Music interview: ALTERNATE JANE

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Alternate Jane – Alexandra Radu

We were fortunate enough to catch up with ALTERNATE JANE following the superb release, ‘Higher Ground’. Enjoy today!

Hi ALTERNATE JANE, tell us about yourself?

Hi there, thanks for inviting me here for a chat. I’m Alternate Jane, a doctor-musician from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The country famous for actors Michelle Yeoh and Henry Goulding, as well as flight MH370 – but let’s not revisit memories of the latter, shall we?

When I’m not too busy working at my clinic, I spend my free time making music in my humble home. I mainly write songs, sing them and play a few instruments at an amateur level to record my demos. It wasn’t meant to be this way originally, but I couldn’t find anyone to help record them back in school or college, so I took a memo from Elliott Smith and did it myself.

For my latest projects, I recorded some vocal parts to be sent remotely to my multi-instrumentalist producer to combine with the instrumental track. I learnt from my musician friend that wardrobe clothing could be your best friend for recording vocals, so here I am.

Meanwhile, I’ve recently developed a greater interest in the bass guitar as it feels more natural for me to play it compared to helming a lead guitar role in a band. On days when I’m not doing solo performances, you can catch me playing the bass guitar in a local band.

What is your songwriting process?

Here’s the backstory: I started off as a small-time writer crafting poetry and fictional stories. I sent one up to the school Editorial Board, but it was quickly rejected by the teacher and written in red ink, “Which website did you copy this from?” – I then saw my classmate who also auditioned for the Editorial Board high fiving the audition panel members and that was the day I learnt the meaning of nepotism. It is compulsory to join a co-curricular club; the nearby sounds of a fiery screaming female teacher caught my intrigue as she trained a group of singing and dancing kids to perform their songs as a big, synchronized group. That was the day I decided to try joining the choir.

I eventually realised that I could hold a tune and curiously decided to combine a random melody with my writings. I eventually figured out that I write better when the melodic inspiration comes first, and I fill in the story that feels right for it. I treasure quality over quantity when it comes to lyrics, so I usually fit in words that flow best with the given notes, with the occasional rhyme but not overdoing it. I don’t usually write lyrics before composing a melody, but that’s what gave birth to “Higher Ground”.

Tell us about your latest release, ‘Higher Ground’.

‘Higher Ground’ is a modern meets classic pop-rock song inspired by James Bond movies and the YouTube web series Project Inferno, so you can hear a soundtrack vibe in it. It was my first recorded song that was written as poetry first before being edited and fitting into a brand-new melody. The process felt awkward to me as I don’t usually write lyrics first, but it resulted in this interestingly dark song with a noir and romance vibe.

It was the result of hearing a friend say that the best songwriters always wrote the lyrics first and the melodies later, a process I was not accustomed to. He told me that I’d been doing it wrong, so I was curious to see if there really was a “right way” to write songs. At that time, I was still a medical house officer (akin to an intern) who hadn’t written a song in years due to the heavy workload of the job.

During my very last posting in the hospital, I had a brief moment of rest during a night shift, and the inspiration for this song came to mind. I also just watched Project Inferno a few days back. I spent the next day writing the lyrics first to challenge myself, then adding a melody for it. I didn’t realise that a few years of gruelling work experience had added a darker tone to my writing, but in a way, it was an interesting change and growth as a songwriter.

What draws you to the rock-pop genre?

I think my love for this genre is a double-edged sword in the 21st century of music, whereby the current trends have moved beyond rock-pop. I still love them as music from this genre makes up the core of my formative years.

I grew up listening to music from the 90s and 2000s, and great songwriters in bands like Nirvana, Garbage and Sixpence None the Richer greatly influenced me to write emotive songs with distinct melodies and a solid full band arrangement. They make songs that really move my soul, as opposed to just moving my hips to dance. Singer-songwriters like Elliott Smith and Michelle Branch also inspired me to pick up the guitar and craft my own songs, even playing the instruments for a demo by myself when there was no one else who understood my ideas at first.

Mainstream pop music at the time, consisting of Britney Spears, M2M and various boybands also added a pop influence to the songs that I write. I wrote and recorded some songs in line with my rock-pop music inspiration to release for the first chapter of my artistic career in a way to pay a loving tribute and to complete that chapter and lifelong dream of releasing music.

But I’m growing as a songwriter and keen to explore more of other genres like R&B, contemporary pop and hip hop, which I’ve had the honour to try when working with producer and beatmaker Cruzu from the Netherlands. The one promise I would make to myself would be to always stay true to my own musical style regardless of genre and to keep writing songs that tell a story.

You take inspiration from the James Bond films; what do you find inspiring about them?

Growing up with introversion and a rich imagination, fictional work like songs, movies and even video games transported me to a special place that nothing else could. Among the movies that I like, I’ve always been intrigued by how well-directed thrillers can be, and how spy movies like James Bond combine noir with a dash of romance.

What I like most about this series is the extremely well-written and arranged theme songs for each movie, which really gets you excited to watch the movie. That was the feeling I was going for, something to get you ready to jump into the unknown. It goes well with the story I’ve written in this song about meeting and being attracted to someone mysterious who turned out a certain way and whether it is worth the risk to proceed with the adventure.

What message do you think your music conveys to your fans?

My music is a window to my soul, and it shares with my fans a personal journey of how I started from being young, sweet and naive in “Skype Love” to confident but heartbroken in “Confidence”, cool and romantic in “My Type” and now a little jaded but curious in the song ‘Higher Ground’.

It conveys a theme to my fans that songs that tell a story or aren’t afraid to wear their hearts on the sleeve make a difference in your listening experience because they evoke feelings that you may echo and show you that you’re not alone. The stories in these songs also transport you to a “Higher Ground” when listening to them.

Who are your musical influences?

To expand from an earlier answer, my playlist consists of some pretty eclectic influences ranging from 90s grunge and pop-rock bands like Nirvana, Garbage and Sixpence None the Richer, to 90s and 2000s mainstream pop artists like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Backstreet Boys and Westlife, to heavier alternative bands like Linkin Park and Evanescence. Throw in some Motown (Jackson 5), R&B (Alicia Keys) and rap music (Blackstreet, Eminem), and there you have Alternate Jane.

Oh, I forgot to mention classical orchestral music and brass section-based jazz and big band music. I also have a soft spot for piano instrumentals, as they calm me when I’m having a bad day.

What scares you most when releasing music?

This question really peeks into the soul and echoes the sentiment of every artist being reviewed or interviewed because we all fear one thing – the song not being well received and our hard work going to waste. For signed artists, this could affect the level of future support they receive from their label.

I admit that I’ve had this fear since the days prior to the song’s release, and indeed unfortunately, this song didn’t end up in Spotify Editorial Playlists and isn’t doing as well commercially as my previous songs did.

I’m also struggling to market the song on my own, and that’s a big fear of every indie artist, not being able to mount a strong enough promotional campaign.

I probably shouldn’t compare this song to my previous releases, but I did notice one special thing about my new song, ‘Higher Ground’ – where I previously believed that writing lyrics first adversely affected my songwriting; the song has received praise from critics for its songwriting quality. That in itself is a special thing to hear about and take away from my latest song release.

What do you think are the biggest obstacles for bands/artists today?

I’m wondering if this question would have a different answer for signed and unsigned artists, but some common struggles exist for all artists today – being heard in a saturated sea of music that can now be easily released by all levels of musicians, creating something unique and authentic that doesn’t sound generic or copy pasted, and most importantly building a genuine connection with your fanbase.

While unsigned indie artists face huge struggles when it comes to resources and support, artists from major recording labels risk making filler music too if they get too comfortable and stop challenging themselves to innovate, or risk being forgotten if they don’t try to connect with their audience with authenticity and through more impactful content.

What advice would you give to other bands/artists starting out?

Interestingly, I’m in the same boat, and the new artists I’m speaking to can treat this question as a two-way conversation. For anyone starting out, once you’ve identified that music is something you definitely want to do – this sounds clichéd but first, work on identifying your unique selling point and the image you can envision yourself carrying. This includes coming up with an artist name you truly love and think will make an impact on your audience.

Come up with a good set of songs and get quality production on them, whether by hiring people to help you or working together with your friends. Start building up your social media pages and network around to gain some PR knowledge (or help from others), and prepare a solid song release plan.

Try to arrange a mix of real-life and virtual interactive activities to get people excited about your upcoming song release. Once they are excited about you, they will follow your social media pages and even come back for more. Try to build a fan connection for life. Connect with your audience with periodic live performances or virtual performances, do a fan meet, sell your own merch and do more basic networking early in your career – though this would be much harder security-wise once you gain traction, that’s good news, right? It means you’re getting somewhere 🙂

What are your hopes for the next two years?

All of the above advice is truly easier said than done, but I’m hoping that I can walk the walk instead of just talking about it. I’ve got the theory part down to a T from years of learning how to do this as a DIY artist, but it’s time for me to stop being shy and start making more audio-visual content, doing more live performances and networking around to build some rapport and fanbase.

I’m hoping to release more songs within 2023; fingers crossed with a live music video successfully being shot this year. I also have to make an important decision on whether to remain an independent DIY artist or talk to record labels to see if that fits with my career trajectory. As conflicting as the coexistence of medicine and music seem, I’ve been celebrating the duality of these two important aspects of my life for the past decade, which are akin to two sides of a coin.

I truly hope to be able to have an enjoyable long run in music and be able to share more good songs with my fanbase, achieving my dream of collaborating with more talented producers and artists along the way.

FVMusicBlog March 2023

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