Lollapalooza. Coachella. The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. These are just some of the stages that Renny Goh has found herself on in the last few years.
Since 2018, the Singaporean musician has performed alongside American singer-songwriter Conan Gray as his keyboardist and backing vocalist on tours as well as at big-name music festivals and shows. While it was a successful audition that resulted in her induction into Gray's band, a much earlier decision was what set in motion the chain of events that would eventually lead her to it.
After witnessing a close relative's fight for survival following an accident back in 2013, which she describes as a "life-altering wake-up call", Goh decided to take a leap of faith by moving to the United States to further her studies at Los Angeles' Musicians Institute.
"Nobody, not even myself, would have imagined the exciting turn my life would take since leaving for America. I have experienced some incredible highs and lows since then, and I have fully soaked in every moment for what it is," said the pianist, producer, and vocalist, who has also worked with 88rising's NIKI and Ylona Garcia.
And even after experiencing so much success abroad, she has not forgotten her roots.
Goh, who will return home for the Singapore leg of Gray's ongoing Superache Tour on 20 February, shared: "I feel incredibly proud that I get to represent Singapore on the global stage, and I hope that maybe seeing someone like me doing what I do will allow the younger generation to dream a little bigger and a little crazier."
Speaking to Hear65 in an interview ahead of her stop in Singapore, Goh shared what it's like to perform on renowned international stages, talked about collaborating with artists from various backgrounds, and offered some words of advice to her fellow local musicians.
Hi, Renny! What made you realise that you wanted to pursue a career in music?
I find myself hesitating to narrow this down to a single moment. Music has always been a big part of my life. Thinking back, as a kid with big feelings and many things to say, music became my outlet to express emotions that I could not encapsulate in language. From playing my first instrument — the piano, and then later on getting into singing, songwriting, arranging, and production over the years — getting into all these elements of music was ultimately me trying to discover ways to say something, in different formats, and to different people.
And so I don't think I went into music initially thinking I wanted to make it a career. I think I would've still played music whether or not it was a career of mine. In hindsight, yes, I was laying the groundwork for a career. But in all these moments of my life, they were a result of me making decisions that allowed me to keep making music in whatever capacity I could. What actually happened was that single-minded pursuit eventually led to more opportunities, like-minded peers, and mentors that opened up my mind to the possibilities I had as a musician. I’d say the resolve to make music my career came from the culmination of all these experiences. The ability to add value to the music work I take on fulfils me greatly and is one of the reasons why I’m still doing what I’m doing.
"Thinking back, as a kid with big feelings and many things to say, music became my outlet to express emotions that I could not encapsulate in language."
Tell us how you ended up performing with Conan Gray as his keyboardist and background vocalist, something you’ve been doing since 2018.
Back then, there were calls to audition for a pop singer in LA — their identity was initially undisclosed, [and] we only found out later during the audition. My good friend, who was a drummer at my music college, got me to audition with her in the band. Eventually, we both got shortlisted and joined Conan’s first band! It’s always been good vibes with Conan since day one. The Conan tour family are genuinely good-hearted people and they have truly become family to me over the years. I love them deeply!
Over the last few years, you’ve played at festivals such as Coachella and Lollapalooza and performed on shows such as The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. What goes through your head when you find yourself on a stage that many can only dream of being on?
In those moments, I don't think about much else besides living in the present and doing a good job on my instrument so that the music can all come together and tell a story. Thinking about the “prestige” of the performances before playing adds unnecessary expectations and stress, so I try not to focus on that. But with that said, after these shows, I assure you, I properly celebrate and scream in joy to commemorate those milestones.
Aside from working with Conan, you’ve also collaborated with artists such as NIKI, Ylona Garcia, Ruben Wan, and Faouzia. What’s it like being able to make music with artists across different musical styles and backgrounds?
I love so many different genres of music, and I'm so grateful I get to do that in my work! I have so much fun nerding out and understanding the sensibilities behind different genres. The nerding out part of music is honestly one of the parts of music that I have the most fun doing. And being able to play with, produce, and arrange for different artists also means that I get to stretch my musical muscles and perform different genres of music.
Digging deep into the intention behind every song, and then creating that onstage is also something I love doing. Doing that for different artists feels like I get to create meaningful moments with different storytellers onstage.
"Digging deep into the intention behind every song, and then creating that onstage is also something I love doing."
Although you’re now based in the US, you used to be quite active in Singapore’s music scene. What made you decide that it was time to close that chapter of your life? Was the decision a tough one to make?
At that time, even though I was both vocalist and keyboardist in Blackforest, because of the way I entered the pop music scene (singing at live events) and the higher visibility of my singing achievements, I was more known as a singer, and hence most of my gigs hired me as a singer. I knew I had always wanted to do more in music than sing though. And then in 2013, a close cousin of mine almost died in a workplace explosion. Watching my cousin struggle to survive and then recover from that is still to date one of the most life-altering wake-up calls I’ve had. Deciding to close this chapter of my life and taking a chance on myself in America was a decision I made fairly quickly after that.
With that, I left for America to study music in 2014. I studied piano performance in contemporary styles, arrangement, and got into music production. When I graduated, I auditioned and landed my first gig with Conan and the rest is history! Nobody, not even myself, would have imagined the exciting turn my life would take since leaving for America. I have experienced some incredible highs and lows since then, and I have fully soaked in every moment for what it is.
"I have experienced some incredible highs and lows since then, and I have fully soaked in every moment for what it is."
The Singapore leg of Conan’s Superache Tour will be a homecoming for you. How did you feel when you found out that you’d be returning to Singapore?
I think I screamed when I found out we'd be stopping in Singapore for a show! I'm so happy and excited that I get to show a part of myself that my friends and family back home have not seen. I feel incredibly proud that I get to represent Singapore on the global stage, and I hope that maybe seeing someone like me doing what I do will allow the younger generation to dream a little bigger and a little crazier.
"I hope that maybe seeing someone like me doing what I do will allow the younger generation to dream a little bigger and a little crazier."
What are you looking forward to the most about being back home?
My cats, friends and family, teh si siu dai… and DURIANS.
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What advice would you give to fellow Singaporeans who are pursuing or hoping to pursue careers in music abroad?
Find your people: Make meaningful connections with like-minded peers and support each other. Being away from home can get lonely real fast, and trying to carve out a career away from home can make you feel isolated and small sometimes. It truly takes a village. I would have never gotten to where I am without the good people in my life. Surround yourself with good people and support each other through the good and bad times.
Be kind: ESPECIALLY to yourself. All creative individuals will know this — we are our harshest critics. There is a world of difference between pursuing excellence and pursuing perfection. Perfection is an unattainable standard that will kill your curiosity, and suck the joy out of what should be a process that feeds your soul.
Always stay curious: Music consumption is ever changing, and there is no one sure win way to carve out a career. Stay curious, find joy in discovering new things, and readily soak in new experiences because you really never know what kinds of opportunities lie ahead of you. People from different cultures perceive and play music differently and they communicate differently. Understanding that has really broadened my perspective as a musician and a music consumer.
"Stay curious, find joy in discovering new things, and readily soak in new experiences because you really never know what kinds of opportunities lie ahead of you."
Finally, besides touring and performing, what can we expect from you in the coming years?
I am dropping a solo piano EP soon — we’re done with recording and you can expect the singles to be released in the next couple months! I’m really excited for this project. In recent years, I’ve had so much fun producing full and lush band arrangements with indie pop artists like Ruben Wan and hip-hop artist TASHI DELÄK. You can continue to expect to see more collaborations like that in the future.
This solo piano EP, however, is a homage to where it all started — just me and my piano, feeling deeply, and saying something that I hope will ultimately give my listeners a space to ponder on their own thoughts.