System 10 Interview Series (Stompbox): Simon Yong, Guitarist for Shirlyn & The UnXpected/The Simon Yong Band



1. What made you want to pursue music as a career?


I didn’t plan to be a full-time musician. I am self-taught and had no music qualifications or whatsoever. I was holding a day job as a video editor/producer while taking music as a serious hobby. Later I found myself earning more money from music than from video production.

I love music and I told myself, “Its now or never”. I know I cannot be greedy and I can only choose one thing to focus on and be very good at it. My secondary school art teacher Mr Yeo used to tell me I have a pair of “artist hands”. I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant back then but he encouraged me to pursue a career in the creative industry 

I know if I work hard, stay true and be honest to my music and what I believe, I’ll be able to make it one day. I’m not sure if I have actually “made it” today, but I’m glad I swopped my career paths. What used to be my career has now turned into a hobby!



2. What are some of your most memorable performances so far?


Hmm perhaps opening for Irish band The Script at the Indoor Stadium 2013. I heard it was a sold out concert and I swear the screaming fans were so loud I could hardly hear my own guitar! Baybeats 2009 and Midem Music Festival in Cannes, France 2012 with Zero Sequence were awesome. So was my Tokyo/Osaka tour 2014.


Photo credit: Rueven Tan


3. What is one song that you never get tired of playing?


Little Wing. This Hendrix rhythm and blues inspired ballad has been interpreted by so many great players over the years from Uli Jon Roth to Eric Gales to Monte Montgomery that every time you watch them on video you just feel you haven’t learnt enough. Even Chaka Khan and Corinne Bailey Rae both have a very impressive and interesting interpretation too!


4. How do you incorporate the System 10 Stomp Box in your performances and how is it working out for you?


I love it! I hate reading manuals and it is really idiot proof when I set it up for the first time. It’s robust, sounds absolutely fantastic, and very affordable. I’ll usually have the System 10 in my techrider every time I perform on a much larger stage where I get to walk from one end of the stage to the other. Sometimes I’ll even jump off stage to join the crowd during a guitar solo. Just in case if you’re wondering, no I never stage dive.


WATCH VIDEO: https://video.xx.fbcdn.net/hvideo-xpa1/v/t42.1790-2/11830606_10153577687...


5. What is the greatest challenge in your work?


To be able to do justice to any song you’re covering and yet still sound like yourself. That’s tough. Some songs or some iconic guitar solos are best to play them note-for-note, with the correct touch and feel, methinks. But you’ll end up sounding like a CD player, and eventually start losing your own identity.

After playing Hotel California one night, a customer walked up to me and said, “thank you for playing Hotel California. The guitar solo is my favorite segment of the entire song and the first 4mins plus is worth the wait!” Now what do you think that customer would have felt if I had played something that is completely different from the original composition on the segment he was looking most forward to?

Sure you are allowed to jazz up a popular Beatles number or perhaps tear apart and rearrange a certain Elvis classic. But just make sure you do them justice, and the term “justice” in this case can too, be subjective... and challenging.


6. How would you describe the music scene now compared to when you first started out.


It has been 20 years. Sometimes I wonder how many music fans from Gen Z have actually bought music, or any form of physical CD.

Some might argue the Internet is a great tool for bands/musicians to promote their work. They have much better and more direct access to music fans today, but wait… so do millions of other bands/musicians. That also means music fans are consuming much more music than ever, often overwhelmed with a tremendous overload of information, resulting to shorter attention span.

I used to purchase an entire album for just one song that I like, then “forced” myself to listen to the rest of the songs in the album so that my money will be “well-spent”. I mean, once you popped in the cassette into your Walkman, you listen, and maybe you'll end up liking the other songs more. How many people in the world have actually heard or bought Pharrell Williams’ other songs from his album GIRL other than Happy?

Today, I see a lot of young bands/musicians/artistes weighing their success based on the number of followers, likes, and view-counts on their social media. If these numbers ever become more important than the music or as a matter of fact, any kind of art form itself, I think this is a worrying issue. Young music fans will tend to think the bigger the number, the “better” the music, which of course to me, never true. Popular, yes, but not necessarily better.

We used to spend hours and hours in the practice room for months just to make sure we sound good enough before a public performance. When I used to record my first EP, there was no Pro Tools, there wasn’t even a computer! Everything records into tape and editing of stems was difficult. We have to practice so hard before entering the studio knowing that we can only lay down the tracks from top to end using only a single take. I mean sure we can “punch in” and stuff, but it was difficult without a computer. Whatever we play is whatever you’ll hear in the record, and this adds realism in your music.

Today with the improvement of technologies, there is Autotune for singers who can’t pitch their notes properly. Also, if your drummer plays the kick a little late, don’t worry, your engineer will shift it forward for you so you don’t have to do another take. Depends on how you look at it, advancement of technologies makes things a lot easier and more convenient, but it also makes us lazier. Today, anybody can be a recording artiste.


7. What are your plans for the future?


I am always writing. Sometimes I can take 2 days to write and arrange a song all by myself and sometimes I can take 2 years. I hope to write and produce as many albums as I can.


8. Any parting tips for aspiring musicians?


I get asked a lot this question and I always reply the same thing: If you love what you do, don’t ever give up. I know it’s cliché but it works for me. There is nothing more satisfying then waking up every day looking forward to go to work.

Sure it’s a tough road. Unless you’re born rich, you’ll need to learn how to balance between your own creative work and commercial work. Most of the time commercial work pays the bills, and hence I don’t mind performing cover songs.

Of course I hope one day I would be able to make a decent enough living from just touring and performing my own compositions. But you gotta survive first, at the same time dream big, think international, and work towards your goal and what you believe in. Be a leader. Break new grounds. Go to places where you’ll feel intimidated and uncomfortable, and do not be afraid. Craft out your own style and identity, but before all that you’ll have to learn the rules first before breaking them. Remember, you are forever a student of music. Once you stop learning, that’s the end of your career.


Photo credit: Steven Chew 



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