a part of Magus, Pan Gu, Piblokto, and Hanging up the Moon.

Leslie's solo and bandmusic canbe found on KKBOX.

Leslie shares with KKBOX about his music featured in 'Invisible Stories', the source of his inspiration and new music on the horizons.

How did the collaboration between you and director Ler Jiyuan come about?

I got to know Ler through common friends of ours. We’ve always had an admiration for each other’s work. Previously when I was a part of the collective ‘The Observatory’, Ler had directed a series of music videos for the band’s albums Dark Folke and Catacombs. I got to know him more during this period.

That was almost 10 years ago. We’ve always kept in touch since then. He would send me treatments of ideas he was working on that could be used for music videos or scripts he was working on. So there’s always been an interest to collaborate again as I’m familiar with his aesthetic and vice versa. So when the opportunity came regarding Invisible Stories, I was happy to be on board.

Director Ler says that your songs speak of what it means to be a Singaporean living in Singapore. Why do you choose to draw inspiration from the everyday lives of Singaporeans?

I didn’t really choose it. But more like it chose me. I can only write from what I experience; what I observe that happens either directly to me or indirectly to people around me. I’m sure most writers draw from this same inexhaustible pool. I wouldn’t say that all my songs are primarily island-bound.

There are many songs that have a more universal, less geographical approach also. But at the end of the day, my songs don’t dictate what the listener should feel. I’d like to leave open spaces for the listener to draw from their own lives when they experience the music.

What’s the story behind the songs featured in the series Invisible Stories, such as ‘The People’ and ‘All Things New’?

These two songs were from the album ‘Worm’, which was released in 2006. ‘All Things New’ is about Singapore’s ever-changing landscape. I was lamenting about the fact that many of the landmarks that I grew up around were being demolished to make way for something new. So I had the line “All things new have got no soul... first, then worked in the verses around it.

‘The People’ is an attempt to write about the many types of people that we come across. What makes them behave the way they do. They are snapshots. Like different species almost.

If you had to write a song about your life in Singapore, how would the song sound like?

In the 90s, I was in a band called Humpback Oak. I think already wrote something close to what you described. It’s a song called ‘Ghostfather’ from the band’s sophomore album of the same name.

It’s about my years growing up in a single-parent family. My dad passed on when I was 9. It’s about my state of mind. How things are transient and impermanent. How I live for the moment with no long-term goals or ambition. Typical feelings from a kid who lost someone dear to them at a young age.

The lyrics from the chorus are kind of straight forward:

The stain in my room scarred and stenched/ The story of my indecisive life I live with my mother/ I live with my ghostfather

How was it like making a guest appearance as a busker in Invisible Stories?

It was reminiscent of my days in Ngee Ann Poly’s Film and Media Department when I was doing my Diploma course. Often I had to either be in front of or behind the camera on various projects throughout the 3 years I was there. So I felt quite comfortable doing it.

The only difficulty was probably being a busker itself as I had only scant experience on being one. My teenage years of busking illegally on school campuses don’t count. It’s tough work singing day in, day out for a bit of bread in the midst of the hurricane of passers-by who don’t really give two shits about you most of the time. I have a deep respect for those who do it.

We heard you'll be coming up with new music. Could you tell us more?

Some of these songs have been featured in the series. Like ‘Existential’ and ‘Into The Water’. Ler had caught me at a time when I just began working on the album. Those were the first two songs I wrote. I’m still figuring out what to do with them.

These days I have a bit more time to pause and reflect on the process. So as it stands, it’s a musical journey beyond the mountain. And back from it.

As I look at the lyrics, it seems to be about existence and the absolutes of light and dark. It’s about home and the act of de- colonialization; a thawing of that exterior to investigate what’s within. What’s worth preserving.

Could you share what's up next for you?

Probably just trying to finish up this album and to put it out in 2020. Maybe do some shows.

On the side, I’ve been working on a book of lyrics. It will be a small run for the fans who have been supporting my music all these years. The idea was first mooted by an old friend of mine. I’ve been compiling and working on it, on and off, for the past year or so. I’m thinking perhaps it’s time to put it out.

INVISIBLE STORIES premieres on HBO GO and HBO on Jan 5 (Sunday) at 10 pm. New episodes air weekly at the same time. HBO GO is now available with a 7-day free trial.

Listen to Leslie Low on KKBOX.