Bittymacbeth takes us through her new record, Beauty For Ashes

Bittymacbeth takes us through her new record, Beauty For Ashes

New kid on the block

Text: Adibah Isa

Image: Raphael Ong

Somewhere in between soul, jazz and funk lies bittymacbeth, a.k.a. Beth Yap. In anticipation of the launch of her debut album Beauty For Ashes on 31 May, the singer-songwriter gives us a commentary on her tracks

1. Californian Dream feat. Dru Chen

"I drew on my experience of going to a school overseas immersion programme in San Francisco. My lecturer wanted us to record at Fantasy Studios, where people like Stevie Wonder and U2 have recorded. I started writing the chorus in my bedroom in Singapore and wrote the first verse — 'I woke up to a different place, a stranger's face' — on the red eye flight there. I then wrote the pre-chorus on the rooftop of the hostel I was staying in."

2. Vandal Miss Joaquim

"Having written songs before this one like Haters Gon' Hate, Comfortable and Reign of Love (Bane of Love) which were more in the veins of funk, soul and jazz, I wanted to challenge myself. To stay true to my jazz roots while writing a song that was poppy and specific enough to the theme of eco awareness to be selected in the NEA Eco Music Challenge. The title is a tongue-in-cheek suggestion put forth by my father, who always thinks I need to use witty one-liners and idioms in my writing."

3. Comfortable
feat. Benjamin Kheng

"This song sets up the rest of the songs for the theme of the album being a revolving cycle of ups and downs in our lives. It questions whether it's good for me to be comfortable and free from trouble. This is one of the few songs where I started with the verse. It was a deliberate songwriting exercise in trying to keep the notes in the verses close to one another (I'm mostly alternating between A and B) and then trying to create bigger jumps between the notes in the chorus, to provide a melodic lilt."


4. Haters Gon' Hate

"I wrote this on my first songwriting module in school. I was being sucked into a situation where a few people were misunderstanding my good friend and passing bad remarks because they didn't take the time to understand her. I wrote that song with that experience in mind, you know, the very easy and comfortable thing to do is to judge someone and put them down. What is harder is taking the time and effort to understand people for who they really are. It's my favourite to play live. I like slapping bass on this song."

5. Blank
feat. Benjamin Kheng and Tim De Cotta

"Blank is more experimental. I came up with it as an improv piece to do live shows. I would normally improv a story over a set form of acappella layers. I asked Benjamin Kheng to do spoken word. My lecturer mixed their first EP so we were introduced at a concert in school. I told him what the song was about and what I was going for. It was all done online."

6.  Alcatraz

A lot of creatives overthink stuff and it's easy for us to weigh ourselves down with our own worries, thoughts and fears. Personally I'm scared of the future. I don't know whether I'll be able to keep doing what I love in the future. I think at one point I was too weighed down and it inspired Alcatraz. Using that prison as a metaphor for being a prisoner of my own mind, and distancing myself from people."

7. Reign of Love (Bane of Love)

"This is the first acappella tune I wrote, based on a poem by William Blake called The Clod and the Pebble. I was listening to a lot of Esperanza Spalding and she has a song which is William Blake's Little Fly poem set to music. I was also reading a collection of his works in a book my best friend gave me when I was hospitalised. Writing this as an acappella song was a very different process from the rest because I couldn't just throw chords onto each bar, I had to write out specific notes for all the vocal lines."

8. Beauty for Ashes

"When I saw the ash in the wind — if I were to describe it 'artsy-fartsily' — I would say 'oh this piece of ash is dancing on the wind'. Then I started coming up with the lyrics following that. I came up with the hook and wrote the rest of the song based on what I was feeling at the time — I was going through a break in my relationship and I wasn't enjoying my work as an assistant soundman. I wrote it to encourage myself. At the time I didn't think anything good will come out of it, but in the end it will all be okay. I wanted the album to end on the hopeful note."



Catch bittymacbeth's album launch on 31 May at Esplanade Recital Studio. Tickets here. To purchase Beauty for Ashes, click here.