We chat with one of Singapore’s best local musicians, who lets his talent speak for itself through soul, funk, jazz and hip-hop
Some might say that Singapore is a city that lacks soul, but that hasn’t stopped warriors like Tim De Cotta from pushing on. A revered ‘big brother’ figure of the local music scene, the 31-year-old whiz is a storyteller with lots of it, hustling for years while honing his own craft and mentoring other musos who chase the same dream.
Since making major strides in the now-defunct supergroup, Sixx, De Cotta is now hailed as a vocalist-bassist extraordinaire who dabbles in neo-soul, funk, jazz and even hip-hop in numerous other outfits like TAJ, L.A.B, neoDominatrix, and his eponymous solo project with backing band, The Warriors. Seasoned punters will also give this down-to-earth singer-songwriter a pat on the back for playing a key role in organising the Getai series – a series of themed pop-up concerts that’s provided a stage for local and regional musicians of all stripes (and sounds).
For this edition of Sound Minds, we chill with De Cotta in a Jalan Besar waterhole that’s been a hot topic amongst cafe-hunters, record-diggers and streetwear fanatics alike – Choice Cuts Goods + Coffee. In his comfort zone, De Cotta shares with us the process of making his much-awaited solo album, and being a ‘big brother’ to others. Meet Tim De Cotta, the warrior of the Singapore music scene.
So what are you fighting for, Mr. Warrior?
I guess, growing up, I saw how easy it was to slip into the norm and become influenced by people; I used to be like that as well. And then I realised, “Eh wait, why am I doing this to make other people happy? Why am I saying these things and doing all this sh*t when, at the end of the day, I’m left with not knowing who I am?”. So I fought against all that. For me as a musician, being a warrior represents the idea of fighting and staying yourself.
If you were an ultimate warrior with super powers, what would it be?
Definite foresight: knowing exactly what’s gonna happen… maybe two years in advance.
Two years is oddly specific…
I don’t wanna see the full future; I don’t think I can handle it. Maybe I could calibrate it?
How would you describe your music… as a local dish?
Is music a full-time career for you?
I don’t know whether it can be in Singapore? But for me, it’s as full as it can be. I’ve been doing music full-time since I graduated five years ago, but along the way, you learn how to program gigs or take up the odd design or music teaching job in the day to the supplement the lack of consistency and residencies at night.
I also like to discover new music, and what’s been heartening is that stuff I’ve been liking tends to come from Singapore. But because I understand how difficult it is to get a gig, I’ve been trying to put them together for the past five years. It started with me hosting two bands, then it became more, then it eventually became the Getai Group. Now, people are asking us to curate not just music, but art and dance… but I’m still a noob, lah.
What would you’ve done if not music?
I think… playing football. Like music, it has always been a part of who I am instinctively. No matter how sh*tty I was feeling, there was always this calm that engulfed me when I got onto the field. There was this consideration of committing to it fully after primary school; training with a football club like Geylang was on the cards – but so was getting an education in Singapore. In Singapore, you’ve gotta be sure about what you want before you do it; we don’t have the luxury of going into music trials or soccer trials when we’re children.
Were you an ace on the pitch though?
Let’s just say I scored a lot of goals [laughs].
Lots of people look up to you, to the point where you’re perceived as this ‘big brother’ of the scene. What are your thoughts about that?
Well, I try to be! ’Cos I never was; I was the youngest in the family. I like to nurture new music, and I like to keep up-to-date with the struggles musicians face today versus what I faced 10 years ago. Where I see my biggest impact to them is letting them know that, “Hey, you don’t need to be anything else. You just have to be yourself”.
I like to look after my friends, and I like the idea of community. If I pour out love, I know that it’ll be there when I need it. Of course, there are different cliques and genres in the scene, but I don’t believe in that. In school I was always the one who’d be around if people needed to talk, even people I weren’t close to. I don’t really like the idea of being in a clique – still don’t! Why encourage nepotism?
Adopting the vox-bass combo is pretty rare for singer-songwriters. Why the bass?
Simple: nothing gives me more freedom than writing on the bass. And naturally, nothing gives me more freedom than performing with the bass. A lot of people don’t know what the bass can do; it’s not just about playing one note every four bars. It’s a rhythmic instrument. It’s a guitar! Of course, certain effects help to cover all the registers, but if you gave me a bass right now, I’d mindlessly play. If you gave me a guitar, I’d have to think about chord shapes and stuff. I’m just free with the bass. I guess you could say, I’m the… am-bass-ador.
Heh, nice pun. Let’s talk about your debut solo album, The Warrior. What were the biggest challenges in making it?
Time was the biggest challenge. Aside from paying bills and doing gigs and stuff with Getai, finding time to quieten the mind and put out a good performance in the studio was challenging. Scheduling everyone was challenging too, but it was more of my schedule than others because everyone was already there and ready to go. But some days, I wouldn’t be feeling what I’d planned. “Let’s not bang our heads against the wall today. Let’s just chill and go back home and come back in a week,” I’d say. If music becomes a drag, then everyone gets the wrong vibe. You can play a song correctly, but you can hear how people feel through it. If I had a bad day, I’d sing differently; it comes out in the performance very clearly. That’s really awesome, but also really pressurising.
I totally agree. Then, what’s the most meaningful song on the album for you?
The last song, “Seasons”. It’s the newest song, and I like how I poetically put it together. It’s about adapting to change and how we’re very resilient, and how everything will be alright at the end of the day. It’s also calmer than the rest of the songs, and it represents how I write these days. All the other songs are from different points of my life over the years when I was still moving around my own equator. While I think more recently, I’ve vibrated more around the core and found out who I am, musically.
What do you want the album to convey?
It’s a manual to waking up. I want it to trigger something in people.
So… how do you have so much soul, in a country where people dismiss its presence of?
I think that’s precisely why. I have to compensate for it [laughs].
Easy. Choice Cuts Goods + Coffee!
Favourite local dish
Bak kut teh.
Your personal fashion style
Cheap, good, and hip-hop.
Al Capone’s [in *SCAPE], or anywhere in Changi Village.
Poison of choice
That’d be between a good single malt, tequila that tastes a bit more like coffee, and a good stout.
Lazy Sunday activity
Naps while listening to music.
Top three local musicians
Wah lao! Sia la, then all of them will run away from me [laughs]. Fine, I’d pick… The Aaron James Lee Trio, FZPZ, and either Shak’thiya or Umar Sirhan.
You can now listen to Tim De Cotta’s debut album, The Warrior, on Spotify.
To discover more local musicians, check out these new Singapore musicians you should know about. And to catch more gigs, see our concerts of the month in April, and where to watch live music in Singapore.