July 5, 2016
Sweet, dreamy and twee – that’s everything we loved about electro-pop project Pastelpower, and now, everything the musician behind it, Cherie Ko, is not. Especially when she’s now one half of dark noir-rock band TOMGIRL.
After all, it’s about challenging our expectations here, which is exactly what the 25-year-old is doing: shedding her past identity and embracing a far more edgier, perhaps more raw one. “I didn’t want it to be pretty. I wanted it to be strong, abrasive, and fearless. Perhaps even reckless, in a way,” she says of her new direction. Not that innocent then.
Together with Australia-based musician Ted Doré, the duo embarked on TOMGIRL, a project that aims to blaze a trail, igniting with heavy guitar riffs and pounding beats layered with sultry vocals that draw you in, all of which you can find on their self-titled debut album, and their first single ‘Darker Now’.
Then again, Ko professes that it’s as much about creating striking visual imagery, personas really, which evoke our favourite noir thrillers, femme fatales, shady liaisons and all. The music video for the band’s first single ‘Darker Now’, helmed by director Jacky Lee (@TheBoyWhoCriedAction) and director of photography Kelvin Chew, is definitely all that, a stunning piece with plenty of neon lights and moody cinematography, of two mysterious lovers running away from a crime they might or might not have committed.
Who’s darker now? We’ll let the girl speak for herself:
You guys went over to Melbourne to film the music video – how was that like?
The shoot was really fun! It was over a span of one week, and we went to a lot of bars with neon signs because we wanted that neo-noir vibe, and a lot of abandoned spots as well. One really cool place was this abandoned warehouse, this really huge space where it used to be a garment factory, but now the whole area’s covered in graffiti. We found old film reels too, so we just took them and ran around the whole place with it – Ted even wrecked a wall! We also rented a motel room, shifted all the beds around and put in our own lights, and got like a smoke machine to create the right atmosphere.
Why did you and Ted decide to release ‘Darker Now’ as your first single? Is there something significant about the song?
Ted and I met at Laneway Festival Singapore, this was two years ago, and we immediately bonded over shoegaze music, 60s girl groups, and a lot of cult films. So he asked whether I wanted to jam and write some songs together, and we did. We went through many phases, like we wrote this shoegaze song but didn’t really feel it, but the night before he flew back to Melbourne, we wrote ‘Darker Now’ and I recorded my vocal parts. It wasn’t really put together then, but only pieced together when he was over at Australia. When he sent me the track, we were like “wow, this really could be something!”. ‘Darker Now’ was what cemented us as TOMGIRL, to want to create an entire album out of this newfound identity. And this wouldn’t have been possible on our own because it’s quite a close collaboration.
How would you describe this new identity?
It’s a fusing of our two different styles; Ted is really into old-school rock ‘n’ roll, and I’m into shoegaze, electro-pop stuff, so when it came together, it was a merging of these two worlds. And that’s what TOMGIRL is about – it’s masculinity meeting feminity, the yin to his yang and vice versa. It’s really about balancing all that.
Speaking of balancing, Ted’s based in Australia – so how do you guys collaborate especially when it comes to songwriting?
A lot of our songs were written over the Internet. He would send me a guitar riff, then I’d build on it, add in my vocals or add in sections to other parts of the song, and whenever I have an idea I’d send it over as well. We actually had a lot of loose demos floating about for a while, and we had set our own deadlines to meet, so it was quite nervewrecking as well. When I went to Melbourne in March, half of it wasn’t done yet! But when I got there, everything clicked, we had like an intensive songwriting bootcamp in his basement for one whole week, just writing and recording. It was quite fun to be in that crazy bubble of churning out ideas and songs. We managed to get a lot more of a creative flow because we could bounce ideas off each other.
You’re in a band [Obedient Wives Club] so you know how the collaborative aspect comes together when everyone’s together, but what would you say is an advantage of sending each other stuff over the Internet?
I think having to work apart kinda pushes us as well… It’s quite limiting, because he’ll send me a guitar riff and I have to try my best to interpret it and rework it to make it my own without compromising my style, but I think that’s good because it helped us understand each other’s style a lot more, in a space where we’re apart. We understand each other more with the distance.
You were previously Pastelpower too, and people know you for it, so why adopt this whole new identity?
Contrary to what people might think, Pastelpower’s really just an exaggerated persona. People have different sides to them, something that we present might not be fully representative of what we feel on the inside, and Pastelpower was an exaggerated part of myself, a dreamy and happy person. I like to see myself as a Russian doll, with many different ‘capsules’, so I would say that Pastelpower’s the topmost layer, but there’s so much more left to show that I haven’t been able to. TOMGIRL’s definitely a huge departure from that.
Was it motivated by something you’ve experienced?
A lot of the songs we wrote were inspired by true events – like ex-es we didn’t like very much! Or, you know, the pent-up emotions over the years, and it felt really cathartic too to be able to unleash whatever we were feeling, whether it’s anger or sadness or hatred, things I couldn’t have done with Pastelpower. I feel TOMGIRL’s more rooted to reality, in a way, because we’re writing about real issues we face. It’s like a development.
Why is this idea of a persona so important for you?
Music is something that transports me to places, that’s why with all my different projects, I like to create that whole journey for the listeners too – visually as well. It’s fun to build a character, kind of like acting, while it’s also a form of art to mould yourself into this character you envision in your mind, right down to the makeup and clothes. I guess it’s also my way of reliving what I enjoyed when I was a kid – I really liked modelling a lot then! My parents had all these home videos of me, like I’d be wearing shades and, like, throw a jacket over my shoulder and all that!
So I guess it’s kind of your Sasha Fierce?
Haha yeah, kinda like that!
Would you say the persona you take on is a more powerful version of yourself?
Yeah, I feel like my persona’s very different from who I am in real life, but having to take on this role pushes me to be a better version of myself. It’s kinda empowering, and it affirms me that I can be something bigger than myself – that’s a positive thing.
At the same time, what would you say is the thing that remains the same between Pastelpower and TOMGIRL?
It’s probably my love for cult films, just that for Pastelpower I was more inspired by the more romantic films such as French New Wave films, Sofia Coppola films or Edward Scissorhands. For TOMGIRL, it ventures over to the darker side, so I really looked to Tarantino films, anything by Jim Jarmusch, campy horror films as well, and very much 80s inspired ones. I really like Mia Wallace from Pulp Fiction, Rose McGowan’s character in The Doom Generation.
Going back to the idea of a persona – rather, an artiste’s persona – do you think it’s something a musician necessarily has to take on? How do you still keep it genuine?
Most artistes I look up to like The Kills, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have a strong character about them, but who knows what they’re like in real life! I believe that’s a persona you have to put on and build, I don’t think anyone gets out of bed in the morning and they’re like a rock star. Maybe it’s a form of manipulation, but it’s fun.
Right from the start, our vision for the project stemmed from our own likes. It kind of came naturally, we didn’t have to fake it because we felt that it was a part of us, and we stuck by our artistic integrity. But I think the most important thing is to like what you’re making and enjoy it – then it won’t seem contrived or like a marketing scheme.
You’ve been doing music here for so many years now, have you ever thought about an alternative?
Actually I did marketing previously, but it wasn’t really for me. I feel like we only have our 20s to do what we want to do, and right now, TOMGIRL is my number one priority. I don’t wanna die with any regrets, or think of a backup plan or think what’s gonna happen in five years time. I want to do this the best I can and be proud of myself.
Watch the music video for ‘Darker Now’ here:
Image Credit: Cherlynn Lian, Yak.