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01 Apr, Saturday
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Listen to Leon Markcus’s Comeback Single ‘ichigo’

Leon Markcus shares how he’s stripping away pretensions and trusting his voice.

It’s a delightful, eclectic combination of K-Indie, Mandopop, and R&B. While it may be a marked departure from his previous synth-pop sound, it’s still inspired by his penchant for kitsch. As the song plays, a cat meows, and there are sounds of lips smacking, a kettle boiling, ice clinking into a glass.

‘ichigo’ listens as a 2021 update to The Cardigan’s classic “Lovefool” with its cheery, breezy pace. In the song, Markcus is in the wild throes of infatuation. He pines for a lover, and wonders if his lover feels the same; ‘can’t you say what you mean.’ He coos in the bridge, lamenting that he can’t imagine a world without his lover. ‘真的不能’ (’I really can’t’)—he asserts by the end.

And Markcus is straightforward in the song, confessing his feelings behind no pretensions. This frankness feels like a fresh breath of air in the age of modern dating, where emotions are buried under not only context and subtext, but memes and GIFs as well.

Tropika Club catches up with Leon Markcus again, delving into the inspiration behind his new sound, and how he’s staying true to his creative voice.

*The interview below has been edited for clarity.

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Q: What were the first moments of crafting ‘ichigo’ like?

A: Well.. that is a little awkward to talk about. I wrote the song in its entirety in Coffeesmith while I was in the middle of an online lecture. (funny enough, I am typing this at the very same Coffeesmith, in a different online lecture) I was immensely bored, till there was a sudden surge of childhood memories that started flashing across my mind (which happens quite a bit) and generally, in order to clear my mind, I needed to write my thoughts down.

Q: For ‘ichigo’ you return to the music you loved as a kid. What inspired you to revisit the soundtrack of your childhood?

A: Well, I’ve always been hooked on Korean and Mandarin OSTs. So I’ve been listening to IU, Sam Kim, Zico, Harlem Yu, Hebe Tian, MACO to create my new music.

But also, I’ve gotten feedback that as Leon Markcus there was always a distance between my listeners and me. Perhaps it was a conscious/unconscious effort all these years to not reveal too much about a side of me that I am not too comfortable with. but after the pandemic, I learnt to love myself a little more and have a little more confidence in who I am. Especially this side of me that I’ve always been very insecure about due to the bullying and scrutiny of my “masculinity” when it comes to dating women.

‘…it has always been a personal goal of mine to make music like this.’

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Q: And it’s the first track you produced and co-arranged. What was it like?

A: Ironically, the creative flow for this song has been really kind to me. It wasn’t hard to figure out what I wanted in the track specifically and how I wanted the arrangement to sound. I guess my first relationship was so memorable and distinct that I instantly knew the creative direction I was headed towards. And what I wanted my audience to feel when I shared about this story.

Q: You’re even shooting a short pilot film for the single. What was the inspiration behind shooting it?

A: Well.. this pilot film was kinda a lucky strike for me? I didn’t intend to make any materials to promote the song. But there was this director I know, and he was getting inspiration from the song to write the pilot for the film. So he approached me to use my music as the basis of the short film. 

I was immediately on board; it was such a good opportunity to not miss.

Q: What can we look forward to in the film?

A: I think for the pilot short, you can look forward to how I was like in my secondary school years, and how I kinda first interacted with my first partner. The format of how it’s presented is something that I feel is pretty unique. The pilot short is really just an introduction to my world, which the director may or may not develop more.

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Q: A few of your next releases will have this new sound too. It seems like you’re moving away from the metaphoric. Now, there’s a frankness to your sound, and in your lyrics. How does it feel like to share a different side of you?

A: Omg, thank you for noticing. As a songwriter, I often feel people tend to neglect lyrical content so I gotta thank you for this! Well, it’s scary. Very scary. I don’t like being in situations where I’m this direct about the parts of my life I find sacred to me.

But my listeners are also individuals I wish to connect with not only in our ideologies, but our hearts and souls as well. To take this step away from the metaphoric and honing in on frankness is seriously wrecking me. But it is a necessary step not only for my listeners, but for me as a person too.

Q: Why did you want to make this shift in your sound?

A: Well, it has always been a personal goal of mine to make music like this. But I’ve been too caught up with trying to complete the previous eras of mine that I’ve always placed music that I wrote that sounded like this to the back burner. I guess now it feels right to explore these sounds as I try to reintroduce and find Leon again.

You said you want to ‘find Leon again’—what do you mean by that?

A: Well, I think over the years, being Markcus, a part of my personality that is often not larger than life made me lose sight of the other aspects of what makes me, me. Markcus is a part of a whole being, but it’s not the entirety of me. 

Whilst working in the entertainment industry, I always found myself trying to live up to what Markcus would do. What would he say? How would he act? But with that, I feel like I’m neglecting other aspects of who I am in order to live up to the expectations of being Markcus. 

As much as I love embracing the quirky, flamboyant and this unique essence of my personality, I figured I should be equally brave in trying to show the world the other side of me. A side of me that might not be as flashy but has its own special features as well. I ought to learn to love every part of me.

Q: You’ve told us before that everything has to be better, or different than your previous work. What’s your secret to constant evolution?

A: Well, being able to receive criticism and having a personal connection with pursuing the unknown or things that I have never done. I mean, after all, it is art, and art should have no boundaries when it comes to exploring.

Q: How did you learn to trust your creative voice as it evolves?

A: Well, over the course of my musical journey, I came to realise that, ultimately, it doesn’t matter what people think of your work. Rather, you need to be able to love your own work. Perhaps not instantly, but work at it slowly, and surely one day you would be able to trust your own ideas.

You have to be open to criticism as well, don’t take things all to heart and know that sometimes critics don’t mean to devalue your work. Much rather, they’re actually looking to improve your work.

Q: And you still have flawless skin, even with all that going on. You’ve shared with us before your skincare routine. Did you update it? Perhaps you can share your secret?

A: Yes! I actually am now doing 2 sheet masks every week, as well as finally getting my hands on the advanced night repair eye supercharge eye cream that Eric Nam recommended. IT is soooo gooood!! Like goodbye puffy eyes!

Q: Since we’re in Phase 3 now, what’re you looking forward to doing now as Singapore opens up?

A: Playing more live shows and interacting with my listeners. Hopefully another Asia tour soon!

Q: Any new year’s resolutions for you, then?

A: To spend more time with my family, make more music, and to hopefully act in more roles!

Q: What’s one thing you’re hoping for the most in 2021?

A: Can I say 2? HOPEFULLY a fully fleshed-out series of ‘1000 Cups to Midnight’ where I can reprise my role as Zhi Yong as well as completing my plans for my upcoming music releases!

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Terence is Tropika Club Magazine's deputy editor who loves learning about animals and their behavior. He is also an anthropologist, so he is very interested in how different cultures interact with animals. He has worked in the publishing industry for over 10 years, and have been lucky enough to work with some amazing authors and editors.

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