When you are a musician, inspiration can come to you when you least expect it to. Just ask Tim De Cotta.
While putting together his second studio album, Heart Matter, the Singaporean singer-songwriter, bassist, and producer concocted its title track when he was not even awake.
After having a dream of performing what he thought was a cover of an existing song, he became determined to identify the mysterious number in question.
"I woke up and it was in my head. I sat in thought for about 5-10 minutes trying to really analyse the song and whether I had heard it before. It turned out that it wasn't a cover at all, and I had, for the first time, written a full song in a dream," recalls De Cotta.
Penned slightly more than a month before Heart Matter's launch on 4 November, 'Heart Matter' is one of 11 tracks that showcase De Cotta's more "relaxed" and "fun-loving" side, which those who have had the opportunity to meet him would be familiar with.
Being an artist who finds joy not only in making his own music but also in collaborating with others, he took time off to produce aeriqah's debut album and perform alongside iNCH at this year's Formula One Singapore Prix in the lead-up to Heart Matter's release.
"When you serve the music, the music looks after you," he explains.
In an interview with Hear65, De Cotta recounts how his new album came together, explains how it reflects where he is as an artist, and talks about how it feels to be able to support fellow local artists.
Hi, Tim! What have you been up to lately?
So lately, I just MADE MY SECOND ALBUM (Heart Matter) hahaha! It was such a different and fun process from the first one as this time I almost did everything on my own, sans some session work by my good pals NAzTyKeys, Josiah Suthan, and Leo Goh, and assistance on some of the mastering of two of the eleven tracks by Soul Dot.
Other than that, I’m currently producing music for a couple of artists, with their works coming out next year, and also slowly coming back to the live gig scene with small gigs here and there. I’ve also been rounding off the year with my professional agency, Warrior Productions, trying to keep growing the business as the music and arts scenes open up again.
Congratulations on the launch of your second album, Heart Matter! What’s the story behind its title?
Well, there were a few working titles, ever since I knew that I was going to release a body of music around love and its happenings. From the point of recording The Warrior (my first studio album in 2017) already, I had a batch of songs that didn’t suit the feel of my first release, where things were a little more angsty and edgy. I had a bunch of love songs and pieces of music that I wanted to work on after The Warrior was done, but alas life and work took over, and then COVID hit too!
I’d been toying with the idea of working titles like “Matters of The Heart” or “MOTH” for short, and then I tried to diversify the idea into other heart-related ideas like, “Chambers” or “Heart Chambers”. Then finally one day on a long rainy bus ride, I just thought of “Heart Matter” because it could physiologically and metaphorically encompass the subject matter I was intending to write about. So, with that umbrella title, I started fleshing out the songs!
Thematically, Heart Matter is a big departure from your socially conscious debut album, The Warrior. How does it reflect where you are as an artist at the moment?
As an artist, after all that’s happened in the last five years, I just wanted to have fun making music. I usually like to write in a very in-depth manner, with my music and instrumentation and also with my lyrics. But after The Warrior, and upon listening to it in the years that followed, I just felt I didn’t have to overcomplicate things anymore, and wanted to have a body of work out there that felt a lot lighter than my first album. Because outside of music, I’m quite a relaxed, fun-loving person and The Warrior failed to show that haha! Also, I just was in a more secure place in life, with being married and having a home, with the intention of starting a family, so I just wanted to capture that disposition; and what better way than having fun writing love songs?
"I just felt I didn’t have to overcomplicate things anymore, and wanted to have a body of work out there that felt a lot lighter than my first album."
You’ve cited John Legend, Anderson .Paak, and Derrick Hodge as artists you’re influenced by. How did you strike a balance between incorporating those influences and retaining your own unique sound?
Well, I think these artists make me feel a certain way in terms of identification and aspirations of how I want to express myself. But ultimately, no two people are the same. Beyond the artists above, I also let all my years of listening just come out in how I wrote this album. I’d like to say you will hear a lot of hip-hop and R&B sensibilities on an indie, melodic love song album.
And I can’t run away from exploring harmony with my somewhat jazz brain as well. So, if you think you hear Stevie Wonder, Maxwell, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, and maybe even perhaps something I was listening to right before starting work on the music, like Moonchild or Vulfpeck, then I just let it come out of me. And wherever my instincts take me, I follow. So it wasn’t that much of an effort but more of retrospectively cleaning up where any idea came from.
"Wherever my instincts take me, I follow."
How did you come up with the idea to kick off the album with the introductory track, ‘Chamber Music (Intro)’?
The string arrangement was actually written by my friend Kim Eun Hyung from the old band The Good Life Project (who happens to be NAztTyKeys’ band too. I asked her to help me play the violin on the last track of the album, 'Know How I Feel'. I gave her some direction but I couldn’t believe the beauty of the arrangement and the composition of the strings that she had come up with.
But that being years ago meant that she had moved back to Korea, so I had to get my other talented friend (principally a drummer, but oh so multi-talented) Lucas Tee, to re-record it. He perfected it. Then when I was laying out the album, I knew I needed a piece to introduce the journey, and so, I thought that isolating the string arrangement of 'Know How I Feel' would be perfect! So with Lucas’ blessing, it became the opening piece.
Which song(s) from Heart Matter are you most proud of?
I’m proud of them all in different ways! Having a heavy hand in almost all aspects of every song, from the synth work to the drum programming and sampling, to both guitar and bass playing, with synth bass and soundscape development, I really feel that this album is as close to me as possible. And some of my close friends and family have also said the same. They are all lovely songs to play live as well, as I learnt when I played them at my album launch at Aliwal [Arts Centre].
They were all written differently and over different points in the last five years. 'Catch & Release' for example, was a song I would think about every Monday after playing football, in the period of 2018-2019. It was so weirdly specific that on the walk from the football field to the main road, that would be the only time I’d mentally compose that specific song.
'Ride' was one of the first songs I wrote back in 2015 when I forced myself to stick to only two chords. 'For Real' was based on a horn arrangement that I wrote for my band to play at Pink Dot when it was a segment where someone would be speaking to the crowd; then I made it a whole song with lyrics.
But by far, the most bizarre song ideation experience came from the title track 'Heart Matter', where I had a dream that I was at a house party playing something on the piano, and in that dream, the song I was playing was a famous cover. And people there were like, 'Oh yeah, I know this song.' Then I woke up and it was in my head. I sat in thought for about 5-10 minutes trying to really analyse the song and whether I had heard it before. It turned out that it wasn't a cover at all, and I had, for the first time, written a full song in a dream. So that was pretty cool. Out of the eleven songs, 'Heart Matter' is the newest, written just a little more than a month before the album's release.
"The most bizarre song ideation experience came from the title track 'Heart Matter', where I had a dream that I was at a house party playing something on the piano..."
Tell us how your collaborations with Mickeyleano and Ghetti came together. How did you know that they were the right artists for ‘Not My Style’ and ‘When I Met You’?
Well for me, in terms of collaboration, it's never about finding the right artist for a song. It’s more like just where we are in life and who is around and willing. So for Mickeyleano, I always wanted to work with him and his talent, so I made a song without even thinking, and he fit into the mould. It was easy and painless. Whether or not it’s something we would naturally write on our own... probably not. But we made something we both love because we were both so open to it at the time.
Ghetti’s feature on 'When I Met You', was probably a few months after I had finished the song, and I saw him freestyle for the first time at an open mic at The Beast, which Shak’thiya was hosting, that I used to frequent. I asked him if he’d be keen, and he said yes. So then I extended the song and he freestyled over it. YES, IT WAS A FREESTYLE. None of it had been written prior to his take.
"When you serve the music, the music looks after you."
Besides releasing your own music, you’ve also worked with other local artists. What’s the most fulfilling part about being able to collaborate with other creatives from Singapore?
The most fulfilling part over the years [has been] serving the music. Because, when you serve the music, the music looks after you. It has given me many opportunities over the years and because my peers and I always care about the delicateness of music that isn’t ours, we get called to support many different artists. And in more recent times, as a budding producer, this sensitivity plays perfectly in such a role — to really understand what the artist is trying to say with their music, [and] relate to my own experience as well. Seeing works of music come to life and people happy is always the best. And an excellent by-product of these collaborations of mine over the years [would be] the friendships and strong relationships I have made with all these people.
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Finally, what’s next for you now that you’ve released your second album?
At the moment, I’m producing for a couple of artists till around May next year, so that’s got my music hands full. In terms of other music-related work, I’m trying to suss out programming jobs and trying to revive my community contribution to music and events via Warrior Productions as well! I do have some shows coming up in January too at the Esplanade and more. So, basically trying to keep moving forward and make up for the years COVID cost us all.
Stream Heart Matter here: