We met a S’porean band called The CB Dogs. As it turns out, they are not that CB.
Despite their rebelliousness, they (at least seem to) hope to avoid getting into trouble.
The Best of You Exhibition
19 September 2019 - 22 September 2019, 1000h-2100h
Our Tampines Hub
“Don’t take us too seriously, we’re just two f**king losers from Jurong East.”
Wait, CB what?
Yes, they exist, and it’s quite the existence.
Featuring lyrics that would make your mother blush and riffs as catchy as the flu, one would describe The CB Dogs as a true-blue local band hell-bent on — for lack of a better expression — f***ing things up.
And yet, they also want you to know that you should not take them too seriously. After all, they’re just two “f**king losers”.
Word to the wise — we’ve never had to censor so many swearwords in a Mothership article before.
We simply had to know, though, after one of us accidentally discovered them on Spotify: what kind of Singaporeans would give themselves a band name that is in equal measures outrageous and colloquial?!
When we rolled up to our meeting place (a random coffeeshop in Clementi we hastily Googled directions to before leaving the office), they were already there.
This fascinated us — given our presuppositions that rock music and punctuality wouldn’t exactly overlap on a Venn diagram: that a band with that name was nonetheless punctual to a fault.
But as we approached the duo, the roasted smell of Luckies filled the air. Ahhh, that’s more like it.
So why The CB Dogs?
“It’s eye-catching what, very Singapore… And we always say CB dog.”
And who are these two angsty dudes who jam songs with youthful abandon, slice-of-Singaporean-life-type rants in their lyrics?
When I enlist the sergeant tell me
Follow me or I send you go DB
I tell him to f**k off
End up everybody laugh at me
— Lyrics from “The Army Song”
Take a bow, Gabriel Rui and Jesse Lee.
Rui, the singer-songwriter and guitarist — by association, the motormouth, leans forward half of the time, as if there’s an invisible microphone. Lee, the bassist, on the other hand, is laid-back personified. They tell us that their drummer’s involvement is “on and off”, and the show is mostly run by them.
As the Luckies burn and the kopi depletes, pinpointing what they’re all about and who they want to portray themselves as is as futile as life itself: why try to impose meaning on two chaotic 19-year-olds struggling to find meaning in this hot mess known as Singapore?
They know it themselves too: a previous incarnation of CB Dogs was called the Lawsuits, with Western-sounding punk songs influenced by the Ramones and the Sex Pistols.
They admit, however, that their initial songs really “sucked” and now, their musical sound has evolved into what they would call “local punk rock”.
As the CB Dogs, their songs offer a distinctly Singaporean flavour with a punk rock sound — something that, to their minds, only two other local bands (Thambi K Seaow and Boredphucks) were able to achieve.
The duo also happens to be hardcore fans of these two bands. The rest of the local music scene? Not so much.
And now, welcome to the section where Rui begins an exquisite rant on musicians in Singapore.
“I feel like people in the music scene f**kin no balls one la. Especially for like, rock music, you’re supposed to be rebellious ah… No balls, no edge. You watch them also f**king bored one… That’s not rock and roll.”
Well, what about bands like The Sam Willows?
Rui observes that every other local band dresses the same at gigs — denim jackets, skinny jeans and possibly even oversized shirts.
It’s boring, he insists. What happened to rockers who look like Slash: long, flowing hair, cigarette in his mouth, shredding that guitar slung really low?
But apart from the lack of the punk rock factor, he also has a few choice words for lyrics in local music.
“If you heart pain, like girl leave you, you will say like ‘wah, f**k la the girl don’t want me already’ — something like that? You won’t say like, I crossed a thousand rivers and a mile for you.”
To them, it makes no sense that local singer-songwriters would write lyrics like these.
“Since when people speak like that? Right or not?”
And given their desire for keeping it real, it is perhaps natural that they disapprove of locals who speak or sing with an accent.
Rui has no qualms throwing shade on Shigga Shay’s “Tapau“, for instance.
How a Singaporean who has spent his or her entire life growing up in Singapore can develop a Western-sounding accent bewilders him to no end.
“Dunno what accent… Yo I wanna drink some kopi siew dai at aang moe keo — like f**king cb sia…You live in Singapore your whole life… then where this accent come from I also don’t know.”
Clearly, Rui and Lee speak like your typical Singaporean dudes, but they claim they don’t feel like they “fit in” to Singapore culture.
Rui says he dropped out of school at 16, and did a bunch of odd jobs before he enlisted to National Service this year.
And even while he was in school, he says that he would often get in trouble for stupid things. He once got caught climbing out of the school gate because he had forgotten to wear his uniform for an exam and was trying to get home to change.
Another time, he recalls, he even ran up on a stage randomly, hijacked a band performance and started playing the bass guitar. All these while a teacher was chasing him.
Lee: “Singapore is like the wrong culture for us… Tough place ah, Singapore.”
Rui: “For us ah. Maybe you guys like.”
Indeed, Lee and Rui seem to thrive on a (semblance of) rebelliousness and a total lack of regard for hierarchy.
It’s the “strictness that make people wanna rebel” in Singapore, Rui believes. And this manifests in the music they create, which is arguably every bit as offensive and chaotic as they appear to be.
The self-taught guitarists tell us they aren’t picky in terms of technical skill.
After all, they aren’t aiming to be the next Steve Vai. As long as the lyrics are relatable, catchy, and authentic (read: offensive), it’s good enough for them.
Rui: “Like joke like that sia, we learn guitar for three years then we write songs like that. Don’t need to be so complicated one la.”
Lee: “Yeah, who the f**k cares right? As long as it’s catchy, it’s nice. Good for everybody.”
Their demo, which consists of five songs in line with a general theme of “sex, drugs and rock & roll”, is currently available on Spotify.
Each of the songs is somewhat based on their personal experiences, which revolves around gangsters, sex, drugs, and the NS experience.
Their favourite song? Rui considers “Johnny Tay” to be their best.
And who exactly is Johnny Tay, you may ask?
“I cannot rhyme his name, which was so hard to rhyme, so I just choose Johnny Tay, funny what got a nice ring to it. Who the f**k cares la.”
The song is not about an actual Johnny Tay but rather, about their experience with an “asshole” gangster who was always looking to pick a fight.
I go to school yesterday
See a f**ker call Johnny Tay
He stare at me and I stare him back
One day you surely get whack
Ooooh Johnny Tay
F**k you Johnny Tay
Oi, you think you ang kong (tattoo) here ang kong there like what big f**k like that?
— Lyrics from “Johnny Tay”
Other songs such as “Eighty Dollar Fishtank” is about a brothel in Geylang Lorong 18, while “Take Drug Everyday” is about someone openly taking drugs in Singapore without getting detected by the authorities.
When talking about drugs, Rui hastily adds: “But I don’t do drugs ah… Just saying.”
Despite their brazen and sometimes-controversial lyrics, they’re not exactly hoping to get arrested ASAP.
“I hope I sleep halfway don’t get knock on my door… I normally sleep until 5pm one leh, they knock on my door at 2pm I confirm cannot get my sh*t together.”
When they are playing at gigs — mostly open mics and small events involving a very niche crowd — their dressing takes on an ah beng flavour.
They deliberately choose outlandish, half-unbuttoned long-sleeved shirts with jade bangles and other accessories.
Lee even proudly reveals that he purchased a temporary tattoo sleeve from AliExpress to complete the look for just S$2.
This is sharply juxtaposed against the ‘typical’ (in their view) local musician in Singapore (the alleged denim-jacket-and-skinny-jeans-wearing crowd with guitars slung over their shoulders).
Rui: “Ah beng like very edgy, just use their image.”
Lee: “It’s f**ing funny what.”
Rui: “Just no tiam (secret society tattoo) can already, the tiam is the f**kin’ scary one, cannot anyhow.”
Even their Instagram posts, which include an iconic screenshot from Royston Tan’s “15” and a photo of self-proclaimed salakau (369) gangster Alan Kia in the promotional posters for their gigs, are aligned with this “gangster ah beng” theme.
In a (perhaps half-hearted) attempt to channel this ah beng image, both of them show up to the interview wearing jade bangles (which Rui says are his). Lee also has his gold chain and iconic sunglasses on (but can we actually say that about someone who isn’t that well-known??).
Halfway through, however, Lee requests that he replace his iconic sunglasses with, well, just regular glasses, saying that he “can’t see sh*t”.
“We don’t normally wear like that one sia. Cb, ask me wear like that, f**kin asshole.”
They clarify that they don’t consider themselves ah bengs and this is all just a (supposed) façade.
Speaking about façades, I gesture to the accessories and ask: So… are you putting on an image now, for this interview?
I somehow feel that they do understand the deeper meaning of what I’m trying to get at. But Rui only laughs, and cheekily responds:
“I don’t know eh. Am I?”
So much for finding out who these two really are.
So what’s next for the CB Dogs? Who are they going to offend next?
They reason that being a local musician is not exactly the most financially viable career option. They do hope to keep writing songs and expanding the punk rock scene in Singapore, though.
And yes, this includes writing even more “f**ing offensive sh*t”. Even if it means that they will not be well-liked.
Because evidently, they don’t exist to please you.
Oh yeah, you may also have noticed (as our greatly-irked editor did) that at no point in this article are their ages mentioned.
So how old are they??? You can probably figure by now, there is once again no straightforward answer.
They cheekily tell us: “Why don’t you guess?”
We throw them a random number between 20 to 30, and Rui, who wants us to know that Lee and him are 19, says:
“We let you guys believe what you guys wanna believe.”
Top photo by Ng Kah Hwee.