It’s been a really long time since a Singaporean band broke any new ground in the local or international music scene but with the release of TOMGIRL’S brand new self-titled debut, the island’s indie music space looks set for a big change. Their creatively refreshing sound is already getting big love from both local and international audiences. We speak to Cherie and Ted, the duo behind TOMGIRL in our latest Tomboy Musicians Series to find out more about the band and their music…
Imagine a love child of Garbage and Cowboy Junkies fused into a Quentin Tarantino film and you get the fresh and addictive sounds of our latest Tomboy Musicians Series feature band called TOMGIRL. As far as this music fan is concerned, this is the best band to have come out of this tiny island of Singapore in a while.
TOMGIRL brings you to forgotten, musty-smelling, smoke-filled underground dive bars frequented by a handful of regulars too jaded to look or feel cool at the hottest clubs uptown.
This is music that could grace a film version of a Haruki Murakami novel or a David Lynch piece – no problem.
The debut album reels you straight away into it’s cinematic splendour with the [Prologue] before sinking its teeth into your psyche with its unrelenting, space guitars on the first single, ‘Darker Now’.
TOMGIRL made up of the dynamic duo of vocalist, guitarist and producer, Cherie Ko from Singapore and multi-instrumentalist/producer Ted Dore, now based in Melbourne, the two make music that has its own distinct sound and lyrics that lets it stand out from the crowd.
The reason for that is the sheer creative adventurism and musical courage of Cherie and Ted to develop a sound that is authentic to their personal inspirations and influences. These guys know what sound they’re trying to achieve and you know what? They do it well.
The other reason why TOMGIRL is making music that kills the competition is due to the duo’s experience in music production and performance.
Cherie is the lead guitarist for the band, Obedient Wives Club that have released two acclaimed EPs – the self-titled debut (2012) and Murder Kill Baby (2013). Cherie, together with the band, also shared a festival bill with international acts Franz Ferdinand and Tegan and Sara at Malaysia’s Urbanscapes Music Festival 2013.
That same year, Cherie formed the slowcore international trio Bored Spies, taking on lead vocals and guitar duties, and released a 7” single titled “Summer 720.” The band eventually went on to play the Primavera Sound Festival in Spain and toured the US, UK and Europe in 2013.
Ever the musical chameleon and always looking for ways to reinvent herself, Cherie also fronted her own solo electronic music project, Pastelpower, from 2012 – 2015. She also runs her own independent record label, Deer Island Records, which TOMGIRL is releasing their records on.Ted, on the other hand, is a self-taught multi-instrumentalist who has been bedroom producing since his teen days. After a serendipitous meeting with indie musician Cherie Ko at Laneway Music Festival, Ted discovered a shared musical interest in 60’s garage rock and 90’s shoegaze and decided to form TOMGIRL, a project that harks back to the old days when the music was brash, primitive and visceral.
It’s easy to see where some of TOMGIRL’s influences come from because Ted’s inspirations include The Sonics, The Stooges, Suicide, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine and Bruce Springsteen.
We pulled the band aside despite their current busy schedule in promoting and touring for the album to talk to us about their music, their exciting new debut album and what’s next in line for them…
TOMBOY TARTS (TT): Great album that seems to be the lovechild of Garbage and Cowboy Junkies. Why this post-rock gothic and film noiric sound? Did you grow up with those influences?
CHERIE (CH): With TOMGIRL, it’s been a rather visual and visceral journey so far in the creative process. Rather than channeling music from existing sounds, I am actually heavily inspired by film. I love that a movie is able to capture a certain mise-en-scene that really pulls the viewer into their world. We try to mimic that similar effect with our music by creating lush cinematic soundscapes that tell a story. My favorite films are works by the likes of Jim Jarmusch, Quentin Tarantino, Gregg Araki, and Russ Meyer.
TED (TD): The first song we worked on, “Darker Now”, started out as just an experiment. Being a long time fan of Cherie’s sugary, dulcet vocal sound, I wanted to hear how it would sound over a contrasting, edgy garage rock riff. We were so happy with the result that we ran with a similar vibe for the rest of the album. A lot of the songs were written to scenes we from numerous exploitation and noir films we like. I’ve never written music that way before, so it was a very exciting experience made all the more special being able to share it with Cherie.
TT: What was the process of working on this album like given the whole distance between you guys?
CH: It was a tricky thing trying to navigate this geographical situation! A bulk of the album was written by sending each other song demos back and forth. Ted would send me a guitar riff, I would sing over it, layer it with more guitars and send it back. At the end of it, we had a whole bunch of these loose demos floating around and we knew that we needed to be in a physical space together to finish what we started. So I flew over to Melbourne in April, and this was when it all fell into place. We locked ourselves in Ted’s basement and worked tirelessly around the clock for days straight. We managed to finish recording half of the album within a week! It was fun times!
TD: The distance was definitely an obstacle. Had we not spent those two trips writing and recording together, I can’t even imagine how the album would’ve sounded. Probably a lot less eclectic.
TT: What was the hardest track to put together on this album?
CH: Mean Streets. We joked about how that song was cursed by its subject matter. We did several versions of it, and yet there was always something wrong each time. Like incorrect vocal parts, or the wrong guitar tone… The last version we recorded was even a few BPMs too fast, but Brad, our mixing engineer, managed to slow it down without a hitch! It was worth it though, that song has since become a favorite of ours. It is a blast to play live because of the vocal duet parts.
TD: Ditto on Mean Streets. A lot of technical obstacles. Alchemy is another one worth mentioning too because it is the most sonically rich track on the entire album. Cherie and I really deliberated over the sonic details. There’s really a lot going on with the synths, drones and little blips.
TT: “Mini-Skirt Mob” is our personal favorite with a driving, consistent energy. What is that song about?
TD: It’s a sexy, nihilistic, transcendental motorcycle ride into oblivion. A lustful paean to those who lived fast and died young.
TT: Since we’re tomboys ourselves, how did you guys come up with the band name “TOMGIRL” anyway?
CH: TOMGIRL represents the blurring of lines between masculinity and femininity, which is basically us in a nutshell. We both bring different things to the table, Ted with his masculine brand of old school rock n’ roll and me with my soft, sensual femininity. It’s all about striking the perfect balance between the two.
TT: How do you guys work when writing songs and who does what in the group?
CH: I write the vocals and melodies and Ted is the multi-instrumentalist of the band. Roles are reversed sometimes when Ted chips in ideas on the melodies, and I give my takes on the instrumentation. We have a very fluid way of working, and so far it’s worked really well for us.
TD: We usually start with either a vocal or instrumental hook then we expand on it from there. The interesting thing is while we construct our songs, we’re always simultaneously building textures into it. We tend to write the lyrics at the very end as we let the mood of the music dictate the song’s subject matter.
TT: Will you be bringing this album on the road and where can we see you play live?
CH: Definitely! As they say, the world is your oyster. We will go wherever the music takes us. We’re hoping to go on tour and hit up some festivals next year. We will also be releasing footage from our live debut very soon on our YouTube channel so stay tuned for that!
TD: We definitely want to take the TOMGIRL boogie to near and far off places. It was a huge motivation for putting this thing together, to share the music as many people as possible.
TT: You guys got together because of your love for live music so what are you most looking forward to when you guys bring “Darker Now” to audiences?
CH: I’m looking forward to just rocking the hell out of the song and going all out! Being very visual people, we also want to create a cinematic experience with visuals inspired by our favorite B-side movies and femme fatales.
TD: Our songs are movies and we want to take you on a cinematic rollercoaster ride full of thrills, kills and chills.
TT: We really like your film noir-influenced fashion and videos. How do you come up with the concept for your personal style and videos?
CH: The vision was clear when we first wrote ‘Darker Now’. It had to be motorcycle gangs, leather jackets, and red lips. We are very much inspired by the nihilistic characters in Russ Meyer’s films. Jacky Lee, our director, was responsible for the amazing music video to ‘Darker Now’. We got along swimmingly right from the start, especially since we were all into the same films. He nailed it right down to the tee, not without adding his special dashes of neo-noir and Wong Kar Wai elements into the mix.
TT: What’s next for TOMGIRL?
CH: We are going to keep writing more music, and we hope to be able to tour the hell out of this album!
TD: We’re going to ride this thing until the wheels fall off!