Profile: Nathan Hartono

Published on 8 December 2015

He prefers to keep a low profile, but Nathan Hartono can’t help making waves.

BY JO TAN

Nathan Hartono is not your usual 24 year-old singing star. Frank Sinatra is his music hero, plain tees and decidedly un-skinny jeans are his outfit of choice. His ‘music videos’ are the sum of a single camera filming him in the studio recording a song, and on his Instagram account, he warns, “I’m a terrible influence(r), don’t follow me.”

“I’ve always liked the simplicity and honesty of delivering a message through words, through a melody,” says the singer/songwriter whose unassuming attitude belies his chiselled charm. With a 10-year career in music, three albums to his name and various high-profile international performances, the one-time singing champ (he won Teenage Icon in 2005, organised by Teenage magazine) shys away from public attention. “I understand when people brand themselves. But for now, I dig simplicity, not trying to hide yourself from the audience.”

In fact, the confessed introvert bares his soul every Wednesday, not on YouTube with the cool kids, but on a podcast titled Good Hang. “I love podcasts. I’ve been listening to them for the past seven, eight years. You learn so much and get so many new perspectives just listening to someone’s unfiltered thoughts, not watered down for a two-minute segment,” explains Hartono.

Each Good Hang installment consists of about 60 laid-back minutes of him talking and joking with actor/photographer Jon Cancio about anything and everything. “Commercial success was never the aim [of the podcast] — very few people listen to podcasts, let alone podcasts lasting beyond an hour! But this was an itch I always wanted to scratch. If you want something, just do it, right?”

That’s been Hartono’s philosophy the past few years, which saw him diving headfirst into various pursuits. In 2012, he played the lead in Pangdemonium’s Spring Awakening, his first musical. He then attended Boston’s Berklee College of Music, and last year, took a sabbatical to pursue hands-on music opportunities. This year, for his maiden screen role, he’s playing a main character in HBO Asia’s supernatural series Halfworlds, which premiered last month.

“I enjoy being thrown into the deep end. That’s when you learn the fastest,” he says with a smile. “With this entire filming process, I was watching more than anything: observing the other actors who’ve been working in TV and film for a decade or more, even just walking by myself through the set because it’s just so cool.”

But despite the glitz of the screen, it’s back to music for now. “I’m writing, recording, ramping up for upcoming concerts, using what I learnt at Berklee. It’s all about music. Everything else is just trying different things and adding a little spice, but singing is really the comfort zone. It’s nice to walk out for a bit, but I always want to go back.”

Catch Nathan Hartono in Frankly It’s Christmas: A Jazzy Christmas at the Esplanade Concert Hall, 18 December.

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