Interview with The Analog Girl
Named by TIME magazine as one of 5 Music Acts To Watch in 2008 alongside Japanese multi-instrumentalist Cornelius is Singapore-based electro-rock chanteuse The Analog Girl. A pioneer in the regional scene who helped define the genre that is laptop rock, The Analog Girl first sprung into the international spotlight when American sportswear giant Nike featured a track off her debut self-released, self-produced album The TV Is On on their European ad campaign Changing The Game in 2005. Since then her unique yet catchy brand of electro pop has been featured on NYLON TV for episodes featuring Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth) and Ladytron, been on award-winning creator of graphic novels Warren Ellis’ recommended playlist, landed her a support slot for German-Norwegian musical group The Whitest Boy Alive in Hong Kong, and a series of live shows around the world.
Armed with her sexy MacBook Air and slew of fascinating machines, The Analog Girl has taken her music to a variety of venues ranging from clubs to concert halls to art spaces, having headlined The Knitting Factory in New York, performed for top British photographer Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio in London, Worldtronics Festival at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, the Cirque Electrique in Paris, Superdeluxe in Tokyo, Labella in Shanghai and at the MTV Asia Awards Voting Party in Singapore. In the fall of 2011, The Analog Girl rocked a visual sound with her LED sequencer, the Tenori-On and a host of other illuminated instruments at Filter Magazine’s Culture Collide Music Festival in Los Angeles alongside other international super indie stars like CSS, Lindstrom, Gang Gang Dance and Datarock. The Analog Girl’s newest studio album Tonight Your Love is downright her most hypnotic offering to date, and is mastered by Paul Gold at Salt Mastering in Brooklyn, New York.
Songs from Sometime Next Galaxy were first performed in London at SHOWstudio’s REVUE, an outrageously hip party produced by Nick Knight’s creative studio for Sony’s Playstation 3. Dressed in a playful kimono with musical toys in hand, The Analog Girl delivered tracks from Sometime Next Galaxy, an EP about a love so strong that is however destined for some other time and space – love songs for the video game generation, electro dance floor sleaze for your Saturday night. All of which also rocked the Notting Hill Arts Club where The Analog Girl performed for Being Boiled, London’s electro’fying night curated by Emily Strange of electro trio CLIENT fame.
The bill even featured a rare DJ set by Martin Rushent, renown producer for Human League.
Always dreaming up new and innovative ways to showcase her music, The Analog Girl presented an extraordinary live performance at the Cirque Electrique in Paris with Stella improvising on trapeze and Thom swirling fire. “It was all so very surreal…performing electropop at an avant-garde circus in Paris out in an open field during summer overlooking the Montmarte…” In 2007, The Analog Girl was commissioned to write and perform an electronic soundtrack to the screening of the widely celebrated 1926 silent animated German film The Adventures Of Prince Achmed to a sell-out audience at the National Museum Of Singapore. Marrying vintage animation made out of silhouettes from paper cut-outs and modern electronic sounds was pure magic. Now catch The Analog Girl’s songs on the very entertaining, funny but thought provoking documentary film Complaints Choir produced by Denmark’s finest, Fine & Mellow.
A festival favourite, The Analog Girl has played at various international festivals including Resfest which featured live painting by Japanese graphic artist Imaitoonz of Dead Leaves (Production I.G.) fame. Other festivals include Spring Scream Music Festival (Taiwan), Ladyfest, ZoukOut (with Astreal) and Baybeats – the region’s largest indie music festival which draws crowds of over 100,000 each year. The Analog Girl has also rocked the runway at the Singapore Fashion Festival with a live showcase for the Versus by Versace Spring/Summer 2005 Collection. In 2006, Heineken Music presented her highly-anticipated solo show in Kuala Lumpur to a full-house audience. Then in 2007, she shared the stage with Swedish electronic bossa nova act Koop at Free The Musique.
Over on the airwaves, The Analog Girl first invaded U.S. college radio with the infectious Motionless via the Buzzlighter CD which also featured music from other striking indie bands like The Fiery Furnaces and Ambulance LTD. She continues to intrigue the American audience with fresh singles from her latest EP Sometime Next Galaxy made possible by Roji Music, the indie label of love set up by the good people at Roji Tea Lounge in Syracuse, New York. You can also catch The Analog Girl’s music videos on Pacha TV. A Featured Artist on Diesel-U-Music and Channel V’s AMP, and music award nominee at the Nike StreetStyle Awards, The Analog Girl is enjoying a global fan base making The Analog Girl Asia’s indie darling and the world’s rising superstar.
Mei, it is a pleasure to meet you. From what I have read you grew up experimenting with sound at an early age with a cassette recorder. What did you use to do?
Ever since I was little, I have been wildly obsessed by the magical nature of recording devices – I mean, they capture what’s present and real, and immortalize that moment. So, I used to record synth melodies off my Casiotone keyboard, then bounce that onto a second cassette deck – this time with my vocal layered over, and so on.
Before there were software synthesizers, did you use hardware synthesizers and if so, what was your setup like?
Yes I did. My firsts were Casiotones, then I graduated to the Korg T3 which is a souped-up version of the legendary Korg M1. Ater which, I got Planet Phatt as I wanted to produce a more trip hop, hip hop sort of sound. And then, a Virus Indigo, which I absolutely love but haven’t had the chance to play around with much. I still collect hardware but either tiny versions as I travel more now, or odd stuff. I love the analog sound so I have the Korg Monotron and Monotribe, as well as, the MFB 503 Drumcomputer. I also recently acquired a tiny synth called the OP-1 from Teenage Engineering. The hardware synth love is still strong in me!
Your main “tool” is your laptop which ties you down to a spot yet you sing, dance, and use a number of instruments to visually stimulate the audience. What are these controllers?
I have with me a collection of illuminated music instruments and controllers. Music comes alive with light. The Tenori-On is the LED-lit aluminium grid that I put on a mic stand. It is basically a 16×16 grid sequencer which enables me to program beats and melodies live. It controls sounds off my laptop. It is dual-face, so whatever button I press, the audience sees it light up too. Another device that I use is the Monome. The one that I have is an 8×8 grid, and the Monome is purely a controller. It can become whatever you want it to be as long as you can program a software to control it. I use it to trigger sequences – sometimes they are random algorithms, other times, it can be used as an instrument to play out melodies much like a piano or synthesizer. Something else that I bring along to shows are the Percussa Audio Cubes. These cubes can be programmed to light up according to the bpm of the music track, and you can also program the colours they light up in. They are primarily used to trigger loops in Ableton Live, a software I use a lot of when writing and performing. These cubes also have sensors which I can trigger using the palms of my hands to generate a series of effects and such.
You are extremely passionate about music and it seems to be deeply personal to you so make music for yourself. Have you ever had to make music for someone else?
Oh yes! I have written music for a commercial on promoting careers and studies in information technology to young people. And a soundtrack for MTV Speak Your Mind, a television series initiated by UNICEF. I enjoy the challenge of balancing the creative/editorial brief with my own musical flavour – it’s actually something that I strive to achieve even in the songs that I write for my own albums, to strike that balance of art and pop.
What is the process like when you produce a track? Do you come up with an idea, lyrics and write the track to it or the other way around? Do you rework tracks as you go?
It’s pretty much written on a subconscious level – usually it starts with an instrument or a sound then it progresses into a bassline or a drum pattern or a synth hook etc. After that, I sing out the melody and write the lyrics at the same. Usually the first vocal take is the take that sits on the record. I usually rework tracks after they have been sitting in my computer for some time, just so I feel excited about the tracks once more, as I tend to like different styles as time goes by.
Two amazing milestones in your career were, of course, being named on of Time Magazines on of 5 Music Acts to watch and the use of your track by Nike. How did these feel at the time and what events or performances in your career have meant the most to you?
When I found out that my track was going to be usedin an ad by Nike, I was checking my emails in an internet cafe in Paris in the summer of 2004. The creative agency, amazing guys at PostPanic, contacted me via email to verify that I was the artist who recorded that track “Liquorice” as the promo CD of music they got had no label on it. It’s such a cool ad, I am so happy to see my music used in that fashion!
In 2008 when Time Magazine named The Analog Girl as one of 5 Music Acts To Watch, I felt like I was living in a dream that year. Firstly, it’s such an honor and rare opportunity to be named that by one of the world’s most respected and well-read publications; and secondly, the opportunities that follow are incredible. I got to play at a music festival Worldtronics in Berlin, RrrecFest in Jakarta, Filter Magazine’s Culture Collide in LA and The People’s Party in Singapore. I love performing in festivals so these definitely make the highlights of my career.
Your music does not fit into a mold and defies fitting into a category. Each track takes the listener to a different place. You have said that your latest album, “Tonight Your Love”, should be listened to from start to end and not shuffled around. Does the album tell a story in a linear manner?
Not actually, it’s just that the way songs are sequenced affect the feeling you get when listening to a record. Very much like how you are affected by the setlist of a live show. There are so many ways to sequence a record, and those many ways will alter the experience for the listener dramatically, so I just hope for everyone to listen to the record – like how people used to with vinyl, from start to finish, at least once, to experience the transitions as they were designed to be felt. After that one listen, everyone is free to shuffle!
How do you think your music has changed over the years?
I am constantly tuning into new music and exposing myself to new experiences, or rather, being more aware and more observant, or observing different parts of different things. Always try to exceed expectations or to surprise, whichever results from my writing voyages. I have tried to move from the glitch-pop sound onto a more lyrical repertoire, but I always mix and match, or re-visit past styles, so as to retain the Analog Girl flavour while refreshing the palette.
You have fans all over the world and your music has crossed cultural boundaries. What do you think has made you and your music so accepted wherever you go?
Acceptance is a 2-way dialogue and I am blessed to play for audiences who come to shows with an open mind. I also try and re-invent my live shows to include elements that will continue to move and excite the audience. It’s an evolving process when it comes to crafting live sets, and I enjoy that process very much.
How is the music industry in Singapore? With large award shows like Malaysia’s “Bite My Music Global Awards” do you think there is more attention being focused on independent artists in SE Asia?
We have more and more international artists touring the region, and coming to play shows in Singapore – not just the pop acts like Lady Gaga and Elton John, but also the widely-acclaimed indie bands like Metronomy, The Naked And Famous, M83 and Chairlift. I’m just waiting for a law to be passed such that it is mandatory for every international act to play in Singapore, to have a local act open for them. And similar laws for setting a quota for playing local music on the airwaves.
As for the indie scene in S.E. Asia, I think that there is more attention given to our independent artists simply because of the calibre and international appeal of artists emerging from the region. Yuna and Zee Avi from Malaysia, and Charice from the Philippines are such examples.
It also helps when producers from outside Asia take note of the scene here and want to work together with us to produce one-of-a-kind collaborations. T(h)ree Vol. 2 is one such album and it is the brainchild of David Valentim from Portugal. For this second edition, he has married musicians from Portugal with musicians from the east – namely Philippines and Singapore. I collaborated on a track called Starlight with electro-acoustic musician Stealing Orchestra and popular rapper Maze who raps in Portuguese. The result is fresh, cool, and different from our respective solo efforts. Simply crazy!
You have collaborated with a great many artists. Is there someone who you would like to collaborate with in the future?
I would love to collaborate with Blood Orange, also known as Dev Hynes or Lightspeed Champion. He is such a creative talent and I love his sound. He has so many ideas and that makes for an exciting collaboration.
Where do you see yourself and your music five years from now?
I’m not sure. I just want to keep making records.
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
You can preview on Bandcamp my latest album Tonight Your Love which is fabulously mastered by Paul Gold at Salt Mastering in Brooklyn, New York. He’s worked with my favorite artists LCD SoundSystem, Washed Out and Animal Collective. So it’s worth putting it on big speakers if you’ve got them.
See you in cyberspace and hopefully at a city near you.
I will be performing at the T(h)ree Vol. 2 album release party at Museu Do Oriente in Lisbon, Portugal on March 30 2012 with a bunch of artists from around the world including Randolf Arriola (Singapore), Toi (Philippines), Rita Braga (Portugal), Blasted Mechanism (Portugal) and rapper Maze (Portugal) with whom I will be collaborating. So come check us out if you are in Lisbon! All proceeds from album sales go toward Make A Wish Foundation.