These three girls went from nobodies to mini celebrities overnight when they took part and won Mediacorp Channel U’s ‘SuperBand” competition in 2008. Calling themselves Tuzi (Mandarin for ‘Rabbit’), the trio is gearing up for their album release launch gig on August 19 at Home Club.
Carissa Foo (bassist/singer) and Sarah Lam (guitarist/singer) have been best friends since 13 and were in the same secondary school. Drummer Joyce Tan was in junior college with Carissa and through her, became friends with Sarah. Together, they have this strong can-do spirit that’s fun, energetic and earnest.
Not your typical run-of-the-mill manufactured Mandarin pop album, Tuzi’s new album, ‘Hey!’, is filled with delightful indie pop melodies with traces of influences from bands such as The Beatles, The Artic Monkeys and The Kooks.
I chatted with Joyce about Tuzi’s brief history, the new album and more.
When did you all decide to form a band?
Carissa and Sarah have been playing music together since their secondary school days, but they were playing stuff that were more towards the emo/punk genre. The band really only got together about two months before Superband 2008 when Carissa and I saw the advertisement for the competition on the bus to school one afternoon. Carissa just casually mentioned about how Sarah and her should go for the auditions, but the problem was that they had no drummer. They’ve been playing music together for almost three years but never did have a drummer as they couldn’t find one committed enough and who shared their wavelength. Just when Carissa mentioned about participating, she looked to me and asked if I wanted to play for her band. And that was when it all came together. It was a somewhat spontaneous decision and we wanted to join for the fun of it and hence formed the band.
How long have you been playing the drums?
I have been playing drums in a band setting since I was 16 or 17, that's about six or seven years now. But I was only jamming casually with different people till I joined NTU's jazz and blues band where I had, more or less, regular band mates, and till Tuzi was formed. I was in my secondary school military band's percussion section, hence the interest in rhythm section.
Who were your musical influences?
Hmmm... we have quite different music influences. Sarah listens to stuff from Avenged Sevenfold, Trivium, Joe Satriani, Story of the Year, Thrice, the Used to Blink 182. Although she listens to quite heavy stuff, she does dig bands like Death Cab for Cutie and the Kooks. Her guitar hero is John Petrucci. Carissa likes English music, bands like the Kooks, Razorlight, The Arctic Monkeys, The Libertines and Babyshambles are some of her favourites. Her bass heroes include Paul McCartney, Steve Harris and local bassist Wendy Phua. As for my musical influences, they include Radiohead, The White Stripes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs. As for the drummers that influence me, they are Karen Carpenter, Akira Jimbo, Matt Helder and Andy Hurley. And last but not least, although we may differ in our music taste, the three of us are massive fans of the Beatles!
Why a band performing in Mandarin?
Partly because the band was formed for a Mandarin band competition and it was the competition that gave birth to Tuzi. But as we progressed, we realized that we wanted to stick to performing in our mother tongue not just because of Superband. We all speak English in our daily lives and Chinese is a language that we do not use frequently and as a result have become quite unfamiliar. But through singing and listening to Chinese songs and writing lyrics, we slowly re-familiarize ourselves with the language and being Chinese, Mandarin is something that we're proud of. We may not be most eloquent in Mandarin but we will try and continue to better ourselves.
Why the name Tuzi?
Actually we're called Tuzi because we're all born in the year of the Rabbit – 1987!
Why did you decide to take part in Superband?
It was really a spontaneous thing, it just so happened that when Carissa casually asked Sarah and I, we didn’t reject the idea and agreed. I think it was also because the holidays were nearing and we wanted to make good use of the time having fun.
What was the whole experience like and what have you learnt from it?
When we were still part of it, every moment was nerve-wrecking. We were constantly worrying about the arrangements, performance... Of course when we were on stage, we enjoyed ourselves. I guess also because we were a new band when we joined, the competition really forced us to work as a band and improve at a faster speed that usual bands would. We saw each other almost everyday and were practicing almost every night after school. As this is an independent project, just like most indie bands, we had to liaise with CD manufacturing plants ourselves to seek out the best rates in town for quality CD pressing and also look for good mastering engineers overseas. By the time we were done with these, it was already 2010!
What has the band been up to since Superband?
After the competition ended, we were mostly busy with school and writing music. We would churn out melodies and lyrics, putting them together and jamming them out during rehearsal sessions. Sometimes we would rearrange the songs or amend the lyrics when we feel that they didn’t sound right. We also spent time looking for a good studio, trying out different recording studios before finally settling for Snakeweed Studios. We then started recording, which was an extremely long and tiring process but at the same time enriching and satisfying. It became especially draining and stressful when it was our last semester because we were very busy with our final year projects and still had to lug our gears to the recording studio after school.
Tell us about your upcoming album.
Our debut album is called ‘Hey!’. "Hey" is a casual greeting and we thought it is really appropriate because we have been away from the Chinese music scene for almost two years and it is a good way to re-introduce and proclaim to the public that we are back. The album largely dabbles with the idea of hope and the multiple possibilities that it entails. It is basically an album that was motivated by the desire to express individuality and idiosyncrasy in a generic and closed world. In a postmodern Beckettian world where people no longer believe in waiting, where waiting amounts to nothing else but emptiness, we hope to re-instill hope in that, waiting opens doors of possibilities. It is also not a generic Mando-pop band album where the songs are ‘pop-ish’ and ‘sing-along’ types. ‘Hey!’ requires one to pay attention to the meticulous care that has been taken to arrange the melodies and instruments. It is an album that one can listen to again and again, each time surprised by the details that has gone into the construction of the songs.
Any plans to try to break it overseas, like in Taiwan?
We are actually in the midst of contacting overseas performance venues, hoping to perform at the various pubs/cafes/events or even festivals in countries like Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. We hope to have our music heard at these countries too.
Has it been difficult being an all-girl band in the Mandarin pop scene in Singapore?
It is definitely tough being in the local Mandarin pop scene - especially when you are indie - since there isn't that large a 'scene' and audience size in Singapore to begin with. Singaporeans pay much more attention to overseas pop culture rather than local music, so we hope fellow Singaporeans could perhaps be more receptive to the type of music we play and not judge us based on our appearance or gender. I think being an ‘all-girl’ band kinda makes us a little more noticeable since there are more guys playing rock/pop music than girls. I would say the hardest part about being an all-girl band is the fact that we've got such heavy equipment and not that much physical strength to carry them around. Haha!
What's happening at your album launch at Home Club?
Well, it's more of an album party where we celebrate the completion and launch of the album, playing songs from our debut album ‘Hey!’. It's also like a 'live' preview of the entire album so people who might have heard about the album, may be keen to make a purchase may do so on the actual day. The party will include performances by other new as well as veteran Chinese indie bands, namely Jisa, Geminus and LGF.
Tuzi’s Album Launch Party is on August 19 at Home Club. Admission at $12.
About Patrick Chng
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.