Wendy Phua, in a few of her own words…

Though I’m a musician, I’ve always seen myself more as a creative whose craft happens to be music. Anything that touches on culture excites me, be it music, literature, art, cinema or even architecture. I’ve dabbled in all these disciplines at various points in my life, and these experiences coalesce to inform my creative endeavours in a multi-linear way.

Tapping workshop at Yamaha

Wendy at Tapping workshop at Yamaha

Induction into the music industry

I started music playing classical piano as a child, but I had a rather uninspiring teacher and I wasn’t particularly gifted on the piano as well. I can recall both of us miserably plowing through each lesson, probably annoyed with my mother for putting us through the “torture”. Then when I was 15, a Christian metal band enlisted me as a bass player, then taught me to play the bass. Talk about putting the cart before the horse! I’m forever grateful for their patience and generosity. My first bass, a Fender I dearly love till today, was partially paid for by the band. Before I got the bass, I was already gigging and hustling a quick loan from any bassist with the best bass at every show! Thankfully none refused and I always had a decent sound with their fine instruments.

Wendy Phua

Wendy Phua

Translucent walls of education & the freedom of experimentation

I was fortunate to meet some great musicians who fed me a constant diet of excellent music from the likes of Victor Wooten, Brian Bromberg, Marcus Miller etc. I am mostly self-taught on the bass, with a few lessons here and there, but I am convinced it was listening to good music and emulating my bass heroes that propelled my growth as a bassist. I have always been quite left-field as a person so it was probably not too surprising I took a serious interest in bass tapping, a lesser known technique in bass playing. The double-handed tapping also meant I could play bass lines on the left hand whilst fleshing out chord voicings or melody on my right hand simultaneously, very much like piano playing! Michael Manring was my main inspiration for tapping and experimenting with alternate tunings; he is just a phenomenal player. I also loved funk and nu jazz, and was turned on to the sounds of Lamb, 4Hero, Amon Tobin, Shpongle and Massive Attack. That was probably my earliest exposure to jazz, being sampled in the electronica tracks or performed over lush deep beats. Because of my roots in classic rock and blues, I was also attracted to the experimental fusion sounds of Mahavishnu Orchestra, Miles Davis, Return to Forever and at the same time, I was getting into the writings of Jack Kerouac, Allan Ginsberg, and Kafka. I was also studying art at the time, and drawn to works by Francis Bacon, Hieronymous Bosch and Steve Mcqueen. These variegated influences fuelled a time of intense self-discovery for me, and I was probably my most experimental in terms of song-writing at that point.

The Craftswoman & Motivated Innovator

Like I mentioned earlier, I see myself being rather craft-oriented. I was always making things as a child and later went on to make gifts for friends from a lamp that actually works, to shiny organisers cut from metallic sheets and even a furry leopard print dust bin. When I started writing music, it was mostly on the bass and I felt quite limited because I wasn’t hearing the chords like I would on the piano. So I started doing double-handed tapping to hear those chords move along with the melody and even added percussive parts to each hand to drive along the song. Later on, I discovered the technology of live-looping and this opened to world to me as now I could play even more parts on the bass and basically orchestrate all the sounds going on in my head. I also bought the biggest bass effects pedal available at the time, to change up my sounds when I layer them on the live looper. It literally took a year to figure everything out as it was my very first effects pedal; I was always a little overly ambitious that way! Then the iphone started to take off and companies were rushing to make apps to cater to the burgeoning consumer market, and I came across an app that could actually loop music live as well. However in Singapore, I couldn’t get hold of the cable that would allow me to connect my bass rig to the iphone. So I plowed through the interweb for days and eventually put together a cable that worked. I also figured since it took me so long to work out a solution, I would do a favour to the rest of the music community and put out an article detailing my findings.

Wendy's workstation

Wendy’s workstation

The Pursuit of Sound

Though I was listening to albums by bass players, I was also drawn to the arrangements of the other instruments. When I began to compose my own music, I played the parts by other instruments on my bass like the guitar comping, percussion rhythms etc. Then my friend who owned a studio got hold of a Korg Triton, a very good synth workstation at the time, and I was constantly at it learning how to program music on the tiny screen. On hindsight it was hell programming on the workstation as everything was packed into the tiny screen and I had to go through multiple steps just to do one thing. But at the time, I was very excited at being able to produce sounds other than the bass.

I eventually decided I wanted to release my own EP, and got hold of a laptop and Cubase (a digital audio workstation software) and began learning how to record and mix down the tracks. My friend went through the basics with me, but I was again mostly self-taught which was tough as there wasn’t that much information available online then. Today there’s just so much information everywhere, it’s hard to pare it down to the essentials.

As friends got to know about my work programming music, I started to get small jobs producing drums, piano and string parts for original music, online games and even a short animation movie. Eventually someone recommended me to produce ringtones and notification sounds for a mobile device Uno M1 by a local startup Synrgic. That was a memorable job for me as the client was very nice and paid me more than what I asked for, something you do not often get!

From there, I decided this seemed like a pretty viable and exciting career path to take, being a composer/audio engineer. A friend and I started a company Lucid Soundworks to create music for wellbeing and we worked with meditation artists to produce albums for their clients.

Then one day I came across an advertisement by a slot machine manufacturer looking for a composer. I decided to try for it and have been working with them till today, which is about 3 years now. This is definitely my dream job as I am pretty much self-taught and am so grateful that I could be given the chance to earn a living as a music composer. It is also the closest I could get to becoming a film composer, my ultimate goal in life. The games are based on Chinese mythical legends and so the music can get fairly epic with the occasional slant towards big band jazz or even calypso, depending on the game’s theme.

Pedals and experimentation

Pedals and experimentation

Yamaha Endorsee

Yamaha (Singapore) was looking for a slew of endorsers to promote their products and my friend in Yamaha recommended me to try for it since I had released a bass solo EP and was doing a lot of experimental works on the bass. So it was likely a mix of good luck, network and my EP that got me the contract. Yamaha was generous and supportive, and I really enjoyed playing the basses I received, the BBNE and TRB JP2. I also held bass workshops in Yamaha and judged on a few Yamaha Asian Beat competitions.

Playing with Akira Jimbo, a Yamaha (Japan) endorsed artist, was a pure joy. He was very gentlemanly and had no airs despite his huge success as a drummer in Casiopea, one of Japan’s biggest fusion funk groups. When Yamaha invited James LoMenzo (Megadeth, White Lion) down to Singapore, I also got to open for his workshop and jam alongside him in a bass duo battle. He was very friendly and even mailed me one of his signature pedals when I expressed admiration for its tone!

'Steve Jobs' an ipad sketch by Wendy Phua

‘Steve Jobs’ an ipad sketch by Wendy Phua

Superimposition: I hear what I see, see what I hear

Like I mentioned above, I absolutely love art and whenever I go on a holiday, I make it a point to visit the art museums. Some of my favourites are MoMa, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Victoria. I studied video art for 3 years in LaSalle (Singapore) and my background as a visual artist really opened my mind to thoughts of experimentation, which possibly led to my veering away from conventional styles of playing on the bass.

'Miles Davis', painting by Wendy Phua

‘Miles Davis’, painting by Wendy Phua

Dynamism in an individual

I think it’s extremely important for all creatives to have a multi-faceted interest in things. The general knowledge not only helps to open up our minds, but it also gives us a chance to make more informed decisions, from creative work to personal matters. I only wish I had more time to read, I used to read a lot, finishing up to 8 books in a week when I was in Primary school.

Attitude for Altitude

Always have a humble attitude towards all success and learn to accept that failures are chance for growth.

Thankfully I have not had to deal with too many nasty individuals in the music industry, though I had faced my fair share of snubs. Over time I came to realise the rude encounters had got nothing to do with me, but are merely a manifestation of the other party’s internal insecurities. Outward societal success can be quite destructive when bestowed upon those who are not ready to accept it gracefully and responsibly. I do not waste my time with such people, and very quickly move on to other things instead of dwelling on the unpleasantries. That said however, some of the nicest and most ingenuous musicians I met happen to be very accomplished and had no qualms with sharing or advising. I take reference from them and try to pass on the same encouragement to younger musicians, especially some of my bass students who have gone on to perform at high-profile shows or become bass instructors themselves. I take great delight in knowing that I played a part in helping someone achieve their dreams!

Bowing a double bass

Bowing a double bass

Success

I used to think success was getting recognition for musical achievements, but these days, I see success on a broader scale, wherein my necessities are met, my friends are my pillar of support and my work is something I am truly passionate about.

Wendy’s work

I am putting together a new company that will focus on producing music for games, tv and film. There’s still much work to do in getting it all together but you can check out the website at http://asoundstate.com

Find Wendy’s work here:
A Sound State
A Sound Slate: Showreel (Click to listen)
Lucid Soundworks
Wendy Phua on CDBaby

Get social with Wendy here:

https://www.facebook.com/wendyphuabass/
https://www.youtube.com/user/nurwen

Please share Wendy’s story and music with other creatives if you feel inspired!

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone