The first line of Narelle’s latest single came from an ex who was in a writing session with her, right before they broke up.
While most singers and musicians strive to hear perfect vocals and audio in their songs, 27-year-old Narelle Kheng believes perfection is unrealistic.
“I really love making mistakes! If anything is too clean, I have to mark it up and scratch it. I have had this problem all my whole life… maybe it’s self sabotage,” she laughed while explaining that she enjoys hearing cracks, fuzz and dirt on her recordings.
Originally rising to fame as the bassist and singer for well-known Singaporean pop band, The Sam Willows, Narelle has also been releasing her own music since 2016.
She recently released her latest single, Complicated Love Song, on Mar 26, the last track to wrap up her three-part EP. And as the song title says, not everything has been smooth sailing for the singer. But perfection wasn’t something she was aiming for in the first place.
“All these songs were written when I was kind of going through this depressive and dissociative phase, and I was trying to figure out what was going on for myself,” Narelle said, as she sat down with Youthopia at her shared shophouse apartment.
With artistic tapestries hanging on the walls, houseplants decorating each nook and cranny, and a keyboard propped upright beside a desk where her computer lay, Narelle cozied herself up in a chair overlooking the street from her window and continued to share earnestly.
“At that point of time, I was so angry and sad. It was only after I finished writing everything that I realised there’s this part of me that is still fighting on… that made me feel like I was going to get through all of this,” she reflected.
The newest EP, simply titled Part 3, consists of the previously released single Just Shut Up, and Complicated Love Song — the last song to end the entire project that started with Outta my Head released in 2019.
“Outta my Head started with me being obsessed with this relationship that is obviously quite bad, and Complicated Love Song is the end to this. After going through Part 1 and then Part 2 about facing your deepest darkest pains and troubles, Complicated Love Song is the feeling of coming out in the morning and (knowing that) it’s a brand new day.”
Before she first began writing her three-part EP, Narelle festered for a long time, trying to understand exactly how she was feeling at that point in her life. She pulled poems, stories, pictures, and songs, moodboarding them to try to describe how she felt.
She then wrote those heavier emotions into songs, and came up with Part 1: Outta my Head and Part 2: Blue.
She shared: “Blue was written the first day I was in a writing session. I was 20 minutes late and broke down crying because I was fighting with my boyfriend all night.
“It’s so personal and it got very intimate. There were a lot of complex emotions in figuring out how vulnerable I want to be and after being vulnerable, how does it feel? I’ve already opened myself up and it was quite a shift in the way I approached my social media after.”
Narelle really wanted the final part to be an upbeat track, but not a cliche “everything’s going to be fine” kind of love song; she couldn’t bring herself to write a happy track about love after feeling jaded by tiring relationships that did not work out.
The first line of Complicated Love Song actually came from an ex who was in the writing session with her.
“It was quite interesting because we ended up breaking up after everything. We literally broke up after the writing session,” Narelle laughed.
One of Narelle’s favourite lines in Complicated Love Song is in the second verse, which says “I know I make mistakes, I wear them like a bracelet”, followed by “You tell me it’s okay, cause we have scars in matching places”.
She explained: “That’s kind of how you seek the love you think you deserve, and how broken people tend to find similarly broken people… Because I think that’s how I ended up in a toxic relationship.
“Young love is quite idealistic. I think that was me realising that it doesn’t really take you all the way. The problem with it is that you start putting unrealistic expectations on someone, falling in love with the idea of who they are as a person, when true love is actually a commitment to working things through. I did not know that for a while!”
While her songs may be influenced by certain experiences and people, she admits that she doesn’t single out someone in mind when writing them. Instead, she writes of a general feeling, applied to all of the exes she has had.
Narelle said: “Honestly with Complicated Love Song, it’s just about having a good time. With the whole album, while it is introspective, I had hoped that learning how to identify your emotions would translate because that’s usually why we have trouble moving on and growing as people.
“We always think of anger and sadness as bad feelings that we shouldn’t feel. But in fact they’re very very good feelings because they tell you what’s wrong. You can’t really get over that feeling without validating it.”
The release of the last song of the trilogy does not mark the end of Narelle’s journey with this EP, as there is an upcoming film following the whole trilogy.
Titled Three girls walk into a bar, the 50-minute film is a coming-of-age story about friendship, featuring a different girl in each of the three parts, with Narelle herself playing the third.
The short film is expected to be released on YouTube this June.
Through creating this music trilogy, Narelle learnt a lot about herself, even being able to manage her mental health issues better. Finishing the last part of her EP helped her find the light at the end of the tunnel despite the overwhelming state of hopelessness she felt she was in.
Narelle said: “Being able to tangibly put (a sense of hope) into song reminds me that it exists. Even if I don’t see it now, it’s there. I’ve done it, I put time into it, and made it into an entire track and album and even upcoming film! When I feel like shit, I remember that this too will pass.”
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