Flipping through the postcards with Amanda Ong
“If I could narrow down what I like about music, it would be a cappella. That’s what I’m most passionate about…”Amanda Ong
They say that first impressions are the most meaningful, whether you’re conducting a job interview, or maybe meeting your partner’s family for the first time, many would say that the initial interaction with someone is generally the most impactful. I found this to be acutely accurate when I was introduced to Amanda Ong and her many talents. I had no prior knowledge of the Singapore-based singer-songwriter, so at first mention, I really didn’t know what to expect.
As a complete outsider looking in, I jumped over to YouTube, searched Amanda Ong, and clicked the first music video that came up “Another Little Postcard.” I was instantly welcomed by a heartwarming track about internal growth, overcoming obstacles, and recognizing personal changes beyond the surface level. The project highlighted a very dynamic, refreshing personality teamed with euphonious cadences and a voice of beauty.
Not even halfway through the track, I found myself wearing a smile and singing right along. And just like that, I became Amanda’s newest fan. As I continued to venture through Amanda’s collection, I noticed that there was a constant positive energy emanating from her message. Her lyrics are honest, emotionally driven, and often very relatable. Comparative to diary entries, Amanda touches on unique topics and experiences that are dearest to her and then delivers those sentiments within warm, generally upbeat performances that are sure to win hearts over.
Amongst the impressive a cappella projects, creative covers, collaborations, and solos, I found myself completely immersed. I couldn’t deny it either, but the more I listened, the more it felt as if I was getting to know Amanda without even asking a single interview question yet! Eager to learn more, I caught up with Amanda, to find out what really shapes the indie singer.
Thank you for giving us a little time Amanda! Tell us a bit about your background, when did you discover that you had a talent for singing? How did you start your musical journey?
I wasn’t always a singer, but I have had music in my life since I was born because my father is a pianist. I had piano lessons as a child, but I gave up on it prematurely (unfortunately)! In school, I joined the choir, symphonic band, and multiple a cappella groups. I only realised I liked singing when I was fifteen, when I recorded a voice memo on my 15th birthday singing “Fifteen” by Taylor Swift. I liked how I sounded, and when I was brave enough to let others listen to the voice memo, they liked it too! That gave me a slight confidence boost, and I decided to post more covers on SoundCloud and YouTube. They were usually just rough recordings with my iPhone, but as the years went by, I was able to get my hands on some proper recording equipment and I have a very self-made home recording studio now where I record my demos and the vocals for the songs I release.
It’s incredible how much that slight boost in confidence carved out the path for your future as a singer. Speaking of singers, your bio references the likes of dodie and Zee Avi – Who do you consider amongst your major musical influences, and what is it about them that inspires you to create music?
I would say that dodie is my biggest influence because I truly love the nuances she creates in her lyric writing, and how she pairs it with the perfect instrumentals or vocals. There are artists that I also am deeply inspired by, but I haven’t yet dissected their music enough (like I have with dodie’s) to mimic and eventually create music that makes me feel the way I feel when I listen to their music – and among these people are Pomplamoose, Jacob Collier, Rachel Bloom, just to name a few.
Music, whether playing an instrument or singing, surely has a unique way to tap into feelings and is very healing by nature. We’ve seen you play a few instruments in your videos; guitar and ukulele mostly. What other instruments do you play, and which would you say gives you the most satisfaction?
Apart from acoustic guitar and ukulele, I play the piano and some percussion! It’s mostly what I’ve learned from the clubs I joined in school, but the thing that still gives me the most satisfaction is singing, which is why my favourite thing to create is a cappella!
Aside from music and singing, what other passions get you out of bed in the morning?
I am not really a fitness junkie, but I do enjoy yoga, pole fitness, and inline skating! I also like learning languages, and I’m currently learning French and Hindi!
That’s awesome! I’m envious… I’ve always wanted to learn another language! So, what did your typical day look like before becoming a recognized singer-songwriter?
Haha, I don’t think I’m super recognised yet, so my life hasn’t changed that much. Before I decided to make music my side hustle though, I did still spend my free time jamming with my guitar, but I didn’t do many recordings. Now that I want it to be part of my public identity, I record every idea I have, and I see music in a different perspective, instead of just as a hobby.
You exude a strong, confident, yet humorous personality, and I’ve read that your intention is to “help listeners struggling with mental health issues to heal through music” – What other messages or experiences do you hope your audience to take from the songs you’re writing?
Ah, you think I’m humorous! I like that, thank you! I hope that my listeners don’t only think that I’m brooding over the negative emotions in my life, because it could definitely sound like that. I write as a way to keep the emotions of that moment in a song so that I can move forward from those feelings. Just like the way I listen to dodie songs, I hope my songs can help my listeners fully feel themselves, no matter how terrible they’re feeling in that moment, and then leave it in the song when they stop listening to it. It’s like a little safe space to emote.
That is a very powerful and inspiring goal for sure, and I would think a lot of people could lean into your work to get them through tough times. It’d be interesting to hear how you channel those emotions when you’re writing. can you tell us a little bit about your process and how you approach a new song?
I usually come up with the lyrics first, and I think that has to do with me loving poetry as a child. Even though I also grew up in a musical family, I think lyrics convey the way I feel a lot better, and it’s the lyrics that make or break a song for me.
I’m the same way! I would say I am definitely a lyrics junkie too. I noted from some of the lyrics you’re writing that you speak of inner growth and changes. What changes and developments have you observed in your work since you started writing original material at 17 years old?
Like the way the topics you talk about to your friends about change over the years, the things I write about are similar in that aspect. My first song, You Don’t Exist, is about the description of a perfect partner, or what I thought would be the qualities of a perfect partner for me at that point. It mentioned things like playing the saxophone, having blue eyes.. and it all seems very trivial now. I’m currently in a 7-year relationship with my fiancé, and he doesn’t play the saxophone, nor does he have blue eyes, but there are so many other qualities that I never knew I would want in a person that he possesses, and it makes me laugh when I think about those old lyrics. A constant theme in a lot of the songs I’ve released so far is about loneliness, because I’ve been living alone (on and off) now for about 5 years, and it’s just a bittersweet feeling.
At least you are turning those woes into melody! Though loneliness has its downside, I think many can relate that it can also be inspirational. Some artists prefer to be in a particular setting or environment in order find inspiration to write their lyrics. Do you have any similar rituals or habits when writing or composing?
I don’t have a particular setting or environment where I write or compose better. Just a few days ago, I felt some inspiration hit and I wrote one on the train on my way to a health checkup. I just started typing the lyrics out on my iPad, wrote half of it on the way there, and the other half on the way back!
Writing on the fly! I like that! Your music has been drawn a good crowd across many platforms, and you’ve been recognized in numerous publications. Tell us a little about those accomplishments.
For starters, I’d say my two biggest accomplishments to date would be getting a small space in the local newspaper (Leave Me Alone in The Straits Times) and winning a spot in a local Malay music festival (Biar Ku Bersendiri in the Wisma Geylang Serai Gala Laga 2020). I was really excited about the music festival because I submitted my song as English, and they asked if it was possible to sing some part of it in Malay, which resulted in a bilingual version of the same song!
Those are very notable accomplishments! Congratulations, that must feel awesome! What does that kind of recognition mean to you as an artist?
These accomplishments make me feel like it’s all worth it, like the costs to produce these songs that I don’t expect to come back to me is worth it. The time I’ve spent on music doesn’t make a difference for me whether I get recognised or not because I enjoyed making music before I decided to become a singer-songwriter, and I’ll probably still enjoy making music for the rest of my life!
I completely appreciate your standpoint. Doing something that you’re passionate about is what really matters the most. As an artist, I know that all projects are precious, some more than others perhaps, but if you had to choose just ONE favorite from your back catalogue… which would it be, and what makes it so special to you?
I’d have to pick Leave Me Alone. I feel like that was my magnum opus, in terms of the lyrics and the sound design (couldn’t have done it without the help of my producer, Jeremy Chua). I think it was a sweet spot between the happy and the sad emotions where it doesn’t sound too depressing, yet it’s relatable enough for people to jam to.
I really enjoyed Leave Me Alone, I thought the video was really clever as well! It was actually stuck in my head for a couple days there! And your songs and videos have gained some solid traction – almost 40k views on YouTube in just over a year! How much of a role does Social Media play in your success as an artist – and where do you typically get the most interaction (YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, etc)?
I used to believe that I could just make music and not care too much about promoting it on social media, and I guess that would be fine if I took music as a hobby. But as a side hustle, it only makes sense for my platform to grow, so social media definitely plays an important role in how I brand myself. The alternative would be hoping that people just chance upon my music on streaming platforms, but I don’t want to leave it up to chance! Right now, I’d say that I pay most attention to my Instagram and YouTube, but it might slowly shift to TikTok in the coming years – who knows!
It’s a lot of work, and I am sure it can be a challenge to keep up with it all. But having people hear, and appreciate your music is completely worth it! I admire your strategy…and I think it’s working! I’m wondering, are there any areas where you feel you can still develop as an artist, and if so – how do you recognize those areas, and what advice would you write on a little postcard and send back to your younger self?
I could definitely work on my instrument competency because vocals have been my focus for many years and the instruments I play have always been an accompaniment. In the postcard, I would probably write – Make friends with more drummers, guitarists, saxophonists, violinists, EVERYTHING! Learn some cool shit from them and teach them some cool shit too. You’re gonna meet people who are younger than you who seem more skilled and accomplished than you, but don’t compare yourself to them because you won’t find happiness in that.
Beautifully said! I think everyone can take a little something from that. I’m a big fan of design and put a lot of time into creating my own cover artwork. I’m curious about your covers – they’re very creative. How do you decide on what your cover art and designs will be?
Well, this question makes me realise that I may not think enough about my cover artwork as I’d like to! My lyrics are quite literal, and so are most of the covers the songs come with. I’m not very great with thinking of abstract concepts, and I’m a very straightforward person, so I guess it is fitting that my cover artwork just looks the way my lyrics speak!
I find your cover art to be rather clever! The art and the songs really seem to complement each other perfectly. How does your line of creative thought feed into the narrative for the accompanying music videos?
I do have a hard time conceptualising and planning my music videos because I’m really not someone with a great sense of visuals! It’s also the reason I didn’t pursue film after film school, oops! Usually, as with my cover artwork, I go with the literal and film the music videos as such, but it doesn’t always work for all songs. I’m still taking it song by song as I release them, and my latest release will be Turbulence on 22 October 2021. Now I’ve been racking my brain to think of concepts for this because I’m not about to buy a plane ticket just to film this! In pre-COVID times I would’ve probably already planned for a flight and then quietly shot the video while the people around me in the flight were sleeping just so they’re not too alarmed with what I’m doing. But for now, the idea is to film a video call with a bunch of my friends who sung with me on the song and have us all act like plane passengers around each other! We’ll see how that goes!
That sounds like an awesome idea! I can’t wait to see how the finished project turns out. I thought your new single ‘Square’ that was released in September, and the accompanying video, was carefully directed and executed remarkably! I understand that there’s a new EP, ‘About Me‘, coming up in a few days, followed by a single entitled ‘Diabetes’ to follow in November? Can we expect an album after that, or do you find single and EP releases typically work best for you?
For now, I think I’ll stick to singles and EPs. I would definitely release an album when I gain more traction in the future, but when that will be, I have no idea! Two reasons, the first being that because I’m not super well-known yet, if I release my songs as an album, the individual singles won’t get as much attention as I’d like them to get. Second, I don’t feel like I could keep so many songs a secret for so long while I produce them before release!
That makes complete sense. Especially this day in age where artists have an amazing opportunity to collaborate on a global scale, with BandLab obviously being the leading platform for social music creation – are you working on any collabs at the moment and, if you had the option to work with any artist, who would you most like to collab with?
I am currently working on a couple of collaborations with my friends, not just as myself but also with my a cappella group, New Recording 47. If I could collaborate with any artist in the world, it would be dodie. I would love a dodie duet.
You mentioned New Recording 47 there. Can you tell us a bit about your involvement with the group and what the future has in store? Will any of the members feature in your upcoming work, or do you tend to keep them separate?
If I could narrow down what I like about music, it would be a cappella. That’s what I’m most passionate about, which is why I decided to form my own group, New Recording 47, the moment I finished university. Right now, we’re swapping around a couple of members, so we’re still getting used to our new sound and working together, and in time for Christmas too! Shaun Spencer, the baritone of the group, was actually the pianist in my song The Man I Knew Better! He also sings some of the backing vocals in Turbulence, and two of the other new members made a small appearance in my Square music video recently!
I think a Christmas album would epic! Last question from me Amanda… everyone measures success differently. What does success as an artist look like to you, and what are your main aspirations in music? Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
Success to me is being happy with the music I write and release, and being known as a musician to the people around me who are both musicians and non-musicians. I want to be brought up in a random conversation between two people and have it be like “oh Amanda Ong? Isn’t she the a cappella singer?” That would be success. As for where I see myself in 5 years, I hope to be releasing an a cappella EP on my own, and with New Recording 47, I want us to be one of the a cappella groups you mention when you introduce someone to a cappella in Singapore.
Well, I think you are on the right path so far! I know I have brought you up quite a few times way over here in Florida! I would really like to thank you for your time! It was truly a pleasure chatting with you and getting to know more about you as an individual and an artist. I’m looking forward to your upcoming work and wish you the very best!
Links to Amanda’s socials below!
Giulietta2 years ago
Loved reading about Mandy. To me she’s already THE a capella singer. Fab article!
Amanda Ong2 years ago
Giulietta that’s the best compliment ever!! Thank you so much 🙂
Giulietta Zardetto2 years ago
most welcome Mandy!
beck2 years ago
fantastic read about a fascsinating artist’s story. well done here folks.