When Loong Met Ilymark
Introducing our new music editor LOONG – a Banana Writer who is rooted in Singaporean and British culture. The widely travelled singer-songwriter has performed in London, Hong Kong, India, Myanmar, Cambodia and Australia. Self described as a "sojourner trying to make sense of a mixed up world one song at a time," the Cambridge graduate believes in the power of music and writing to change people and communities in positive ways.
Loong’s music pieces together questions about identity, community and growing up as a product of Eastern and Western culture. In the coming months, Loong will be introducing us to talented singer-songwriters from across Asia. To find out more about Loong, read our interview with him here
In the course of my musical travels I meet artists of all shapes and sizes (and musical persuasions). It was in Singapore that I encountered Ilymark, a ponytailed, axe-wielding virtuoso hailing from the musical land of the Philippines. But unlike many of the foreign talents who ply their trade on the island state in the bars and hotels, offering up the usual Top 40 numbers and nostalgic covers from yesteryear, Ilymark was a fresh, unique sound.
Hailing from a talented family with a rich musical heritage, Ilymark’s personal musical journey began on the piano at the age of 3. His early years were in choral work, touring internationally with the Asian Youth Singing Ambassadors and the Manila Chamber Singers at an early age.
Ilymark came to Singapore in 2005, and made his mark as a member of the award winning rock band The Dead Macoys before turning his sights to writing and recording his own music. A song-writer, producer and multi-instrumentalist, his sound reflects the diversity and background of the man himself. His sound is a fusion of genres and influences not bound by rules but rather to showcase his boundless creativity and heart.
One of his goals is to continue to build and inspire people using the various tools made available through the arts hoping that it will make a mark that would last a lifetime. I managed to catch up with Ilymark over a Milo drink and some Filipino pork chop at his studio in Sengkang, Singapore.
B is for...book. What is your favourite childhood book?
A is for… animal. If you could transform into one animal for one week, what would you be?
N is for… necessary. If you were banished to a desert island and could only bring two items, what would they be?
My guitar and vitamin water
A is for… authentic. How would you describe yourself in three words?
Positive. Energetic. Strategic.
N is for… novelist. Which writer do you most admire?
A is for… appetite. Would you like a Banana milkshake? Banana fritter? Banana cake? Or just a plain banana?
Banana split ice cream topped with cherries and choco syrup!! (PLUS a fritter on the side ;p)
What was it like growing up in a family with such a rich musical heritage?
It was loads of fun listening and growing up to diverse music - right from the very start I was exposed to the world of music. My first performance was I think when I was just 2 or 3 years old playing a piano piece that I learnt through hearing. My mom and auntie taught piano and by listening to them I was able to perform a musical piece I loved when I was 3 years old. Growing up, having a music director uncle, auntie that was an opera singer, siblings and cousins who were writers and singers helped me a lot in my performances whether singing in my acapella group (high school) semi pro chorale (college) different bands (working professional). It’s an honour, truly grateful and thankful for my family.
You hail from the Philippines, a country of many musicians and singers, how would you describe the music scene over there?
It’s an ocean full of good music everywhere you go there. There are really a lot of successful musicians who were really successful in terms of fame and accomplishments coming from the Philippines. Artists like Lea Salonga (famous Broadway star) Arnel Pineda (new frontman of the Journey band) and Charice (a pop star) are just a few Filipino’s that I can think of. What I’m encouraged about is that from the underground scene to the pop main stream, I’m always amazed to meet and hear different musicians perform, share their uniqueness and craft. Hearing and seeing them inspires and excites me to do my best in every single thing I do with regards to music.
Your music can be described as a fusion of different genres, what were some of the musical influences that have inspired the sound you have developed for your songs?
My uncle who was a music director, my auntie the opera singer and my siblings who are great arrangers, composers, writers and singers. Steve Vai’s creativity, Guthrie Govan’s versatility, Israel Houghton’s songwriting, Lincoln Brewster’s tone and songwriting.I had pretty much wide, diverse influences. In the midst of writing my material, the musicians who really encouraged me to write my own songs and sticking to my true self were Chris Bowater (UK) and Fountain Head (Germany).
Your latest work is called ‘Agent of Freedom,’ what’s the story behind the album?
It’s about someone who was once in bondage with stuff that kills the “life mojo juice” in a person’s life. Kinda like a living dead / zombie waking up released from a deep dark spell. It’s about a person trapped in prison of isolation, bars of affliction, turmoil and despair until he experienced a supernatural light that caused breakthrough. From darkness to light he was freed for a brand new quest of setting the other captives free.
What is the song writing process like for you?
I came up with the main concept first. It was 2 years in the making before I released my album. There were 20 songs ideas and concepts initially which went down to 12, then 5. Then I added and wrote 4 new songs while mixing and prepping marketing, designs, planning and gigs. It was a great journey of experiencing new things to learn. As I have said, the main concept or album title went first. As for the songs and the whole big picture, I thought through aligning each song what would best portray “Agent of Freedom”. For each song, there is a corresponding story and picture behind it. Sounds, words, picture, feel, atmosphere, arrangements and environment are tools that I use to create a song.
What are some of the challenges you face being in the music world in Asia and how do you overcome them?
I believe everyone of us wants everyone to like us. All artists are insecure. I think it’s also scientifically proven humans are although I don’t have any proof. Anyway, battling insecurity would be one. Especially if you are compared to another or you see your peer making it and you just got stuck in one corner, number of likes, dislikes, haters, dogs of doom, barking dogs, prejudice, lies in your mind, your heart, etc.. I give myself a constant reminder that artwork is work. I make sure that my “masterpiece,” whatever it is, shouldn’t take over my identity about who I really am as a person. What if all my abilities were taken away? Will I still function properly as a human being the way I was designed to live? How am I gonna face and live my life going forward? I firmly believe that platform is for service and not merely a display of “check out my status y’all, I d bomb dot com bam!” What I meant for service is that whatever platform I’ve been graced with, I make sure I use it to inspire, connect, encourage people and hopefully give them new hope in life not just in the arts. Whenever a new challenges come, I always go back to why am I doing this in the first place, going back to my objectives and beliefs, thinking about what I can give and encourage others rather than taking what I should deserve.
What advice would you give to someone starting out as a song writer?
Be true to yourself the way you’re wired. There are or should be people in your life who help and walk with you as you grow. Make sure you walk in a community with true people who will love you for who you are, encourage you and cares for you no matter what (yes there are communities and people -they exist!).
Ask for advice, listen to constructive criticism. Look for a mentor. Love the process of trial, error, falling down (but never gives up), learning, understanding and giving. Be patient, I read someone who mentioned:
“It takes a long time to build a castle than to build a building.”
Lastly, make sure that you love what you’re doing. Yes, you will hit a wall at some point. But with great passion and love on what you are doing, you’ll break through walls and can breakaway from whatever obstacles and challenges you will face.
You met your wife Marisol through music, what’s your love story? Was it love at first guitar chord?
She has her own version of the story haha. I’ll try my best to merge our versions. First time she saw me it was a NO NO haha! But when I saw her, deep inside me I knew she was the one (with a ray of light shining upon her). Now to summarize how it happened! We met in a music organization here in Singapore. Love came down after I set my guitar strings on fire during one of my gigs! The rest is History. Bam! Kidding aside, we have the same passion for the arts and music, in fact she has a great voice and superb skills in singing. She plays the keyboards and guitar as well. Our relationship is continuing to flourish every day creating great lines of melodies and harmonies. All because of our relationship is powered by love, passion, faith and our same beliefs. Music enhances it.
What’s next for Ilymark and his musical adventures in Asia?
This year 2014, I’ll be busy with:
1. Arranging and producing a new album for ENCS Music, a band where I’m part of and music directing.
2. A lot of collaborations with different indie artists such as Alarice and Jean Tan.
3. Probably a new EP to be released 4th quarter this year.
4. Prepping for a full album for 2015. Looking into probably doing a tour this year as well. BW
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