Q&A WITH SINGER & RADIO PRESENTER VANDETTA

Published on 6 September 2017

By Melanie Lee

Vanessa Fernandez aka Vandetta has worn many hats in the local music industry these past 16 years: member of hip-hop group UrbanXchange, member of audio-visual collective Syndicate, producer-presenter with 987FM, Programme Director of the former Lush 99.5FM station amongst others. With the recent release of her five-track EP “Mindkiller”, the prolific 34-year-old shares where she’s at right now in her music journey.

Mindkiller EP Artwork by Eric Foenander

While creating the “Mindkiller” EP, what were you trying to “kill” in your mind?

Fear. I was afraid of all the things in my head telling me that I shouldn’t make music any more. “You have no time. You’re getting too old. You won’t make it anyway. You have to make money.” There were all these reasons to stop practising my craft or expressing myself through art. It would’ve been a shame if I had listened to these voices in my head because I really enjoy creating.

This EP is supposed to be an exploration of what enables an artist to continue creating in the face of adversity. Can you share what insights you gained while producing these tracks?

Musicians are people too, so like everyone else, we sometimes find life a struggle. Most of the songs are variations of the same message, which is not giving up, not listening to negativity, choosing your influences wisely in the age of influencers, working hard and using your own influence positively too. Above all, you have to accept that you will have fear. Work through it anyway and remember that you cannot do it alone. You must be humble, ask for help, and respect people.

What has your work in the radio taught you about convincing more Singaporeans to listen to more local music?

Exposure to different styles and sounds strengthens community. Traditional media is a great amplification tool and is no less important than digital – the best is to combine both for larger impact and wider distribution. Algorithms push but personality pulls. Radio personalities should know what they’re talking about when it comes to music, otherwise you just show that you don’t know your own product. If you want more locals to listen to more music, you need more average Joes as advocates. Word of mouth is the most powerful conversion tool because there is trust.

How have these lessons, in turn, affected you as a musician?

Radio probably took a lot out of me at the expense of creating music for myself and managing my headspace, so I will be looking at trying to find better ways to balance helping the community and creating. A lot about being an artist is balancing your physical talent and development with your emotional well-being and resilience.

The closure of LUSH 99.5FM was a huge blow to many in the local music industry. How have you been processing this?

I went through all the stages of grief until I accepted it, I suppose. Life is cyclical because it’s filled with ups and downs. After riding many waves, I think I’ve learnt how to keep my head above the water. Hope floats!

What are you up to now?

I just released the Mindkiller EP so we went to Russia and will be continuing the tour with shows in Australia (BIGSOUND) and Shanghai (Concrete and Grass). I’m also performing at Formula 1. I plan on writing a lot of music and work towards a Vandetta album, but I’m also doing another audiophile covers record as Vanessa Fernandez next year.

At the same time, I’m also curating, producing and presenting the Singapore Sounds capsules for 938 Live, which started the day after Lush closed. Through interviews, I profile artists and highlight a gig (which also has a listing accompaniment on 8days.sg). I also explain some music terminology/trivia and speak to people in arts and culture who are connected with the music scene.  

Tell us more about your favourite music collaborations.

Octover, my album project with producer Jason Tan was my first foray into electronic music and with the Syndicate crew so that is very special to me. Jason was a producer on the Urban Xchange album when I first started making music professionally, and we have a very deep connection musically. He’s my mentor and I learned to trust people in music again because of our work.

I think the cover of “Circling Square” produced by Kiat on my Mindkiller EP would have to be another because it’s a beautiful love song written by Leslie Low and one of my favourite local tunes by ‘90s band Humpback Oak. We actually made it two years ago for a live broadcast for Lush on National Day when we played 48 hours of purely local music.

I’m currently collaborating with .gif for The Great Singapore Replay, where we remixed “Shanty” by The Quests, a song that beat The Beatles on the Singapore charts in 1964. They’re my favourite local group, so that was a bit of a dream come true for me.

Listen to “ONZ”, one of the tracks from Vandetta’s Mindkiller EP here:

Mindkiller is available on these platforms.  

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