Singapore singer-songwriter Bittymacbeth is back on our radar with her latest single, ‘Trace’
You wrote 'Trace' after a friend shared her own grief. What are the inspirations for your songs?
I've written so many songs that were inspired by something shitty that happened to me or people close to me. When pointless girl drama and backbiting happened between a couple of girls and my friend and I, it led me to write 'Haters Gon' Hate'. A terrible work environment with bad hours and no meaning coupled with more 'friend' drama and my first break-up made me write 'Beauty for Ashes'. I think good songs come out of bad luck. Writing songs about life and the human condition is cathartic for me. I get to air my grievances and say the things that aren't being said in my communities while also using these songs as audio memos for myself to get better and not be bitter.
The proceeds from your benefit show and launch party for your single will go to EmancipAsia, a Singaporean charity that combats human trafficking and modern slavery. Why this cause?
I first learnt about human trafficking when I was in Singapore Polytechnic and had to take a Model ASEAN class for scholarship students. I had to write a position paper from the perspective of Myanmar about how "my country" would respond to the human trafficking crisis. Afterwards, I kept getting reminded of this as I watched documentaries such as Not My Life and Al Jezeera's 101 East series which featured Maid in Singapore. I even conceptualised a game for my video game narrative class in Berklee based on Not My Life and I wanted to get funding for it so it could be used raise awareness among youth. Then I realised it was easier to stick to what I know, which is music.
I was convicted that if I did a launch for the single 'Trace', I had to use it as a platform to aid this cause, which I feel isn't talked about enough. It's actually super prevalent in Singapore, a destination country for trafficked victims in the realms of domestic servitude, migrant work industry, and the sex industry. It was then that it moved from 'Comfortable Sympathy' and became 'Trace' - I wanted to say that I know a little bit more about your pain and with this, I would like to help give voice to it.
With the song 'Trace', I wanted to use music as a medium to effect social change, and as the means to an end, having a fundraiser event for trafficking victims came into being. Besides raising awareness through the song I wrote, I wanted to extend that further by donating 100% of the profits of the ticket and merch sales to EmancipAsia.
You co-produced 'Trace' with Korean producer, DAMYE. How was it like?
It was pretty cool and non-pressurising with DAMYE. I told him exactly what I wanted him to help me out with, and if there were other things that he felt could be improved, he'd make one-liner suggestions. He probably gave me the best idea of the project, which was to pull back the beats and make it less straight (in the original demo it was more like electronica-pop) and instead more swung (which gave it its R&B/hip-hop feel). I instantly thought that he made the song sound more like me than what I had originally arranged. After that, he went back to Korea to work on his album with his new label - that I like to think I helped him get signed to (I sang a major part on his demo that he pitched to them). So, I finished the production and mixing on my own, after he had helped me pick better instrument samples, add a drop and a couple of effects.
I try to keep my ego in check from the moment I enter the project with a collaborator, and remember that I'm there to serve the song, no matter whose idea gets implemented, and that I need to be teachable. However, sometimes I also receive criticism from a place of sexism because in a male-dominated music industry, someone like me sometimes gets thrown lots of shade because of the subconscious bias that some musicians have about a female musician, in particular a singer. I take a lot of criticism these days with a pinch of salt, remembering that everybody has biases and their own tastes and opinions. I also now work only with people I know believe in me 100% so that I don't feel like shit working with them.
How would you describe your songs now and is this the place you envisioned to be?
The tunes now are a little more raw in lyrical content, but more polished in production, since I'm learning more about producing and I'm working with other producers to look out for my blind-spots. I hadn't imagined this actually, but I'm embracing my evolution. Sometimes I write a song and think "Oh no I don't know if I can write another song as good as this", not in a narcissistic way but in an inferiority complex way. But I think for me, the melody and prosody are always there, it's just how to package it in the right arrangement and production for the audience. Consumers' tastes are always changing so fast and rapidly transforming the entertainment industry.
What are your plans now? And how has studying in Berklee shaped that for you?
My plan is to keep writing and producing my own music, build my own brand of music production while at it, work towards developing a more international audience and tour outside of Singapore and Boston. I'll also work as a full-time composer and arranger, writing music for all different medias: film, television, games, musicals, so lots of post-production work. But I'd also like to produce for other artists and be part of the next generation fostering the music industry in Singapore. A bunch of people are already doing that really well, like Evanturetime, he's getting to famous too play with me anymore.
My major in contemporary writing, production and arrangement at Berklee is designed to be a kind of music production swiss-army-knife. Some things are a little outdated and taught by incompetent old White men, and some classes are just so amazing that my mind is blown over and over again. It's still a dream I'm living out and I thank God for that, I see that plan is more possible than ever because I'm getting better and getting more confident as well. I also tend to surround myself with other hardworking and driven people, so we push each other and help each other with projects so we can pave our paths towards our goals.
What's next for you?
Over the coming year, I'll be unfolding the four-song-suite, which loosely interprets the five stages of grief - in life, instead of death. So there's a song for depression, a song for anger and bargaining, and it'll end with the song of acceptance. I'm most excited for that last one, cause it's a funky jam. There'll also be more international collaborations with other indie producers from Italy, Australia, and the US. Literally all over the world.
Listen to Bittymacbeth's new single 'Trace', here.
Bittymacbeth performs 'Trace' and holds benefit show at The Working Capitol on 8 August, 7.30pm till 9pm, tickets here.
For last week's #WomanCrushWednesday, click here.