Shentonista Soundspace — Count Vernon


Count Vernon

Fresh out of university, Eli has already experienced many firsts—he’s started his own music project, released his first full-length album, and played his first Baybeats gig as a budding band. Next on his agenda? To hopefully tour Asia, play more live shows, and of course, like most other fresh grads, find a day job.

Better known as Count Vernon, Eli’s personal music project can be loosely defined as an indie rock/pop outfit, but at its core, it’s really one that blends different sounds and genres with lyrics that reflect his state of mind and lived experiences.

Just like his music, Eli is a bubbly, expressive individual, and if you caught his set at Baybeats 2023, you’d know for a fact that his energy is infectious. Even with an early morning call time, he shows up bright-eyed at the studio with his guitar in tow, ready to tackle our shoot.

Though he usually performs with a band (consisting of longtime friends and music collaborators of his), he pared it back this time round and returned to his singer-songwriter roots for a stripped-down session with us.

Note: The video above includes a short snippet of the full interview, which is transcribed below.

We know Count Vernon is a personal project for you, but can you tell us more about the band that you usually play and perform with?

Eli (E): The band that I play with consists of Norman on guitar, Marc on bass, and Josh Yong on drums. I met Marc and Josh when we were playing music in church way back, so I had always known Marc to be the most nasty bass player I’ve heard. Just the sounds that he comes up with and the way he plays—I’ve always loved it!

Josh is my peer—we’re both in the same batch—so when he started playing drums, I immediately took notice. I love the way he approaches the instrument—he’s just the most powerful, loudest, most badass drummer that I’ve heard. Everyone who’s played with him (shoutout to Sun Cell) complains about how loud he is, so yeah, take that, Josh Yong (laughs). I love you Josh Yong.

Tell us more about how the name Count Vernon came to be.

E: The story goes way back to when I was about 17 or 18. That was, I think, the period of time when I took writing my own stuff quite seriously. At the time, I was unsure how I wanted to approach my music—I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be a band or if it was supposed to be just me. Now it’s just me, but I liked the idea of putting a moniker on my music. A bit shy lah, right, so I wanted to have something to hide behind.

Anyway, a part of Count Vernon came from one of my biggest musical inspirations, Justin Vernon. He’s literally the reason why I decided to adopt a moniker in the first place, because he’s Bon Iver, and I was like “Oh, you can do that?”

Another part of it came from my great friend, Edwin. He and I go way back, and he was the one who basically helped me get on my feet in terms of writing my own stuff. He stays in Woodleigh, which is right next to the Mount Vernon Police Academy, so when I would go to his place to record my stuff, I would walk out of the exit and see Mount Vernon, and I started thinking “Oh, that sounds kinda cool,” but then I realised it was a cemetery, and do I wanna name myself after a cemetery? So I just chose to change the first letter of Mount to Count, and therefore, Count Vernon. It’s a dumb story lah (laughs), but it does remind me of Bon Iver, and it does remind me of the place that I first got started in as a musician.

On that note, tell us more about your songwriting process.

E: I’ve always been very taken by the power of songwriting. I think the combination of the lyrics and the melody is a really powerful thing. It’s quite interesting to me how one without the other seems a bit incomplete.

I think instrumental music is great, but at the same time, I feel like the words really matter if you do choose to include them in your music. And likewise, lyrics don’t seem to pack the same punch if you just read them on a page, as opposed to if you listen to it being sung with the melody. So I guess how I approach songwriting is by trying to find the best of both worlds. What’s the best melody I can come up with? And what are the best lyrics that I can write, or the best metaphor that I can use to convey a certain feeling or thought, you know?

One of the songs that I played earlier, Heavy Duty Incandescent Streetlights, was inspired by a night that I had in 2021. I was walking back from Clementi to my dorm room in NUS, and I had this moment to myself to just reflect on the way my life had been up until that point. I had been struggling with a few thoughts and feelings, you know, personal development stuff, and it all became clearer to me then. I was listening to The Velvet Underground’s Pale Blue Eyes, and I was walking down the empty road, late at night, and it was a vibe, man. It gave me the inspiration to write this song, which is literally about cars on the road.

Of all of the songs you’ve written, is there one that you have a soft spot for?

E: Yo! To draw out the classic cliché that every songwriter expresses, it’s like choosing one of my babies! (laughs) There’s a song that I wrote way, way back, on the second EP that I released, called Minefield. I will never write a song like it ever again, because it was such a specific moment in time for me.

It’s that one song where I wrote the lyrics first—the words kind of fell onto the page. It was the night I couldn’t sleep, because I had my heart broken. Those things are always a good catalyst for creativity, so I decided to write words on a page, because I just felt like there was something that I had to get out of me, and those words eventually became lyrics to the song. It’s about doing your best and giving your all for something you really believe in, and yet it’s not enough.

Heavy shit, man. I’m sorry, can I curse? (laughs)

On a happier note, tell us more about your experience at Baybeats 2023!

E: Baybeats was really fun! I think it’s the biggest crowd I’ve played to so far. We (my band and I) were all so amped to do it. Before the show, oh my God, we were so nervous, but it’s the kind of thing where the moment you step on stage and the first song starts, there’s no turning back. Your mind just tunnel visions into whatever you’re doing, and I felt like we gave it our all and everyone had fun. It was just a fun set, and it was the most fun I’ve had on stage I’d say.

In the journey leading up to that, there was a mentorship programme as well, so shoutout to the mentors like Isa and Weish—they were all really good mentors, and we learnt a lot from them.

What was the biggest thing you learnt from this experience?

E: (sighs) Wow, so many things, but maybe I’ll say on a practical level, how to make our music sound a lot more varied, and how to put more exciting twists and things that people don’t expect in the way that we approach live shows.

But on a personal level, I learned to not be too worried about whether or not I play perfectly. I don’t think Baybeats was the most perfect set we played, but yet it felt like people had a lot of fun, so that showed me that maybe it doesn’t really matter that much, you know? I mean, of course you do your best, but at the end of the day, it’s about the vibes ah.

You also released an album recently. Can you tell us more about it?

E: The Nomad Diaries is the name of my new album, and it’s a culmination of three years of work. It’s a long time, and it’s quite funny how three years can be seen as a long time, because I really started it as a Covid project when I was isolating at home and feeling a lot of things lah. I mean, it was a really difficult time for everybody, not just for myself, but for the world and my friends as well, from what I observed. So I was feeling really heavy, and I had to just get those feelings out, and those songs started the whole album process lah.

I guess the overarching theme of the album is just the idea that it’s hopefully a universal trait for us to feel somewhat lost in this world as we’re trying to find a space for ourselves to fit into. Essentially, the album is about my journey of trying to find peace with where I belong in this world. It’s a very personal thing, but hopefully it’s also something that everyone else can relate to.

What are some upcoming plans that you have for Count Vernon?

E: Man, I just wanna play more shows. If you have your kids’ birthday party, I don’t mind, yeah! If you’re getting married, sure, I’ll bring my band and play! If it’s a hardcore show, sure, let’s play that shit! I don’t know, man, quite frankly, I’m still trying to make plans, but I’ll definitely be doing more live stuff.

Do you have any dream gigs or festivals you wanna play at?

E: Yeah, man! Yo, I mean, the ideal is that I don’t mind touring Asia. That’ll be fun I think, trying to expand where my listeners are at. I think the idea of touring is something that I’ve wanted to do for a while, so yeah, I ‘d love to do that.

When it comes to Singapore, man, I don’t really have an ambition. I feel like it’s just about staying consistent lah, you know? Staying plugged in and continuing to do shows.

Do you see yourself pursuing music full-time?

E: Ahh, yeah, it’s an age-old question, right? (laughs) It would be an ideal lah, it would be great, but I think there are definitely obstacles to that. I’m still trying to figure out a way to sustain myself while doing this music thing, so we’ll see lah. I mean, if anyone wants to bring a bag of cash, sure man, let’s go, let’s do it! (laughs)

Final question: there are a lot of youths getting into the local music scene, both as musicians and fans in general, which is really nice to see, but how else do you hope to see the local music scene grow in the next few years?

E: Whoa, I think people just gotta continue to do their thing. We’re now in a time when it’s really easy to record and release stuff compared to before, and for that reason, I do see the scene becoming a lot more inclusive, and I hope it continues that way.

There are so many different styles of music out there, so I think there’ll be no lack of wealth when it comes to creativity and music lah, so I think if I should say anything, it’s just do what you do, you know? To be honest, for myself, I feel like the way I approach music is also such that I don’t even know where I’m supposed to place my music genre-wise, but I think that’s where the coolness is, right? It’s in the grey areas in between genres that you can explore. I think there are definitely people that will go for that, you know? So just keep doing what you’re doing, even if it doesn’t look or sound conventional, and believe in what you do.

Count Vernon
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