When Zee Avi first came on to the scene with “Bitter Heart” and “Kantoi”, everybody instantly fell in love with her. Taking Malaysia by storm, the Sarawakian born singer-songwriter has even made a name for herself overseas. It’s actually been quite a while since we’ve had new music from the singer but Zee Avi is back with a new single!
“OK” was released on 20th April along with the music video on YouTube. According to Zee Avi, her new song was inspired by the quote by Fernando Sabino/John Lennon: “Everything will be okay in the end, if it’s not okay it’s not the end.” Other than the new single, Zee Avi is planning to release her upcoming album “Ellipses” sometime this year.
We recently had the opportunity to chat with the “Bitter Heart” hitmaker about her new single “OK”, the concept for “Ellipses”, her personal struggles with hearing loss and what she thinks about the Malaysian music industry in general. Scroll down to read our conversation.
1. “OK” was written back in 2014 and you just released it a few days ago. What was the writing process for the single? What were the changes in terms of melody, lyrics and production?
Oh, great question. The process of writing the single itself was that I really took my time with it because I’m the type of person and songwriter that sits with my emotions and my lessons, so that I can process them and deliver them in ways that’s relatable to myself in a timeless way, and hopefully, can alchemize that into some sort of medicine for others to listen to as well.
Because music is the most ancient form of healing and I’m very grateful that this song chose me to deliver it. In terms of whether or not things have changed, of course, there’s been many more hurdles and obstacles along the way that I can only hope that I can continue to be a songwriter, so I can eventually share my stories about those as well. In terms of changes to lyrics and production, I kept it as is, I kept it classic.
2. The single is about accepting things as they are and have a theme of healing. What has been the most difficult thing for you to heal from past traumas/difficulties?
Well let’s talk about the latest ones. A lot of people called me an old soul but I’m like, “that’s on trauma”. I think a lot of traumatic experiences and difficulties that we survived as a person – if you take the essence from those lessons – it can make you a wiser person making decisions along the way.
Moving forward, I would say a lot of my past traumas as an adult, in this phase of my life, it has a lot to do with my relationships with people. I think people grow at different paces and sometimes friction happens when there’s miscommunications within the times when you’re having differences in your cases, and growing and evolving. So for me, I think the traumas that I’ve been feeling a lot recently is the ending of friendships.
And somehow trusts and connections have been broken. From that somehow it’s just like, “Oh, are we ever going to get back to a place where we can move on from it, we can heal from it”. But you just gotta be hopeful and you just got to give it some time and hopefully things will turn out “OK”.
3. The music video for “OK” is your first animated video. What was the inspiration & meaning behind it?
So the only thing that I directed the artists to do was to make something that she’ll be proud of when she sees it many years down the line. She’s an incredible artist from Colombia and a dear friend of mine, her name is Fiorella Bassil and I met her when she was still in art school back in 2016, in London. We just sort of hit it off instantaneously. I adore her and respect her as a young woman, as an artist and as a person. I told her, “Okay, I’m doing a bunch of interviews, and they’re gonna want to know what was your concept behind it?”
Because the wonderful thing about art it can be interpreted in your own way. So for me, I felt that we were all connected to everything around us. But for her, it was a much more complex story about really sort of understanding the positivity and the negativities that life. The ocean sort of symbolises really delving into the unknown and the woman is a representation of the human’s capacity of always being able to adapt change, and that no matter how hard life gets, we just keep on going.
4. You’ve been working on “Ellipses” for quite some time now. Can you share with us the concept of the album and why did you name it “Ellipses”?
Yeah, this is also an amazing question. Ellipses, as you know is “dot dot dot” (…), right? This is my favourite punctuation. Because it means continuation. There’s nine songs because I originally had an idea of releasing it in three part EPs. I wrote all of these songs when I was 30 so for me, the whole philosophy behind ellipses is that we’re going to be ever learning ever growing, ever continuing or evolving? And that’s my concept behind “Ellipses”.
5. What do you hope for fans to take away from “OK” and “Ellipses”?
First of all, I want to thank my appreciators for their continuous support. They just understand my flow and I want to thank them for their understanding. I just hope that it provides them a safe space with music as music doesn’t judge you. Music is there to make you feel things, music is there to make you feel like you’re not alone. I just really hope that this song can find that in their hearts and make them feel better when things get tough.
6. Could you share with us your experience with hearing loss, not just as a musician but as well as a person. Did you feel like you had to find yourself again?
Yeah, that was really hard. It felt really isolating. I cannot not use any other words besides that. So it was very challenging, not just musically, but socially. It’s hard for me to start connecting and feel a connection especially with new people that I meet. It just feels strange to tell someone, “can you speak louder, I have hearing issues”. So to save everybody time and trouble, especially for my soft spoken friends, I just had to take the initiative to want to seek help.
I found audiologists over at global Hearing Care Center, they really have been so supportive, and they’ve helped me out throughout the whole process of making sure that I find the right hearing aids for me. There’s a lot of emotional support as well, which, thankfully, I found from my family and friends, and my husband as well, because they knew how much it affected me socially.
When we were hanging out with other people or in a business meeting, I would get frustrated with myself. So again, it was a strain on myself, and on people that I care about very dearly. So I decided to just accept it, and go get the help that I needed. I’m glad I did because it’s been life changing. I can hear all the frequencies again, I don’t have to put my Bluetooth speaker next to my ear when I watch movies.
But I just have to say that we just forget sometimes that the hearing is impermanent if you don’t take care of it well. So if anyone out there feels like they’re dealing with hearing issues, don’t wait, don’t be in denial like me when I told myself, “Oh, maybe I can start working out again. Maybe it’s a blood circulation thing.” Go get your hearing checked everyone, there’s a lot of services out there and they’re ready to help you. Especially to fellow musicians as well, being around in the studio and playing shows and stuff like that where the volume can be overwhelming, right? So you guys got to take care of your hearing.
7. You’ve watched the “Sound of Metal” film about a musician who suffered permanent hearing loss. Since that movie, have you looked up other artists who had gone through or is going through a similar experience?
Actually I have not, that’s a great idea, I’m going to do that after this. It will be inspiring for me as well to know that there are other musicians who are like me. Also, everyone must watch the “Sound of Metal”. It’s a fantastic movie, great real and raw depiction of what it’s like to sit down with an audiologist and them telling you, “that once you got permanent hearing loss, like once it goes it doesn’t come back”. But trigger warning for everyone who’s gone through it.
For me, after I’ve shared my story, I found out that a couple of my friends also have come forward and talked about how they’re currently wearing hearing aids as well, and I had no idea because it’s such a hard thing. It’s a thing you can be insecure about. Especially at our age as well to have hearing loss and it’s not something that’s fathomable. If there are any other artists that also have hearing loss, I hope that they do share their story.
8. You’ve mentioned that making music in the US is no different than how it is in Malaysia. But we’d like to know how different is the music business side of things?
I don’t know if I am the right person to answer it because I was away for too long. I have friends who have been, throughout the whole entire thing, just hustling and grinding for their careers. I just feel there are other people who are more suitable to answer this question because I haven’t been here and experienced all the challenges they have. But I do know that we need support from the right parties, and from the right people who are able to call the shots to change someone’s life. There’s just an abundance of talents here in Malaysia, we don’t need to look far at all. We can even make music from our bedrooms now.
All of these skills and knowledge are accessible through platforms like YouTube and websites that are offering courses. I myself have just been through a music production course run by CAA that’s funded by the government. During the CAA course, there were like 50 young artists making music, producing on their own and it’s like global class. I think we need a fair ecosystem, to understand how the industry works in general, and for the young artists to really read up about their rights. I pray that all of you up-and-coming artists find the right people to be with you throughout your journey, no matter what goals you have, and that’s really important as well.
So ecosystem, support, and the right people to help you achieve your dreams; like this is the secret sauce. In terms of making it in the industry, I have no idea what making it means, for me, if someone love my songs, I’m happy and if somebody from across the world says that they can relate to my words, I’m happy. So it’s pretty subjective. But I think we do need to have an ecosystem that is fair.
9. From our understanding, being attached to a label is very different from being an independent artist. What are your thoughts on being an independent artist vs being signed to a record label?
As an independent artist, you do have full creative control and you get to decide a lot of decisions and factors of your own visions, but you need to have strong concepts and strategies of how you want to execute your music. With the help of the internet, it’s not that hard to do these days. But again, you just have to have the resources in order for you to bring it forth.
In terms of a record label, they can be great. It’s important to understand what freedom you have as a creative and the restrictions in place. A record label has all the necessary means and capacity to help you market, help you strategise, and you just have to trust them. For independent artists, you write your own destiny.
10. What are your thoughts on the Malaysian music industry where singers and musicians are releasing only singles now instead of a full body album? Is this the current trend we’re in right now?
I think that with releasing singles, you can definitely focus more of your finances and your time as well. With just one song, you focus all the energy to making it great. Whereas with an album, it’s a lot to take into account because each and every song has to make the cut.
Since we live in an age of algorithms, you always have to keep your name on the surface so with releasing singles, you’re actually keeping momentum of your name, your songs, your music and yourself. So I enjoy it, although I do enjoy a good album as well. I think personally, for me with “Ellipses”, I’m just gonna drop the album and start writing my next one.
Stay tuned for full the interview video with Zee Avi on our YouTube Channel.
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