Every Wednesday we ask a creative or an artisan to share what music gets them going from dawn to dusk. This week, homegrown indie folk singer-songwriter Jean Tan reveals her motivational songs for the day.
Do we succumb to fate or fight against it? For Tan, her battle with life started at birth. Born with a cleft palate, doctors weren't optimistic about her ability to deliver a clear speech. Tan defied that diagnosis by undergoing six operations during her childhood days—the first at three months old and another at age 16. The latter is a 12-hour operation that had her jaw sawed down, pushed back, and locked tightly.
Tan's passion for singing started at age 5 when her father brought home a karaoke set. Belting out tunes such as 'The Great Pretender', 'Eternal Flame' and 'Woman in Love', her family exposed Tan to records which would eventually influence her to joined the school choir in secondary school and junior college. Creative juices flowed when Tan was in university, leading her to produce self-composed songs and performing at open mics.
Now at 32, Tan has found her way to folktronica and recently released an EP, Hideaway. The folk/soultronic record of 5 songs were written during her journey through a difficult period—penned in authentic and heartfelt poetry. You'd think it's about her obstacles faced after birth. Partially.
Tan was diagnosed with kidney disease at the youthful age of 24. She recounts the journey in an interview: "The illness catalysed a subsequent loss of things over the next 5-6 years in the areas of work, relationships, and lifestyle. I lost the ability to do the things I love, like making music and travel; at times, even walking, eating, and speaking was difficult, leading to long periods of social isolation."
"In that secret place, away from the world—I met my raw, barenaked self, stripped away from the things I valued and which defined me at that point. I came face to face with who I really was, and let erupt the storm of emotions and questions I’d bottled inside for a long time."
This ordeal spawned Hideaway. Produced by Kevin Foo and Cascine artist et aliae, the EP features 'Crowns', a track that surpassed 100,000 streaming plays within the first couple months of release and 'Walls’ (produced by et aliae and featured former The Steve McQueens saxophonist Fabian Lim).
Prior to this, Tan performed live at Zandari Music Festa 2017 in Seoul and the 28th SEA Games in 2015. She wrote 'Colours' for the latter and performed it at the National Stadium and Gardens by the Bay. This song is part of the Songs of the Games compilation which also featured musicians like Gentle Bones, The Sam Willows and Charlie Lim. Tan also periodically sings for social good and has also performed in teenage homes, youth events, and for causes such as WorldVision, Operation Smile, and Architects of Life.
Catch Tan at Singapore Night Festival 2018 as she presents an acoustic and track-based performance of songs from her latest EP. She will also share the stories behind the record, which makes for an unforgettable and inspiring experience—tracks like 'Dandelion’ is about pressing on and being radiant even in the harshest conditions; ‘Blooms’ pens an honest conversation between the writer and God, confronting disappointment and finding fragile hope in the beginnings of spring; ‘Hide Away’, the title track, is about finding significance in the process—being in one’s own secret place, in the winter of the soul, to heal.
*Note: Jean Tan will perform at Singapore Night Festival 2018 for Backyard Sessions @ Armenian, Armenian Street on 25 August, 8:30pm—9:00pm and 9:45pm—10:15pm.
"I’m not a natural morning person, so I choose music that eases me into the hustle. Upbeat enough, but groovy and light so my half-slumbering mind can still keep up."
1. ‘Green and Gold’—Lianna La Havas
"Lianne’s voice is smooth, rich coffee that perks you up and lingers. A catchy number with easy grooves and percussive notes; a natural one to sing to while I prepare to go out."
2. ‘Distance’—Emily King
"Smooth and mellow—so gentle on the senses, but has beats and melodic lines strong enough to stir me awake. Also, love the unconventional choices in the arrangement and song structure."
3. ‘I Know You Know’—Esperanza Spalding
"The incredible vocal sprays and trippy arrangement make this so unconstrained, playful and flirty. Usually goes with embarrassing head-bopping in Grab car."
"I usually prefer an atmospheric blend of sounds to guide my work process in the afternoon; a soundscape to help me focus on tasks. It’s usually centred around my first love—folk."
1. 'King and Cross’—Ásgeir
"Quirky and pop-ish blend of synths, brass, layered voices. And course, the guitar riffs. Altogether a refreshing kick to get going after lunch."
2. ‘Tiger Striped Sky’—Roo Panes
"Charming and optimistic, it thrusts you into a wide-open countryside, enlarging the space for creativity and thought. The warm, consistent guitar-picking rhythms also drive you forward."
3. 'From Gold'—Novo Amor
"I discovered Novo Amor only recently, and his music is delicious. His beautiful guitar-electronic soundscapes and dreamy falsettos get you in the mood of quiet contemplation and focus."
"I usually take it a few notches down at night and get into a major retrospective mood. Picture imaginary (sometimes) glass of wine in hand, with a crackling vinyl playing…"
1. ‘These Foolish Things’—Ella Fitzgerald
"Heard this on the radio when I was 14 and never stopped listening since. Ella’s rendition is heartbreaking, soulful, and tender, and my favourite."
2. 'Round Midnight'—Miles Davis
A smoky, enchanting piece that takes you on a slow dance. It is personal and intimate, reaching deep into your soul and dissolving your thoughts with its melodic lines.
3. 'Dance Me To The End Of Love’—Madeleine Peyroux
"A mesmerising interpretation of Cohen’s poetry, perfect for winding down the night. I feel like I’m in the crowd, and she’s singing gently to me."
All images are courtesy of Daniel Ho and Melissa Tay.