As the past year or so has reminded us more than ever – music brings people closer, no matter how “distanced” we’re told to be. Surely, we Singaporeans know that well. Every year, the National Day Parade theme song gives Singaporeans another thing to talk about but with a pandemic still ongoing, it means something more to the nation.
This year’s National Day Parade theme song is titled ‘The Road Ahead’. Written, arranged and produced by singer-songwriter Linying and producer Evan Low, aka evanturetime, the song also includes the vocals of local musicians Sezairi, Shabir, and Shye.
Ask any Singaporean on the street and they will most likely be able to sing you the lyrics to one of the iconic NDP songs. So, naturally, anyone taking up the task of writing a National Day theme song will have big shoes to fill.
“Don’t look at the comments,” Evan warns Linying, “it’s your first time but if you keep away from it, you’ll be fine!”
But to their surprise, ‘The Road Ahead’ has been incredibly received by Singaporeans young and old. From being memed on TikTok to countless positive comments online, many are hailing this year’s NDP song as one of the best.
The duo has been busier than ever. Just a couple of weeks after the release of ‘The Road Ahead’, Linying unveiled her latest single, Daylight Blows Into One Door. Evan is also working on a brand new single under his artist moniker ‘evanturetime’ that’ll be dropping later this month.
Thankfully, we managed to find time in Linying and Evan’s busy schedule to talk about writing ‘The Road Ahead’ and what they’ve taken away from the journey.
P.S. We’ve got a very special giveaway at the end of the article. Read on to see what it is!
How did you manage to land this incredible opportunity in writing this year’s National Day Parade song? And what led you to say yes?
Evan: I think it all started with me wanting to try writing like this year’s National Day song. For the past few years I’ve been helping Dr Sydney Tan with the musical arrangements for National Day Parade. But this year, I felt I really wanted to say something. I begged him for a chance – a sliver of a chance – just to see whether I could just give it a shot. And it just so happens I was hanging out with Linying over sushi (we were having uni, I remember) and I asked her, “wouldn’t it be crazy if we wrote a song – the National Day theme song together?
Linying: I’m pretty sure I was like, “oh, yeah, just imagine that…” But here we are!
I really wanted ‘The Road Ahead’ to serve as a reminder to both myself and everyone else who relates to feeling like there just might be a part of us that can affect some change.
When you both got together to write this song, what was the main message you wanted to bring across to Singaporeans?
L: I think any other year would have been quite difficult to write a National Day song that I felt I could be honest and also palatable for the masses. Especially with Covid now I really had to step out of my own inhibitions (I’ve had a lot of my inhibitions about being part of this year’s NDP.)
One of my best friends is a paramedic and she was telling me that she actually felt something when she heard the demo. Honestly, that felt really encouraging. And to hear that from a peer, whom I consider to have similar wavelengths in terms of taste and music, just made me feel like there is an optimistic part of me that shouldn’t be too jaded about this.
I really wanted ‘The Road Ahead’ to serve as a reminder to both myself and everyone else who relates to feeling like there just might be a part of us that can affect some change. I really want people to remember that we only have each other.
E: We shared the same feelings about the whole thing. It’s just the strength of the collective and any single action that we do matter – be it from an overarching broad brushstroke for the nation or even just within your own little collective of family or friends.
How was it like writing the song musically? Where did you get your inspirations for ‘The Road Ahead‘
E: Before we stepped into the room together to write, I was doing just a little bit of research, sitting through a few National Day songs and I was trying to break them apart to find out why is that some of these classics are classics. During that time, I came up with a few chord progressions and they were precisely chosen because those chords were very easily accessible to kids or anyone. These are more or less the first four or five chords you learn on your guitar – the basic CAGED system on your guitars.
When I was a kid, I had the chance to actually play along to all these iconic National Day songs. I felt that I had an emotional connection with the tune. So I was hoping that by creating a chord progression that was easily accessible for kids to learn, they too, would have that same emotional connection. Then after that, of course, Lin went and did her lyrical magic on the whole thing.
L: The songwriting process actually came quite naturally. It wasn’t the hardest song to write. I remember thinking that if it doesn’t resonate with me, it’s not gonna resonate with anybody else. I also didn’t want to write another song that was to the brief – nobody really wants to hear that anymore. That’s always been my approach to my own music. ‘The Road Ahead’ was no different. I’m really happy that they gave us the freedom to acknowledge some of the negativity that has been going on.
When I was a kid, I had the chance to actually play along to all these iconic National Day songs. I felt that I had an emotional connection with the tune. So I was hoping that by creating a chord progression that was easily accessible for kids to learn, they too, would have that same emotional connection.
Tell us a bit about working with the other performers, Sezairi, Shye and Shabir.
L: Oh yeah! That was really fun. We recorded all of them.
E: Yeah, we were very physically there with all three singers during the whole recording process. We were there to produce them and guide them. So there were tonnes of fun, no problems whatsoever. All of them were very enthusiastic about the tune and they lent their own interesting perspective or musicality to the song.
L: I remember that Shye changed the bridge melody on her own. It was so good. I wish you guys could hear it!
‘The Road Ahead’ has been extremely well received by Singaporeans! How have you taken to the reception so far?
E: I’m extremely humbled and overwhelmed, I can’t say this enough. Over the years, at least for me, when we are working on National Day Parades, I try to stay away from the comments on social media.
L: You’ve been warning me so much about it, constantly telling me, “don’t look at the comments, it’s your first time but if you keep away from it, you’ll be fine!”
E: I tend to stay away from all the feedback from the public because it tends to be polarising. It helps me to stay objective to the vision and arrangement of the music director. This time around, I was expecting to stay away and just let things be, but we’re very surprised by all the positive feedback so far.
L: But we’re also making a song for people to hear, and it’s not just because they’re not musical, their opinions don’t matter. Because ultimately, it’s for people to hear. And if they like it, it’s a big, big win. If they don’t then maybe there’s something we should look into and find out why it’s not speaking to them or what’s on these people’s minds. I guess people feel like it’s an accurate representation of what they’re feeling. And that is very fulfilling.
What was one thing you have taken away from this whole journey of writing ‘The Road Ahead’?
E: I think it’s great that we were validated for being honest and sincere. We had decades worth of work to be compared to and it can be daunting if you get bogged down by all the necessary and supposed rules for us to write. But it’s just great that we could be honest with writing this song.
L: The process was that we were invited to submit a pitch for the song. That knowledge was quite liberating because it wasn’t a situation where we said yes to the job, and we had to conform to whatever you think they want you to say. That gave us the freedom to write a song that we felt we could be honest.
We were also so adamant that we would not put the word Singapore on it!
E: Oh yeah! We’re very happy. We didn’t compromise, we spoke from our hearts and it all worked out.
If you’re like us and many other Singaporeans who have enjoyed this year’s National Day theme song ’The Road Ahead’, you could win a very special guitar! We’re giving away a beautiful Taylor 214ce Deluxe in a very patriotic Red (worth $2,149) to one lucky winner. Head over to our Instagram post to find out how you can stand a chance to win this fantastic prize.
Read more: Fighting the Guitar Humidity Battle in South East Asia