Blending elements of Japanese rock-inspired songwriting with indie-rock, power-pop and pop-rock, Singapore-based kotoji proves she is not to be pigeon-holed. We speak with kotoji about her album Scribbles of the First, phobias, animal reincarnation and future plans.
OSR: Why did you decide to pursue a career in music?
kotoji: I always wanted to be in music since I was young. I remember being 10 years old and telling my parents that I wanted to be a rockstar, but life happens and other responsibilities do come into play as you grow older and these goals get placed on the backburner. I think finishing higher education and experiencing the pandemic really put things into perspective for me and got me truly considering the sort of life I wanted to live. I did not want to be on my deathbed filled with regrets, and I am still at a place in life where I have the opportunity to at least give it a go – better to have done than to have never tried at all, right?
OSR: Do you have a musical background?
kotoji: I grew up in a music-filled household! My mom was a classically trained piano teacher and my brothers and I have extremely similar tastes in music. My mom tried teaching us the piano but we were never really into it. We eventually ended up at the Academy of Rock and took up our main instruments of which mine was guitar, bass and vocals. Throughout my growing years, my brothers and I would share music recommendations with each and being part of the Academy of Rock’s AOR Band definitely gave me opportunities to perform locally and regionally and be in a band setting from an early age.
OSR: What is the backstory to your album Scribbles of the First?
kotoji: Scribbles of the First was written during the time when I experienced my first relationship and subsequent heartbreak. Writing was my way of coping with the aftermath and I wrote the majority of the album when I was in London doing my Masters. They started out as just indulgent pieces but the more I wrote, the more I could pick out specific songs that eventually became a fuller body of work.
Truthfully, I never meant to release these songs but the more I played them for myself and the more I really thought about my direction in music, the more motivated I became to actually put it all together. Though the writing journey took an estimate of three years, the actual recording process took up the majority of my 2021 and, well, the rest is history.
OSR: What do you hope people take from this album?
kotoji: Grief and loss of any kind is never a smooth, linear process. It goes in ebbs and flows but ultimately given time, space and kindness to the self, there is a lot of reflection and growth that happens; isn’t that what it means to be human? I hope people can see this body of work as a source of comfort and solidarity, as a journey of progression, that they can hear their own inner feelings and experiences be voiced externally.
OSR: Did you face any challenges when recording and producing Scribbles of the First?
kotoji: One of the biggest challenges was definitely time! I have a very hectic and busy day job, plus with the way the pandemic affects regulations and restrictions scheduling for recordings and amendments was a struggle for sure. The album was actually delayed for an entire month because we had to work around Covid restrictions! However, I am very grateful to my co-producer and engineer, Asmat T. and my brother, Theron Lim, for working with me through it all.
OSR: Who or what influences you to make music?
kotoji: I draw from a number of influences! Sonically, I adore Spitz, Car Seat Headrest, Charly Bliss, NICO Touches The Walls to name a few. As a musician and artist, Mitski is one of the more prominent figures for me. Growing up, I never thought it was possible to be an Asian woman in the indie scene, especially in the West. Mitski is a prime example of being successful in that and I really look to her not just as a fellow Asian woman but also as a songwriter for her writing is beautiful and resonates so well with me.
OSR: Do you have any phobias?
kotoji: I don’t have official phobias but I absolutely hate geckos and house lizards. Always been that way since I was young. I’m really afraid of them for some reason. Can’t even be near the babies!
OSR: If you were reincarnated as an animal, what would you be and why?
kotoji: I want to be a seal. Something about being a literal water-dog and just swimming and chilling is so ideal. Plus, while they’re cute, they can be lethal when they need to be and I vibe with that.
OSR: What is your favourite song on Scribbles of the First?
kotoji: I go back and forth depending on my mood, but I have to say ‘Spring Street Honeybee’ is definitely a favourite. It’s one of my most emotional songs on the album and I still feel a lot when I listen to it today. It was also probably one of the only other songs on the album that I was very clear about when it came to the arrangement of it from the get-go.
OSR: What are your future plans for kotoji?
kotoji: I do have releases planned for 2022 and I’m working toward getting more performance opportunities. I’m looking to expand my songwriting pool too, not just for myself but also writing for others. Perhaps do more internationally as well beyond the confines of my physical borders. There’s a lot more I want to and plan to do, and I hope to see you guys on this journey with me!