Interview: Singapore’s Amanda Ong Recounts Her Life Stories on “Amanda”

We all go through unforgettable moments in the formative years of our lives. Singer-songwriter Amanda Ong chose to jot them down and release them to the world under her brand new EP – Amanda.

Each of its 6 tracks encapsulates a different stage of her life as she comes of age, which also doubles as some of the earliest songs she’s ever written. “If I don’t release the newer songs first, there would never be a right time for me to release my older gems,” she says.

Recorded entirely under self-isolation, Amanda’s music is a light-sounding vent of her frustrations in life. Venting about “certain standards” she wants in a partner, “having disagreements” with people she knows, and a reflection on a time when she drifted away from her father.

There’s a lot to love on Amanda and even more to dive into in my interview with her below. So read on to find out more.

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Turntable Thoughts:

Tell me about yourself and your career so far.

Amanda Ong:

I’m Amanda. I currently identify as a singer-songwriter and also a cappella arranger/vocalist. I’ve been into music since I took piano lessons when I was 4 years old. Since then I dabbled in stuff like band, choir and a cappella. 

I only started taking my music career seriously in 2018, when I realised my first single – “You Don’t Exist”. I put out a lot of my music online instead of gigging. So when Covid-19 hit, I wasn’t too affected by the cancelled gigs; and because of that, I also got some unique opportunities as my stuff was already all online. 

Turntable Thoughts:

What sort of unique opportunities?

Amanda Ong:

People have hit me up on Instagram to perform on their livestreams – both covers and originals to showcase on their own social media. 


Turntable Thoughts:

What made you focus on putting stuff online instead of gigging? Since gigging has always been the most profitable thing to do.

Amanda Ong:

I think I still have stage fright from many years ago. I never really liked to watch people watch me. So, if I put stuff online, I can’t really see the people watching me. It’s already there and fully curated. 

Turntable Thoughts:

Plus, the potential for anything going wrong is zero.

Amanda Ong:

Yeah, unless haters come and shit on me. [laughs] 


Turntable Thoughts:

You described your upcoming EP – Amanda as a “cathartic journey back to [your] later teens and early 20s”. Why did you choose this period of your life to write about?

Amanda Ong:

Since it’s a debut EP, I felt like it was fitting of me to release songs that I wrote at the start of my songwriting journey…excluding the really cheesy ones I wrote about my ex. They don’t sound great anymore. [laughs] I also feel that if I don’t release the newer songs first, there would never be a right time for me to release my older gems.

I also only find inspiration to write songs when I’m feeling frustrated, so most of my songs are about the frustrating points in my life. For example, “You Don’t Exist” is about having certain standards of what I want in a partner, but obviously no one’s perfect. That’s one mini-frustration.

Then, “Eye to Eye” is about having disagreements with people, which is something I’m sure a lot of listeners can relate to. I wanted it to be vague so the person I’m writing about doesn’t know it’s them, which I think went pretty well. [laughs]  

“Living On My Own” is a new feeling of me moving to another country and be all alone. It was exciting at first but the frustration came when I realised how lonely I was, with nobody to talk to.


Turntable Thoughts:

Out of all the experiences that you wrote about, which one stuck with you the most?

Amanda Ong:

Hmmm…most of them are quite vague cause if I made it obvious and release them then…you know. 

“The Man I Knew Better” was definitely what stuck with me the most. I wrote it about my dad at a point in my life where it felt like I was drifting away from him, due to a new person that entered his life. 

It was hard for me because I didn’t want to let anyone know that was how I felt about my dad. It felt like I was defaming him. So initially I only kept the song to myself and for a couple of close friends around me. The ones that did hear it, loved it. They told me to release it but I took many years before deciding to do so. 

Still, one day I asked my dad if he was okay about having this song out in the world…and he actually gave me his blessing. Kudos to my dad for being so cool about it. He actually said, “It’s your song about how you felt in the past, so there shouldn’t be anything stopping you from releasing it.” 

He actually hasn’t heard the song yet either, so it’ll be a surprise to him. 

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Turntable Thoughts:

Speaking of frustrations, it’s a negative and pent-up feeling. Yet, your own music has a light folky sound to it. Why did you choose to have such a contrast between the two in your music?

Amanda Ong:

I like to hide behind my facade of being a happy person. It’s the stigma about mental illness where you can’t just walk up to someone and be like, “Hey, I’ve got depression”. No one’s gonna listen to you anymore and just brush you off. 

This light-folk feeling is the sound I feel the most of myself in. You know how the language you think in is your mother tongue? Indie-folk is my ‘mother-genre’. [laughs] I think in indie-folk. 

In the future, maybe I might venture into other genres like jazz-funk. I haven’t done it yet cause I haven’t listened to enough music to do anything in that genre. 

Turntable Thoughts:

Why jazz-funk in particular?

Amanda Ong:

It’s the genre that I always found to be super cool. One that I really wanna do but just don’t know how yet. There’s another genre I would do – a cappella. That, I know how to do but I don’t think it’ll capture the essence of every genre all the time. You need to find the right people to sing with. 


Turntable Thoughts:

What inspirations did you draw from when writing Amanda?

Amanda Ong:

One of my biggest influences is dodie. I can just put on her entire discography and it helps me calm down whenever I’m anxious. I just wanna be that kind of artist as well for people in the future. 

Grace Charis is also someone that releases songs in a similar fashion. All her music is super calming even if she writes sad songs, they still sound happy. It just makes me feel better knowing that there are artists out there I can relate to in the genre I ‘think’ in. 


Turntable Thoughts:

In your cover art, there’s a drawing of you falling in the middle of a few instruments. Why that picture?

Amanda Ong:

It was when I went to the ArtScience Museum for a Disney exhibit, where I saw this picture of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ – one where she was falling down a tunnel with clocks and furniture surrounding her. I thought the concept was interesting and decided to adapt it for my cover art.


Turntable Thoughts:

Tell me about the recording process.

Amanda Ong:

Since it’s Covid, I just recorded everything at home. I have my own home studio that’s not actually soundproof and is right next to the main road, so I need to wait for cars to pass then I start recording. Still, there was a lot of background noise. 

Jeremy Chua, who’s in Melbourne right now, helped me with that, especially on the MIDI and the other instruments. I mostly worked on the vocals and guitar. I also never got to meet up with anyone else to record stuff either, except for the two vocalists in my a cappella song. 

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Turntable Thoughts:

Outside of your own solo material, you also make a lot of a cappella content on your personal social media accounts and with New Recording 47. What can you tell me about your work with them and your love for the genre?

Amanda Ong:

Things weren’t always smooth sailing for New Recording 47 but we managed to find a balance between work and fun for this passion project. This year, we finally got our busking license and were super excited to work on gigs, instead of just having clients come to us. But we got it one week before the covid lockdown and haven’t used it more than once.  

Instead, we decided to up our social media game. Taking song requests from our followers and churn out the covers bi-weekly.

I really love a cappella. There are so many instruments in the world that you can learn and create with, but a cappella is trying to do that all with your voice. So it’s kind of like a multiskill thing, even though the art of learning a specific instrument is different. Trying to give an existing song its own twist through a cappella is what intrigues me the most about it. For practical reasons, it’s also cheaper and more convenient. 


Turntable Thoughts:

Tell me about how New Recording 47 was formed.

Amanda Ong:

When I went to Melbourne for my studies, everyone from Singapore in my a cappella CCA had already found their own groups. When I came back, everyone was gone…but my best friend, who had his own group, told me “I always wanted to form a group with you, so if you wanna from another group, I’m totally up for it”. So, we went for it.

My fiance is a beatboxer but doesn’t want to be in an a cappella group, but he introduced a lot of other beatboxers to me. There was this one guy who was super musical, and also in a polytechnic a cappella group, who I asked to join. He then brought 2 more of his friends over and we just clicked. 

We sounded really good in our first practice. We tried out one Pentatonix song and recorded it on someone’s iPhone, who happened to never rename his voice memos. Which was what led to the group name – New Recording 47.

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Turntable Thoughts:

Is there anything that you want listeners to take away from Amanda and your music in general?

Amanda Ong:

I just want to let my listeners know that no matter what grievances they’re struggling with, they’re not alone. Even if they can’t write songs about it, I hope they can use my music as an outlet to destress or release some anxiety – just like dodie and Grace. 

Posted by

Based in Melbourne and Malaysia. Jensen is a part-time journalist and full-time music fan.

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