Gothik Serpent is a collaborative progressive rock studio project based in Singapore. Fronted by Kerwin Tsang, the project prides itself on producing technically-accomplished concept albums in the modern age of streaming and ‘cherry picking’. We caught up with Kerwin and asked him a few questions about Gothik Serpent’s history and mission statement:
Your music features a wide range of influences, from progressive rock to surf. Can you tell us a little bit about your musical background and what first inspired you to start writing?
I actually became inspired to pick up music in 2006 while pursuing my college degree in Los Angeles. A friend of mine turned me onto Rush, and the level of songwriting was unlike anything I had heard before. One day, I made a half-joking comment to a college buddy that it would be pretty cool if I could play bass like Geddy Lee. He immediately persuaded me to actually go through with it and drove me to a Guitar Center to pick up a bass and amp.
Much of your music (specifically the arranging and guitar work) is highly-technical. Can you tell us about your background in instrumental tuition as well as what tutors/artists you found most helpful?
Aside from a few parent-enforced piano lessons when I was 8, of which I have little to no memory of (I can’t play a piano to save my life today), I have no formal musical training. Everything in my songwriting is driven by pure instinct. I hear a melody or a rhythm in my head, and I do everything I can to manifest what I hear into the songs in my records. I have tried watching some formal music lessons on YouTube, but honestly, it feels like sticking my face in a hot oven. Instead, I am more informed by listening to a variety of artists whose music brings something exceptional to their respective genres, such as Steven Wilson, Nine Inch Nails, King Crimson, ABBA, Duran Duran, The Beach Boys, Magma, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Meshuggah, Everything Everything, Karnivool and Tool. These are bands that put more emphasis on great song arrangements, rather than crazy solos that last an eternity. A lot of “technical” music like Jazz Fusion often features musicians taking turns to solo, punctuated by the band playing a chorus in between each solo. I’m more interested in music in which ALL the instruments are moving together as a single unit, and the structure of the song itself is complex, rather than any individual instrument.
Each of your albums follow a concept or theme. Why do you think this is important in the modern day climate of streaming and ‘cherry picking’ tracks off of albums?
There’s a huge number of ways I get inspired to write a song. Usually I hear something in a band I’m listening to that gives me the “spark”, other times, a melody will just spontaneously enter my head while I’m on the way to work or having dinner. On very rare occasions, I will actually dream of the song. Closer to My Name, the fourth track on Usurper, is one such song that I dreamed.
The next stage is to compose everything as meticulously as possible. I use Guitar Pro, a tablature program, to map out everything: drums, bass, guitars, vocal melodies, horns, strings, and synths. I have extremely high expectations for what makes it through to my record, so this process takes a very long time as I fine-tune every nuance of the song. If it sounds great on Guitar Pro’s mediocre sounding VSTs, then it will sound amazing when recorded for real.