Vanessa Fernandez: Beauty, Brains & Blazing a Trail (BB&BAT)
They’ve got the looks, the smarts, and they’re great at what they do. In this series of interviews, we speak to inspiring Singaporean women who are blazing a trail in their respective fields. Phone numbers not included, sorry boys.
Unlike most singer-songwriter-producers, Vanessa, 31, has worked on two very different sides of the industry. She rose to stardom as part of hip hop group Urban Xchange in the early noughties but you probably know her best from her time as radio DJ on 987fm. Now back from her stint in LA, and with a steaming hot album release to boot, the Ngee Ann Polytechnic graduate is back on home shores, and taking another interesting leap forward in her field.
Editor:Tell us about your family and growing up years in Singapore.
VF: I have a very multi-cultural upbringing. My mum is Peranakan and my dad is Indian and my extended family includes Eurasian cousins. I was aware at a very young age that I was different from others around me but I also quickly learned that was ok. I went to local schools but spent my teenage years with a lot of international students because my cousin went to United World College S.E.A. I have an equal balance of good friends who are Singaporean and non-Singapore nationals. I think because I often felt different or misunderstood as a child I was more tolerant and accepting of others as I grew up. People fear those who are different but I always looked for ways I could connect and communicate – it’s what I hoped people would do for me.
Editor: You worked at Mediacorp Radio’s 987fm for four years and at the end you hosted the prime morning drive time show slot. What have you been up to since then?
VF: I left 987fm in 2010 and decided to return to creating music. I then became part of an audio-visual collective called Syndicate. [A well-respected group of Djs producers and visual artists at the forefront of the dubstep scene in Singapore]. I released an album with veteran music producer, Jason Tan, we named our dup Octover. I moved to Los Angeles in 2011 to work on my debut solo effort (The Vandetta EP), which will be released October 16th. about a month ago I came back to Singapore and I’m now back in radio in a more senior role.
Editor: Gosh you’ve been busy! How do you juggle it all?
VF: Working at the station and being an artist takes up a lot of my time, but since it involves music I thoroughly enjoy it. My goal is to contribute to the growth of music culture in Singapore by supporting the community, sharing global independent/underground music with the Singapore audience, and constantly evolving, improving and creating as an artist.
Editor: Why have you chosen Singapore?
It is a very interesting and exciting time for Singapore music. There is a kind of renaissance happening and I want to be a part of it. Technology now enables people to record albums in their bedrooms and share it from their handphones. It’s easier to create and connect so there is a lot of music being made. In the past when these surges of music-making occurred, they’d last for a short burst of time and then disappear. It’s important to keep things going in order for the culture and industry to develop. I believe I can help by creating as an artist and sharing the work of my peers through the medium of radio.
Singapore has its flaws, but so does every country in the world. In my opinion there are more great things about Singapore than there are bad. I will always be proud to be Singaporean and the truth is, I can’t be anything else so I’d rather love and celebrate my identity than find fault with it.
Editor: What’s your career advice for beautiful and brainy women living in SG?
VF: My career advice for women is the same advice I would give to a man. Be patient, stay informed, do things right and get it done.
Editor: What do you think are the feminine qualities you have that brought you success?
VF: I don’t know if I’d call them feminine or masculine but I think passion and perseverance have been my most valuable qualities. I care deeply about music not just because of what it does for me but what I believe it does for humanity in general. Even when people thought it was naïve to pursue it, I didn’t care because I’m obsessed with it. I also don’t give up. I might take a step back because timing is everything, but I never give up.
Editor: What if any barriers are there that hold women back from achieving their dreams? How did you overcome these?
VF: We’re sexualized in a way that men aren’t and I don’t know if that will ever change. As an entertainer I definitely felt the pressure to look a certain way when I was younger. We punish ourselves sometimes and I think it can be more detrimental to our confidence to attach our worth as a human being to superficial things like looks. I don’t have an issue with women being confident in their sexuality but I think it shouldn’t define us and I think it’s a cop-out to take advantage of that stereotype.
Man or woman, the biggest barrier to achieving your dreams is fear. I told myself some years ago that I would not allow my fear and insecurity to control me. You have to be very honest with yourself when you confront your own fear and a lot of people don’t want to do that. It’s probably the best thing I ever did though. When you stop being afraid, you stop sabotaging your own dreams and start making them come true.