One is best known for an award-winning repertoire of uplifting songs buoyed by cherubic vocals, while the other sparks a sense of rhythmic rebellion at the sound of her soulful pipes and pulsating tracks. May and Nauser couldn’t have more contrasting music identities. But as it turns out, besides releasing new work this year, there are surprising parallels in their perspectives on nurturing talent, self-branding and vibing off the energy around them.
Tell us more about what new material you have in the works.
Corrinne May: I recently completed a few songs that were left unfinished… for years. Being a mother goes hand-in-hand with writer’s block, because sometimes you don’t have time to think about anything beyond your child’s needs. But since getting back on track, the next album, my sixth, is a lot more pared down and acoustic. I worked on it with my husband, who is my music arranger and producer, and the songs come from a deeper, more introspective place, after almost five years since my last album. I might even feature my daughter, who plays the cello; who knows!
Tabitha Nauser: Can I say it’s still mind-blowing to me that I have a single out — one that is on iTunes and Spotify? We are very close to releasing the second and third singles, with my EP coming out at the end of the year. It’s been an amazing ride and it is only the beginning, and I am beyond grateful for the positive vibes I’ve received in return for my music.
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Are there different processes in the way you produce music?
Nauser: Definitely. I just came back from Australia, where a meeting with producers to bounce off ideas ended up in a spontaneous session in the studio where we recorded two tracks—the complete opposite from the amount of time and effort put into crafting my current singles.
May: I’ve been teaching online courses as part of the songwriting faculty of the Berklee College of Music, and one of the best ways to shape a song is to go out and sing it to someone. It is in that moment when you know if it works or doesn’t. But getting to this point also has to first come from a source of truth. A mentor of mine once said: “Songwriting is like mining. You have this lump of coal, and you are trying to get that gold nugget.” You only have three minutes to tell your story; every word has to count.
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Corrinne, what is your take on formally trained versus self-taught?
I am classically trained, but I think it is great to be self-taught. You are motivated to learn by your love for music. The only limiting aspect is you usually only learn things within your scope of interest, while being formally trained exposes you to techniques across the board. Sometimes making music, or any art for that matter, needs to begin with the boring stuff—the right foundation and theory provide the tools to knowing what works and how to put them together. It isn’t as simple as scribbling down the dream you had in the morning. But those who are self-taught can also take a course at any stage of their music development to balance it all.
Tabitha, how did you nurture your talent growing up?
To me, if you can take classes, do it; because education is invaluable. I didn’t get proper vocal training, it was just a lot of me singing my lungs out late at night growing up (it started with Destiny’s Child’s The Writing’s on the Wall album), then properly practising to understand my voice as I grew older. If your heart’s in it and you do it every day, you’ll get there naturally.
How different is the support for local music now versus when you were starting out?
May: I think they have it better now, but that’s what people always say. To be fair, I kind of got my start in Los Angeles, playing cafés the good ol’ organic way. In this YouTube era, there is this desire to craft something sensational, to hook you in with the first listen. But I wonder about the continuity of an artist today beyond one hit, and whether they can outlive the hype of the moment. That said, there are also many more platforms and festivals on top of social media, so connectivity and engagement are much higher today. You just need to be discerning about what you say yes to, and whether you stay true to your music and your voice.
Nauser: I know people say there wasn’t that much support for local talent as early as five years ago compared to today, but I find that hard to believe because when I was on Singapore Idol, the response was massive. I feel people are ready to support [it], maybe we just didn’t have the right (or as many) platforms to showcase talent in the past. But I also think Singaporeans are more receptive today, and are slowly but surely outgrowing that stigma of local versus international talent. They are realising that we are all making music that is of good quality, that can resonate with them in the same way. We’ve also had a number of artists pave the way for future generations, proving that you can be a Singaporean artist, you can do it full time, and you can be successful beyond our shores.
Describe the link between an artist’s aesthetic and musical persona.
May: My approach to fashion is not unlike the elements to putting together a song—it is about your comfort level, emotions and how things flow and harmonise. Some brands I favour are White House Black Market, Anthropologie and Max Mara, for its structured, elegant pieces.
Nauser: I’ve always admired women who can throw on something simple and look so effortlessly put together. That’s the kind of stylish confidence I always keep in mind. All I need is a dope jacket, heels and tousled tresses.
How would you say you have put Singapore on the music map?
May: Through the people I’ve reached out to in L.A., and some of the shows I’ve done around the region—I usually mention Singapore and give them a quick geography lesson!
Nauser: Honestly, I feel like I haven’t put us on the map just yet. I’m on the way there, and making good progress, but I feel like I’m going to be able to make an even bigger impact. Just give me another year or two, and I promise we’ll have a lot more to talk about.
By Gerald Tan and Dana Koh
Photographed by Gan
Styled by Gracia Phang
Makeup: Cecilia Chng/Ceciliachng Beauty (Dick)
Hair: Edward Aw/Folliclehair (Dick)
Makeup and Hair: Grego using Keune and Bobbi Brown; Manisa Tan/PaletteInc using NARS and Keune
Fashion interns: Kelly Chung, Lynette Kee and Gerald WH Tan
Photography assistants: Keneth Tan and Loy Kok Wee