The first and recent *Scape Invasion Youth Music Awards concluded with the best in local music at the fore. Budding artists were celebrated alongside radioplay favourites Nathan Hartono and Jasmine Sokko. And while there were many winners in various categories, it’s the newly-crowned Best New Kid On The Block that caught our attention.
Real name Ng Zhengyao, you might already recognise Yao’s handle from the catchy earworm “No Stress featuring Ae$op Ca$h”, an upbeat yet laidback bop that’ll make for a smooth soundtrack to any tropical hangout. 22-year-old Yao may blend in with the rest of his NS buddies when in uniform during the day, but in the recording studio, he’s a standout delivering smooth RnB vocals set to addictive beats. First starting out on Soundcloud with a medley of pop song covers, he’s amassed a number of self-written singles since then, including the newly released Scenery that draws heavily from hipster vaporwave culture and ’80s Japanese pop.
With appearances at local gigs like BaconBeats and Singapore Night Festival 2018 tucked under his belt, his infectious melodies are truly making their rounds nationwide and beyond. We sit down and chat with the down-to-earth artist, and can almost see the creative cogs whirring in his mind—as he shares about his music-making inspiration, his progress as an independent musician in Singapore, and what else he’s got brewing in the studio.
Yao performing live
Congrats on being awarded the Best New Kids On The Block! How was it like working with Invasion?
Winning the award means a lot to me. Right before I entered National Service, I was doing a lot of music stuff in poly and released some original songs on Soundcloud, like how we usually do among the younger artists; really hoping people will want to listen to it and share the vibe. Winning the award made me feel like my efforts have finally paid off. Every artist that releases music in Singapore, they all deserve some kind of recognition, because in Singapore we’re not really that open in the sense that when we put out stuff, everyone will like it. I release music without a label, I release with a small team, and it empowers me a lot to know that I won something as an independent artist. That really encourages young artists like me, who are constantly trying to pursue music.
What first got you started on music?
I started out when I was pretty young; my mum plays the pipa, and she really helped nurture my passion in music. I started properly liking music with the Justin Bieber era, but it was in poly that I felt like I was trying to find myself more, trying to understand what I really like, and if I really wanted to do music properly. I listened to more songs, started researching online, and talked to a good friend from secondary school—he’s actually a producer, so I learnt how to produce through him. I moved on to random beats on YouTube, created melodies in my head, took it as a hobby; I started recording all these ideas in my phone, and I’ll have thousands of voice notes. There was no space to even take photos! Afterwards i joined the Shine programme, and that helped boost my connection with the scene around me.
How would you describe your own sound?
It is ever-changing, very organic, and it doesn’t stay the same throughout. The thing that sticks is mainly the melodies; I like them simple but catchy at the same time.
Where do you seek inspiration for new material?
I find inspiration almost everywhere, anywhere, out of anything. Like right now when I’m talking to you, I’ll try to interact with you and find out how you are and everything, and vibe off each other and the environment. I’m constantly coming up with melodies in my head.
Your recent music features old-timey Japanese pop. Did that influence come from personal interests?
It definitely came from an interest, but I wouldn’t say it’s the main kind of sound that I’m striving for. I go into phases where I’ll like something a lot, and then I’ll move on to something else, and i’ll try to do my best in that thing. For this Japanese influence, my latest single Scenery is heavily influenced by Japanese ’80s pop, which I stumbled across when I was researching online. I saw some old Japanese songs and sampled them, and the song just came out like it did.
His newest single, Scenery, now available to listen here
What message or philosophy do you wish to convey through your songs?
I’m still too young to convey any type of philosophy, but at this point I just want to put up songs that are relatable to me because, if you don’t relate to yourself and express your true feelings, then what’s the point of making music? I guess it really comes from yourself and what you hear in your heart; you just put it all out there and that’s the most important thing that any artist should be doing now.
In one sentence?
Just be yourself; do you.
As a young artiste then, how do you feel you might contribute to the local music scene?
The music I try to release is a little less common in the market, and I hope that it’ll impact people’s lives, even if it’s only in a small way. I want to push out more music, put myself out there, so when people listen to my songs they’ll try to find out who the artist is.
Who do you look up to in the music industry, and is there anybody local?
I look up to Charlie Lim a lot. Even though he releases his own unique type of sound, it’s all so new and catchy at the same time, and really catches my attention. That’s what I want to be like. Plus, his voice is amazing.
Any plans for an EP we can look forward to?
Yes! I do have an EP coming up hopefully in March. There’re also two more songs you can look forward to, the next one probably in April.
Do you have an idea of how you will further develop your music in the future?
For now, I’ll just continue experimenting with new sounds, mumble to myself, sing stuff; whatever comes to my head. I find that very important actually, because that’s how I usually vibe off new ideas and come up with new stuff. Just keep experimenting and hope for the best.