There is a common notion in Singapore that our country does not have a thriving music industry, but local musician, Eli T, has a different take on things. The electro-pop artist feels that we just need more time and participation, and “less whining” in order to further build the industry.
And now that he has recently been nominated for this year’s All Indie Music Awards, which will be held in Hollywood, the 29-year-old is certainly leading by example.
Eli has been nominated for two categories—Best Solo Artist and Best Singer/Songwriter. It is undoubtedly a big feat for any Singaporean artist—to represent our country in such a massive music awards show. Now in its eighth year, the ceremony will be held on Feb 10. The nominees have not only been chosen based on quality of music and credentials, but votes as well.
Having spent years behind the scenes working with international names and companies, such as Disney, Wang Lee Hom and Wilbur Pan, Eli finally stepped out into the limelight early last year. He has been featured in the Singapore Arts Festival and has also dabbled in acting, having been cast in Singapore's Summer smash play, Beauty Kings. He also appeared in a series of festivals at the Esplanade.
Youth.SG met up with Eli on 11 January at De Le Crème in Siglap to talk to him about music, life and everything in between.
Youth.SG: Hi Eli! Is your name really Eli T? And what does the T stand for?
E: (Laughs) It is my name and the T is really my last name, as in ‘Tee’.
Y: So you were nominated for two categories in the All Indie Music Awards. Congratulations! Tell us how it happened.
E: Well, it’s the same process as the Grammys. Everyone all over the world submits their music for consideration by a panel. This one, though, is a little bit different because not only do they consider your music, they also consider what you have done within your category. So I sent in the unmastered tracks from my album. It’s not even done! But low and behold.
Y: Your competitors are from all over the world, have you heard their music?
E: They are really good! It’s such a humbling experience and I feel really honoured. For Best Solo Artist, I am in the same category as Madonna’s guitarist and Adam Lambert’s music director. There are only seven of us from all around the world.
Y: Going into your background now, how did your career in music come along?
E: It didn’t really “come along”. You know how there are a lot of stories about musicians playing the piano since they were three? It’s kind of the same for me. I started playing the piano when I was two or three. I was also part of the choir and school band, and I almost went to university for classical oboe. But there came a point when I was in Toronto where I realised I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. One thing led to another and then the CEO of EMI South East Asia heard my music, and there you have it.
Y: I read that you have dabbled in acting and modeling. Tell us more about that.
E: The modeling bit—I was walking down Queen Street in Toronto and a casting director ran after me and took a picture of me. The next thing I knew it was used for an ad campaign and I got a cheque in the mail. That is how I got started.
As for acting, I was part of the theatrical production, Beauty Kings, last year. It was good. I did a bit of acting when I was in university and even prior to that. But not as much as music.
Y: Do you consider yourself a very Indie and ‘underground’ artist?
E: I would consider myself an Indie artist actually. Not just because of the sound of my music, but also in a sense that I’m independent.
Y: Your debut album will be released in March this year, what can we expect?
E: The album is called Revolt and it’s a call to everyone to stand up for what they want in life, as opposed to conforming. It’s okay to swim upstream.
Revolt is an electro pop album and has largely urban, RnB and soul influences. When you first listen to it it, you hear the catchy melodies and the hooks. But if you go deeper, there are a lot of messages because the lyrical content is just as important as the sound design and instrumentals.
Y: Was the album done in Singapore?
E: Well, a bit of it was mixed in Toronto, but it was mostly done here.
Y: I heard you do Jazz even, and that’s very different from electro pop. So what is your music style?
E: I vary. That is why the album is called Revolt. For a while I have been doing more acoustic stuff.. You give me a song and I can give you 10 versions of it anytime. But I wanted to do electro pop because it is a new sound for me and it is something Singapore doesn’t have a lot of.
Y: How do you infuse your Western taste and Asian style into your music?
E: Well for me, music is music. There is no intentional injection from me. It’s more about the overall sound. As far as injecting my ‘Asian-ness’ is concerned, I am Asian, so no matter what I do, there would always be an Asian flavour to it.
Y: What inspires your song writing?
E: Everything in life. I could be talking to someone about something and it could turn into a song.
Y: What is in your iPod playlist?
E: David Guetta, Usher, Sigur Ross and I still listen to Frou Frou before they broke up.
Y: Is there any artist you would like to collaborate with?
E: David Guetta..As for vocalists—maybe John Mayer or Adele.
Y: How have your friends and family reacted to your career choice?
E: I think that is one aspect of my life I am most blessed with. My friends and family are amazing. There was a point where I wanted to give up. But it was my dad who came to me and said that I have to continue doing this because it’s my passion. And then that’s when it clicked. (Snaps fingers) I think if he had not pushed me, all this wouldn’t have happened.
Y: Being 29, some say it’s a little old to start a music career, especially in a scene filled with teenagers who are already successful. How do you feel about this?
E: I make music because I want to reach out to people and hopefully it moves them in some sort of way. If you wondered, why now at 29? It was because I did a lot of productions. I also decided to finish my university degree and I needed to surrender two years of my life in the army. (Laughs)
Y: So how do you find the Indie music scene in Singapore?
E: The sound here is pretty acoustic centric and there is a lot of talent. And I do know a lot of musicians who are really fantastic. It is comparable to what I’ve heard elsewhere. It’s just that the support and culture is a little bit different. For some reason, our culture doesn’t take in anything that is really different, as much as other countries do.
Y: Many would say that Singapore doesn’t have a thriving local music scene so why have you decided to continue pursuing music here?
E: You know how people say that the grass is always greener on the other side? It’s not necessarily true. While people in other countries are more accepting of their local music, I think it just takes more time and participation from people, and less whining about the industry. If we don’t band together and build the industry, nothing will happen.
Y: You will be meeting with UK industry players for show prospects, any news about this?
E: Well, I am not saying anything yet (laughs). But I am leaving for Milan, London and Paris.
Y: You sound like you’re going for a few Fashion weeks!
E: I know right. Actually, it does sound like it. (Laughs)
Y: Do you have anything you’d like to say before we end the interview?
E: I am doing what I can to help improve the (local music) scene and hopefully more people would support local musicians. Perhaps with more support, more Singaporean artists will (step into the music scene) and our names will be out there too.