Music is regarded as a powerful art form thanks to its ability to heal, and it is the medium that one Singaporean doctor has chosen to ignite conversations about mental health.
Outside of his duties in the medical field, Dr. Sean Ng, who is also a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, goes by his stage name The Colour Fool. Coined to reflect his belief that we sometimes need to be "foolish to embrace life in all of its colour", the persona is characterised by empathy and hope.
Last year, the 29-year-old followed up on his 2021 debut single, 'Yet', with several new tracks, including the moving 'Cross Your Ts', which deals with mental health conditions such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, anxiety, depression, mania, schizophrenia.
"I felt that releasing the song was something I had to do with the incidence of mental illness rising globally. I believe that I am in a unique position to speak out about mental illness, given my personal experience and my medical background," explains Ng, who had to seek help after experiencing symptoms of anxiety and burnout while working as a doctor.
With more releases as well as his first full-length album on the horizon, it is clear that Ng is fully committed to using music, which he describes as a "universal language that is able to convey emotions", to connect with individuals in need of comfort, remove the stigma surrounding mental illness, and encourage society to support and encourage those who are struggling.
In an interview with Hear65, Ng talks about his style of music, explains the role of music in conversations about mental health, and offers some words of encouragement for individuals facing mental health issues.
Hi, Sean! Introduce us to your brand of music and tell us about some of your biggest musical inspirations.
I would describe my music as “mellow, folk, and jazzy”. My music is eclectic and incorporates elements from alternative rock, indie folk-pop, and jazz. I attribute this to my father who taught me to appreciate a wide range of music genres from a young age.
One of my biggest musical inspirations is Chris Martin from Coldplay. He, like myself, is a pianist-singer. I love his falsetto singing and his songwriting.
When it comes to jazz, I listen to Chick Corea and Brad Mehldau for their improvisatory chops. I’ve always admired Thom Yorke for his lyrical prowess and Radiohead for their unique guitar voicings.
"My philosophy is to be adventurous and to be vulnerable to our emotions."
Your stage name reflects your belief that we should be “foolish” and “embrace life in all of its colour”. Was there a particular life experience that led to you adopting this way of thinking?
I do not recall a particular life experience that led me to adopt this way of thinking. This thinking is shaped by the varied life experiences I’ve had — happy or sad, comfortable or unpleasant — which have made me realise that unpleasant experiences are just as important as comfortable ones. Only after experiencing sadness can we truly understand what it means to be happy. We should not shun away from the tough moments in our lives for they can help us to grow too. Hence, my philosophy is to be adventurous and to be vulnerable to our emotions.
As an artist, it is also important for me to experience a full range of emotions as it helps me to express myself better through my music.
Let’s talk about your debut single ‘Yet’, which was released back in 2021. Why did you decide to introduce your The Colour Fool persona through this track?
The Colour Fool persona signals my foray into singing. The first song I released was a single entitled 'Still' under my name “Sean Ng”. I composed, arranged, and played the instruments on the track, but got my friend Joshua Phang to sing on the track.
With The Colour Fool persona, I take on the role of a singer-songwriter apart from being a multi-instrumentalist. I’m trained primarily as a pianist so I’m actually still trying to get into the whole singing thing. That’s another reason why I look up to Chris Martin — because he is a pianist-singer as well.
"I felt that releasing the song was something I had to do with the incidence of mental illness rising globally."
Since then, you’ve released a few more tracks, including ‘Cross Your Ts’, which is about your own experiences with mental health. Were there any challenges that you faced while opening up to your listeners in its lyrics?
'Cross Your Ts' is a very heartfelt piece. It took a while for me to come to terms with the fact that I would be publicising a song that is so personal to me.
However, I felt that releasing the song was something I had to do with the incidence of mental illness rising globally. I believe that I am in a unique position to speak out about mental illness, given my personal experience and my medical background.
The phrase “Cross Your Ts” is taken from the saying “dot your Is and cross your Ts”. It is a reference to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and the lyrics of the song reference other mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, anxiety, mania, and depression. The song aims to destigmatise mental illness and speaks about the importance of community when it comes to mental well-being. I hope that it encourages people in need to seek help, and reminds us to support our loved ones who are struggling.
What has the reception to the song been like since it was unveiled at the Beyond The Label Mental Health Festival last October?
The reception of 'Cross Your Ts' has been phenomenal. It was featured on multiple editorial playlists on Spotify (New Music Friday Singapore, New Music Friday Malaysia, and Fresh Finds SG and MY). It debuted at #9 on Apple Music’s “Rising from Singapore” Playlist, while 'Yet - Acoustic Version' was ranked at #10. I’d really like to thank my distributor, The Orchard, for their support for the track.
I’ve had several of my listeners say that they were touched by the story behind the song [and] its lyrics and were also moved by the music video.
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"Music is able to touch people on a spiritual and emotional level."
In your opinion, how does music contribute to conversations about mental health? How else do you think this medium can be utilised?
Music is able to touch people on a spiritual and emotional level. Lyrics are one way to communicate the message of the song, but music goes beyond that — it is a universal language that is able to convey emotions. That is why listeners can feel the “vibe” of the song even if they don’t understand the language of the lyrics. Any song that encourages us to be vulnerable and open to our emotions can spark conversations about mental health.
The benefits of music in the context of mental health are multifold: it reduces stress and improves mood, it can help with sleep and pain, [and] music also has the ability to motivate people and enhance focus.
Music is therapeutic not just for its listeners but for musicians as well. As musicians, we use music as a form of expression that helps us to process our emotions.
"We often think we are alone or that no one understands our problems but our problems are more common than they may seem."
Do you have any words of encouragement for individuals who are struggling with mental health issues?
The first thing I’d like to say surrounding mental health issues is how common it is, and that it can happen to anyone. It doesn’t matter what kind of family background you have, and what your socio-economic status, race, age, or gender are.
As such, I’d like to destigmatise mental illness and encourage individuals struggling to seek help. Acknowledging the issue and seeking help are two crucial steps towards recovery. Seeking help may in the form of personal help (reaching out to a family or loved one) or professional help (seeing a counsellor, therapist or psychiatrist).
We often think we are alone or that no one understands our problems but our problems are more common than they may seem. As we learn from and support one another, we can grow stronger together.
For the rest of us, it is important that we support our loved ones struggling with mental health issues and journey with them. We can accompany our friends and family members to see a therapist or psychiatrist because the first visit can be intimidating.
Lastly, are there any projects from you that we can look forward to in 2023?
You can expect more music releases from The Colour Fool in 2023, both solo and collaborative. I’m currently working on a full-length album centered around mental health, relationships, and healing.
I will also be doing more live performances surrounding mental health advocacy!