Singer-songwriter, a sweet mellow voice, bubbly energy and petite. These words describe Debbi Koh just as well as they describe the established artist she's teamed up with, Inch Chua. It's no wonder that Inch said she sees a little of herself in Debbi...
Singer-songwriter, a sweet mellow voice, bubbly energy and petite. These words describe Debbi Koh just as well as they describe the established artist she's teamed up with, Inch Chua. It's no wonder that Inch said she sees a little of herself in Debbi.
Beginning with the End in Mind
In the next few decades, you might catch iNCH retiring on a farm “with a thousand cats!” “And a fox too?” Debbi proposes. (She really likes foxes.) iNCH is already looking forward to retirement. Fingers crossed, it won’t be anytime soon.
iNCH has her own brand of “folktronica” – and like the name suggests, it is a mix of organic instrumentation and technology. Peppered with honesty, she describes a tension bubbling under the current era of music and uses her own works to explore the topic.
Electronic beats seem to weave a common thread between Debbi and iNCH’s music. Coming from a singer-songwriter background, Debbi is starting to fiddle with the electronic side of her sound too. It’s all about storytelling for Debbi and her music comes from a very specific and personal location – the window ledge in her bedroom. She wants to be vulnerable, to connect with fans, listeners and YouTube passers-by, and let them know they’re not alone.
It’s not retirement for her yet. As a future composer and arranger, Debbi wants to help artists reach their potential and produce songs. If she were to retire though, it just might be on a farm with foxes, plenty of them.
Local Music: A Concoction
iNCH grew up in a family who had a deep love for local music. Naturally, she was bombarded with a wide exposure to Singapore music across the decades. iNCH sees local music as a juice box of cultures in sunny Singapore packaging. Just like the 60s, some local music continues to combine a concoction of imported cultures from the East and West.
Not everyone has an understanding of Singapore’s rich music history, however. Like Debbi, for instance. Apart from the annual National Day songs (which are classic hits in their own right), Debbi admits she hasn’t been exposed to Singapore Classics. She does listen to Electrico though, having a minor fangirl moment over Amanda Ling, also an artist involved in The Great Singapore Replay.
iNCH gets where Debbi is coming from, “It’s quite unfortunate, a lot of what we know as real organic music gets a bit tricky for younger generations to get a hold of.”
‘Messing’ with History
Tasked with Come Home to Me by Shirley Nair & The Silver Strings, a staple of the 60s, it’ll be interesting to see how this collaboration plays out. We have iNCH who is already familiar with the song and its context, and then you have Debbi who hardly listens to local classics. How will their different approaches unfold?
No matter their background, the pair share a common hope to capture the essence of Come Home to Me in their reimagination. It’s a quite a challenge they’ve taken on, Debbi admits. “It puts a tad bit of pressure on me… you want to do the song justice.” Still, they will be taking on the task with playful energy as iNCH chirped, “The opportunity to even mess with that is exciting!”
Still, it can be sensitive territory when it comes to remaking a Singapore classic. iNCH speaks for both of them when she mentions her aim “to not disrespect anybody or butcher a piece of history” while working on this project.
It seems evident right from the start that their journey is going to be messy, honest and more than anything, a homage to Singapore’s velvety rich 60s scene.
“I love collaborations but it has to happen organically and it has to happen genuinely or else it doesn’t work for me,” says iNCH.
Space to Develop
Thankfully, her partnership with Debbi has been just that, on their journey to reimagine Come Home to Me by Shirley Nair and the Silver Strings. For Debbi, who makes music from a very personal space, and for iNCH, who has gone from a “recluse” to a “functional extrovert”, the key to their partnership is the room for a safe space.
“There will always be a need to experiment with people and still come back home like a little squirrel into your safe space,” says iNCH as Debbi nods along in full agreement. It’s a dance between vulnerability and personal room for the pair, reaching for just the right distance where “walls come down”.
Finding that balance isn’t always easy, With limited time together iNCH provides support and guides Debbi along her ideas. From there Debbi enters her own space and develops the song in her style. “I tried to analyse it in a way where I could bring out the emotion of the lyrics more,” says Debbi. Expect a “deeper and darker” sound drawing from both the lyrics of “Come Home to Me” and her own experiences.
The Ever-Changing Sound
The “Singaporean sound” is something all local artists have to grapple with. Growing up on a hearty diet of local music, iNCH tackles the topic from a macroscopic angle. “The real essence of Singapore music really comes from the fact that we extrapolate so much from everywhere else that we have come to our own cocktail of cultures.”
In fact, for her, there really isn’t one identifiable sound that is Singaporean. “Genre-wise [music] has changed and evolved so many times over. Our musical trends to date are still changing faster than any point of time.”
And Debbi exemplifies just that. Within the past two years, she has been constantly evolving. Starting with a melancholic singer-songwriter sound, she has since explored electronic and heavier rock sounds. For the duo, at the end of the day, it is the ever-changing style derived from an assimilation of various genres that makes a song Singaporean.
In Ten Years
Despite Debbi’s concern with stability when pursuing a career in music, she still sees herself in the scene in ten years. “Hopefully, as a mentor and teacher. Also doing my own music, and touring as many places as possible to share my music with everyone.”
iNCH, on the other hand, is already hoping to plan for retirement in the next decade. “I'd rather be a spectator maybe,” she says. But if you’re a fan, don’t fret yet, there might still be hope. “But who knows? I may not be able to quit ‘cause of my addiction to performance.”
No matter what their plans are for the decade ahead, their outlook for the music scene is a positive one. “I think the music scene in Singapore will expand a lot more, who knows, maybe one of our local artists may win a Grammy!” says Debbi.
Perhaps the key to that elusive Grammy is diversification? Debbi hopes that musicians will branch out and continue to diversify more. Even if that Grammy remains out of reach, she thinks with a wider range of genres, “Singaporeans will be more open minded and supportive with our own local music.”
For music to grow in Singapore, iNCH believes it’s not just musicians that the country needs to cultivate, but listeners as well. She cites an “education in the appreciation of arts” as one thing she hopes will be a norm in the future.
No matter how things may or may not develop ¬– at the end of the day, the most important thing is still to start something. Highlighting that fact, Debbi shares, “You’ll start small but never give up!”