Feeling a bit dreamy when you look at this pic of yams? You'll feel the same way listening to his debut album titled "day/dreams". | Photo: yams
Looks can be deceiving.
With the long hair and tatts, one might almost expect 25-year-old Yams to be rocking it out with sick guitar riffs or strumming country tunes. But the sounds of his debut album will surprise you: the tracks are decidedly hip-hop/R & B and the singer-rapper’s lyrics address the tensions that arise between holding a job and dreaming about what you really want to do.
In this week’s Spotify Spotlight, we discover more behind what drives the Yale-NUS graduate (who currently works freelance and part-time at an arts charity) to continue pursuing his passion in making music.
Waseh, your music contains such a wide range of genres and sounds, what are some pivotal moments that have shaped it in such a way?
I was interested in music from a young age, but was never “musical” until by a random stroke of luck, I decided to join my school's Guitar Ensemble when I was 12. A year later, my mother bought me an electric guitar for my birthday - one of those cheap starter guitars from Yamaha - and that kick-started my journey with music proper.
I was in a couple of rock bands when I was younger, but I only started writing music when I turned 18 or 19. I've moved around genres a lot: the first single I wrote and released was folk-pop, but over the past three years I’ve shifted towards a more alternate Hip-Hop/R & B sound.
You can still hear the “John Mayer” and “The Foo Fighters” influence in my latest album though!
Ah, the pressures of society to get a job that is seen as “traditionally successful”. How has that influenced your songwriting, and what lyrics convey this the best?
A major theme in the album titled “day/dreams” is this tension between your "day (job)" and your "dreams", which comes from my own experience as a young artist in Singapore and just being deathly afraid of pursuing this career. Since young, I've felt this pressure to get something stable, something traditionally "successful".
I've always felt like I've needed to choose between a day job and a dream, and I feel this is something a lot of my friends and other people my age feel as well. To be super honest, I'm not sure if Singapore is a place that teaches you how to dream. Or what kind of dreams you're allowed to have. (Maybe that applies to the whole world? I don't know.)
The song "tears" in the album talks about these fears, and dreams of a different world. The lyric I'm thinking of goes as follows:
I dream of the day (we) won't walk away from fears,
or fears are replaced by warm embraces
taste of home means (we're) not torn between
day and dream
day or dream, day or dream
I hope the album is able to resonate with younger Singaporeans who feel some sort of way like I do about my day and dreams.
Photo: Ines Toa
Familial relationships haven’t been the easiest for you, so how has music allowed you to explore that part of your life and even heal through it?
For sure. I think I find a lot of solace and catharsis in music, and in songwriting. Some of the songs I've written on the album have really helped me to work through my trauma - for example, "do you drive a nice car", which my mentor Stew Stewart lovingly calls "the mother song".
I started writing that song by treating it as a letter to my estranged mother, who walked out on my family something like 6 years ago, and whom I haven't seen in years. I don't know if she'll ever listen to the song, but I'm glad I wrote it.
Your music and songwriting are very raw snippets of your past trauma, and also convey your current struggles with identity and the nation. What inspired you to take your music in this direction?
I started writing about my personal trauma in 2018, after taking a writing class with poet Lawrence Ypil, who always urged us to "excavate". It was difficult at first, because I used to really keep my feelings squashed and bottled away, but the moment I began writing about them, it was like opening a Pandora’s box.
Ironically, opening that box led me to fall into deep depression afterwards, but I found that continuing to process and deal with my trauma through songwriting really helped me to climb out of that hole. Music has helped me climb out of multiple holes many times before.
Much of the album was written about my experience in the summer of 2019, moving home from college and feeling super depressed, not being able to sleep till like 7 in the morning and living in this sort of ethereal, empty netherworld.
Music was the only thing then that gave me joy and made me feel alive, and in moments of darkness now, I still do my best to return to it.
The arts scene is definitely one of the hardest-hit industries during the pandemic. But has it also enabled you to derive new-found inspiration?
I actually worked on a commission a few months ago with visual artist Yanyun Chen called "Hindsight is 20/20" which was heavily inspired by the pandemic. The track I wrote for that was very loopy, as though time wasn't moving correctly.
In general, though, the pandemic truly hasn't been great for artists - I've had gigs cancelled, struggled to find work – and I also think that as an art-maker it's very important to be continually taking inspiration from your surroundings, the life and vibrancy that fills the world.
It’s a bit hard to do when you're confined to a room and the only thing that changes is the size of the pile of dishes in the corner. (Is that too much information? I'll wash them, don't worry!)
You commissioned 10 visual artists to come up with animations in response to/inspired by the songs on the album - this one really sibei cool. What was that process like and how did the idea come about?
I always felt that the album lent itself well to visual interpretation, because I use an array of textures and sounds which I think translate quite interestingly to visuals. I'm also lucky to know a lot of talented artists, and something I feel quite strongly about is amplifying or supporting fellow local artists, so when my manager Yan and I were trying to figure out a visual approach to the album launch, the idea came quite naturally.
In terms of the process, it was basically a free-for-all for the commissioned artists - I sent them a few tracks, they picked one that spoke to them and came up with their own design. Apart from some tweaks in colour I had to make for consistency, each commissioned animation is entirely directed by the artist themselves, which I think is a lot of fun.
I love it when artists interpret art. It's also really an honour to have my songs re-interpreted by these artists!
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