Photos: Teo Sijia, Zara Zhuang
Video: Teng Siew Eng
Fans of Singaporean singer-songwriter Tanya Chua and her trademark ballads about heartbreak and recovery may be in for a surprise when they hear her latest album, Aphasia — it could be the furthest from a balm for heartache that she’s ever released.
“I have written a lot of healing ballads,” she said. “But a person can only heal so much and should have recovered by now.”
At a press conference at Mandarin Orchard Hotel yesterday, the 40-year-old admitted her lack of love songs lately stemmed from a lack of love — the singer had put it out there when she was last in Singapore for her July 2015 music showcase that she wished she had a boyfriend.
“Who doesn’t (crave love)?” she said. “I think such questions are not even questions but a matter of time, and when the time is right, naturally I will announce the news.”
But don’t expect a Facebook status update from Tanya when it happens. Even though she’s modern enough to think a flash marriage isn’t a terrible idea — “It’s spontaneous, and sometimes (we need to) live on the edge and be dangerous,” she said — she’ll likely prefer to keep it low-key.
“We never used to announce things like that,” she said. “If you’re together, then you’re together — the Internet world doesn’t need to know.”
Tenth Mandarin album
Tanya has given her Mandarin discography a novel twist lately. Instead of falling back on themes of emotional torment and pain, the singer-songwriter has taken on social commentary with Aphasia, released late last year, more than two years after her last album, Angel & Devil.
Featuring a new frontier for Tanya herself — electronica — she tackles modern ills through the 10-track record: an over-reliance on the Internet, technology addiction, the breakdown of human connections in a colder and darker world, and even keyboard warriors on forums and social media. (The album name itself refers a neurological disorder that impairs speech, reading or writing.)
“For people who are familiar with my music, when they hear ‘Tanya Chua’ they think of healing and ballads,” she said. “But as a musician, should I be more responsible and not just write music that people want to listen to?”
“My music is real and reflects my life at various stages, but I needed change and challenge and something different so I could rediscover the excitement of creating music.”
The product is Aphasia, written entirely by Tanya and her long-time lyricist Xiaohan and produced by China’s An Dong, with post-production engineering from John Davis (who’s worked with Lana Del Ray, Tiesto and Blur). The result is an adventure through a haunting soundscape that calls to mind Mad Max or Blade Runner.
But fans eagerly awaiting an English album of this scale or style might be out of luck — Tanya said she has no plans at the moment to cut another English record. “The ones I did were because I wanted to, but afterwards I found out you can only see them as a hobby,” she said. “You can’t take the market too seriously because it’s not realistic for an Asian musician (to release) Western music.”
Bringing Aphasia to life pushed Tanya over the edge on more than one occasion. Introducing electronica — not exactly her forte — meant it took a long time to hunt for suitable producers and arrangers to execute the shapeless concepts she had in mind, she explained.
“Every song needed many rounds of refinement,” she said. “And every time it happened I’d think, ‘Forget it, don’t do it, give up,’ or I’d have a good cry because I was angry, not at others but at myself.”
And given that her album concept is technology vs. humanity, does it mean Tanya has been a phone addict? “I’m completely guilty!” she said, adding that she was once on her smartphone from night until sunrise (we’ve all been there). “The Internet has its benefits, but it’s a monster too, it makes us lazy because we don’t have to do anything in person,” she said.
“If I just press a button and everything is done for me, what’s the point?”
Aphasia is now available on iTunes and at all local music stores.