Mark Wong sets up an appointment with The Tuxedo Diplomats, Singapore’s latest music emissaries

Talk about foreign talent: The Tuxedo Diplomats are New-Zealand-born Andy Naylor, 29, an interactive designer; US-born Will Moss, 34, a PR consultant, and local homeboy Julian Chan, 32, who works in an MNC. Then there was ex-member Matt Coyne, an American who was here before his company relocated him back to the States. Gee, do we even need "imports" to vitalise the local rock scene?

The foursome formed some time between 1997 and 1998 out of jam sessions at Roomful Of Blues. They would later join the 1998 Band Alert competition, getting into the second round with an original track, Clean. During this time, they would also commence recording tracks at The Green Room in Boat Quay for a planned album.

Unfortunately, some three-quarters into recording, Matt was posted back to the US, inspiring Andy to write Trouble In Paradise for him. Matt does play on Paradise, although he doesn’t play on Don’t Let Them and Nobody Likes Lint, two songs recorded after he left.

Recording wrapped up in late 1999 and mixing was left in the care of Nigel Woodford at Riard Studios in Chinatown. The Tuxedo Diplomats’ self-titled debut album was finally completed in time for Christmas, 2000. The result is a upbeat and spunky debut influenced by the likes of Fountains Of Wayne, Sonic Youth and even Nirvana.

Kindly describe your music.

Jules: We would describe our music as eclectic rock, each of our playing styles and attitude towards music is the result of whatever we have digested over the years from our own individual music diet. Our music has evolved into something I believe is a sound of our own. I guess my biggest satisfaction is for people who have listened us to, tell us that we sound original although I would be honoured as well if they say we sound like a Green Day or Foo Fighters.

Will: Andy is the main songwriter, and much of what you hear comes from him. I do think that two things stand out. One is that most of the songs are about things straight out of day-to-day life, or experience. Few of them are about gigantic issues or events larger than ourselves. The other thing is that, as befits songs primarily about personal relationships, daily experience, we're pretty consistently lively, upbeat, and not overwrought.

How do you think your Zoe Tay compares with The Boredphucks' song of the same name?

Jules: I think we started playing this song about the same time The Boredphucks' song came out. Other than the name, it’s a different song and the style is also different. The Boredphucks’ song is a straight up rock and roll song, while ours has a bit more twang to it, if you know what I mean.

Andy: Neither of the songs is really about Zoe Tay, she’s a pop icon to be referenced as an in-joke. The line "Bus fares, Zoe Tay, Chicken Rice" was straight from the front page of the New Paper in August 1998. It captures so nicely the issues that Singaporeans are most interested in (and talk about on a daily basis): Politics, Celebrity and Food. The odd thing is that four years later, we’re still captivated by the same issues. I did feel sorry for Fann Wong for mentioning Zoe, but not her, So in another song Nobody Likes Lint I gave Fann’s movie a mention with the line: "You know the truth about Jane and Sam/All the mail I get is spam."

Andy's from New Zealand, Will's from San Francisco and Julian's from Singapore. Ex-member Matt was American. Do you consider yourselves a Singaporean band?

Jules: Yes... don't be deceived... these guys all have CPF, complain about the "gar-ment" and hang out at the neighbourhood hawker centres.

Will: Andy and I are both long-time Singapore residents, and I'm married to a Singaporean. A lot of our songs are rooted in experiences that we've had here, and people that we've known here. Does that make the band Singaporean? Well, that's open to debate. But it makes the experience of Singapore an important part of what the band is about. If we were all in Auckland or San Francisco, the sound and the songs would be very different.

Let's say Julian, too, was an expatriate. Would that change the band in any way?

Will: Well, on average we'd be paler, and probably have more hair. Honestly, the chemistry would be different. Would we be more or less "local?" Jules' contribution to the band is much more rooted in who he is, his personality and musical style than his national or ethnic origin.

Jules: The three of us make the band Singaporean. Andy and Will belong to the expat community which is just as much part of the makeup of the country as are the three main Asian races. I don't believe you need to be born and bred here to be "Singaporean."

Why did you include that sample of a Chinese wayang performance on the intro of Nobody Likes Lint?

Andy: We wanted something interesting to lead-in to the album, something that gave a local flavour to the album right from the start.

Andy is attributed with the lyrics and music of the album. How much of an influence is his childhood in New Zealand?

Will: I think Andy owes a great deal of his creativity to the dark, South Island winters, with only the family sheep for company. Those were the days that really let his imagination blossom. Me, I was neck deep in TV. That's why I don't write the songs.

Jules: Not much is known of Andy's childhood in New Zealand, if that’s where he is actually from. He does make references to his experience in NZ in some of his songs. Will and I have doubts sometimes if what he sings about really happened, but we don't ask these kind of things.

Andy: New Zealand has a very active live music scene. The city of Dunedin where I studied is home to a number of great bands like the Chills, Straitjacket Fits and The Clean. Dunedin is like a mini-Seattle with it’s own unique sound, and mix of influences. My songwriting is influenced by the "Dunedin Sound" — basically anything on the Flying Nun label, and other prominent Kiwi musicians, Crowded House/Split Enz and Dave Dobbyn.

Note: The Tuxedo Diplomat’s self-titled CD is available at HMV. Online embassy at www.tuxedodiplomats.com. Email [email protected]

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