It’s a complicated world we live in and everything moves just too fast. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised after giving Simply Shimona, the full-length, all originals debut album of local indie singer-songwriter Shimona Kee, a good listen!
Shimona began recording the album 6 months ago in the studio of a friend, but the simple, relaxing sound of Simply Shimona has been a long time coming. The cheerful 31-year old found that the hardest thing as an indie artist in Singapore is that “you never realize how difficult recording is until you actually do it”.
If she had any difficulties, though, it did not show in her album. Like the title promises, it is simple and stripped bare. Tracks like “Little Things” and “Like a Piece of My Heart” were haunting, and in a good way. With clean tunes, and smooth vocals, Simply Shimona is less ‘here are some pleasant sounding tunes, listen to it NOW!’, and more ‘here is my music, I’d love to share it with you’.
Two of us at Fever Avenue were privileged to sit down with Shimona in a nice, cosy setting at The Merry Men to chat about her life, new album, and her plans for the future.
Tell us more about yourself Shimona.
Well, I grew up always loving music – loving singing, but I was actually quite shy. Only when I came to poly(technic), I was studying in Nanyang Polytechnic and I got to perform on some of the roadshows and I started to have a bit more self-confidence.
But I guess the real booster to put me into the music scene, a life-changing event (was when), I took part in this TV singing contest called “The Big Break”, which probably no one remembers anymore, but it was on the then TV Works channel and I won that contest. And at that time it was a really really huge event in my life, because I’ve never won any singing contests before. And that actually made me decide that I would go into music full-time so that’s when I started singing all around Singapore, in pubs, in restaurants.
So it’s been a long road since then, but I went away and I came back into making my own music, and it’s really been quite challenging!
What about your time away from Singapore? Did that affect you as a musician?
Definitely. I spent six years in Thailand, two of which were in Bangkok, and four of which you probably won’t know where it is. Some ulu place. But I would say, first of all, it really gave me a different perspective on life, and how I can take care of my options and career.
So despite not doing really the exact same thing as I was overseas (which was that) I did classical music, so it was a different area of music and it kind of grew me and I caught up with the rest of my music. It balanced out the rest of my music, the theory, the practical stuff.
But also, life itself in a different country. Singaporeans really have it very good and I never realized that until I lived overseas – especially in a place like Thailand. For example, there were three whole days when I was studying in a college there where we didn’t have water because our wells ran dry. And I remember getting on the internet – so ironic because we did have internet but no water, and I see my friends posting about “oh I can’t find this lipstick” and I say “oh I can’t find water”.
So it kinda changed my perspectives and the priorities we take in life, and my priorities in songwriting. Because I’d write a lot of songs about love, you know, falling in love and breaking up and all that. But then I started thinking that there are many other areas in life that we don’t sing about enough, so I decided I’d like to sing about the other aspects in life, which is why I write about going to the gym and things like that.
If you had three words to describe your music style, what would they be?
Reflective, honest, and simple.
Reflective because I do a lot of reflecting in life, sometimes I actually post in my blog or my (Facebook) status about these things, and people ask me, “Did something happen?!” and I’m like no, no, no, I’m just thinking about life. One of my philosophies as a person is to not let life pass you by, but to take time now and then to think about what has happened and how it affects you as a person and how you should go on from there. This is what truly helps you become a better person. So I try to reflect that in my music, the reflection of my life, because many times people don’t think about things. I actively try to allow my music to be positive and to be a positive influence on other people because I feel music is very powerful so when you’re able to bring a message across, a life lesson, then that’s an amazing thing.
Honest because sometimes I don’t think about what I’m writing – they (words) just come out and it’s very strange for me to say this, but my best songs are actually written between half an hour to one hour. They’re completely honest, my honest feelings or what I’m thinking just goes boom! onto the page. The next day I’ll look at it and go yeah, okay, that makes sense now. So I feel like that’s kind of uncensored in a sense, a lot of my music is uncensored, and not in a foul way. Raw, so to speak, which is what I tried to preserve for this album, it’s very acoustic, very raw, not like those poppy stuff, because I feel like that’s really my music.
Simple because things can get very complicated very fast, and I try to simplify everything if possible. So with my music, my songwriting, I try to stick to very simple melodies, simple lyrics. I try not to write too complicated things that people can’t understand – I think that defeats the purpose of actually writing. I’m not one of those poets, that’s not my writing style. My writing style is usually very straightforward. So anyone who’s listening can really relate.
Tell us a bit about “Simply Shimona”. What are some themes in your lyrics?
Funny you should ask, a very big theme is ‘water’. Strangely enough, and I don’t do that on purpose. First of all, the album itself, the song choices, was very difficult.
Before I actually started making the album, I struggled with which songs to record because I have a lot of songs that have accumulated over the years, and some of my stronger songs are not on this album even. I decided I would choose these songs because they are acoustic, and (have the) simplest arrangements, because that’s usually how I’m heard in pubs, restaurants. It’s just me and my guitar.
I believe that the first one (album) should really be true to my persona. When it came to actually selecting the songs, I put the songs down and then I looked at them and I realized, wait a minute, there are so many songs about water, like “Rainy Day”. “Little Things” has imagery about flooding, flooding in life. I guess maybe during that time in my life I was very affected by the imagery of water and how water affects us in everyday life. The flooding in Bangkok was my inspiration for “Little Things” about how it rains everyday and it seems little, but it still floods. And it’s like in life, small things gather and they gather and they gather and they become a flood. So I guess nature is a big element in my songs.
What do you hope to achieve with your album with your listeners?
Well I hope they can relate to the songs, that’s the first and foremost. I hope they find it musically pleasing. I guess you could say I don’t have many huge aspirations; it’s just me putting out my music and hoping that the listener will be able to appreciate it. And I’ll take whatever comes my way.
What are plans for Shimona? Are they abroad or in Singapore?
While I did say that I don’t have big expectations, on the other hand I do work very hard and I do strive to be the best that I can be. First and foremost I believe that because I was away from Singapore for so long, I’m trying to reach out to the Singaporeans because I am a Singaporean and this is my home. I want to be here and to reach out to Singaporeans in a sense to let them know that we have our own local talent and our own music that we can be proud of, and not just look to the West.
On the other hand it’s a very big world, and I love to explore, I love to travel. Definitely going overseas to further music is an option.
In a sense I’m just doing what I love, and I don’t have any ‘make it or break it’ plans.
I also teach singing, so that’s a huge part of my plan for my career and in terms of my music. I love teaching singing and I love helping young singers. In the long run I want to specialize in teaching vocals. I feel like I am good at it and I enjoy it very much.
What do you feel about the Singaporean music scene?
Local musicians I believe, overall, work very hard. I’m not saying this in any jaded way or anything but I believe that the general public does not give enough credit to the local musicians.
Living in Thailand, we didn’t get to hear much English live music. So when I came back, I was literally in music heaven in the first month of my being back. You know what? We have great music here in Singapore, even compared to somewhere like Thailand, and we don’t even realize it. Most of the time these musicians are tucked away at the back of a restaurant and in a corner, and in the background. Or at events and you’re eating and you’re dancing but you don’t really pay attention to the band.
But they are really fantastic musicians, some of them are from New York and some of them are our own homegrown musicians who interact a lot with these overseas people that have come here.
I don’t want to speak for myself but in terms of the general public who are in the music scene, I really wish to see more support. A lot of people say support and that is a very fictitious thing. I believe that true support is doing the simple things, for example, my friends come to my gigs. It would be really nice as a musician to see true music lovers who give Singaporean musicians a chance despite not knowing them. This could be Alicia Keys singing in a club and nobody would realize.
Shimona spills out her most inner thoughts and feelings through quiet melodies and emotional writing in this album. Certainly not one to miss, and to many more Shimona albums to come!
The 14-track album Simply Shimona is now available at the following places priced at USD $19.90:
Via Online Order Form (Mail)
The Merry Men
(86 Robertson Quay #01-02, Singapore 238245 | Tel: +65 6735 9667)
(24 Temple Street, Singapore 058569 | Tel: +65 6223 7553)
The Esplanade Shop
(1 Esplanade Drive #02-02, Singapore 038981 | Tel: +65 6828 8397)
Image Credits: Yahoo! News Singapore, www.shimonakee.com