Firebrands: a short tale of success, failure, and rebirth

Yeeeah, that was my band. I’m the guy in the center, and no, I wasn’t the singer, I was just the shortest among the bunch, and it made visual sense to take a photograph like that.

Firebrands was a tiny little band from Singapore that went places. It was a band that managed to get people to pay for them to go to cities near and far — Hanoi, Chennai, Dubai — and yet failed to stay together after a short 5(ish) years together. Firebrands was my band, Firebrands my frehhh-nds (sorry, inside joke).

The WordPress Daily Prompt for today asks: Have you ever played in a band? Tell us all about that experience of making music with friends. I’m not going to answer this question as if it’s an O-level essay question, though I could. The strange thing is, when I joined this band, they weren’t exactly my “friends” — I only knew the drummer from a few years before. In the beginning, these guys were more like co-workers than friends. Going through what we did in those 5 years does create a strong bond, though. I now call these guys my “brothers from other mothers” (heh).

Let’s go past the writing process and zoom straight to the fun bits — touring internationally. There was the Taiwan experiment, the US stint, the Dubai trip, the Chennai madness, but I remember our concert in Hanoi (Dec 2007) with the greatest fondness. There were two, three(ish) thousand raucous Vietnamese rock fans there to watch us, and the design of the stage put us right up to where the crowd was. There was just a tiny little gap between the stage and the crowd. Oh, the noise that greets you when that many people scream for your band? It’s like a physical force that makes you stand a little straighter, a little taller, a little bigger. It’s like a tidal wave that crashes through you, and into you, and leaves you that much stronger for it.

But here’s the truth about making music these days — you reach those heights, and you still may not be able to pay your bills, especially if you’re lacking a little bit of that business savvy or luck. It’s no simple task to balance expenditure/investment against revenue, of daredevil risk-taking versus safety in mediocrity. Some time in the 2008-10 period, we decided to call it quits. In hindsight, we should have continued on, we should have put our differences aside to keep on trying. Unfortunately, that whole bills-to-pay monster at our backs proved to be too much for us.

We should have stayed together as a band. Why should we have stayed together? In addition to the not-so-bad album we released, we were writing pretty decent music with our last gasps as a band.

Do I regret any of it? No way — perhaps only the splitting up part. Doing stupid things (and some things we did were truly stupid, but I only see that in hindsight) with those bunch of guys taught me so much. It taught me perseverance (in hindsight), it taught me that hard work doesn’t always equate to instant results (unlike in university where I was churning out grade-A essay after grade-A essay), it taught me that money can do horrible things to people, it taught me that music is a universal language, and it taught me that language barriers are still a massive hindrance.

Now here’s the fun “rebirth” part of it. It’s amazing, from the outside, what these five guys went on to accomplish. Among the five of us, we have a masters’ degree candidate (who isn’t me!), we have teachers, we have businessmen, we have a father (whose son has a brilliant taste in music), we have two singer-songwriters — and we also have (=D). And it isn’t surprising to me that we have continued to experience successes (and failures) after the split — we are people that are able to do tremendous things, when we put our minds to it.

Have I ever played in a band? Oh yeah, I have. I truly have.

Firebrands: a short tale of success, failure, and rebirth

10 thoughts on “Firebrands: a short tale of success, failure, and rebirth

  1. That’s really amazing, Kevin. I can totally relate to what you’re saying even though I am not (and never have been) a musician, as I am close to musicians and other artists. I’m sure these rich real-life experiences make you a better teacher, one who can widen his students’ horizons.

    1. Thanks 🙂 Given the high quality of your own blog/writing, it’s always very encouraging when you leave a positive comment.

      I think having failed at something outside academia gives me a bit more credibility when I tell my students that it’s alright to be wrong. Gosh, students can be so AFRAID of saying/writing something that Teacher would consider wrong..

  2. To be frank, I think Firebrands (still is) one of the better bands out there in local music history. Music wise, the standard is really there. Just that yeah as you said, life goes on.

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