Vandetta premieres her single, 'Onz', from new EP, Mindkiller
Vanessa Fernandez is one of those stalwarts in Singapore's music scene that's fronting its face (or sounds) as well as its back-end: She's part of the programming team at Lush 99.5FM — that is, she's responsible for the artists you've been discovering on the airwaves on a daily basis — and is a NOISE Singapore music mentor, recently mothering the young careers of singer-songwriters Ffion and Mars.
But even creative heads need to spread their own wings every now and then. Four years after her self-titled EP, Fernandez is back as Vandetta (a moniker she shares more on here) for a new release, Mindkiller. With five tracks featuring some of Singapore's top artists — both classic and up-and-coming, such as Kiat and Perk Pietrek — Vandetta's latest tracks are motivational numbers for her to keep creating music. Before the release of the official music video by Amanda Tan of Empyreal, we check in on 'Onz', her first single from the Mindkiller EP.
It's been four years since your self-titled EP. How do you think these 4 years have shaped you as a musician and is this reflected in Mindkiller?
Both the Vandetta EP and Mindkiller EP are about finding answers through music. I think that's inherently my approach towards making music. With my first EP I needed to explore being alone and doing things myself whereas on Mindkiller there are more people involved. The last four years have been quite a fight for me. I feel like I've spent a lot of time being split between two worlds — one that's mainstream and another that's rooted firmly in subculture. If I think about it deeper, being born a mixed race kid meant that I grew up experiencing two points of view and had to resolve always being different and having to fit in to make things work. It's made me adaptive and also very tired. I think we all struggle to keep going, find meaning, and be happy.
Why the title "Mindkiller" for your latest EP?
Having spent so much time thinking about the barriers that stop us from being who we are, accepting others, and creating positive value for the world I always come back to the same reason — fear. "Fear is the mindkiller". I read Frank Herbert's Dune and it's an inspiration point for this EP. Once you have accepted that fear will always exist, how do you work through it to keep creating? Inspiration is the key. Mindkiller is about finding that for me.
When you begin creating a song, does it usually start with its words first, or melody?
It always starts with a melody for me and that can come from hearing a beat or having a bunch of lyrics that I put a melody to. The idea usually develops faster if there's already a beat because I find it easier to shape things around a track that's already built out and then just tweak the structure. I definitely have to be inspired by the beat in order to hear that initial melody line which forms a chorus or verse.
Could you share a bit about your creative process on 'Onz'?
I asked Perk about producing a track for me for the Mindkiller EP and he sent through 'Onz', which was then titled 'TG4U'. I listened to it and thought that it was awesome and upbeat. All the tracks on the EP are motivational songs for myself to keep creating music because I find that gets harder to do as I get older and have more responsibilities, yet I feel it's important because art is cathartic and it helps me stay connected with my community. Perk's track made me feel positive and confident, so that perspective towards not stopping came through in the lyrics.
How did Perk come into the picture and what did he bring to the song?
Perk was one of the first producers who reached out to me on Facebook after my Vandetta EP was released. He told me he really dug the EP and asked if I would let him remix 'Fly'. I sent him all the stems and he came back with this bangin' remix. I think he's insanely talented. Some people might not be into his style of music but I evaluate artists based on whether there's an evident skill behind the track versus whether I simply like a track or not.
The rap part of the song references "Instagram culture", or the way we consume our social media feeds. What do these references mean to you and how did you work with Kim Olsen for this part?
Kim was part of Urban Xchange with me back in 2000 when we were in the Coca-Cola commercial that essentially launched us. I'd known her from before then because we had mutual friends and we've continued to periodically stay in touch. She works in digital marketing and I work in media and we're both also artists at heart, plus we came up at a time where social wasn't such a big thing. But we've seen how it's changed the game. It's funny because while the context changes the issues kind of remain — there will always be people who get lost in finding themselves because they're obsessed with the validation of others or don't know how to really love because they secretly hate themselves.
Jason Tan (who's my collaborator on our Octover project and also recorded and produced all my vocals for this EP) suggested we bring in a rapper for this song. It needed a voice that would cut through and really lend to the vibe. I knew Kim would nail it because she's unafraid to tell it like it is and has a unique voice.
The rap portion also talks about getting stuck. Did you ever get stuck in the making of this EP?
The EP got delayed simply because I didn't have the headspace to fully focus on making music for myself and juggle my duties as a radio boss, mentor and advocate. I had to figure out who I was and how all these different things I do make sense for myself and how I communicate that to others. I also had to manage resources for the project, which can limit how far you can expand your vision but that always means you have to get creative or engage other talented, creative people to help. Whenever I get stuck I have to pause, calm myself, re-prioritize, plan and then execute. It sounds clinical and straightforward but it's honestly very hard when you're working in a creative field and the project is you.
Fear is a mindkiller... could you share what your biggest fear is?
My biggest fear is the people I love thinking I don't care about them.
Listen to Vandetta's new single, 'Onz'.