Formed in 1994, the NUS Jazz Band is an eclectic cocktail of the traditional and experimental, constantly inventing new recipes under the tutelage of well-established personalities in our local music scene, such as Iskandar Ismail.
For local singer Tay Kexin, the NUS Jazz Band was where she developed her passion for singing.
Publichouse.sg's Chan Ngai Meng sits down with the songstress ( and sister of Tay Kewei) for a chat:
Ngai Meng: You joined the Stardust 2008 singing competition organized by NUS Student’s Business Club. I believe that that was when you were already in the NUS Jazz Band. Since the NUS Jazz Band provides many opportunities for its members to perform in public events, what motivated you to participate in Stardust 2008? So why go through the agony of competitions? Haha
Kexin: I joined because I really wanted to see where I stood as compared to the others. Before that, the only singing competition I’ve ever joined was in JC – AJ Idol (sniggers). Yes, performance opportunities were aplenty, but there were many members in the NUS Jazz band so it could not provide the kind of individual attention that can allow me to grow quickly. One of the best ways to learn is to have someone scrutinize you when you’re under pressure to perform, and that was the kind of learning that I wanted to achieve.
Ngai Meng: In one of your Youtube videos, you were quite reserved when singing A-mei’s 《你是爱我的》(loosely translated as “I know you love me”) on Stardust 2008. In contrast, at the Singapore Hit Awards Promo Show last year, you were uninhibited and singing much better. Apart from stage confidence you have gained over the years and the vocal training you had received at NUS Jazz Band, what else do you attribute to this significant improvement?
Kexin: I attribute it to my live performance experiences outside of school. My 4 years of experience accumulated over hundreds of weddings/events/public performances is the greatest contributor to what I am today. No matter how much vocal training one can get, you need to know what to expect during live performances, how to carry yourself, how to adjust your own voice according to the different sound system, how to overcome fear and be in control (for huge performances). There is no one better to teach you all these skills than yourself.
Ngai Meng: You are the co-founder for the music events company, Sparkle LiveMusic. As a professional in the industry, what advice do you have for aspiring local singers, musicians, or even business startups?
Kexin: Yeap, I recently set up Sparkle with two other musicians: my sis and Lee Ein Ein the keyboardist.
For aspiring singers and musicians – don’t give up! It’s ok to want to be perfect, but you shouldn’t worry about being not at your best – things can happen in whatever other job you are in!
For small businesses, you have to learn to work from scratch. You’ve to do many things by yourself, and you can’t rely on outsourcing (we almost laughed). Of course, my experience in events while working for SingTel did help when I wanted to start my company.”
Ngai Meng: You are also the voice behind indie band Odd.inary. How did you guys meet and form the band?
Kexin: Yeap! James (plays the keys and bass) and Shawn (percussion, guitar) are both very talented musicians/friends I met from gigging. Odd.inary was Shawn’s brainchild and he approached me to be their lead vocalist.
The whole idea about the band is that we want to bring back the soulful sounds of organ, brushes and percussion into our music. We love to reinvent covers in those styles and we hope we will make people love their favorite songs even more.
So far, the performing experiences had been great. We had already done 2 shows at the Esplanade (last Aug at the concourse, and the recent Valentine's Day at the Waterfront) and I’m really looking forward to more.
Ngai Meng: At the Singapore Hit Awards Promo Show, you told the host that you had another job in marketing and that some of your friends have day jobs too. How do you guys juggle these with your music careers, and your personal life?
Kexin: I recently quit my day marketing job to set up Sparkle and also to work on my music.
My take is that you can never do everything and be good at all. Sure there are many excellent multi-taskers, but have you heard of anyone being famous for being fantastic at doing many things? So do one thing you are good at and excel in it. Of course it all depends on an individual’s personal goals. And who says passion can’t make money? The reason I quit was because I chose to focus my energy on music and on setting up Sparkle. I have since turned my passion into a business venture. And this business venture allows me to further my passion as well. It’s mutually reinforcing.
It’s not easy to juggle so many commitments; I do neglect my family, especially since our schedules clash, with me working predominantly at night while they are part of the 9-5 crowd. But I am trying. Back when I had my day job it was even crazier. I was working 7 days per week, mostly 14 hours a day at varied and different jobs. Now I’ve found a way to streamline my efforts and still reap benefits.
Ngai Meng: You performed in the Taiwan program, Super Idol 2011. In the foreseeable future, do you see yourself collaborating with the Taiwanese? And for that matter, would you encourage local singers and musicians to be more active in venturing abroad?
Kexin: I think the Taiwan market is a whole new playground and frankly, collaborating with the Taiwanese will require a lot of network and luck. Otherwise, it’s reaaally difficult.
But that said, I do believe in venturing abroad, I do believe that putting in effort and yourself out there have benefits to be reaped. It doesn't need to be in Taiwan - Hong Kong, Malaysia etc. It’s always worth a shot to venture out and learn new things, be inspired.
Ngai Meng: Recently the Arts and Culture Strategic Review submitted their final report to MICA, and from the maiden speech by NMP Janice Koh and the Budget statement, we know that some areas are already been worked on. As a professional in the industry, and from your own experience so far, which points in their report would you like to see being acted upon by our Government, for the benefit of your community and Singapore as a whole? And what further improvements do you think can be made?
Kexin: The strategic direction to ‘bring arts and culture to everyone, everywhere, everyday’ is a meaningful one. But it remains to be seen whether people eventually become more open-minded and view being a musician as a career path just like any other, as in some other countries which are already ahead of us in this aspect. Currently, being a musician in Singapore is difficult, but it’s definitely not impossible. It may sound a bit extreme, but there’re still Singaporeans who believe you’re ‘stupid’ when you tell them that you want to be a musician, and they ask you how much you can earn.
For the audience or consumer, it’s good to know that MICA aims to provide more choices in arts and cultural activities. When I went to New York and London, I was spoilt for choice – there were so many musicals, buskers’ and music festivals to go to! When I was in London with my friends, we were queuing up to watch Wicked. I was surprised that their student price was only about 15 pounds (~S$30)! So coming back, it would be interesting to see what choices await us in the future, and if prices can go down.
In terms of education, while MICA strives to strengthen the depth and quality of the current art and music curriculum, it must be careful not to overburden students which would otherwise defeat its purpose. Similarly for students, more choices for participating in arts and music events outside of school should be provided for them, such as going to concerts as an excursion.
And it’s not just schools. Parents also have the responsibility not to overburden their children with piano and ballet classes. How many of them eventually grow up to be pianists and ballet-dancers?
Her points about education spoke to my heart. The best thing I remember about music in primary school was probably Mozart, Beethoven and Bach. Oh, and how could one forget the recorder. We just had to learn THE RECORDER. For some reason me and Kexin frowned when this word was mentioned.
Moving on, Kexin recently announced on her Facebook that she plans to launch an EP by the end of this year, and she’s collaborating with producer Tat Tong.
“Yeap! I’m going solo, and it’s most likely to be an indie production, though I may also be sourcing for record labels. If an opportunity comes along, why not? Haha,” she quipped.
Before we go, let’s support Kexin, let’s support local music (for the better, not out of desperation), and be mesmerized by home-grown passion bearing fruit.
Kexin with her band Odd.inary performing their original - Busy Girl:
Kexin is performs regularly at Switch by Timbre (NTUC Income Building, 71 Bras Basah Rd).
Every Thursday 9pm - 12am.