WhatsApp Q&A with SG singer-songwriter Michaela Therese

Sabina-Leah Fernandez (www.sabinafernandez.com) is a Singaporean editor-turned-yoga teacher now living in Sri Lanka. Read more of her writing on her blog www.ahippieinheels.com

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The pianist and songstress talks to long-time friend Sabina Fernandez via smartphone.
You may know her as Singapore’s Alicia Keys. I know her as Kokomost. It’s the latest in a string of complex nicknames I’ve given Michaela Therese over our twenty years of friendship. We first met in the church choir, where the soul, jazz and R&B singer first flexed those pipes. And what pipes they are. When, from her seat at the piano she throws her head back and hits the high notes, rooms are known to go silent. Pins are known to drop.

Since I moved to Sri Lanka, Koko (for short, duh!) and I have nurtured our long-distance friendship via Skype, Facebook and IM. So naturally I suggested an interview via Whatsapp to discuss her brand new album My Name Is MEE KEL LAH.

Typing furiously, we chatted about Steph Micayle, emo song lyrics and how to prove Singapore got talent (Answer: with YouTube links to kick-ass locla muzack!).

Here’s the full transcript, Singlish, smiley faces, autocorrects and all!
07:49, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Lets go!
07:52, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: So Hi koko! Thanks for speaking to Five Stars and A Moon. Exciting to hear bout your new single! Understand you’re still working on the album now? Tell us abt that!
08:17, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Hi Five Stars and A Moon! A whatsapp interview, how awesome is this!
08:18, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Actually, you got me right on time. I got the final masters for the album today, which means I am no longer working on it. It is done!
08:25, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: It took my team and I (including my band, co-producers etc.) about 10 months to put it all together, but a whole career for me to bring it into being. The songs on this album span from tunes I wrote when I was 18 in junior college right up to last year. So I consider this my life’s work in a way. It’s an independent project and I had so many good people working on it with me who were as passionate about it as I am, and I am so grateful for that.
08:27, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Wow- well huge congratulations! What a milestone. How does it feel to have put this to bed finally?
08:28, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: It’s all still completely surreal to me, but check back with me in a week when the official launch is over. ;)
08:37, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Ah launch party! Very cool. Very big-time!
08:37, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: This isnt your first release though. You did a self-titled EP a few years ago right?
08:39, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Hows this one different from the last? does this feel more like your FIRST than that one?
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08:41, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Yes I did! It was actually the second of 2 EPs (the earlier one was released in 2008 but I think I was a little too green to know what to do with it then) but I had a launch party for the second EP in 2011.
08:42, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: You’ll remember, you helped me write the press release for the event. =)
08:42, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: I did?!
08:43, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Haha really i dont remember! When was this?!
08:43, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Oh no terrible friend!
08:43, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: #fail
08:43, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Haha yes you did! No good friend! You helped me out!!
08:43, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: #facepalm
08:44, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: It does feel more like a FIRST.
08:44, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: This one
08:45, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: The first time, as I said, I was green.
08:46, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Yes I osso say. This one feels more like an undertaking. More putting yourself out there.
08:47, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: The second time, it was produced for me and even though it was a wonderful experience, and I am so thankful that the theatre company (Dream Academy, bless them) I was doing a show with that Christmas, was willing to invest in me, we also had to choose songs of mine that were more feelgood.
08:47, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: And if you know me, my songs are mostly a little darker.
08:48, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: So it was a great production and I still consider it an achievement but in a way, I felt like it didn’t really represent my work.
08:48, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: This one does. This one is all me. Flaws and perfection and darkness and bliss, all of it. All me.
08:49, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Makes me feel very vulnerable. But in a good way. And I’m glad I bit the bullet and got it out.
08:51, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Scary.
08:53, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Vulnerable is a good word.
You called this album a “biography”. Tell me abt thay vulnerability – how was it telling the whole world your story?
08:54, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Is it tempting to edit out the dark bits? To whitewash a little?
08:54, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Ha it was VERY tempting.
08:55, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: But my co-producer Tim De Cotta would have none of that.
08:55, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: I’d be all like, Tim, I don’t like this line, it’s so emo, you don’t understand I wrote it in 1998!!!!!
08:56, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: And he’d be like, exactly why we keep it in! It’s a peak into your history! And then I’d argue and he’d say no, and in the end I’d be thankful for it. Haha
08:58, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: He was right. The songs represent particular moments in time for me, some even eras. And they truly document my growth as a human being. From the self-centred 18 year old to the self-discovering 25 year old to the socially conscious 27 year old to the self-aware 32 year old
08:58, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Biography lah =)
08:58, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Hahaha how awesome to have someone there with the guts to keep you real
08:58, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Absolutely. I couldn’t have done this without Tim. No way.
08:59, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Let’s talk abt the album title
08:59, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: What made you name it my name is meekellah? Is it that youre tired of having your name mispronounced? Coz you and I talk abt that a LOT

09:00, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Yes Sabrina, indeed we do
09:00, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Jahhahha
09:00, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: @#$%^

09:00, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Hahahahaha
09:01, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: So irritating! [Ed: This is an in-joke. She knows how much I hate when people add an “R” into my name] 09:01, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Ya! So you’re Sabrina and I’m Michelle lah!
09:01, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: My first book will be My name is SUH BEE NAH
09:01, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: : p
09:02, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: People seriously think youre name is michelle?
09:02, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Why? I dont understand?!
09:02, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: You ask me I ask who
09:02, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: So when I was thinking about presenting this album, I knew it was going to be a reintroduction of sorts. Because most people are used to the idea of me behind a piano.
09:03, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: And I thought it would be the best time to also get all the common mispronunciations out of the way
09:03, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: I am not Michelle. Neither am I Meekayla
09:03, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: My momma named me MEE-KEL-LAH and I don’t see why people shouldn’t call me that.
09:04, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Er ya! Its really not frigging rocket science lor
09:04, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Hahaha ever considered a pseudonym? Like hello im Jane?
I like that there’s a lah at the end like hello! Mee kel, lah! Wah lau!
09:17, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: I’ve always pronounced it Mee-Kel-lah with the emphasis on the Kel so that’s what people call me for short.
09:18, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Unlike you who has given me countless nicknames throughout our long and illustrious friendship hahaha
09:20, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: And yes I love that there’s a lah at the end of it!

09:30, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: A lot of people are saying we are in the middle of a new wave for the Singapore music scene. Your album’s coming out at a time when more sporeans artists than ever are releasing original music. Do you agree?
10:41, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: [gimme a sec k Nings. I’ll try to get to this ASAP. Need to sort some things out] 14:09, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: I’m back!
14:10, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Yes I agree. I think it’s a bit of a renaissance. I’ve heard great stories about the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s when Singaporean bands were thriving, and also very original. I don’t know if it was easier than now, I’m sure it was as much of a hassle and there was an equal amount of ignorance they had to deal with, especially being a musician in those times.
14:11, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: But it was definitely a bit of a golden era and then with censorship and a drastic change in education that focused on streaming, we lost our way in the art world.
14:12, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: I love seeing what’s happening now. When I went to Lasalle to pursue music, the general impression of the students were that they went to Lasalle after O Levels (or A Levels in my case) because you couldn’t get into a JC or a Poly
14:15, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Now I think more and more students are choosing to study what they realise they’re good at, and some of the new Lasalle graduates I’ve had the pleasure of working with, have mostly blown my mind. They’re super fresh and they know what’s up.

14:15, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: But like I said, it’s getting more and more vibrant now, and I am real glad to witness it and be a part of it
18:43, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: So why do you think people haterate on the lack of local talent? Like steph micayle who said singaporeans arent creative. You wrote a blog in response to that. Tell us?

 

20:41, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Sorry Nings I just finished work! [Ed: While Koko makes fun of my nicknames, she own self osso calls me Nings. Long story.] 20:42, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: No worries!
20:42, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: I played at Longtail today, it’s a new venue at a The Customs House and it’s my new Thursday night regular with Tim De Cotta (plug plug! Haha)
20:43, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Hahaha cooool
20:46, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Shall we continue?
20:47, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Yesssst
20:47, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Ok
20:48, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: I did write a blog response to Steph Micayle’s semi-outrageous vlog. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydANJ5qLHG4&list=UU-Q0CZ73ywaFl-P6pf0_ZHg] 20:49, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: I think people who have a certain idea of a first world creative industry where people make MONEY from making actual art, won’t really get a growing underground scene.
20:49, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: I’m not saying you can’t make money with your art, I just think how a new art scene grows is from small initiatives and committed people.
20:54, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Anyway I didn’t appreciate the fact that she’s not a part of this growing community of creatives but somehow thinks she is an expert at what goes on on the ground here.

20:56, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: I hear what she’s saying about our education system.
20:57, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: and about how that can hamper as opposed to encourage creative thought n
20:58, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: But there was a disconnect to me, in what she was saying and what I see to be happening within my industry.
20:58, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: And since she’s not here to see it, I didn’t think she had a right dissing it.
20:59, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: What DO you see in your industry?
21:01, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: I see a generation of musicians who value original work. I’ve been blown away by the likes of “TAJ”, “The Good Life Project”, “The Steve McQueens”… These are all young bands who take pride in the music they make, and have come out of said education system quite unscathed. They’re anomalies, I’ll give you that. But there’s a growing number of anomalies. And that’s what I see
21:02, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: I see young rock bands honing their craft and going without to save enough money to record. It’s great.
21:03, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: I see a fair amount of commitment and I see musicians wanting to be bigger than their bodies.
21:16, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: I agree with what she said about our education system and how it is famous for not giving creativity much room
21:17, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: And I agree that that puts us at a disadvantage compared to societies that encourage students to think for themselves
21:19, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: But even with this new generation of musicians, we are all products of this system. And there will always be people who see it for what it is and break out. We’re just the minority. It doesn’t mean all Singaporeans are not creative. And that our music scene isn’t buzzing right now. Or that our writers aren’t churning out publications like nobody’s business.
21:21, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: And I think I had a problem with her attitude and the fact that she thought she knew what she was saying when she gave herself away the moment the only Singaporean film reference she could come up with was Jack Neo
21:22, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Yes. True. Also! Totally off topic but I think steph micayle named herself after you. She should also have a pronunciation guide for her name.
21:23, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAAHHA
21:24, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Yes I have wondered about her name, I won’t lie
21:28, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Hahaha
21:29, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Can you send us a youtube playlist that you would send to ppl who say Singapore got no talent?
21:34, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Can. Leem go look for links.
21:38, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: The Steve McQueens. http://youtu.be/SIQAHGMB2Ng
21:39, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Vandetta (Vanessa Fernandez) http://youtu.be/-qfwFRTIaW0
21:42, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: The Good Life Project http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-sATj4H0fg&sns=em
21:47, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: The Astral Journey http://theastraljourney.bandcamp.com/album/the-astral-journey-supersingle
21:48, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Myself! http://youtu.be/Ds87DddUL4g
21:49, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: And I mean what is more creative than this: Melissa, Theresa & The Frenzy http://youtu.be/_FzrVFJt_2s
21:49, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Ok gotta go Nings
21:49, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Hope it’s enough stuff to use!
21:49, 24 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Nite nite xoxoxo
21:49, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Night night!

22:53, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Thanks so much for this koko
22:53, 24 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Rest well
17:41, 25 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: OK just two more questions to round off please if thats alright?
You have three wishes! One for the local music scene one for intl pop music around the globe ans one for your own craft. Go!
02:21, 26 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: My wish for the local music scene is that we learn not to let anyone tell us who or what we are or aren’t. We just have to be what we are and make what we make and play what we play and keep doing what we do. It’s the only way.
02:26, 26 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: My wish for the international pop scene is that they stop glorifying songs and videos like Kanye West’s “Bound 2”. It’s shit and it needs to get trashed. It makes Beyoncé feel like she needs to produce a song like “Drunk in Love” just to get hits when she’s so much better than that!!

02:28, 26 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: My wish for my own craft… Oooh that gets personal. I’m looking forward to releasing the album so I can recalibrate my brain and start writing again. Yes, that’s my wish after this release and the promotion of the album. To lock myself up and play and write and write and write for a while, till I’m ready to share something new.
02:28, 26 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Complete this sentence: My music is….
02:29, 26 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: My music is “art that will MAKE YOU THINK”. (That’s the title of the second single, by the way) =)
02:30, 26 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Goodnight Nings!
08:36, 26 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Yay
08:36, 26 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Lovely
08:36, 26 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: Tjank you thank you thank you
08:48, 26 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: :)
08:48, 26 Apr – Michaela KOKOMOST: Thank YOU!
08:50, 26 Apr – Sabina Fernandez: <3 <3
My Name Is MEE KEL LAH is available on iTunes from April 30 at https://itunes.apple.com/lk/album/final-call-single/id808015701?ign-mpt=uo%3D4 Visit www.michaelatherese.com

 

 

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About the author

Sabina Fernandez

Sabina Fernandez is a Singaporean editor and yoga teacher. She has crafted content for Audi, Singtel, Conde Nast Traveller and Time Out and her most popular online article received 12,000+ views in two days.
Most recently she was an editor at Her World, Singapore’s largest women’s magazine. When not writing, she teaches regular outdoor yoga classes in the botanic gardens and by the beach.

For info about her writing visit www.sabinafernandez.branded.me or go to www.sabinafernandez.com for more about her yoga classes.

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