Singapore love stories: If music be the food of love, play on

Simon was first drawn to Joanna by her musical skill.

Ahead of Valentine’s Day, we bring you a series about love stories of people living in Singapore.

By Gerry Cox, Contributor

When Simon Yong walked into the Prince of Wales Pub one night in 2006, his eye was immediately drawn to the stage. The virtuoso guitarist had gone to the Little India pub to check out a friend’s band, and was an instant fan – at least of one band member.

“This girl on keyboards caught my eye. She used a MacBook in her setup, creating an intriguing ambient soundscape over the band’s original rock music, and she was very attractive,” says Simon, 39, who is also a composer and producer.

His muse – rock keyboardist and saxophonist Joanna Lim – was a highly accomplished musician herself, despite being just 19 at the time. While Joanna was less starstruck by the gifted guitarist her bandmate insisted she “had to meet”, she was blown away by his band Zero Sequence – so much so that when its keyboardist left for Dubai, Simon was able to persuade her to take his place.

“Apart from her obvious skill, she brought a fresh, modern energy and image to the group, being a bit younger than the rest of the guys,” he says. But he also wanted to tap into that energy outside the studio, and asked her on a date, promising “scenic views and some really great coffee” at Mount Faber Park.

Simon and Joanna have performed together in places as far-flung as Cannes, New York City, Tokyo and Guang Zhou.

Both the relationship and the musical partnership went from strength to strength as the pair played numerous gigs, and even recorded an album – “Flight of Transcendence” – together. In between, they found time to date. Five years later, he popped the question while on a winter holiday in Osaka.

“There was nobody around but us, and we were both freezing!” he remembers. “I did the traditional thing, went down on one knee and produced the ring. I can’t actually remember exactly what I said, but she immediately said yes!”

This month, they will celebrate their seventh wedding anniversary and 12 years of bonding over “football, whiskey and Netflix”, hopefully with a short getaway, Simon says.

In the 12 years that they have been together, the pair has played in places as far-flung as Cannes, New York City, Tokyo and Guang Zhou, and with bands including The Common People, Shirlyn & The UnXpected, The Kings, and Reverie.

While they began with very different tastes in music – she loved Radiohead and ’80s keyboard-based bands while he was into grunge and guitar-heavy ’70s rock – they’ve found common ground in progressive rock and instrumental fusion.

But they are no Beyoncé and Jay-Z, just a “down-to-earth couple” who happen to work together as musicians, they say.

Simon and Joanna keep things professional as musicians even though they are husband and wife.

Both volunteer that they have “creative differences” at times. “We each practice our craft very differently,” says Simon. “I’m a much more expressive individual who likes risks and challenges whereas Joanna is more grounded and practical.”

Things sometimes come to a head at rehearsals over chords or song arrangements, but differences are left at the studio door.

“At rehearsals and gigs, we are bandmates. At home, we are husband and wife. Keeping it professional makes it comfortable for other bandmates too,” says Joanna.

They also make it a point to give the other space – both at home and professionally. Even as they collaborate on projects, Simon has always had solo ambitions, and harbours the same for his wife – that she will write and produce her own music.

It is something they are both working towards, with Simon’s second solo album, a follow up to 2014’s “Alien Stole My Whiskey”, scheduled for release later this year.

“In a way, we are pacing each other to finish our respective solo albums. Hopefully we can release them at the same time,” Joanna says.

But there are also plans for a collaborative project of a different sort – creating a new generation of musicians that will perhaps complete their “family band”.

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Other Singapore love stories:

First came marriage, then came love

Winning at more than online gaming

She thought he was gay, but they still ended up together

Okay, Cupid, give me what you’ve got