The London indie-pop trio are effervescent and polite and affable, but they are also brave and unpredictable.
- By Yeow Kai Chai
This may seem odd to describe Kero Kero Bonito (or KKB for short), but a quote by the ancient Greek statesman Pericles is apt: “Time is the wisest counsellor of all.”
Sure, it was easy in 2016 to peg KKB as one of those fizzy, gorgeously Instagrammable bands when they appeared on the horizon with their debut album, Bonito Generation, but things weren’t so simple with their 2018 follow-up titled, well, Time ‘n’ Place.
Whereas the first is a pop canister pumped with breezy riffs and ridiculous hooks –described as J-pop meets dancehall meets video game soundtrack – the second is rockier, rougher, and altogether tougher. It’s knowing, more scarred, and thus, more resilient.
As the members see it, they are merely reflecting the vicissitudes of the world order. On the phone from London, multi-instrumentalists and producers Gus Lobban and Jamie Bulled, and vocalist Sarah Midori Perry (known by her stage name Sarah Bonito) are unfailingly affable, but there is something serious and focused which belie their demeanour and their evolving songcraft.
Their recent surprise EP Civilisation I, for one, touches on war, religion and climate change, fronted by the contemplative synth-pop single ‘When The Fires Come’, which yet signals another change in the musical direction. Hell, they even covered ‘I’ve Seen Footage’ by super-cool Sacramento experimental hip-hop group Death Grips at a gig in the latter’s hometown in October.
For Time ‘n’ Place, music nerd Gus has cited as influences – diverse acts such as defunct Japanese bands, namely Citrus, and Judy and Mary; American electro-experimental rock act Sweet Trip; Scottish duo Strawberry Switchblade; and English rockers Lush.
Why the risk-taking? Gus admits it’s a gamble: “We thought that people who love the old KKB were going to desert us, and that the people who like this kind of music were just not going to know who we were. I was really surprised by the response. It was really encouraging that people like it because it was bold musically, and because we make points not every band makes.”
Time ‘n’ Place captures personal and global undercurrents, including the loss of several family members. Sarah also dreamt of recurring images – a water park from her childhood, a hallway in her primary school. Then she received a text sent by her brother who visited their hometown Otaru in Hokkaido in 2017.“
My old house that I grew up in was demolished. It was gone,” she recalls. “He sent me a black-and-white picture of where the house was. It is a field now. My old primary school got closed down as well. The past is disappearing. It’s a weird time – we’re not going to school anymore, we’re adults, and then there’s the future… And that really inspires Time ‘n’ Place.”
For Gus, one song ‘Visiting Hours’ from the album was especially meaningful. It was written after his father ended up in the intensive care unit due to a health scare. The lyrics were lifted from the seemingly humdrum conversation between his parents. “I should let you go to bed/Brush your teeth take it easy get some rest/I’ll be back here again tomorrow morning/I’ll see you then,” Sarah sings, before offering a “night, night.”
Gus shares a private moment: “One day, just before the record came out, my mum came up the stairs in tears, and she said, ‘Gus, I know what ‘Visiting Hours’ is all about.’ We hugged it out. It was crazy, to be honest. It was a beautiful moment. When we played that song for our first show after the album release, Dad was out since that incident. That was pretty emotional.”
Jamie agrees: “It was embracing the chaos of such situations. We have to embrace that, and come out from the other side.”
Inevitably, the spectre of Brexit hangs over everything. Sarah, who is half-British and half-Japanese, says it has made her more open-minded. “I realise that because I grew up in Japan and in the UK, I have two ways of thinking, which is fun to play around with when I create. It’s knowing that there are different ways of living, depending on where you are in the world.”
Gus says it is “a drag, to be honest,” but asserts: “It’s important not to get too caught up in the tit-for-tat story. Brexit is omnipresent, and it’s impossible not to make music by what you are passionate about, motivated by, worried by, and have a point of view about. We just have to ride it.”
One thing is crystal clear: Based on their simpatico vibes, it’s clear KKB isn’t going down the route of Brexit any time soon.
Asked to describe one another in three words, the three ribbed and laughed, and struggled to come up with succinct epithets. Gus says Jamie is “Swag, Coolest Wordsmith” and that Sarah is “International Pop Star.” Sarah hee-haws before offering that Jamie is secretly “Good at Sports”, and that “Gus Loves Fruits” (to which Gus says he likes that “one of the words is my name.”) Jamie jumps in and declares: “I’ve got the same three words for both of them. And these three words are: ‘My Best Friend’.”
This ignites whoops of “awwww” all around, and for a while, time stands still, and you know everything would be alright.
The DJ-bassist-artist-lecturer on why it’s important not to overthink, and just do it!
- By Yeow Kai Chai
The first thing you notice about Ginette Chittick is how open she is, and how that wonderful open-ness draws great qi and explains her catholic taste.
In less than 20 minutes, you find out:
- she was quite sporty, being a cross-country runner and a school swimmer during secondary school;
- she’s now into Miami Horror, a nu-disco band from Melbourne;
- her favourite gig is the epic Cure concert at the Singapore Indoor Stadium in 2007;
- and her favourite book is At Home: A Short History of Private Life, a book on the history of domestic life by Bill Bryson.
She laughs easily and puts people naturally at ease. If she is contemplating adding another feather in her cap, she may want to consider being a lifestyle guru. Asked how she manages to do it all – doing music, deejaying, visual arts, teaching, and being a mum to a four-year-old girl – she proclaims, and then unleashes that infectious laugh: “The main thing is not to overthink, and just get on with it. And while you’re in the process, just enjoy it, and then it’s done!”
Indie music fans know her first as the bassist and vocalist of Singaporean shoegaze band Astreal back in the early 1990s. Fast forward to 2019, and without making a song and dance about it, she’s quietly accrued a rather impressive and unique resume: She is a full-time lecturer and the programme leader of fashion at LASALLE College of the Arts; a DJ who spins at the Intermission Bar at the Projector; and a tapestry artist who has staged several art exhibitions.
Her next gig is to DJ at The Alex Blake Charlie Sessions come 7 Dec, and she says she will be “spinning indie, alt-rock, leftfield (but no so left)” stuff from the late 1990s till the mid-2000s and 2010s, so that it’s for everybody.
Here are 10 more things you may or may not know about Chittick, in her own words:
1. She has already formed a three-girl band called Zombie Kangaroos – sort of.
I’ve just returned from western Australia on an eco-tourism trip with my girls, Aarika Lee and Tracy Phillips, swimming alongside wild dolphins who were super curious! The other thing I enjoyed was The Hutt Lagoon, a salt lake which is really beautiful. There is some sort of algae in the water, that makes it pink. At different times of the day, the water will refract the light, and the colour will change from lilac to almost blue.
We took some pictures, and one can be the cover photo for the release for this new band. Tracy is our mood maker – she said she cannot sing and that she can only rile up good sentiments and good vibes. I play the bass, and do some samples. And Aarika can be the keyboardist and singer. We’re called the Zombie Kangaroos because there were so many kangaroo road-kills. It was really a road trip. We spent hours in the car, singing 1990s songs by Black Box, KLF and Neneh Cherry!
2. The advice she would give to her daughter, Luella, is that “no really means no.”
I hope my husband and I have helped to foster independence and a confidence in her in asserting her voice, so that she could stand her ground in saying no to things she is not comfortable with.
Actually, she’s already doing that, saying, “No, I don’t want to.” And when she says no, we respect her lah. So that she knows no really means no. No is not yes, or maybe okay. Hopefully, this will help her project her voice in creative ways too.
3. Ginette is super-deprecating. In fact, her whole family is.
We don’t openly say, “Oh yah, I’ve done this or that.” It just makes us feel uncomfortable. I don’t know, maybe it’s because we’re Asians. Or are Asians like this in general? Perhaps. I just feel like I don’t have to “big up” my stuff, it’s just annoying. (Laughs) When you do things you enjoy and people take notice, it’s because people can see how much you love it and it’s infectious energy, I guess.
4. Her advice to anyone starting out in his or her own career: “New doors open if you’re open to opportunities.”
I tell all the students and parents of potential candidates who want to join my fashion programme: “You or your child may not be working in fashion in the future, and that’s the truth, and that’s okay.”
A lot of the parents understand, and they’d go, yah, that’s true. That’s just a fact of life. If you don’t want to work in retail, you can take your transferable skill and do something else with it. It’s not like you’re a failure. I also didn’t plan my life to be that way. Things don’t usually go the way you plan, and sometimes, they open doors to something else that is very, very exciting. You open yourself to opportunities more.
5. She got into the indie scene because of doing battles in the corridor.
Sometimes, I like to sit and think about how I got here, and the people who helped me get here. I got into the indie music scene because I hung out with this friend of mine in school and we were always doing battles in the corridor. We were like, “Name indie songs worth listening to.” And the answer would be, say, “[The] Charlatans!” And he said, “Why don’t you come and hang out with my friends at TNT music studio?” I said, “What’s that?” And then we hung out and that’s how I made friends, and suddenly I’ve been in the scene for 25 years. It’s still unbelievable, just cos I said, “Let’s go hang out!” From the music scene, I met so many different people, and then I started my own fashion label. I just think I’ve been really lucky, that I have been in the right place at the right time. It’s fun to do these things.
6. Tapestry is a different experience from her other pursuits.
Being in Astreal and having my fashion label, these are all collaborative, and never really siloed. But when I was doing my tapestry, I realised that I was alone, like being in a cocoon. You can’t bounce ideas off everybody else – which is a really big difference for me in terms of creativity, and I thought that was really, really interesting.
Because musically, I have perhaps only written one or two songs. The other songs have been collaborative efforts, and that’s what I enjoy as well. But over the years, as a lecturer and as a mother, I’ve always shared, taught and listened, and sometimes, I just want to say – shut the f*** up. I just want to be alone for a while, and quiet as well. And as a practice, tapestry is very repetitive and meditative.
7. She loves the energy of pulling people together.
I’m looking forward to playing alongside Ladies of LCD Soundsystem at The Alex Blake Charlie Sessions. Nancy Whang is like the jam, I love her! And also, my friends Vandetta and A/K/A Sounds, they’re all so inspiring and awesome. Yeah, I cannot wait!
I used to organise all-girl gigs, and was also involved in the early editions of Baybeats. Festivals like this are very exciting. I love the energy, pulling people together and generally having a good time. And the people at 24OWLS (who are organising The Alex Blake Charlie Sessions), they are the people who did the last five editions of Laneway. They have always been so nice to me, and we had such a good time there. We were so impressed that at that time, as local artists against international artists, we didn’t feel like we were treated any differently, and that was awesome.
8. Her go-to movie is Marie Antoinette by Sofa Coppola.
The female protagonist is always alone, or lonely, or has a spirit of yearning for something that she doesn’t really know, and I like that storyline. It’s always beautifully shot, and the film always accurately portrays that solitude, even though she may be surrounded by people. I like that. Only Sofia could portray it that well.
9. If she were to die and come back one day… she’d return as Kathleen Hanna from Bikini Kill.
I’d come back as Kathleen Hanna (from Bikini Kill), except for the time she kena bitten by a tick and got a very bad disease. That’s how she faded into obscurity for a while. I think she’s amazing because she’s one of the main players for the Riot Grrrl movement.
10. Guess what, she’s formed another band. It’s called COVER CHARGE!!!
It was formed a year ago, but it’s just that we’ve never jammed! It’s me and A/K/A Sounds, Robin Chua of EATMEPOPTART and DJ Kim Wong. We wanted to perform covers, but in the end, we just go to karaoke and sing!
Ahead of her Singaporean debut at The Alex Blake Charlie Sessions, the Mercury Prize-nominated headliner shares why she decided to take a break from music, learn carpentry – and create the best album of her career by accident.
- By Yeow Kai Chai
THE Skype connection from Wales is not the steadiest or the clearest, but once you pick up the voice at the end of the line delivering the first word – a crisp, confident “hello” – there is no mistaking Cate Le Bon.
One is taken in by her lovely Welsh lilt, which lends a genial roundedness to the way she pronounces words such as “house” or “piano”, and ends every other sentence on a slight lift. As a result, her sentences come across as quizzical or questing. At the same time, there is a clarity to her thoughts, and this plus her amiable open-ness in chatting with a stranger thousands of miles away underline her quiet self-possession.
The same epithets can apply to her fifth album, Reward, a set of gorgeously elliptical art-pop gems which could never have come from anybody else. Her melodies are odd but approachable, continually imbibing, as if experiencing human emotions afresh. In these songs, whether born out of heartbreak or loneliness, Le Bon never gives up; instead, she works hard and seeks new inspiration.
Released in May, the record has since garnered the best reviews of her life, even nabbing a nomination for the prestigious Mercury Prize, an industry accolade awarded to the best album released in the United Kingdom by a British or Irish act. Today she is recognised as a musician’s musician, counting among her fans such pop luminaries as John Cale, St. Vincent, Devendra Banhart, and Jeff Tweedy of American alt-rock legends Wilco who hails her as “one of the best out there making music now.”
Le Bon was most recently nominated for the Welsh Music Prize, which would be announced later this month (November), and is making her way to Singapore for the inaugural edition of The Alex Blake Charlie Sessions.
Does she have an inkling of the reception she would be getting when making the record? Her answer is honest and humbling, and not at all surprising from someone who has been paying her dues since the late 2000s. “As an artist, I’ve always existed under the radar, and it’s suited me,” she says, calling from her family home in Penboyr, Carmarthenshire, in north-western Wales after her gig at the End of The Road Festival in England.
“So, it’s strange that all of a sudden to be on this Mercury shortlist that everybody is talking about. It’s a surreal and wonderful thing to be a part of. It’s just that I’d never ever imagine a record of mine ever making the list.”
In fact, while making a record, she does not concern herself about the audience, or has expectations beyond making something she can stand by. “Whenever you release a record and you’re not a massively popular band, you have to realise some people could love it, some may hate it, and others just could not care.”
The excellent response to Reward is therefore reassuring, considering the album was not on the cards. Burnt out from touring her last record, Crab Day, she retreated to a rented cottage in the Lake District of Cumbria, and dove into an intense, year-long course at Kendal’s Waters & Acland furniture school in 2017. “I was fed up, and I took a break from music. I was fatigued. I wasn’t sure about my motives and whether they were what they used to be. I needed to re-address my relationship with music,” she explains.
The spark was organic. There was a second-hand Meers piano in the cottage she was staying at, and as it so happened, “it was rare that you would walk past the piano without sitting down for a minute, and just play something,” she recalls.
Returning from school every day, she would feel tired and totally alone in this small village. “The piano was company and a cathartic outlet, and a joyful thing to play when it was time to blow off steam at the end of the day,” said the artist, who usually composes her songs on a guitar. “It was like writing a record without realising you were writing one. It’s really nice. It’s like the first time you’re making a record.”
She named the record Reward because it is an ambiguous term. “You have to dictate your own reward – and whenever else you’re doing anything. It’s not up for negotiation that somebody else tells you what the reward is, and I suppose it’s the same with making furniture: the reward is in the making, and in the process.”
That ethos is reflected in her carpentry. She describes building her dream chair, “a piece of furniture that looked like how the recorded sounded in my mind.” For her residency at the Marfa Myths arts festival in Texas in April, she even re-interpreted her album as a strikingly angular, Bauhaus-inspired chair in dark-stained oak as part of her official “Woodworker-in-Residence” commitment.
Asked to describe her chair, she demurs: “Oh, I don’t know. The time you spend designing a chair, selecting the woods, the thickness of the pieces you’re going to use…. It’s like making a record. Somebody asks you what it sounds like, and I’m probably the worst person for you to ask!” she says, laughing.
For her, it’s the tactile quality she’s aiming for. “It wasn’t about what I had at the end of the process, or what happened to that thing. It was about the intimacy of me with the materials and time spent, and how nourishing and rewarding that was.”
And has she got any feedback about her chair from friends and family? She does not sugar-coat her answer: “People have said lovely things. Some people don’t like it. That’s okay. You have to be sure that you like it, and that’s all you can do really.“
I made several pieces of the chair, but I gave them all away. I’m just used to making a record and spending loads of time on it, and then you give it away, you know what I mean?“
I guess I was in that mentality: When somebody said to me, ‘Can I have that piece of furniture you’re making?’, I’d go, ‘Yah, of course.’ It was quite nice to finish the process, give the pieces of furniture away, so it wasn’t a burden to me anymore.”
The Brighton garage-punk trio on the importance of holding space for safe expression, anger and, yes, joy
- By Yeow Kai Chai
If their band name rings a bell, chances are you are an old-school cinephile, a diehard who adores old Hollywood films. Dream Wife is the title of a 1953 American romantic comedy starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr and directed by Sidney Sheldon, later a writer of novel potboilers.
As it is, it is the name adopted, tongue fully in cheek, by one of the most exciting rising rock bands today – the Brighton garage-punk trio, comprising lead vocalist Rakel Mjöll (from Iceland) and her bandmates, guitarist Alice Go and bassist Bella Podpadec. It instantly sets up conversations about women rights, gender roles and equality.
Interestingly enough, the group was formed as a “fake band” – part of an art-school performance project in 2014 while all three were attending Brighton University, and which ambitiously included a mockumentary shot in the style of This Is Spinal Tap. And lo and behold, they got an excellent response, and suddenly, Dream Wife became something of a viable proposition.
They recorded their first self-titled EP in 2016 and did a tour of Canada and Iceland, eventually performing at South by Southwest, in Austin, Texas. By then, they had earned a reputation for their blistering live shows and anarchic music videos. They released their self-titled studio debut album in 2018 to critical acclaim, with pundits praising them for their “polished, assured slice of melodic punk” and one rhapsodising: “God damn have we been waiting a long time for a band like Dream Wife.”
It’s a thrilling sound one can trace back to the Riot Grrrl of the 1990s, but also to their finely-honed ear for the super-lean New York bands of the noughties like The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and The Kills (which they opened for during a Stateside tour).
Beyond music, Dream Wife are also making sure women are being taken care of. To create a safe space, the band implemented a ‘bad bitches to the front’ crowd policy; invited female and non-binary acts to come on their British tour last year (2018); and had been working with Girls Against, a British organisation campaigning against sexual assault at live shows.
Dream Wife sound off on the #MeToo movement, the ingredients of a great live show and where they would like to visit when they make their Singapore debut at The Alex Blake Charlie Sessions.
Female sexuality and gender roles are very much part of the ethos of Dream Wife. With the reverberations of #MeToo still rumbling through the world, how do you think the work of Dream Wife fits into the current conversation?
What #MeToo did was highlight just how universal issues surrounding sexual assault still are throughout the world and across all social and economic backgrounds. The movement brought these individual experiences and struggles together and pointed to the flaws in our collective understanding of not only what is acceptable behaviour but also how we conceptualise survivors and the process of speaking out.
Holding space for the continuation of these conversations is important, so is holding space for people to come together, holding space for safe expression, holding space for anger and holding space for joy.
Do you see any changes, radical or incremental, in how women are being treated in rock these days?
Maybe one of the most uplifting shifts I have observed from this current wave of female empowerment is the doing away of competition among peers. Womxn in rock have been (and let’s be fair, still are) hugely disproportionately represented in the mainstream.
The shift seems to be toward the empowerment of each other rather than tearing each other down or viewing each other as competition. It is no longer about viewing a womxn as an anomaly in a ‘man’s world’ but shifting the parameters of that world to make it more inherently inclusive. Womxn belong in rock.
The song ‘Somebody’ has become a feminist anthem and is based on a personal experience by Rakel. How does it feel to witness the audience embrace the song, and shout back the chorus?
It’s a mutual experience for all. Being judged because of your gender or what you look like or your abilities and disabilities. The song speaks to many because we all experience this in one way or another and we need to reclaim our own identity and life.
The more we played this song around the world, more people came up to us with so many stories of violence, assault, and negative labels that had been placed on them because of their body or behaviour, and how by singing this song they felt a solidarity. To have written a song that speaks that way to people, is an honour.
Dream Wife started as an art school project in Brighton when you were all schoolmates. At what precise point did you realise that you were actually quite good, and could make it a full-time pursuit?
There wasn’t really a precise point. Initially the band was meant to be a few months’ project culminating in a very D-I-Y tour across Canada. Upon completing this, there was a strong sense among us all that it was something we just couldn’t stop doing and it’s just snowballed from there, the snowball is still getting bigger and gaining momentum.
You have gained a reputation for being a great live band. What do you think are the elements of a great live show? Were there bands/musicians whom you admire, and have learned from?
A great live show can look like a lot of different things. For us it’s a kind of an intersection between high, frenetic energy, sweat, existing in the present and a kind of controlled chaos. We’ve been super honoured by a number of the bands we have gotten to play with, and have learned so much from them.
Notably from Sleigh Bells we learned about the line between being a musician and being an athlete, and the importance of looking after yourself physically, mentally and spiritually. From The Kills, we learnt about on stage chemistry and DRAMA. It’s all about having fun and enjoying the moment, because you’re not gonna get it back, so let’s have the time of our lives and dance and feel the music!
You are also known for your D-I-Y and collaborative spirit, crediting artists, photographers, designers, directors and musicians. Why do you think it’s important to cultivate such a community?
We went to art school – it’s in the DNA of this band. Collaboration is fun, and it broadens your perspectives and horizons. One of music’s greatest powers is bringing people together and the shared space it creates. It’s important to honour the collaborations that make what we do possible.
Talking about dream collaborations, are there any other musicians / filmmakers / artists you have yet to work with?
This is a big question. There are so many wonderful artists and people in this world. Right now we’re loving our creative team that we’ve got around us and we’re excited to see what we will make together. For the future, who knows? But yeah obviously, Madonna.
The Bad Bitch Club, started by photographer Meg Lavender, turns the limelight on your audiences and their stories. What have been some of the most interesting encounters you have had with your fans?
It was really amazing after shows when Meg would grab you and be like “Hey, hey, you need to meet this person.”
One encounter that sticks in my mind is a 16-year-old girl who’d never been to a rock show before tells us a secret – that she has only shared in her diary – that she is gay. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to speak your truth and I hope she is on a path of moving more and more into herself.
Are you already writing songs for your next album? How different are they from those on the first album, thematically and musically?
It’s been a game of teasing out all the extremes present in the first album. The wild bits get wilder and the emotional, sensitive parts get more space and delicacy and the cheeky bits get sillier. It’s pushing the light and shade with power and honesty.
You will be performing for the first time in Singapore in December. What can the audience expect? And do you have any specific message you would like to say to them?
Let’s get sweaty.
It’s our first time ever visiting to Singapore! We have lovely friends there, and heard so many great things. Very excited to perform a rock show, see friends, make friends and explore the city. We’ve heard there is an amazing botanical garden too.
How singer Eva Hendricks pours her heart out on her band’s new album Young Enough and discovers herself.
- By Yeow Kai Chai
For Eva Hendricks, the effervescent singer of the fast rising Brooklyn power-pop quartet Charly Bliss, being in a band is a dream come true – for her parents, who are music devotees.
Growing up in Westport, Connecticut, Eva and older brother Sam grew up jamming together – he on drums, their eldest brother on guitar, and she would sing along – a sibling-bonding ritual which paid off. Fast forward to 2019, and Charly Bliss is more than just a family band – it’s an exciting rock outfit which is the missing link between 1990s Weezer and 2010s Lorde, an intergenerational sweep which showcases an agnostic approach towards pop and rock and everything in between.
The band (rounded out by old pals, guitarist Spencer Fox and bassist Dan Shure, who grew up in Connecticut too) have now released two critically acclaimed records: Guppy (2017) which introduced the audiences to their so-called bubblegum grunge-pop (or bubblegrunge, as a smart-aleck coined); and its darker and more pop-oriented follow-up, Young Enough, released in May this year.
They are making their Singaporean debut at The Alex Blake Charlie Sessions on 7 Dec. Speaking from Revelstoke, British Columbia, in western Canada – “it’s in the middle of the mountains, it’s very, very cold, we’re driving, and we saw some snow, but it’s really nice, lots of trees and stuff” – Eva does not take anything for granted. Told Singapore would be very hot and humid, she yelps, “Yes! I’m ready and it’d be a really nice change,” adding: “I heard Singapore is beautiful and the airport is incredible. It would be unlike anywhere I have been before. We never travelled anywhere in Asia, and so it’d be really exciting.” She is also looking forward to meeting the London indie-pop trio Kero Kero Bonito at the festival. “We love them!” she gushed.
As a radio deejay at KEXP, a Seattle public radio station, rhapsodises, Charly Bliss always brings “100 per cent” and “positivity” to their live shows, and Eva is clearly the nucleus of the band.
Her chirpiness belies some of the most personal content she’s laying bare for all to hear. ‘Chatroom’ addresses the sexual assault she’s suffered at the hands of a former partner, and ‘Capacity’ deals with the peril of constantly putting the needs of other people before yours, and losing your dignity along the way.
Eva, can you talk about your songs, from exploring death and anxiety in Guppy to toxic relationships in Young Enough? How has it been confronting your demons?
It’s definitely very therapeutic. It’s how I process my experiences. It’s interesting to have these albums as I’ve been looking back now, and I have such a clear record of my 20s, of everything that has happened to me, ever since we started this band eight years ago. So yeah, I’m someone who deals with anxiety and depression, and it’s been super-helpful for me to have this as an outlet and a way to connect with people over things which feel difficult for me.
Do you have a particular audience you are writing for?
I’d always imagine who I would like to hear, and connect with, our music. I’m always trying to write for myself when I was younger, so probably teenagers who feel very emotional too (laughs).
Do you get your feedback from the rest of the band? Do you change your lyrics or calibrate accordingly?
Luckily my bandmates have never said anything I had written is too intense or too heavy. I write in a band full of people who are my closest friends. They know me. And for the most part, they go through these experiences with me, so they probably make sense. It’s definitely nerve-wrecking for me to release these songs, and to talk about them, but the guys have been very supportive.
Does being in a band with your brother make it easier or more difficult for you to recharge?
It makes it so much easier that we are all so close and we have a foundation. There’s never a version of the future where we are not friends. We really do as much as we can to be patient and respect each other, and really take care of our relationship. At the end of the day, what’s most important is that we still like each other. Certainly, with my brother, we are very good at understanding what is like “band time”, and what is just “family time”. I’d try my very best never to ask Sam a “band question” when we’re back home for my mum’s birthday!
Can you talk a bit about being the only female in a band? Would it be different if you were in an all-girl band? Would you behave differently?
That’s a really interesting question. Of course, if I were in a band with three other people, regardless of whether they were women or not, the music would be different. Luckily, I feel so close to my bandmates, there’s not a part of my personality I can’t express in front of them, so I don’t feel boxed in. They’re so empathetic and really wonderful. They are not just my bandmates. They are people I go to when I’m struggling in general, and so I haven’t faced any situation where they won’t be able to understand.
What do you feel about women representation and festivals like The Alex Blake Charlie Sessions, and your band’s role in representing vulnerability and strength in vulnerability?
I hope I’m embodying those things, and all I can do – and what everyone can do really – is to make music that feels honest to who they are. A lot of our music deals with sexual assault, anxiety, depression, gender inequality, and I hope to be honest with my experiences, and that the songs would be inspiring to other women. I am inspired by the women that I see in bands. I believe that representation is the way the world changes, when you see the people who look like you, or who you relate to, and who are making music, which you never thought was possible. That’s how you decide it would be possible to do music as well.
Who are some of your musical heroes you look up to?
I love Lorde. She is an incredible artist. I admire her. Her songwriting is brilliant. She makes incredible pop music that has tremendous depth, and I’m so inspired by the way she creates these very beautiful, sonic worlds. I love Taylor Swift who pushes herself to grow tremendously with every record. I look up to Lady Gaga and Solange. I’m super inspired by countless ladies.
The South London post-punks give as good it as it gets.
- By Yeow Kai Chai
Take it or leave it – that pretty much fuels the defiant post-punk shenanigans of Goat Girl, the British post-punk quartet who named themselves after Goat Boy, the priapic, porn-loving alter ego of the late American comedian and iconoclast Bill Hicks.
It’s a particularly audacious name, appropriating what some may deem a misogynistic character from another era, and spawning a dialogue with it. So what was the motivation behind it?
On the line from her home in South London, Holly (just Holly for now), who took over the bassist’s duty from Naima Jelly (who left in amicable terms) in mid-2018, deadpans: “We just really like the comedian. Goat Girl was inspired by a sketch… which was disgusting and horrible.”
Based on their affinity for all things subversive and their eviscerating self-titled debut album from 2018, it is clear that the Singaporean audience are in for something unforgettable when they perform for the first time here at The Alex Blake Charlie Sessions.
Holly and her bandmates – lead vocalist and guitarist Clottie Cream, lead guitarist and occasional vocalist L.E.D., and drummer Rosy Bones (mind the nicknames) – nonchalantly take on anything from sexual harassment to gentrification to corruption.
Part of a burgeoning London guitar rock scene which also comprises acts like Shame, Big Moon and Dream Wife (also playing at Alex Blake Charlie), Goat Girl have signalled that they are a force to be reckoned with, with songs which deal with unsavoury urban realities and socio-political machinations. A scan of their song titles such as ‘Scum’, ‘Burn the Stake’ and ‘Cracker Drool’ proves their intent, not to mention the wink-wink humour in the music video for the single ‘The Man’. It’s a sharp, gender-flipped take on Beatlemania, with men freaking out over the band instead.
We speak to Holly and L.E.D. (otherwise known as Ellie, who was a couple of minutes late), ahead of their Singaporean debut, days after they had finished recording their second album.
Hi, Holly, how did you become the fourth member of Goat Girl? Were you friends with the band?
Holly: Sort of. I used to go to a lot of the gigs at the same places where the girls hang out and play, such as The Windmill, Brixton. I’ve seen them play quite a few times, met some of the girls for drinks. My boyfriend used to work at The Windmill, and he told me that they were looking for a bassist. I had a horrible job I didn’t like, so I quit.
Do you have a nickname for your last name, like the other girls? So it’s “Holly….”
Holly: Well, that’s the thing. I think they might be changing the nicknames for the second album. The other ones are old now. Meantime, mine is “Gaping Hole”. Yes, it’s crazy.
As a bassist, how different is your playing from Naima’s? You probably had to learn the songs from scratch. What did you bring to the table?
Holly: For existing songs, I basically try to do what Naima was doing. She went through the songs and taught me all, which is nice. We got along really well, so it’s not weird or anything. I didn’t try to do anything different in terms of playing those songs, as I was trying to stay true to what Naima has done. But maybe, one difference is that our voices are quite different. A lot of the parts Naima would sing quite low. I tend to sing higher parts. We’ve just recorded our new album, so I’ve been able to have input this time.
Ellie (who just steps through the door): Well, well, well, she brought her charisma and her good bass playing. She’s very organized, which is good, because the rest of us can be quite forgetful. Just a nice, calm energy, I think.
Give us a sneak peek into the second album, and how different it would be from the first.
Ellie: There’s a lot more synths and keyboards, and a little less grungy.
Holly: The writing is more collaborative among the four people in the band. We often switch instruments. On one of the songs, drummer Rosy plays the guitar, for instance. So, we keep it interesting.
Ellie: Someone will come in with an image, or something they have written, and we will play to the group. Next week, something else comes from a jam. It depends.
What about the themes this time? For the first album, you take on gentrification, sexism, et cetera.
Ellie: A couple of songs are talking about the end of the world. We are not treating the world very well. We are destroying the planet.
Holly, I read that you had mixed feelings about the sudden focus on female musicians, and the commodification of it. As the #MeToo movement is still making itself felt, what do you think the impact has been?
Holly: It brought attention to how some people are abused and unheard. Obviously in the past year, there’ve been a lot of people who have been revealed as abusers. In the music scene, it’s put some fear in those who have abused their positions of power. Some women are brave enough to tell their stories. Hopefully, the situation is getting better, although I don’t believe the abuse has completely stopped. Some people would continue to abuse their power but I’d like to think they are more afraid.
Do you have any ground rules?
Ellie: Well, it’s with anyone that I meet and talk to. You want to be treated with respect. They show me respect and I show them that back. I guess there have been situations where as a band, we feel like we hadn’t been taken seriously, whereas a male band would be. And it’s also quite subtle. It’s not so obvious. In terms of sexism in the music industry, it’s a kind of laziness with female musicians being compared in terms of our sounds. We often get referred to, like, Warpaint.
Are your individual music tastes similar or different?
Holly: I’m lucky to have quite similar music tastes with the rest of the girls. Recently we went to see Deerhunter and Cate Le Bon play, both of whom we really like. They performed at the End of The Road Festival. They are really good bands. We also performed there this year.
Also, I think it’s safe to say that every single one of us in the band really likes Little Simz. She’s got a new record out recently. She’s really amazing and she’s got a lot to say and her music is incredible.
Ellie: Yeah, we have our own music that we like, which makes music that we make more interesting. We bring our own perspectives and influences to how we play.
Northern Irish singer-songwriter Bridie Monds-Watson on the importance of ambition and staying grounded.
- By Yeow Kai Chai
Few teenagers in the world could say they have won a country’s highest musical honour, so it is certainly a feather in the cap for SOAK, otherwise known as Bridie Monds-Watson, who was awarded the Irish Choice Music Prize – two months before she turned 20 in 2016.
Most impressively, it was for her ethereal, folky 2015 debut album, Before We Forgot How to Dream. It also nabbed the Northern Ireland Music Prize, and was nominated for the Mercury Prize, alongside releases by more seasoned acts such as Florence and the Machine and Wolf Alice.
Such accolades would have made anyone, let alone an adolescent, big-headed, but not Monds-Watson, who was raised in a middle-class suburb of Derry in North Ireland. Her father works in mental health while her mother teaches social studies at the University of Ulster.
She slipped into depression instead, crippled by the weight of the expectations. “And it wasn’t even pressure from other people. It was just me being a really harsh critic, trying to make something and hating it before it even begins,” she once recalled in an interview.
Eventually, the now-23-year-old, whose stage name “SOAK” is a portmanteau of the words “soul” and “folk”, wrote the songs for Grim Town, her sonically more expansive second album which was released in April this year. The title is an expression used when “something’s a bit shit, [and] me and my friends say ‘it’s grim town.’” The album charts her personal struggles, chronicling her parents’ divorce and her own breakups.
Speaking from Brighton, where she is currently based, Monds-Watson reveals how she overcame her writer’s block, and why she feels responsible to represent her generation in her music.
In an interview with the Evening Standard in March this year, you said something candid about winning so many awards for your first album: “I could write better than this.” What were your reservations?
When I wrote my first album, I was quite young. I wrote the songs in a short span of time, and I didn’t really change much of anything after that. I was surprised the album has done well, considering I was writing the songs for myself, for self-therapy, so I was surprised that they meant so much to other people.
Were you thinking about doing anything else if the music plan didn’t pan out?
Initially, it wasn’t my goal in life to be a musician. When I was 15 or 16, music started to go my way, and I got really lucky. As soon as I started in the music industry, I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. I was motivated from that point on.
You’ve attributed your success to your parents who I understand work in mental health and social work.
They are really supportive. My mum was involved from the start, making sure I didn’t sign any record deal until I was like 18. She drove me to gigs and stuff like that. My dad taught me guitar, and so I was really lucky that both of them are helpful.
How did you overcome your depression and start writing the second album? Was there a moment, or realisation that this is something you could actually sink your teeth into?
It’s hard to write for the second album. There was more pressure now that there are more people listening to my music. So, definitely, there was a lot of self-doubt and rethinking. The break came when I started to write the same way I did when I was 14 or 13 – which was to sit in my bedroom, and talk about what was going in my life. And so, I started to write like that, and write for myself rather than for anyone else. Once that happened, everything happened quite quickly.
Do you have someone who you use as a soundboard, or do you prefer to be alone?
In the initial stages, I’d prefer to be alone, and gather all my ideas and thoughts, so then I enjoy being isolated. And then when I have a bag of ideas and melodies, I try them with someone else.
Looking back at the first album, what would you say to the Bridie who wrote the songs as a teenager at age 13?
I’d say, “Just keep doing whatever you’re doing.” I was very lucky when I was 13. I was very sure of what I wanted to do at the time… and now I’m not very sure. (Chuckles) At that time, I was very confident. I was just motivated and very assured of myself, and determined. I’d just tell my 13-year-old self to keep being that way, work on ideas, and stay motivated.
Were you surprised by some of the songs you wrote when you were 13?
I wasn’t surprised by the songs, but whenever I listen to them, I just feel they are so me at that age, because I was so personal about my life. It was kind of walking into an elevator, and searching for a previous life. I’m surprised, however, by the way I wrote a chord progression which I didn’t think I was capable of.
Are you aware of the young audience you have, and do you feel responsible to represent them accurately, as well as dealing with what’s going on in the world right now?
Absolutely. I have a platform and a responsibility to use my profile for good. I know a lot of young people are listening to my music, so I try to support them. I try to get involved in trying to highlight girls in sports and music. Also, I know I have a big LGBT following, and I try to be outspoken about that. And the situation with the world right now, in terms of climate change and so forth, so many weird, bad things are happening right now, you got to help in what possible way you can.
Are you at the stage of your career where you are looking forward to meeting people you admire, or want to work with?
Yeah, absolutely. I think I’m lucky that throughout my career, I have a lot of support from my heroes. I’m lucky enough to support them on tour, such as Tegan and Sara who were a huge inspiration when I was really young, and I got to play a lot of big shows with them. I was really lucky recently to meet Bono from U2, so I guess I have a lot of luck.
The Welsh-Aussie singer-songwriter loves people-watching – which explains why she has become one of the icons in the #MeToo conversation.
- By Yeow Kai Chai
A brief listing promoting Stella Donnelly’s gig for her recent Australian tour sums up her contrarian appeal: “She belts out her songs and stories with the voice of an angel and the mouth of a sailor.”
So, it is: the Welsh-Australian singer-songwriter revels in counterpoints, delivering disarming folk-pop melodies with a killer lyrical sting. Serendipitously, she’s also become part of the zeitgeist-defining #MeToo movement with a song called ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, an unflinching account of a friend’s rape experience.
In 2017, she put out the track in an EP titled Thrush Metal on cassette tape on the D-I-Y Melbourne label Healthy Tapes, and lo and behold, it was hailed as an anthem. She released her debut album, Beware of the Dogs, in March in 2019, where she covers sexual assault, sexism and racism with a laser touch. It was praised, most memorably, by acclaimed American critic Robert Christgau, as a “musical encyclopaedia of [male] a**holes.”
Her star is on a swift ascent: She has won a slew of accolades, including Best Folk Act, Best Female Vocalist, and Most Popular New Act at the Western Australian Music Industry Awards, and Unearthed Artist of the Year from Triple J in 2017. She was also nominated in the category of Breakout Artist at the 2019 ARIA Music Awards, Australia’s most prestigious music awards.
Born in Wales, she spent some childhood years in Morriston, before moving Down Under to Perth with her family. Speaking on the phone from Melbourne before she comes to The Alex Blake Charlie Sessions, she shares with us her insights on human behaviour, songwriting, and a little-known connection with Singapore.
As you travel, have you discovered whether people are more similar or more different around the world?
Being allowed to travel so much has given me a lot more perspective on how similar people are. I feel like the world has gotten smaller for me. Being able to travel to all these different nations and meet such wonderful people, I realise how alike music lovers are. There’s a similarity between playing a festival in Australia and playing one in Iceland, or in Japan, or in Hungary. At those places, you always meet very nice people who care about music, and have a strong attachment to what you play or what you sing about.
You are culturally aware of audiences’ responses to your songs. Were there moments where you realise that, okay, I have to explain a bit about the context or the references.
In Germany, I had to explain a few of my jokes, which wasn’t a very good thing. (Laughs) If the joke doesn’t make anyone laugh, you shouldn’t explain it. (Laughs) There were a couple of situations like that, but I never see it as their fault. I always see it as me not being able to articulate it as well enough. In America, I make fun of myself a lot – that’s an Australian thing, and a British thing to do. Instead of laughing, the US crowd would be like, “Oh, no.” I’d be like, “No, no… it’s fine.”
When you put out the song ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, did you know that it would resonate with the times? Were you surprised?
I was very surprised. It was a very strange time for me. Where I live in Perth, those conversations weren’t happening. People weren’t ready to talk about the things I talk about in the song. A few weeks after I put out the song, the conversations started happening worldwide, and then they started happening in my hometown. It was this really spooky moment without me realising and predicting the pendulum swinging back.
I’m very honoured to be part of that conversation, and I hope my song has helped people. That’s all I’ve really wanted for that song. It wasn’t to attack people. It was to challenge not only how we see young girls and women, but also how we see young men, and how we stereotype them to be violent. I don’t think that’s right and it’s unfair and damaging. I guess that was my aim, for people to understand and take it that way. Obviously, I’ve got some negative feedback, but I think any woman who speaks out on this sort of issue is going to be met with hatred at some point. But for the most part, it was really positive and supportive.
You used to work in a bar, and I was wondering whether that experience has helped you observe humanity, and helped you nail those human foibles.
Definitely, working in a bar, and then working in a café, and knowing the difference between daytime work and nighttime work. (Laughs) It’s quite interesting. A conversation which would not be appropriate in a café is suddenly appropriate in a bar because people are drinking. It was a great opportunity for me to just watch the world. I still try to do that, even though I don’t work in a bar anymore. When I’m on a plane, or travelling, I like to watch people, which is a bit creepy. (Laughs) People are interesting, and how we interact with each other. I find that fascinating.
Do you have any dream of becoming a novelist or a short-story writer? You have an eye for details.
Thank you so much. I do dream of writing a children’s book one day, but I never thought of doing adult fiction, which is funny, because most of my songs are a bit rude. (Chuckles) My music is more on-the-point, as you say. It gives me a way out, because if people don’t like what I say, then they can at least maybe attach themselves to the music, or vice versa. It gives me a second chance!
I understand you moved from Wales to Perth when you were three. Do you embrace your Welshness and would you say you’re bicultural?
I actually went back to Wales when I was about seven. I started school, spoke the language, and lived there for a few years. I go back once a year or every two years, and spend time with my family, and speak the language. I identify myself as a Welsh person in a very proud way. We are a small nation. Our language and our history are kind of threatened. I feel like it’s really important to fly the Wales flag as an Australian immigrant as well.
Have you sung or written anything in Welsh?
I have sung a lot of old folksongs in Welsh, but I haven’t written anything in Welsh. I would love to one day, and I feel like I need to practise the language and say all the right words and in the right way. I would be nervous writing a song in Welsh, but I hope to one day.
Do you have any Welsh music you’d recommend?
Yeah, I love Cate Le Bon. She’s coming to Singapore, she’s really cool and she’s playing the festival. She grew up not far from where my family lives. Her music is amazing. I love that her accent is still present in her songs. No, I don’t know her, but I would love to meet her. I admire her work very much.
Can you discuss your songwriting process? Do the lyrics come first, or the melody?
I generally have a melody – I’d be playing the guitar or the piano before I write the lyrics. For me, it’s about the syntax, and where it all fits in the sentence, or the space. I need a melody or a time signature before I would be able to fit the right words in. I need a feeling, or a certain atmosphere, and that helps me decide what I want to write about. If it’s a sad-sounding melody, I’d try to write a positive lyric. I try to keep it balanced.
Did you get any reply from the people you sing about? For instance, your former boss in ‘You Owe Me’.
Oh, no, I haven’t heard from anyone. That’s the only song that is about a very specific person, the rest are based on a collection of experiences. That one in particular… but I think he’s hiding in a reservation somewhere. (Laughs)
I understand you studied contemporary music and jazz music at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, and you were in a rock band in high school. Do you remember the moment you knew you have the gift of music?
I don’t remember knowing I had the gift, but I remember I loved it. In my final year in high school, playing the guitar and singing a song to my group. I remembered the feeling of really enjoying the performance, and learning to play. I just remember being addicted. I just thought about music all the time. If I don’t play the guitar for a while, I’d feel the urge to pick it up again. I don’t remember feeling like I was gifted, and I still don’t really know what that would feel like, ’cos I feel like I’m always hoping to improve. (Laughs)
Was there a moment you feel like you could make music as a way of living, or do you feel like you have to work very hard at it?
I played in all sorts of bands for about nine years, before I became known outside Perth. By working with all sorts of artists in all sorts of ways, that helped me know what my sound was going to be. I still have to work very hard at all of that. It took me trying out different things, and saying yes to everything, to work out what I want and what I don’t want. That really helped me, all these years of testing myself.
I’ll end with a simple question: Have you ever been to Singapore?
Yes, I have! Twice. I went with my parents when I was young, and I also played a show in a corporate band where we sang cover songs, at the Shangri-La Hotel, years and years ago, maybe 2013! I can’t wait to get to the night market, walk around, and show the band around. I’m the tour guide.
Vanessa Fernandez has a million things she wants to do, but at the core of it, she enjoys creating and communicating with her music.
- By Yeow Kai Chai
Vanessa Fernandez is reclining on a pristine beach in Okinawa, the sub-tropical island paradise off the south-western tip of Japan. Well, at least that’s how you’d imagine her. After all, you could hear waves lapping gently, a ceaseless ebb and flow echoing her mellifluous flow of ideas.
Under normal circumstances, one would be ridiculously jealous of her, but this is Vanessa we’re talking about here – one of Singapore’s most industrious, giving and brilliant musicians who has paid her dues for two decades, so let’s just say she has earned this respite.
Her resume is impressive: At 18, she was part of the hip-hop group Urban Xchange (later renamed Parking Lot Pimp), became a radio deejay at 98.7FM , and released her first EP under her new electronic moniker Vandetta in 2013 during a stint in Los Angeles. Returning to Singapore, she became the Programme Director at the indie music station Lush 99.5FM before it went off transmission in August 2017.
She then set up her own imprint, Ownself Records, and has been tirelessly championing Singaporean music. She curated the Hear65 showcase at BIGSOUND music festival and conference in Brisbane recently, and runs the Noise Music Mentorship for the National Arts Council. As Vanessa Fernandez, she has released albums with Groove Notes Records. As Vandetta, she has released music on Syndicate, Medallion Sounds and her own imprint. Her side projects include Octover, Vandemons and Soulful Ghosts.
In the midst of an intriguing singles project which began in August this year and ends in January 2020, Vanessa speaks to us on Skype before she performs at The Alex Blake Charlie Sessions on 7 Dec.
You’ve been releasing a series of five singles inspired by music that has influenced you, such as R&B, jazz, soul, house and hip-hop. Is it because you did not want to release them as an album, and that you wanted to test out the different sounds?
It’s a couple of things. I started my own imprint, Ownself Records. Yes, ownself release ownself! (Laughs) I wanted to understand how the industry works. I do things independently, and it’s not like I have huge resources or anything. So, as somebody who likes to have a lot of creative control, I just wanted to do it, launch it, and see how it works. It’s pretty much a singles’ market these days. People drop a bunch of singles, and then release like an EP or an album. For me, I felt like I wanted to drop them as singles.
When I did the Mindkiller EP in 2017, you did a video, you talked about it, and then you dropped the EP. It was a two-month window where you were communicating with people. So, for me, it is more about communication. I’m not somebody who, like, posts three times a day on socials, and goes out and attends a lot of stuff.
But I really like creating. So it’s an exercise in: “You know, I have this work. It doesn’t necessarily fit into an EP, because each of the tracks are a very different sound and a different genre.” It made more sense to release them as singles. I would also have more chances to talk about the songs, the musical influences, and what they mean to me.
What are some insights you have gleaned so far?
The first song I released was ‘Hold It Down’. It’s what you would call “neo-R&B” and “soul R&B”. That’s my most successful single to date. That’s probably because it is very much a “now” sound. I’m also processing the data in terms of streaming channels and how successful they are.
I have also heard from people who haven’t heard from me in a long time. A secondary schoolmate contacted me and said: “I just saw you’re releasing a single called ‘Not Your B’. I’m so amazed you’re still making music, and I’m so happy for you.” These are the things which are actually more meaningful.
I’m glad you mentioned ‘Not Your B’, which is a very personal song. Did you have any reservations about releasing it, or was it something you needed to do?
I forgot about that song! I was working with Zendyll Records, a collective started by Jon Chua from The Sam Willows. I was doing a show for them. I was rehearsing, and The Sam Willows were also rehearsing in the same space. Benjamin Kheng from The Sam Willows came over and said: “I need to tell you something. I really like your B song.” I was like, “Oh sh**, I completely forgot about it!”
Then I thought, “Y’know, it is a cool song, and I had actually had it all done.” It was already produced back in 2008. So we updated it. I feel it’s a bit of a triumph to take something you have had for a long time, and redo it with a bunch of amazing people, like Evanturetime, Chok Kerong… and I can’t believe that Charlie Lim said yes, and Tim De Cotta too!
And the message still works. At that time, when I wrote the song, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship, and feeling all sorts of things. To get that out, and be able to create with it, that’s one of the things which is beautiful about art and music. I had no reservations, because it’s a message people can relate to: “You’re not alone, you can come out of it and be strong.”
You’re actually having a conversation with your younger self from 10 years ago.
(Laughs) You’re right!
You flit between two personas: the audiophile Vanessa Fernandez and the electronic Vandetta. Do you think one day you might fuse them together?
I have entertained the idea. But I’m not sure whether I would do it. A lot of things have to be in place for something like that to come to fruition, like A&R. It’s not like it’s impossible, and it’s not that I’m not open to it. In terms of where I’m at in my musical career, I’m thinking: what are the projects, who are the people I want to work with, what do I want to say, and how is that going to change or morph into different types of creative outlets.
Give us a sneak peek into what’s on the horizon then.
One idea I’m thinking about for the next Vandetta project is for it to be multi-media and multi-sensory. I also work with my partner, Nic Robertson, under this project called Soulful Ghosts, and we have been writing some music together. I’m also working with Chok Kerong for The Alex Blake Charlie Sessions. He has rearranged a bunch of my songs and I’m really excited for that. I may also be working with Jason Tan for Octover.
It sounds super exciting already. Talking about The Alex Blake Charlie Sessions, what do you think of it, and are there artists you’re looking out for?
I’ve known Marcia (Tan, founder of the organisers 24OWLS), and the team for a long time. Laneway having local artists in its programme is pretty much because of them. They have always considered the music scene – not just in terms of caring about it, but also how to put out good stuff and create top-notch experiences.
First, I’m glad they are doing their own thing, and of course, it’s going to be amazing. Second, which is very brave and very clever, is for them to do a female-fronted line-up. For me, I’ve never seen something like that since the Lilith Fair, which was more than 20 years ago. They have always been trendsetters and ahead of their own game.
In terms of the artists I want to see, Kero Kero Bonito! I met them in Shanghai. I’m also excited to see SOAK and LÉON. And of course, the other local artists Amanda Ang aka A/K/A SOUNDS and Ginette Chittick, they always bring a good time!
Billed as the best Swedish pop export since Robyn, the indie-pop siren starts her own imprint and makes music on her own terms.
- By Yeow Kai Chai
You can hear instantly why Katy Perry would be besotted with her disco-pop song ‘Tired of Talking’, tweeting “she’s one to watch.”
When the then-22-year-old LÉON, otherwise known to her parents as Lotta Lindgren, posted the track from her debut EP Treasure to the music-sharing platform SoundCloud in July 2015, the song exploded, amassing millions of plays and gaining celebrity fans like Perry.
After all, the Stockholm native, who opted for LÉON as a stage name as it’s “short and simple”, has the goods: she oozes god-given charisma, blessed with that dusty, low, richly resonant voice which can lasso anyone with a cavalier fleck of vowels, much like her musical inspirations like Amy Winehouse, Adele and Janis Joplin. No wonder Vogue dubbed her “Sweden’s Next Big Thing” in 2016, but instead of quickly dashing out an album, the singer took her time.
She followed up with three other EPs Spotify Singles (2016), For You (2017), and Surround Me (2017), which were released on Columbia. She got out of the major-label deal and decided to make and release music on her own terms.
True to her perfectionist’s streak, she scrapped one album’s worth of songs, and worked assiduously on what would become her official studio debut album, her self-titled record. Packed to the rafters with infectious indie-pop melodies steeped in soul and blues, it makes you want to get up and dance, and reflect on the meaning of life at the same time.
LÉON takes time off from her American tour to answer some questions before she comes for her Singaporean debut at The Alex Blake Charlie Sessions on 7 Dec.
In 2017, you started your own label LÉON Recordings Imprint with BMG. What was the motivation behind that, and how does it fit into your artistic vision in the long run?
Well, first of all, I’ve always had a dream to start my own label. To have total freedom and creative control for me is everything. It makes the whole process way more fun, and challenging. Even if I partner up with another label, I still get to call the shots. And I just think every artist should be able to put out music whenever and however they want and be able to tell their story their way.
As someone who is behind everything you put out, how do you ensure you don’t get overwhelmed? What’s the secret of being in control?
A great manager! Haha. A great team. At first, I felt a bit overwhelmed but working with the right people is the key. I’m very grateful that I get to work with people who trust and understand my vision.
You come from a musical family. Growing up, did you feel any pressure to make music a career? Or it was something you take to quite naturally?
My mum plays the cello and my dad is a composer and, of course, they always encouraged me to go into music. But it just really came naturally. I couldn’t really see myself doing anything else. I was kind of a bad student in school. I’m not good with focusing on one thing. I tend to get distracted pretty easily, haha. Music is the only place where I feel a total focus in a way.
Do you see any changes in how women are being treated in pop music these days? Do you have any personal experiences?
There’s definitely been a change. More women are on the line-ups for festivals, are getting highlighted, nominated at awards and more women are supporting each other.
Only a few years ago, I felt like festivals would book just a few female acts and that would “be enough.” Like there was only room for a certain amount! Which is crazy. There’s been a change to that, but we still have a long way to go. We still don’t get respected enough in different areas which is tiring.
I’ve been in studios with different producers, where I’ve had a feeling like I can’t touch anything. If that makes sense? Like they want full control and I’m just there to sing. And now I don’t put up with that. I work with people I love or have a connection with.
Why do you think Sweden has produced so many of the world’s international pop stars, such as ABBA and The Cardigans, and musicians who helped produce and write songs for big stars, such as Max Martin?
I have no idea! The weather? It gets real dark over there. No but I don’t know. We support music and arts a lot and it’s a big part of our culture. I wish I had a better answer to this question.
Since your single ‘Tired of Talking’ went viral, you took nearly four years to work on your solo debut album. I understand you took on the reins of arranger. How was the process of recording it, and were there any challenges?
Well I did make an album; I just couldn’t put it out. And then it didn’t feel right to me anymore! I had to start over and make something new. I know it took me some time, but I think I had to do it my way. So I started my own label and just put it out when I felt like it was done.
Would you say you’re a perfectionist? You did record an album before this one, but decided not to put that out. Was that album very different from LÉON, which you have described as “more upbeat and brighter”?
I think every artist is. I know I have a very hard time letting go of things, haha. It just gets so personal to you when you’re in it. But yeah, the last album that I didn’t put out was very different from this record. It was meant to be for me to wait in a way. I don’t think I was ready really.
Katy Perry gave ‘Tired of Talking’ a shout-out. Have you actually met her? Talking about dream collaborations, is there any other artist you have yet to work with?
I did actually, and she was so nice. She gave some good advice and we just hung out a little at her house. I got to sing for her which was nerve-wracking, haha! Feels like a long time ago now. There’s a lot of people I’d want to work with. Actually, Harry Styles. I loved his last album.
As you travel around the world, what has been the biggest challenge of performing your songs live? Did you have to change them up? What has been the most vivid memory so far?
It’s actually been great so far! It would be the heat, maybe? It got real hot in Auckland when we played. But it’s been kind of smooth so far. The first two shows I was sick and had to throw up before and after stage, haha. But we still managed to have fun and do the shows. I’ve just been so happy to meet new crowds over here. It’s been better than I ever could have expected.
You will be performing for the first time in Singapore in December. What can the audience expect?
We’re just gonna have fun. I’ve wanted to go to Singapore for the longest time and now it’s finally happening! I just want to dance and sing with the crowd and I hope people will have a good time.