“I say this a lot, but I’m in good hands with Dru,” says Umar Sirhan, the aspiring 19-year-old singer-songwriter who has been paired with Dru Chen on The Great Singapore Replay. Indeed, Umar is right to consider himself a lucky protégé. With more than a decade’s...
“I say this a lot, but I’m in good hands with Dru,” says Umar Sirhan, the aspiring 19-year-old singer-songwriter who has been paired with Dru Chen on The Great Singapore Replay.
Indeed, Umar is right to consider himself a lucky protégé. With more than a decade’s experience under his belt, producer and singer-songwriter Dru is definitely the right man to help young Umar reach his full potential.
“It’s like passing the torch. I had my mentors [when I was] growing up – showing me the way, taking me under their wing,” says Dru Chen.
“The chance to do that – to impart the values that I really benefited from artistically and professionally, is going to be something that’s really rewarding for me.”
Old School Debut Versus New Age Beginnings
From a very young age, Dru was already making headway into the local music scene.
“My journey began quite a while back when I was 14. I started playing in cafés […] and then pubs and places like that,” says Dru. “It all started from the old school way of doing it, which is just to play live and see what songs your audience responds to.”
Today, Dru is one of the most recognised Singaporean faces on both local and international stages – with fans tuning in from as far as Australia and the United States.
Young Umar, on the other hand, benefitted from growing up in a post-digital world. Through the internet, Umar first discovered artists that inspired him to pursue music – such as John Mayer, whom he repeatedly cited as his “idol”.
And unlike his predecessor, Umar’s debut stage was actually his very own Instagram page. “I posted my first cover on Instagram about two years ago,” says Umar. “And I think that’s when I started to get a bit of recognition.”
Stringing It Together
A seasoned professional, Dru was completely unfazed when he learnt that they will be reimagining the 80s hit, Roses by Gingerbread.
Humming and strumming his guitar along confidently, he later explains that he’s had experience with the song. “I played this on the piano before,” Dru said, as he quickly shows the ropes to Umar, who is a proficient guitar player himself.
“Very classic [chord] progressions here,” says Dru, as the pair marvel at the workings of the song. An emotive song about a fading romance, Roses certainly lends to the soulful voices of Umar and Dru. In fact, Dru intends to “play up the soul” featuring a stripped-down production that puts the spotlight on Umar’s vocals.
As a young artist, Umar is still exploring the various directions he could go in and hasn’t quite settled on a “sound”. “I’m still working towards achieving a sound that’s distinct and true to my style,” said Umar, humble and down-to-earth.
Still at a fairly early stage in his journey, will we witness Umar’s potential blossom into musical maturity on The Great Singapore Replay? Perhaps, after all, the odds are in his favour - evident from Dru’s nurturing disposition.
“I feel a kinship in Umar, in the way that he sees music – in the way that music is for him, in his life, in getting something out from inside. I can’t wait to help him realise that mission through this project,” says Dru.
When embarking on a creative collaboration with someone you’ve never met, you won’t know how things will unfold. For Umar, “Best Case Scenario” is probably a fitting description for how his partnership with Dru is working out. “At the start, Dru told me that some people say he’s hard to work with, but it has been a breeze,” Umar says.
According to Dru, it has been conflict-free. “We just give each other the space to create,” he says. The atmosphere is relaxed and “recording happens very fast and spontaneously.”
Trust in the Process
While this sounds almost too good to be true, there is a reason why they have clicked so well. Trust. After all, a collaboration is only as strong as its relationship. Starting out as strangers, Dru and Umar did not dive right into the remake but put an emphasis on one another first.
Dru explains, “It was so important to spend the time getting to know one another at the beginning before even stepping foot in the studio.”
It has come to a point where Umar has complete trust – a precious thing in any relationship – in Dru. His trust spurs Dru in full music producer and talent manager mode, “I do put him first in terms of my interpretation of what he’s about, and what he likes musically and aesthetically.”
With such a solid relationship established, the mood during recordings is relaxed, flowing naturally and effortlessly.
80s Classic gets the 60s Treatment
While many teams are updating their classics with contemporary production techniques and injecting modern elements, Dru and Umar are taking us in another direction.
With their remake of Roses by Gingerbread, they plan to out-retro the 80s classic. Dru, a fan of 60s production techniques, is borrowing tips and tricks from The Beatles themselves with tea towels placed on drum kit and old ribbon microphones.
For Umar, playing his guitar for the recording was especially important. “Using actual physical instruments brings an authenticity. You’re really able to bring out the feeling in the song.”
The duo is scaling down the big orchestral and pop sound of the original Roses as well. Paring it down like how Motown and soul music was recorded, Umar wants to take it to a more “intimate and minimalist” space. One that puts a focus on the emotional punch of the vocals.
Dru sums it up perfectly, “Kind of an old school take on minimalist current day pop-soul.”
Growing with the Government
The government isn’t what immediately comes to mind when one think of the arts. But for the pair, governmental and cultural support is crucial to the steady growth of the industry. “More support from Singaporeans as well as the government would be of great value when it comes to taking the music scene to new heights,” says Umar.
The good news? Dru believes we are already moving in that direction. He is optimistic that in ten years, Singapore will take on the regional stage. “We will be competing against all the other hot markets in Asia.”
With a surge of opportunities and platforms, it is easy to get lost in the currents. For Umar, that shouldn’t be holding anyone back. Just the act of starting something is often enough. “I feel like anyone who has a passion for music should just start somewhere.”
And once things are in motion, Dru has timeless advice for anyone looking to leave their mark. Perhaps the very same advice that keeps him going today. “Always go back to the original reason you started making music.”