The heartbreak in Heartbreak Tree

Hey guys, last week I shared the original demo for “戀愛女生都是羊” was originally written in english, titled “HeartBreak Tree”. (Listen to it here.)

I also wanted to let you in on the process of how my original demos morphed into the final product on 55:38:7. So, today, I’m gonna tell you how “戀愛女生都是羊” came about.

When I was writing the uptempo numbers for the album, I wanted to incorporate a dash of music genres I love and influence me, and Soul is one of them. Yea, somewhere within me, there’s this lil’ soul that loves the good old sound of sctuff like these.

There’s something very infectious about soul music, and how it connects people. The funky rhythms and handclaps, and singing of heartache or hardtimes in such an expressive manner gets me moving. What I identify with is the spirit in these songs, which I believe is reflective of how people felt during those days soul music originated.

Here’s one classic I listen to over and over again – “Cry To Me” by Solomon Burke, widely referred to as a founding father of soul music during the 60s.

My inspiration for the song… why Heartbreak Tree?
It started with imagining a girl being stood up by her boy on they day they decided to meet under a tree. After I had a few cups of coffee, things like “I took an airplane to Miami Beach” and “And then you walked by with someone else who looked like me” came along. If she wore a dress, this is how it would look like.

I sometimes think I am one awkward child because I have a natural liking for very very sad things. Sad songs, sad stories…but I am kinda thankful for it as I believe thats the reason why I love being a singer song-writer!

小寒 always jokes about how there’s a tinge of sad even in my happy songs. People who know me know I don’t like to sugar-coat things and I believe in staying true to who I am when I write my songs and share them with you :-) In the case of heartbreak tree, it was sad + silly funny but “hey I’ll stand up on my feet alright” all at the same time. Very me.

The challenge and fun while writing it was in angling it as a mandarin song…Injecting some of these soul elements within a mandarin melody.

Now, the arrangement.
You’ll notice the original demo was pretty raw as I wanted to present it in a live band kind setting. My Ally McBeal imagination saw me singing this song loud with all the girls in the house and a snazzy guy band backing me up. Somewhere at the bridge, we’ll all clap and sing at the top of our lungs “Where is my Love!” (listen to the demo and you’ll know). Eric the bossman arranged the final product with a cool beats thing going. We expanded on the piano and organs used in my original demo for the final product, for which I roped in my pal and main piano man Matthew to work with me.

Working on the mandarin Lyrics 《戀愛女生都是羊》 proper
I don’t know how 小寒 and myself always go back and forth with ideas non stop on MSN (which looks like a typing competition at the same time) and suddenly we’ll get a “IT” moment. We both wanted it to be a “姊妹歌“ kinda vibe and the sheep herd eventually galloped its way into the lyrics lol. Read her 詞解 here!

Ok, The main guy. The Heartbreaker
Well of course this post ain’t complete without a picture of the main man, the lonesome little heartbreaker right? Here’s my picture with him.

So here’s the story of 《戀愛女生都是羊》。 I have had a couple of responses asking me if 戀愛男生都是狼?

你說呢?哈哈哈!

Look momma, Smokey Eyes!

I love my momma.

She gives me the “almond shape” eyes that many tell me runs in my family.

I was a very naughty kid growing up. She tells me the time I took a 6B pencil to draw eyeliner around my eyes ranks as one of my most champion stories….I drew it so dark and smokey she had a hard time washing it off.

When I working in the corporate world, my 9am to late working hours hardly gave me opportunity to have dinner with my parents. Now as a singer-songwriter, there are days I work like crazy but there are days too I get to enjoy more time with them at home which I am so thankful for.

I introduced my momma to the “Ellen DeGeneres” show. Rather, she didn’t have a choice as I watched it diligently every morning. She would go: “又看這個女人?!!?” (I explained to tell her Ellen changed my life with her laughter and positivity). We would both laugh like crazy when Ellen plays musical chairs on the show.

[Picture from ellen.warnerbros.com]

Mommy introduced me to things she enjoyed watching. Recently, the Korean Drama Series “Pink Lipstick”, became our favourite dinner time show.

The few months recording 55:38:7 were intense. So intense, I loss any sense of time. My parents left the house while I slept in till noon. I’d return home at 3 – 4 am when they are sleeping. But rain or shine, a bowl of soup awaits me everynight, either in a thermos flask or a note that says: “Soup in Oven.”

My mommy has super powers because she knows exactly when I run out of my staples like lemons and herbal jelly and replenishes even before I can go “Hey!”

When my eyes were busted by the eye infection recently, I saw two doctors on my own but momma accompanied me to the 3rd one that finally gave me cure. For a week, she dropped eye-drops for me every 3 hours, and would apply every night, the antibiotic eye cream for me till my eyes recovered.

Of course, growing up, there were times I made momma angry. But as I grow and as I spend more time with her, I tell myself, I don’t ever want to make her angry again.

Mommy has trained me since young to clean my room weekly. When I go overseas for concerts / shows, I know she sneaks into my room and gives it a good clean so I come home to a nice room. I know it because I came home and saw this one day….

Everyday, she works round the clock, engrossed in her work around the house and I know it is because of her that I eat well, sleep well, and not have to worry. She loves me through my angelic, naughty, cranky, tired or stressed days and stands by me in whatever I do.

So this year, I wanted to give her something special sewed with love.

I love my momma.

Inside the mind of John Lennon, Inside the word Singer-Songwriter


[Credits: Image from Reuters.com]
I chanced upon this image in Reuters of John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics for the song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” which was reportedly up for auction. Cool huh? This is one great man whose works I always admire and listen with awe, thinking:”Wow, How did he write that?”.

The Life Of A Singer-Songwriter
Friends sometimes ask me what I do as a singer-songwriter. Yea, I realize I share alot about the song, the melody and its inspirations, but actually much more goes on in the life of a singer-songwriter.

After coming up with the melody, you work on the demo, then the actual arrangement, lyrics, and so many more things and many individuals craft and time also goes into the production process before the final recording.

I have a habit of keeping all my workings and drafts from start to finish, so I dug up my stash and took some pictures to show you some behind-the-scenes while working on 55:38:7. I can’t cover all grounds in one blog post, but I’ll pick some pictures and tell you as we go along!

This was when I was brainstorming lyrics for the F&N Jingle “LaLa”.

Draft plannings on the organ, horns and electric piano parts with my good friend crazy pianist (Matthew) for《戀愛女生都是羊》。We also decided to have a drawing competition. Check it out! LOL. He’s playing can also be heard on the final recording.

Writing the cello lines for 《平行線》

Planning backing vocal (BV) lines for 《三頭六筆》. All that “hooo.. haaaaa.. wa wa wa”  in the background. This song had intensive BV, I think Eric recorded 5 times of me with 5 different backing parts. LOL!

I am so untidy!!!
I didn’t realize I draw all over so much on my lyrics during recording…too engrossed I reckon. I’ll show you. Haha..

During recording of 《戀愛女生都是羊》

Recording 《在我左右》

Recording 《巫毒娃娃》…This is one of the most untidy!

This ranks 2nd most untidy…《巫毒娃娃》

Another thing I do, I print my lyrics in very large fonts. This one wins first prize for biggest font, during recording of《平行線》! 😀

I can’t remember when I did this, I think it was when I was very stressed, looking at how disturbing the drawing is! *awkward smile*

Tears of Bravery…

It has been a tough two weeks as I catch up with the latest news on the earthquake, and the stories of strength and love that emerged.

The lack of a blog entry lately wasn’t because of my hectic schedule. Rather, I felt most of the time at a lost of words and incapacitated.

The tipping point this week was seeing the tears on these children’s faces at the graduation ceremony held for the students of the Hashikami Elementary and Junior High School. (see article from The New York Times)


(Picture: Shiho Fukada for The International Herald Tribune)

Watching the daily news coverage was heartbreaking; photographs of then homes now completely destroyed, and then emerged these stories of how so many put the live of others before their own…the “Fukushima 50”, teachers who ensured their students’ safety during the tsunami but weren’t in time to save their own…

When they were pushed to the brim of having lost everything overnight, including their loved ones, it grips my heart to see how the people of Japan stay united, and ride it out with so much strength, heart and spirit.

What is life, what is real, what truly matters…I continue to fathom the complexities and simplicities of human life. Sometimes it seems to me we tend to equate simplicity and time inversely. But in times like these, it reinforces within me that simplicity is the constant. That the simple things in life are priceless and these matter up till the end of time so let’s treasure them all with the life we have.

Let’s continue to pray for Japan, and do everything we can in our capacity to help. Every thought, and every action counts. Dear Japan, our hearts and our prayers are you.

Love,

99 Balloons and a Song

This week, I asked you which stories behind the songs in 55:38:7 you wanted to hear. Here’s a response for facebook user Amy Yap who wanted to know more about《在我左右》。

I wrote about the inspiration behind the song in an earlier entry, so this time, I will share my feelings from writing it to finally seeing come to live on TV.

When I learnt that I was given a shot at writing the theme song for the Mediacorp TV8 drama series《紅白喜事》, I placed alot of pressure on myself during the writing process because I felt that it had to, together with Xiaohan’s lyrics, relate the meaningful message of this drama series and I wanted to give my 100% to the producers who had given me this opportunity.

From a kid who would watch the nightly primetime drama series with my family, it never crossed my mind that years down the road, I would be digging my innermost emotions for weeks to write and sing a theme song for a drama series acted by some of my favorite actors!

This is something I think about all the time…
That sometimes, we are so quiet when it comes to expressing our love to those who mean so much to us. Yes, the ones who stand by us when our walls come crumbling down, and who give warmth and meaning to our lives. We would be nothing without them. As we grow up, we show our love in subtle actions but are shy to shout it out loud. I used to hate the feeling when I found myself crying uncontrollably as I scramble to hold on to everything only when the prospect of losing someone became a reality. Since then, I constantly reminded myself to love and live like there’s no tomorrow and this became my starting point when I wrote the song.

The final trigger of it all was when I watched this story on The Oprah Show.

There were a couple of drafts I threw away before arriving at the final version. It was then round the clock production by the team to nail everything into place . Lyrics by Xiaohan, I laid the piano tracks and Eric did the arrangement, Jim was the vocal producer and the song was finally recorded. Here’s behind the scenes when we recorded live strings, directed by Mr Bang Wenfu.

Then came the longest wait for it to finally show on TV. I held my breathe and froze for what felt like eternity. When《紅白喜事》finally aired, I smiled like you could see me from a mile! And I wanna thank you for all your wonderful responses to this song. Cheers to love my friends. :-)

Songwriting means the days of intensive nail peeling are back… and I am liking it.

While writing continues for the English EP, I find myself back to some habits like…Working into the wee hours of the morning, intensively peeling my nails, looking for things around the house because I forget where I placed them.

I am happy that I’m doing things like these because it tells me I’ve resumed to the stage where I’m constantly thinking about the music, my engine has started and I’m raring to go.

Sometimes, I get asked where / how I get inspiration when I am writing songs. For me, it ain’t any fancy dance but just a little word called “reconnect”. Dedicating the time and space to reconnect with myself and absorb life…have enough rest, watch TV, read, hang out with my family and friends, coffee and people watch, look at the sun, watch my toes wriggle..

I’ll know it when it comes because that’s when I begin to hear what my heart whispers, and that to me is when and where the songs start flowing.

Dealing with the tough…talking bout the roughWe’ve heard for years now about how tough the music industry is and how our livelihoods are affected and I’m gonna keep it real and tell you it ain’t easy at all. But I’m not about to go on and elaborating how rough it is in this post because I rather use the next sentence telling you what I feel matters instead.

We are presented with two sides in any situation – the good, and the bad, and the choice lies in our hands. I’ll tell you mine.

That to write music and perform, all that I’ve experienced since starting on this journey, is something I’ve never dreamed would come true, and nothing I would ever change for in this world. That in the last year, I’ve learnt, 一个人的梦想,在很多人的爱和支持下,会变成很多人的梦想。 There were moments treading between feeling almost surreal, to being overwhelmed and thankful, and all this love and support from you is now so significant in everything I do, everyday that I keep going, each song I write, each time I sing.

And if it means we have to work triply hard, and stay six times sane, I’ll gladly do it. We only get to live this once so bring on da music I say.


p/s: I mentioned intensive nail peeling didn’t I? :-)
xoxo