Shaking Up The Local Music Scene: Aisyah Aziz, NYLON’s October 2019 Digital Cover Girl

 

Aisyah Aziz — a name and face you might already be familiar with, and definitely one to keep an eye on. At 1.79m, it would be hard to miss her in a crowd, but her voice is one that is even harder to forget. The singer behind the hauntingly sultry ‘Bila Entah’, Aisyah has an impressively diverse repertoire on her belt. With over 5 years of professional experience since competing in Malaysian singing competition Akademi Fantasia, a simple YouTube search pulls up covers, music videos and performances, not to mention her most recent stint as Aishah on local drama Fried Rice Paradise.

You’ll also know her for being one of the lead singers on ‘Our Singapore‘, this year’s National Day theme song. Through them all though, you’ll recognise these: her signature urban-pop sound, and a soulful voice that embodies the nostalgic quality of Singapore’s greatest 70s performers.

On set, the 25-year-old exuded a quiet confidence throughout, constantly throwing in personal anecdotes in between outfit changes. Rhythm is obviously in her blood; we see her effortlessly singing and moving along to the music in an unusually natural way — confident, comfortable, with a graceful ease. That’s when we knew: this girl’s completely at home wherever music is.

Humble, musing and ingenuous, the musician brings as much to the table as she can, and she really brings it. Aisyah opens up about her transition into the Singaporean music industry, how she pulls emotions into her performances, as well as her thoughts on “selling-out”.

 

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HOW SHE STARTED SINGING

“I started out in a singing competition. I always knew that I wanted to sing, but I didn’t wanna go through the route my brother did — I also have a brother who sings. He started, I think, 10 years before I did, in 2007. I started when I was 19, which was in 2013. So he joined a singing competition in Singapore, and he got contracted and everything… and it was like, so rabak, like, the management and everything. My mom was so stressed out just figuring stuff out for him, and I didn’t want my mom to go through that again with me. It also wasn’t alluring for me, I didn’t find it interesting to want to be in that competition. So I didn’t do it.

I then went to Malaysia, joined a singing competition [Akademi Fantasia], which my mom kinda forced me to. They also opened [up to] Singaporeans two years before I joined, so yeah, that was how it propelled my journey into the music scene. Got to the finals, got contracted, got a few songs out, and till right now I’m just writing stuff, and performing a lot.”

AND HOW IT FELT RIGHT

“I think I always knew that I wanted to do it. But I just didn’t know how to. Because looking at my brother, I was like, “uhhh, that probably isn’t the route I wanna go,” so then I was even contemplating just doing day jobs, 9 to 5, or even start flying or something like that. I was so close to flying, actually. But I think that competition just took that turn for me, and it went all the way. It was something I didn’t expect, but I kinda knew I was gonna do it. I didn’t know how I was gonna get into it, but this feels very real, and very natural — it feels right.”

 

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ON RETURNING TO SINGAPORE

“I was introduced to the Singapore scene very late, almost only a year plus ago, because I was in Malaysia the whole time, so I kinda adapted to that — the work ethic, the mindset, and everything, and the food. Coming back to Singapore, I was like, “Wow. People are different here. And these are MY people.” So then I was in-between la, at first I wanted to embrace it entirely, but then, I don’t know. Maybe because I just don’t know myself sometimes, and I don’t know where I wanna go. But I was so culture-shocked by my own people, because these guys are so ready to help you, so ready to share knowledge, so ready to be experimental, like do this and that, this and that, y’know? I mean, shit’s expensive here, but like, everybody’s just so into having a dialogue, and a conversation and everything.

I’d also wanna think that it’s not where I was [physically], but also where I am in my head, because I met my boyfriend, like 3 years ago. He changed my perception a lot. He really helped me see another perspective, he showed me another perspective of the world, he’s like, “I’m gonna show you the world, this is how I live my life, and I’m not pulling you in, but I’m just introducing you to this world, and know that you can choose, and you can create your own world. It’s all here.” So from then on, there were a lot of battles in my head, because I was only very used to the old, being my old self — being introverted, don’t go out, don’t go anywhere, don’t socialise, I don’t talk to people, stuff like that. And suddenly coming back here and meeting SO many people, and feeling the need to HAVE to say something. So that was the battle. But it’s interesting too y’know, I wouldn’t have done it any other way.”

WHAT SINGAPORE’S MUSIC INDUSTRY IS LIKE

“I was overwhelmed, I was intrigued by how different it is. Y’know, there’s no pie that everybody is chasing for. Everybody’s got their own little thing, their own little sound. Their projects, their tours, everybody’s got their own thing going on. But in Malaysia, it was very… one pie? Everybody does the same sound — this is what makes you money, this is what makes you rich, you get all the plays, you get all the views and the numbers, and the shows. So it’s very different, over here, because we don’t have the space, so there’s not much shows. So now people are just like, “okay, I got this amount of money, I got these friends, I got all this music in my head, all these ideas in my head, let’s just create.” So I guess it’s also the environment, that change that kinda shapes the work ethic and everything. Over here it’s more chill, because, I would say most of the singer-songwriters here are already well-off to begin with, so they don’t have to “sell-out”.”

HER THOUGHTS ON ‘SELLING OUT’

“I don’t know why people do that “sell-out” thing. I love selling out. I think selling out is important to make money [laughs]. I guess for me, coming from a very average income family, there is a need to do that. There is a need to sell tickets, and there is a need to make music that people wanna listen to. But I’m finding the balance of trying to do that, and trying to even put the melody out.

So yeah, a lot of people are telling me like, “oh, Aisyah, you’re not getting younger”, and I’m like, “just shut up.” I mean, it’s my journey at the end of the day, and a lot of people also, who are way ahead of me and who started way ahead of me are telling me, “You know what, I wish I found this out earlier. I wish I knew this earlier.” So I feel like these people are here for a reason, and at this age I guess I get to meet these people, and have these conversations. It’s also guidance for me, right? So I wanna believe that I’m on the right track.”

ON STARTING HER MUSIC CAREER AT 19

“We’ve seen superstars being born at 16 or 17, right? But I wanna believe that I’m where I’m supposed to be. I’ve never really regretted like, “oh I wish I was a lot younger when I started out,” or “I wish I was a lot older”. Even at this point, I’m like, “wow, if I had started a lot older, I would’ve known myself more, I would’ve been given a space to know myself more, to know what I want”, and stuff like that. But some people, at 16 already know what they want. So it really is your own journey, it’s not about the destination really.

I always hold on to this being a marathon instead of a sprint, because I also put myself in a place where, “oh, shit, I better come out with a new thing”. I gotta do this, gotta do that, y’know, and I end up not doing shit, because I go into that downward spiral. So yeah, it’s a lot of learning, but I feel like being exposed to this environment where they’re all creatives and everything, it really allows you to go deeper and deeper, because I feel like if I had decided to do a 9 to 5, I wouldn’t be able to be introspective, or be around people who can guide me towards that direction.”

 

 

HER PROUDEST MOMENT AS A SINGER

“Early this year, we, me and the band, and like the show producer, we did a small show to just… I just wanna do a show! I just wanna sing, y’know? And we were like, “okay la, let’s just do a show”, and for the first time, it was not produced by a label, it was not handled by a label, it was just me and the band and my show producer. And I felt so liberated that night, those two nights.

We sold out two nights, and it was… I don’t know, I feel like I’ve never done that before. I’ve always done shows where I’m part of the line-up, I’m never the headliner. I’m always doing outdoor shows where 30,000 people are there, but it’s divided. People don’t know me, they wanna see some other acts that are headlining, stuff like that, and it’s the urban sound that they don’t get. But when I did that show, it was like 200 pax per night, and it was only people who wanted to listen to me sing.

That was insane to me, because I didn’t plan anything to say, because I thought that I was gonna screw it up big-time. But then when I was on stage, and I saw all these faces, they were already entertained by me, right? They were already like, “I’m so ready for you”, and that really gave me the perspective of… it’s not 30,000 people you wanna reach out to. You wanna reach out to the people, the 1% of your engagement, the 1% of your social media who are always there, who are always liking your stuff, who are always coming and buying your tickets. You wanna focus on these people, and grow them, and grow with them. So when I did that show, I was really, really happy with myself because I actually went out and did it. I wanna do it more la. Yeah, I gotta do it more.”

HER IDEAL MUSIC AND ‘SOUND’

“I guess it’s more of my melodies that I wanna put out. Because from all the songs [currently released], they all sound very different. But one thing that remains is the tone of my voice. Which I feel like… because some people come to me, and are like, “oh, dude, that song is amazing, it’s so Ezra [her producer], but it’s also so YOU.” For example, for Ezra, you can kinda hear his sound — everywhere you go he has a sound, every song he writes for everyone else has his sound, but with me, it’s like, it’s still so “you”, so I would think it’s the sound of my voice.

I wanna focus on that more in my music. I think I should stop trying to be so pretentious and stop trying to be all like, making beats and stuff like that, when I can actually just strip everything down. Sing from the heart, and see where that takes me. So it’s a lot of voice and soul.”

WRITING HER OWN MUSIC

“I am not producing [my music], I’m writing. But I’m also getting a few friends on board to write and produce with me. At one point I was like, “I wanna do everything on my own!” But I have no idea how to, and I was like, “okay, maybe the idea here is to collaborate.” I don’t know why I never saw it until recently, the greatness of collaboration, and having more brains. I think if you really know what you want, then you can be a one-man-band, but you need a team to get going. So I’m finding my team right now.

It’s taking a while, but I’m confident that it can go somewhere. And I’m unsigned now, so as scary as that is, there’s a certain kind of freedom that… do I want or do I not want? I’m going to have to find out. I’ve only been unsigned for two months, so where is this gonna take me? It’s all up to me now.”

DREAM COLLABORATIONS

“I’ve always wanted a track with Nathan Hartono, if you’re talking about local acts. Nathan had this song with MMLD, and it’s really good. It’s so good. When I was listening to it, I was like “WHAT!! It’s Singaporean people, that’s crazy!” So I’ve always wanted to have a song with Nathan. I feel like our voices can really go. Internationally, it’s gotta be JT [Justin Timberlake] I always sing to his songs as if I’m singing with him. But there’s a lot more, I won’t stop myself with just JT and Nathan.”

 

 

SINGING IN MALAY

“I wanna try and do both [English and Malay songs]. In my English songs there will be Malay words, I enjoy singing in Malay. It’s a very different emotion when I sing in English. Because I think my first language is still Malay, I speak it at home. It’s very natural. But then for some reason, when I have Malay interviews, I speak English. Like, what’s going on?! But I want to sing in English because I also grew up listening to English music, singing in English, and I just wanna put myself in a place where I make everything.”

UPCOMING MUSIC RELEASES, INCLUDING A LIVE EP

“The Malay music is coming soon, but right now, the EP that I’m working on, is predominantly just English stuff. Just stuff that I’ve written the past two years that I wanna let out. We’re gonna do like, a live thing, it’s recorded live, it’s a live EP. So there’s my band, a sound engineer, myself, a couple of video guys, and we’re just gonna go. Hit record, and hit the button and just record everything. I’m doing it, not even for the concept or whatever, but just to put it out. And not worry about money, because it definitely costs a lot less doing that than doing a proper production. So then from there, we’ll probably go into production, and then I’m also planning shows and tours. It’s exciting, just gotta make sure it happens.”

 

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THOUGHTS ON SINGING HER ORIGINAL SONGS

“The cliche answer would be like, “I love singing my own songs”, but honestly right, because I’m so used to singing songs other people write for me, and I’m so used to interpreting their stories and making it mine, that when I’m singing my stories, I’m learning to believe it. I’m still learning to believe it, because it’s too easy. Right now, it’s just me. At this point it’s just me. Back then, it was somebody else’s story and experience, “okay Aisyah, listen to this demo, what do you think?” I immediately attach my story to this. I find my stories and I attach it to the song, and that’s how I am able to emote. I go in, I track my vocals, I zhao. But writing my own songs is like… “Now it’s ALL you, Aisyah. It’s your story, it’s your interpretation, how are you going to emote?” So it’s very different now. It’s a very different game.

I sang 3 or 4 of my new songs at my latest show — it was nerve-wrecking, because if anything, I’m not just the singer anymore. I’m now the person owning that story, and I think at one point I will find my jive and my vibe, and I will find the flow, but right now, it’s still very scary, singing my own songs. I forget the lyrics — now I understand! Because all these songwriters are like, ‘I can’t remember my own lyrics!” And I used to be like, “Are you crazy? Like, that’s your song, how can you not remember?”

Before I go on set, I gotta look at my lyrics, and then sometimes I forget and I just make something up. But I get it now. So, I don’t know what that is. Nerves? Because it’s yours. So now it’s like, you’ve got nobody else to blame but you, if it’s a whack song… but I’m excited.

I’m excited to learn more about myself, to see if people don’t accept my music, if people accept my music. You always don’t focus on the good things. If people do not accept my music, I am excited to learn to deal with myself, and not let myself drown. I want that lesson. But I also wanna be able to support and be supportive of people who support me. There’s so many things to figure out, but fun. I’m looking forward to every day, just in case I die [laughs]. Just in case. So I gotta look forward to it. I cannot keep ruining it for myself.”

HOW SHE HAS GROWN AS AN ARTIST

“Wow. I am a different person from who I was three years ago, or a year ago. I’m so different. Things that used to piss me off then don’t piss me off now, things that I didn’t care for then, I care for now.

I think my voice matured very quickly. So every single time I listen to a track, that was made like three years ago, for example, I’m like, “Who is that?!” But I’ve always sung from my emotions. I’ve always needed emotions to help me push my singing. Honestly, it only got better after the biggest heartbreak of my life. People were coming up to me like, “Where is that from? Where are you singing from?” And I don’t go into details, but sometimes… I don’t know, it’s a bit dysfunctional. Like, you kinda want to feel sad, in order for you to be able to create. Or in order for you to be able to just emote.

That happened when I was like, 19, 20, when I just started out. Before that, I was whack. It was so bad. My voice… I couldn’t project, I didn’t have confidence to project my voice, I would stand at the back with the band, and they’d be like, “why are you standing so far away from the audience?” And I’d be like, “I don’t have to get so close, I’m just singing.” And I was so stiff, like, my armpits were just constantly together. Yeah, so then I got more comfortable, I did some vocal classes with my teacher, and she’s like, “the energy is inside you.” Because everybody was talking about, “I need to feel the energy, I need to feel the energy!” So I learnt a lot in that competition [Akademi Fantasia].

She was like, “when you emote, when you stretch your hands and when you show people, you’re not just doing it for the sake of the visual, it’s because you mean it. So you’ve gotta mean every movement you do, you’ve gotta feel it, you’ve gotta feel the energy going through your fingers and into the crowd.” So it’s lessons like that makes me improve, and I get better as I go along.

But yeah, I would say I am my strongest now — vocally, physically, mentally, emotionally. I wish I could have my sadness from when I was 20 [laughs], just bring it back, because i’m a lot happier now. So when I sing, it shows. I’m not so sad anymore, when I sing. I’m still a downer, but I’m not as sad anymore when I sing. So yeah, it’s being able to tap into the emotion and tap out. You cannot just tap in and stay there for two nights then come out… you gotta make a day trip into that emotion, tap, then go. But yeah, I’m a lot stronger now.”

 

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ON FILMING ‘FRIED RICE PARADISE’

Fried Rice Paradise came… because me and Dick Lee, we’ve gotten acquainted for years, we just never got to working together on a project. So they wanted me to be in it, but they couldn’t… I guess they were trying to find a role for me. So the moment I heard that it was gonna be a musical, I immediately said yes.

First, I know Fried Rice Paradise, although I haven’t seen it yet, but I know it, I know the songs, and it’s like a big thing here. But, also because it’s a musical, and like, I used to have this thing where I was like, “I’m not gonna act, unless it’s just a musical. I’m a musician, I’m not gonna act, or whatever.” I used to have that, y’know? But now, after I did Fried Rice Paradise, I just sang ONE song, it’s not even like a musical-musical, right? But I don’t know, I think I’m starting to like it.

Yeah, I loved it, being able to play somebody else, and look different, and just meet all these people who are sparring with you, in terms of like, acting, and it’s not even their words, it’s not even, I guess, their story, but it’s the energy… I don’t know, it’s hard to explain. I think it was a really good experience for me, because I have done other acting gigs, but it was like dra-medy, and it’s like nothing too serious, and this is my first ever like, love-love, y’know… got love interest, and I’m sad and everything, I’m in love, so that’s another part of me that has never come out, basically. I made a lot of great friends, I think we’re all still talking, until today.

I think I was lucky to have been involved in a drama series where they had a lot of budget, y’know, where they went to Malaysia to film, the cinematography is amazing, and it really looked like a movie.”

HER NON-MUSICAL ASPIRATIONS

“I wanna cut people’s hair. I’ve always wanted to cut people’s hair, but I should cut my hair first. I wanna be able to shape people’s faces. Like I’ve always found it very interesting that your hair is your crown, so for you to be able to do someone’s hair… I can’t even do my hair, but if I could do somebody’s hair and they be happy with it? I can’t design anything, so I feel like if I could cut hair, that’d be crazy. So cutting people’s hair, and going for YTT [laughs].

I’ve been doing yoga for like a year, and I’ve been going on and off with it, because I’m always making excuses, like flying, and stuff like that. So I would think that if I do YTT, the Teacher Training programme, if I do that, then I would have no choice but to get good at it. I’d challenge myself to get really good at it, because I have to teach people, and if I have to teach people then I gotta be really skilful, right, so that’s one thing I really wanna do. Other than that, it’s putting my music out, sis!”

HER GO-TO MAKEUP LOOK

“I have one. Which is clean dewy skin, and red lips. The eyeliner, it’s the old Hollywood look. So that’s my go to “corporate” look. For shows, I like to get crazy, but I don’t think i’ve gotten crazy yet. It still feels very “beauty”, right now, which I don’t have a problem with, because I think it suits my sensual… it’s more of a buildup. It’s more building up and understanding your expressions and everything. But as of right now, I’m very happy with how I look, always, with my makeup.

I make sure I am contoured, that’s my thing. Very, very contoured. And everything else, I just leave it to the makeup artist. Give me eyelashes, nice brows, highlighter, done. The skin has to be good, I have to be contoured, everything else I am pretty much alright. I don’t really like dark lips, though. Like purple, plum… either a bold red or a nude lip. That’s it! And sparkles. I gotta sparkle. In everything. So that’s my look.”

 

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THINGS SHE WISHES SHE KNEW AT 19

“I feel if I could write a letter to a parallel Aisyah in another universe, it would be like… it’s so simple though. And I believe that life is very cliche, so it’s: You don’t have to fear anything. There’s no need for fear. Because its a build-up, right? From 19 years old, you’re gonna build it up, you’re gonna build the fear up, and the moment you reach a certain age, when you think that, “oh, okay, I can be fearless!” It’s still programmed in your body, your body has programmed the fear, and your body always wants to go back to the fear. So, there’s no need for fear. You know what you want, you know what you’re not afraid of, you just gotta go get it. There’s so much fear, I think, in the young, little Aisyah. Phew. It’s insane. Like, I wouldn’t even say anything bad to my mom, or I wouldn’t even like… “I just wanna go out!” And go out and leave and be like, all rebellious — I was never that kid. I was so afraid. I was never the bully, I was never anything because I was just afraid of repercussions. I don’t even know what the repercussions were.

It’s just taking that leap, constantly being brave enough to take that leap. It’s so simple, but yo. Stuff like this right, I talk to myself and i’m like, “this is shit people tell me every day, I see on Instagram quotes, “be brave, be brave,”, but it’s until you really like, embody right, and then you reflect, and it’s like — it’s just about being brave. But you GET it. It’s not just because everybody’s saying it, it’s not because you see it on Instagram, or the quotes or whatever. But it’s because you really believe that by being brave, it’s how you are able to look at everything from another light.

With bravery comes the confidence, and believing in yourself and everything, so it’s so important! Even if you’re doing whatever, it doesn’t have to be music. You can be an accountant and still be brave and confident, you can be a Grab driver and still be brave and confident, y’know.

My sister embodies a lot of that. And she’s like, someone I look up to. She’s always like, “oh, I don’t know, I’m not beautiful…” and I’m like, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Because she exudes confidence and she’s likeable and everything, so she’s always my threshold. To be a person, I’ve gotta be like her. Yeah. She’s my idol.”

FUTURE GOALS

“It’s not tangible, it’s more like finding stillness. [On the inside], I’m like, stormy, y’know? It’s constantly raining on the inside. So it’s just like, finding that stillness in the rain. And I don’t want the rain to go, it doesn’t have to go anywhere, it’s just me, just finding a place, where I can just…”I’m happy here”.

Spiritually, I think it’s very important, I need to understand the body. I’m there now, I want to look for that, because I believe that. That’s why you see Clarence [our makeup artist], he’s glowing because he knows his body. He’s so zen, he’s so balanced, he knows his body.

And I think with that, whatever you do, you’re gonna find the good in everything. So I would love to “sell out”, and play to 30,000 people, but I wanna play in that setting, happy with myself. I don’t wanna play, like, still crazy inside. But actually, all this crazy crazy, all this dysfunction actually helps you perform better. So I don’t know. I’m at a good place though. I’m slowly doing it.”

Follow Aisyah Aziz on Instagram here.

 

PHOTOGRAPHY BY ADELE CHAN, PHOTOGRAPHED USING THE APPLE IPHONE 11 PRO.
MAKEUP BY CLARENCE LEE.
HAIR BY JUSTIN JAVIER FROM SHUNJI MATSUO USING SHISEIDO PROFESSIONAL.
STYLING BY RANDOLPH TAN.