The Final 1 alum dishes on his first full-length solo album

He had a memorable first start in the televised, nationwide singing competition The Final 1, but bearded crooner Glen Wee almost went into a career of football.

“I was part of Home United Football club in the Under 16 team and Under 18 team, before I decided I wasn't good enough to continue (pursuing) it as a sustainable career,” recalls the 26-year-old, who is currently based in Melbourne. “It was a sad time for me.”

Not for long. During polytechnic, he entered the first season of The Final 1, and with a voice slippery smooth like burnt caramel, swiftly climbed to the top five. After finishing in fourth place, his singing career was momentarily put on pause for National Service. But not even the nation could come between Wee and his music. As luck would have it, he was posted to SAF’s Music and Drama Company (MDC), where he would continue to perform. Fast-forward five years; these days, he’s playing shows in the city of Melbourne, alternating between soulful ballads and jazzy folk.

He hasn’t forgotten his fans back home. The singer-songwriter, who is signed under Warner Music, recently released his debut solo album, Songs in the City. Immensely fresh and full of flavour, the seven-track affair is his love letter to the cities he’s lived in—his native Singapore; and Melbourne, where he’s pursuing a full-time music degree. It’s also an impressive showcase of his diverse repertoire—one minute you’re tapping your foot to the catchy “Walking on the Side”, then swaying in melancholy to his heartfelt R&B track “Send Me An Angel” the next.

Before the inevitable happens and we lose another great talent to the world, we caught up with the soulful singer to check in on his new music.

Tell us more about that forgotten football career.

I've always had to struggle in school with academics; my mind as a child was just everywhere. I invested a lot of time in sports and actually almost made it semi-professional in football. Most of my teens were spent on the football pitch shouting for the ball, although I do remember always singing in the shower after training, and my teammates would always ask me to sing louder! I eventually made it to Temasek Polytechnic and obtained a diploma in Information Technology. During that time I took part in The Final 1.

When and how did you get into music?

I've really only considered myself to have "gotten into" music when I was 19, during The Final 1. But music has always been a big part of my life. My parents enrolled me into piano classes as a child, but I hated every bit of it. Though I regret that now. Instead of practicing for my exam pieces, I would get song books if I could; if not I would learn the songs I heard on the radio by ear and sing my heart out at home. So really, my music education started when I was 6 years old.

Did The Final 1 help with gigs and getting a leg up in the industry?

To be honest, The Final 1 would have probably helped in getting me out there as a performer if I didn't have to enlist into the army almost immediately after the competition ended. Shortly after enlisting though, I was very fortunate to be listed into the MDC where it was a full-on performance unit. So in some twisted way, I was getting an early education in music performance. But it's nice to know some people still recognise me for being a singer, and it's heart-warming to know people are still up-to-date with my life as an artist/songwriter/performer.

Wee performing at District Design Dialogue in 2018

How would you say you’ve grown as a musician since then?

I think I've grown heaps in terms of my expectations of myself. Before when I was 19 and fresh out of The Final 1, I really only wanted to sing and write songs as a career. There's been a significant progression with my intentions with music that have changed over time; the easiest way to put it is that I started singing for my own enjoyment, and after some time, for the people.

Over time and with more experience, I understood that people enjoyed what I did; and eventually I could start taking compliments and criticism the same way. Before I would find it hard to take a compliment, and be extra critical with my work after being criticised. Music is a fine line of putting yourself out there and being okay with having that part of you left bare. Although there are a set of rules to follow with what pleases the ear, you can really do no wrong. The world is your oyster. Growth is a hard thing to judge; the only thing for sure is that I've grown older.

Tell us more about the process to recording and producing Sounds in the City. Did you encounter any setbacks?

Recording was very much a breeze. I was lucky to have so many good musicians around me to give me options to what I needed. I've had a good idea of what I wanted for the soundscape of my songs, but learning the skills to put them together was the hardest part. Procrastination was my biggest enemy—always thinking there's a better way to do things made me so afraid of deciding that this next guitar track was final, or a piano lick would add or cloud the colour of the song. But I've learned to stand rooted on some ideas and stay true to some intentions, and that has helped me heaps.

I recorded the album in various studios across Singapore and Melbourne, and some parts even in the comfort of my home. Tossed and turned with the quality of the recordings and thrown away thousands of dollars. Recording music is expensive, though there are inexpensive options that I only discovered very late on. My biggest struggle would have been being financially savvy with my options.

This being your first solo album, what did you want to convey with it?

I wanted to put out an album instead of an EP because I had a bank of songs I've chalked up over the years, and I've sat on a concept for years and years. The songs in the album are a reflection of how I felt so strongly about issues not just within myself, but also the environment I lived in in the various times of my life. There’s a strong juxtaposition with the folk demeanour being ever so present within city living. I've lived in cities my whole life, and it's always hustle and bustle everywhere I go.

I never had the money to explore the outside world as much, but I've read and seen it on my tele; and using my imagination, it was the most blissful thing. I wrote "House of Stone" in my room picturing a vast piece of empty land with a lot of greenery, pretending I could build a house from actual stone. "Paper Man" was very much the opposite—written from the perspective where I felt trapped in a society where the only person people see is the person you put down on paper; and I've always been someone that struggled academically. It was hard for me to find my place in the world when I was much younger, and I was a little bit lost with what I wanted to do. But I’ve found my space in the world now and I want people to realise that dreams are dreams until you actually put yourself out there and give the world a shot.

As someone who’s been active in the scene since 2013, how has the local music industry changed?

It’s changed quite a bit from the first time I set foot into the industry, thanks to the advancement of technology. It's made making music a lot easier and more accessible. Everyone could be an artist if they wanted to; all you have to do is create an online profile which basically costs nothing. It's paved the way for many home-made hobbyist musicians that have day jobs to still pursue their passion projects. But this also means that the market for musicians and artists is starting to get very saturated—I'm not that old yet but I think some of the old-school muso's would agree with me that it was a lot harder back in the day. The stigma of having an entire career out of music has almost been totally abolished. It takes a lot less commitment to be labelled a "musician" or "singer-songwriter".

What are you up to these days?

At the moment, I'm plying my trade in Melbourne city. I'm also pursuing a full-time degree at Australian Institute of Music (AIM) that's located in the heart of the city.

I spend most of my mornings in class learning music theory foundations, my afternoons working on my chops and my nights running around at open mic jams. There's quite a bit to do around here and there's never really much down time when I'm in the city. I spend most Sundays driving out to the suburbs visiting cafes and having a picnic in picturesque parks and gardens—that's really where I get most of my inspiration to write.

I'm currently putting together my next album and preparing for a couple of bigger shows at the end of the year—it's big news that I've been booked as one of the local acts to grace the F1 Grand Prix in September this year. It's really pushed me to up my game when I discovered my name was in the same entertainment line-up as huge names like Muse and Red Hot Chilli Peppers. I'll be waiting with a sharpie in my pocket for them to sign in my little notebook!

How long have you been based in Melbourne? Did that affect making the album?

I moved to Melbourne in May of 2018 to start my degree, so just short of a year. But yes, it definitely did affect making the album. There are a lot of full-time musicians, and being part of a music school exposed me to more when I got here. This is my first-ever formal education in music and it raised my standard to what I expect of my own music. It's a lot easier to get session musicians in an environment that just bleeds such a vibrant musical culture, and I really soaked it all in very quickly. Some of the sessions musicians on my record are from the jam nights I've been to—they’ve become people I count on when I'm putting a gig together. There are many like-minded people here in Melbourne but that has stemmed from decades of deeply rooted culture and love of music. You get all kinds of people here; I'm just lucky to have stepped in at the right time.

What are your plans after music school?

I've had dreams of touring the world and sharing my music with a big audience, and I'm still working towards it. But the real game for me is to be able to teach music eventually, sharing that knowledge to make music a sustainable career. I am currently working with a few Australian artists to produce their records and I guess that's something I would add on my bucket list too. I love making music, and I want to help people make good quality music. My plans after music school have totally been clouded, since I've already started doing what I want. But the aim is to take whatever I'm doing at the moment to the next level. I can only hope that people like what I do.

Stay up-to-date with Glen here and listen to Sounds of the City here.