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How Analog Girl is staking a claim on the digital music world
We talk to the enigmatic Mei Wong, an Analog Girl in a digital world, a soloist acclaimed as one of 2008's 'best bands' and a Singaporean musician with global appeal
The Analog Girl goes all spacey in Amsterdam as she creates a little presentation specially for CNNGo. YouTube video from theanaloggirl.
The Analog Girl (aka Mei Wong) sounds like a wispy Shirley Manson flying through space with a Tenori-on. Her moody electronic synths have won her fans in places such as Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris, New York and Tokyo, and got her voted by TIME Magazine as one of Asia’s best bands in 2008. Kind of funny, considering she's mostly a soloist.
Regardless, we agree that The Analog Girl has talent and verve, and her "electronic pop with an analog soul" definitely engages the senses. The singer-songwriter has been at it since the age of seven, and she's kept notepad after notepad of lyrics and scores. "I had set myself a goal of writing one song everyday after school for a whole year when I was 14 years old. As The Analog Girl, I have been a full-time musician for about six to seven years, and I love every minute of it as every day is different. One day I’ll be at home writing music. Another day I’ll be up on stage performing my heart and soul out," says Wong.
The naming paradox
Why 'The Analog Girl' though, when her music's mostly electronic synthesizing? It was a name that a friend tossed out casually, which she used before adopting it as her artistic name. "To me, 'analog' refers to analog synthesizers. It also denotes the analog sensibility that I write my music from. Even though my songs sound digital, I write them for a classic four-piece rock band -- bass, drums, piano, and guitar -- but with software synths and a whole lot of edge," she explains.
According to Wong, her shows are an ever-evolving, on-going process of exploring new ways to present her music. "Electronic music is one of the most difficult forms of music to perform live, more so for a solo performer. To represent complex layers in an electronic song in a live environment, you need to be inventive and employ visually engaging devices to make the music come alive before the audience. Right now, I am using the Yamaha Tenori-On, Percussa cubes, and a minimalistic controller called the Monome."
The big break
One of Wong's biggest breaks came when her song "Liquorice" was featured in Nike’s "Changing The Game" retail campaign. The short film was screened in European cities in 2004-05, which spawned a series of tours, and landed her a spot on TIME Magazine’s Top 5 Music Acts to watch in 2008.
She attributes her success to keeping things real, writing her songs close to her heart and keeping it fresh, from musical direction to instruments and live interpretations of the songs. Wong typically explore sounds and instruments on her laptop before turning them into songs. "When I play a note that inspires me, that note becomes a riff, and the song just takes form on its own. I usually sing the words as I write the melody so they’re synchronized. Sometimes, I do revisit songs and rewrite certain lines so that they make sense in the song’s context. But for most part, first takes are the best, because they are raw, honest, and cohesive," she says.
The Singapore scene
Despite her overseas success, Wong is most proud of Singapore's local music scene. "We have several local music compilations from the 1990s to the 2000s to be proud of from +65 Indie Underground. It’s got bands like Electrico, Great Spy Experiment, Astreal, Humpback Oak, The Padres, Muon, Opposition Party, Zircon Lounge, and many others."
However, local musicians face an uphill battle when it comes to marketing themselves -- income is largely generated through concert ticket sales and tours, and less so on CD sales but due to Singapore's small size, there are no touring opportunities within the country when compared to large countries like the United States. Thus local musicians need to look towards international markets, which aren’t easy to break into.
Despite these challenges, Wong says that local musicians are not afraid to find their own voice and create their own unique sound. "They are often willing to take creative risks that will help them stand out in a saturated music market."
To hear more of the Analog Girl's music, head down to www.analog-girl.net.