She is known as that “upside-down” guitar player; the left-hander who plays a regular right-handed guitar.
While that might be the first thing people notice when Amanda Tee gets up on stage, it is her voice, self-deprecating humour and performance that will stay in the hearts and minds of audiences.
Tee have been active in the scene for a good 10 years. The 25-year-old Singaporean may be known for playing covers in the pub circuit, but she has also been actively writing songs since the age of 15.
She recently released her second EP, ‘Amnesiac’, on 9 August and is now on a mini-tour to promote it, together with singer-songwriter-bassist Nelson Tan who also released his new EP on the same day.
inSing caught up with Tee to talk about her musical journey, the new EP and more.
Tee will perform at the Esplanade Concourse, Beer Market and Timbre @ The Substation. Details below
You started out playing covers. Who influenced you musically?
I was more into rock when I first started out, learning songs by Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Guns N’ Roses, etc – just the guitars. It was when I wanted to perform for a charity busking event that I decided to see if I could sing and play the acoustic guitar. I guess it went well! I managed to balance my rock influences with the more mellow artistes such as Shawn Mullins, Suzanne Vega, Tori Amos, Joni Mitchell.
And when did you start writing your own songs?
I started writing songs just shortly after I began to perform, around 15. I was extremely shy with the songs and never, ever let anyone I know listen to them. Thank goodness for the internet – I shared most of my stuff there.
It was in 2011 that you released your first EP, ‘Take It Or Leave It’. That was a DIY effort, too. Was it difficult doing everything yourself?
Yeah, I found out how tiring it was when I was doing it. The challenging part was wondering whether to trust your choices, especially when your senses are dulled from listening to the tracks too many times.
How long have you been performing in the pub circuit?
I think it has been around seven years or so. I started out just subbing in for bands, then gradually got myself some residential gigs, too. I’ve played at places like Timbre, Wala-Wala, Harry's and many other random places. I am now playing at Hood Cafe & Bar, CMPB at Dempsey, Beer Market and Paulaner Brauhaus.
Do you sneak in your originals at those places?
I do sometimes, especially at the quieter places or for weekday crowds.
You're one of the few who plays the pub circuit that releases original material, too. Do you think pub musicians who also write their own songs have it tough because people tend to want to hear the covers?
Yes. There are times when people are supportive, but most times, the audiences are more likely to want to hear songs they've heard of.
For the current tour, you're playing all originals?
Yup, all originals. And at places where we play covers like Timbre, Hood and Beer Market. It's going to be refreshing.
How did you and Nelson Tan come to collaborate?
We first spoke about doing an original duet together, and when we realised we each had material we could put out, we decided to do a launch together. It would let us share the work in terms of planning the launch and promotional stuff, since we both knew how hard it was to do it alone. So I sang a duet on his EP and he sang on a duet on mine.
The new EP is stronger than your debut in terms of songwriting and production. It has more hooks.
That's great to hear. The reason why I waited so long was because I wasn't sure. The stuff isn't the sort that would catch people's attention, and well... I guess one is never satisfied with his or her own work. Working with Nelson at least gave me a timeline and deadline, and made me work towards something substantial.
Why do you think it wouldn't catch people's attention? Is it because it’s not good enough for “hipsters”?
Album art for Amanda Tee's 'Amnesiac'
Yeah, for one… no tapered jeans, buttoned up shirts and wide-rimmed glasses (laughs). I've had people – both listeners and professionals in the original music industry – telling me I needed more hooks for my stuff... but it's just not how I like the music to be. It's more folk-country, which attracts fewer people, too.
How did the folk-country influence come in?
It was probably partly the rebel in me coming out. After playing Top 40 almost every day for so long, I needed a different outlet. I've also always loved country and folk music. Not many people I know appreciate those. Taylor Swift doesn't count.
About the new EP, there are two songs ‘Sleep’ and ‘Amnesia’ that kind of bookend it. Is it a running theme?
I was kind of working on a theme, about how we go through life in cycles without really knowing so. I kind of put it in a way where we start on a clean slate (first song ‘Amnesia’) then build things up, have them fall apart, then end off going back to sleep to restart again.
Amanda Tee & Nelson Double EP Launch Tour | Date: 21, 22 August 2014 | Time: 6.16pm, 7.15pm | Venue: Esplanade Concourse, 1 Esplanade Drive | Free entry
Amanda Tee & Nelson Double EP Launch Tour | Date: 7 September 2014 | Time: 8pm | Venue: Beer Market, #01-17/02-02 Clarke Quay, 3B River Valley Road | Free entry
Amanda Tee & Nelson Double EP Launch Tour | Date: 17 September 2014 | Time: 7pm | Venue: Timbre @ The Substation, 45 Armenian Street | Free entry
Forever young at heart, Patrick Chng loves going to gigs and checking out Singapore bands. He has also been playing in bands since the late 1980s, writing about music and being an important mover and shaker in the Singapore indie music scene. When he's not checking out or playing gigs, he's at home playing with his guitars and updating his Facebook.