Interview: Australia’s Yeo Reinvents Himself on Chinese-debut “好好的過 (Have A Nice Life)”

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Born and raised in Australia, Yeo has always felt detached from his Asian roots. Growing up in a predominately White country, it became difficult for him to relate to his race’s heritage, even more so when it came to learning his mother tongue – Mandarin, which he hated doing as a kid.

Musically, he also pulled more from Western influences – most notably Pharrell Williams. Yeo was inspired by the flexibility in his production and became enamored with how carefree Pharrell came across in his music; to the point where Yeo decided to model his musical intentions after him – to just have fun.

In 2020, Yeo’s flexibility began to expand past just his genre-defying production and beyond language barriers, releasing his first ever Mandarin-language song “好好的過 (Have A Nice Life)” with Taiwanese-based singer Chendy. A pretty ballad that details the gradually fading feelings from a deteriorating relationship.

Listen to “Have A Nice Life” here, the acoustic version here, and read the rest of Turntable Thoughts’ Interview with him below.

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Turntable Thoughts:

Tell me about your latest single “好好的過 (Have A Nice Life)”.

Yeo:

Wendy initially wrote it about a breakup that she recently experienced, and it’s about how you slowly fade out of each other’s lives with reduced contact, but there are always things that you’d miss about them. It then begs the questions, “Is it the right thing to do?” “Is there a right thing to do?” I’m not really sure, but either way, the separation should continue forward cause it’s best for our lives.

That was naturally how the song formed itself. When she told me about it, I went on to write the bridge, which is all in English. [laughs] So I kinda summed up the feelings that I had from past relationships there. We also continued those themes in the music video.


Turntable Thoughts:

You mentioned on Asian Pop Weekly that you only 6 years of Mandarin-speaking experience. How was the recording process like for the song?

Yeo:

Well, I learned it as a child. It’s a very common thing for Asian parents in Australia to send their kids to Chinese class. They didn’t want us to lose out, but I hated it. I didn’t concentrate in class and I was a rude brat. Still, I picked up a bit over the 6 years. 

To be honest, Chendy wrote all of the Chinese parts and translated it as well, to help me understand what the song was about. Then I went back and learnt how to read it all aloud with pinyin. Drew from my old school knowledge to get the pronunciation as close as possible. [laughs] She also did a guide vocal, so I tried to mimic that.

The other thing is that singing in Chinese, all the tonality stuff goes out the window. The flexibility makes it a little bit easier than you think it is. 

Turntable Thoughts:

It’s easier to bring your emotions out when you’re not adhering to the ‘rules’, right?

Yeo:

That’s right. A lot of people have also said I sing differently in Chinese, which is interesting.


Turntable Thoughts:

I wanted to talk about Chendy. How was it like to work on the song with her?

Yeo:

I don’t think either of us knew what we were walking into when we met, which was through Jocelle. Plus, Wendy [her real name] spent a lot of time in Australia growing up, which made her easy to get along with since she understands the culture.

She has an incredible work ethic. That’s the thing that stood out to me the most. Working in Taiwan scene for such a long time, getting things done? She’s very good at it. She was always like, “I’m not leaving until this is finished.” After that, the ball was in my court to finish production and build the song’s release with my management team. 

Turntable Thoughts:

Given Chendy’s experience, was she intimidating to work with?

Yeo:

It all comes down to that first five minutes. We met in a cafe for brunch cause we got to get to know each other a little bit before we went into the writing phase. And yeah, she was so down-to-earth. There was no way I could feel too intimidated. I was impressed, but she was so warm that any fear that I might have had dissipated very quickly. 


Turntable Thoughts:

What about releasing a ballad version of the song? What was the main difference you wanted to give listeners?

Yeo:

Actually, we originally wrote it with just guitar and vocals. Pink $weats was an artist we referenced a lot. I only put all this production around it for the full release. 

However, I kept listening to the original and thought to myself, “This is still a nice song even without all the bells and whistles.” From there I started to think about all the Asian soap dramas I’ve watched, more specifically the ending credits songs. Simple production of just guitar and voice, while still being super emotional.

I also think it’s paying off. The ballad edit is getting more on playlists than the original, which is really interesting since we didn’t see that coming.

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Turntable Thoughts:

I had a listen to your previous albums. Your current music is a pretty big departure from what you did – like the R&B-influenced Recovery Channel, and the electronic-based production of Desire Path and Ganbaru. What made you decide to take the genre leap?

Yeo:

I never really made a decision to do it. It’s part of my creative process to experiment. Throughout my whole life, I’ve listened to so many different kinds of music, so many different phases with different genres. Last year, I was really into independent R&B (thus, Recovery Channel) but I’ve slowly moved away from that. Now, I’m listening to a lot more pop music.

I only know how to create what I’m listening to, cause I loved being influenced by it. 

Still, a lot of artists and management team people have advised me against shifting or being too eclectic, cause audiences get confused easily. Everyone wants to sell you as a bold, singular idea and I’ve never been able to fit into that strategy.


Turntable Thoughts:

Speaking of influences, is there a particular artist that influenced your overall career and work?

Yeo:

It changes from time to time. Often these influences of mine are also quite chameleon-like, where they can do multiple things. One of my earlier influences would probably be Pharell Williams. Not only could he do hip-hop and pop, his work in N.E.R.D. was also rock songs.

He’s this dude that can do all these different things and mix them all together as well. To me, that was really cool cause it just sounded like he wanted to have fun. It’s also how I model my intentions – having fun.

Fast forward to today, a guy who’s doing a similar thing would be Joji. All of his songs sound different. Some of them are rock, R&B, pop and it all works, cause it’s his personality coming through. I love it.

Turntable Thoughts:

So could I say that your current genre switches are like stepping stones? Till the point where you can finally let loose in the future.

Yeo:

I think so. My new stuff is always a mix of what I liked from my old stuff and some brand new stylistic elements that I can pull from the stuff I’m listening to.

The next project that I’m working on right now…I’m gonna say that it’s a pop album. There’s a bit of R&B in there but it’s so eclectic and strange that it sounds like I’ve taken a track from each of my previous albums, gotten better as a songwriter, and mashed them together into this new record.

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Turntable Thoughts:

Is the project going to be in Mandarin?

Yeo:

No. It’s gonna be in English. [laughs] I wanna do more in Mandarin though. Wendy and I have been talking about it and more doing more collabs in the future. I’d love to write with her again and whoever else is keen to write in Chinese too.

Turntable Thoughts:

So “Have a Nice Life” wasn’t just a detour right? It’s something you’ll definitely explore more of?

Yeo:

I hope so. The experience has been very positive. It started off as a “Let’s just try this and see what happens.” However, the feedback has been very good, and on a spiritual level, I’ve felt really positive about it.


Turntable Thoughts:

Would you say that singing in Mandarin made you more in touch with your Asian roots? You’re going towards an Asian market and getting close to your Asian heritage, is that what made you feel positive?

Yeo:

100%. I think you’ve summed it up very well. That was never the intention. Like I never thought that releasing a Mandarin song would give me those feelings. I’ve gotten feedback from my mom, telling me that it’s nice to finally hear me singing in Chinese; or my Australian-Asian fans here, who can’t really understand the language but know what a Chinese song should be or sound like, have told me they feel connected to their Asianness while listening to the song too.

Turntable Thoughts:

That’s pretty cool how you’ve extended beyond your own language barrier while doing the same for others too.

Yeo:

It definitely helps that there’s a shared narrative here of Australia-born Chinese people feeling disconnected from our culture, cause it’s such a white country. When we have these little nuggets of things – could be food, music or a TV show, it brings us back to our childhood or time with our grandparents. We hold on to it with a lot of sentimentalities and we value it. 

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Turntable Thoughts:

What plans do you have for the future?

Yeo:

Well, I spoke to you already about possibly doing more Mandarin music. There’s also a whole lot of collaborations from last year that I started with Singaporean artists like Charlie Lim, who’s a good mate of mine, and we’re working on some duet stuff as well. I would wanna finish that up.

Also, finishing up this solo record that I’ve been working on, which is my priority at the moment. You’d probably be hearing a lot of singles from that next project over the next year. 

Posted by

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

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