Interview: Funkie Monkies’ Eric Ng on ‘881’ OST 27 min readReading Time: 6 minutes
Part deux of the highly addictive soundtrack to Royston Tan’s movie 881 was released just over a week ago. I caught up with the film’s music director, Eric Ng of indie label Funkie Monkies, who gave up more details to the 2-disc release after returning from his short (and thoroughly well-deserved) break.
1. So how are the sales of OST 1 so far? How do you expect the OST 2 to sell?
Sales of OST1 have been great… we have passed platinum status (only 12,000 for SG market — shows just how small our market is) so sales should be around 13,000 plus now. I don’t expect OST 2 to do as great as OST 1, cause the movie fever has died down, but whatever comes is already a blessing, cause the sales of OST 1 has far exceeded our expectations!!! So I am already very grateful for that… I’m not a greedy person! Hahahaha.
2. How did OST 2 come about? I understand that at first the intention was just to release 1 soundtrack?
I am not entirely an optimistic person, but I’m quite a ‘think ahead’ person, so when OST 1 was released, I already told Eric Khoo and gang that, “Hey, if this CD does well, we should release a part 2, with new songs and the remaining songs from the movie (since there were just too many songs to be dumped into just one OST, which is why we selected the ‘best of’ for OST 1)” … and OST 1 did sell well, and then many, many people started asking: “Eh!? Where are the rest of the songs?” So there it was!!!
And of course I didn’t want to ‘rip’ money from the audience, which is why I also included our concert DVD at Dragonfly as part of the package as a thank you to the buyers.
On top of that, we will have a little celebration party at Lunar (new venue opened by LifeBrands, aka MOS) on 29 October for the great sales of OST 1 and as the official launch of OST 2.
3. Tell us a bit more about the songs used in 881 — there were new, freshly written songs; songs that were inspired by the film which came afterwards, and of course there were the Chen Jin Lang classics — how did you (and your label) manage to blend all of these into the soundtracks? Prior to this project, were you very in-tune with the Hokkien getai song styles, or was there a lot of research invested after you got the job?
It was a conscious plan on my part to split the OST to 3 parts:
1. Traditional Hokkien songs with new styled arrangements
2. Traditional Hokkien songs translated to Chinese (One Half)
3. Songs inspired by the movie
The reason was that I wanted the OST to sound like an album, not just a soundtrack, which actually kinda backfired when people started complaining that certain songs were too short etc, so maybe I had ‘disguised’ it too well and they forgot that it’s actually a soundtrack, which means, songs from the movie [which may not be lengthy].
I didn’t listen Getai stuff at all before this movie, but I wasn’t quite intimidated by the task as I’m also been in the Taiwan pop music scene for the last 10 years. And even in those last 10 years, I haven’t really been listening to Taiwan Pop music either! But what I did was ‘brainwash’ myself with those songs that Royston provided me with before the job started, just to get a glimpse of the direction, and then applying my own style in.
4. In the instance of film scoring, the music is usually written after the composer has seen a rough-cut of the film, but in the case of a musical set to pre-existing Hokkien hits, how was the process like, and how long did you take (you mentioned a lot of sleepless nights the last time we spoke)?
In this case, the process was the other way around — we did a 50-60% rough-cut of the songs and then gave it to Royston to shoot the film with (afterall, it IS a musical). The sleepless nights was due to the super tight time constraint we were given to hand over the songs… for e.g.: When it came time to mix the soundtrack in Australia’s SoundFirm, we were only given 1 week for such a musically intense movie, whereas movies like Curse of the Golden Flower, which didn’t have much music, was allowed a month to mix! It was quite crazy and hectic. We took about 2-3 weeks on and off to record the Hokkien singers of covering over 20 songs, and sacrificed our Chinese New Year visiting for it.
5. How was it like working with the Getai veterans, alongside other artistes from your label?
It was a breeze! My label tends to sign artistes who can really sing, and these Getai veterans definitely can sing too! Everything was done very smoothly and we could finish 3 to 4 songs a day, as compared to the usual 2 to 3 for just ONE song.
6. How did Royston come to choose you to master his soundtrack?
By fate. It was through last year’s Speak Mandarin Campaign. The committee had asked Xiaohan [the lyricist] and I to write a song for their campaign, and added: “Oh by the way, you’re gonna be working with this guy called Royston Tan, who’s going to film a new Getai movie, so he will be filming a music video of the song, which should be kinda retro…”
So together with Xiaohan, I wrote. Royston, Gary [the producer] and I had a great time in the studio, and it was also then that they were introduced to Jiahui [singer of One Half], Jim Lim and Xiaohan. So after that fun collaboration, they realised that I do have a pretty strong ‘gang’ on my side, and Gary approached me to take charge of the whole movie as Music Director, to which I said… Why not?!
7. How did you come to assemble your band for this?
Actually my core band is just 2 other guys, Brandon Khoo, whom I feel is one of the best new generation drummers in Singapore, and Clement Yang Xi, a multi instrumentalist who mostly plays bass for me. These are the guys that I asked to play with me for most of my gigs, since we’re all friends. But as for the musical arrangements in the soundtrack, the arrangers are from my Funkie Monkies production team, together with some new students from my Pop Music School (or F.M.P.M.S.) which includes Bang Wenfu, Clement Yang Xi, KC Gan, Serene Koong, Ngak and me. Also assisting me throughout the production is Wu Jiahui.
8. What were the tools you used (such as ProTools, a new Stratocaster etc… anything you felt gave the music the quality & feel it possessed)?
As I said earlier, I ‘brainwashed’ myself with the getai songs to get the feel, and then used my own style to break it in later; the stuff I used is basically the same that I used for all my other productions.
However something interesting about the Getai recording was that, due to the lack of budget, what I did was this: I brought my own Protools set-up, an Avalon 2022 preamp and 2 of my mics to a jamming studio and converted it to a recording studio. I felt that that would be fine, as the Getai feel is all about the live experience. The Getai singers themselves were actually quite amazed by the results because they were used to entering classy recording studios, but found out that could also get results by recording in a jamming studio with just an iMac, my equipment, a keyboard and mouse. Hahahaha!
I also bought this nifty effects tool called the Korg Kaoss Pad just for this project to get all those very ‘ah beng’ kind of WHOOSSSHHHHH PPIIIIIUUUU PPPIIIUUU sounds that you’ll hear in the Durian Techno songs, hehe.
The full track listing for OST 2 is as follows:
2. 881 Opening Score
3. Laughing Pig
4. 12 Lotus Flowers
5. The Lucky One
6. Prison Tears
7. Beggar Song
8. Jin Lang Mourns for Mom
9. Last Breath — Aunty Ling version
10. Missing Blossom Love
11. Bad Times — Emo version
12. Jin Lang Mourns for Mom — Version 2
13. Send off Vagabond’s Mother
14. Fate of Life — Competition Announcement Version
15. Summer Breeze
16. Mami No. 3
17. Coffee Seller — Slow Version
18. Last Breath — Small Papaya Version