Interview: Singer Aisyah Aziz On Mental Health And Stress

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If you keep up with local talent and artists, the name Aisyah Aziz would surely be familiar to you. The 25-year-old was recently featured on the National Day song. Of course, she also has an impressive track record, coming in sixth place in a Malaysian singing competition, Akademi Fantasia, bagging awards from Anugerah Planet Muzik and most recently, securing a role on Channel 5’s Fried Rice Paradise – The Drama Series.

Aisyah’s journey started in Malaysia, after Akademi Fantasia and it was only a few years ago that she decided to come home. “I decided that I wanted to go back to Singapore and venture the scene here as well because I had no idea what’s going on back home. I was completely green. So when I when I came back to Singapore, I was actually culture-shocked by my own people because the work ethics is definitely different, but it was also the mindset and how genuine everybody is with—you know, sharing knowledge and stuff like that. So it’s been an amazing five, six years and right now, I’m just meeting people and writing and trying to put out something out there for people to just vibe too.”

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Of course, like any job, it comes with hard work and challenges. But for Aisyah, the challenges she faced was not only naysayers, but also herself. Read our interview with her below.

You were one of the performing artistes for this year’s NDP song and there were so many local singers involved, both veteran and the newer ones! How was the experience filming the music video? How long did the filming process take and were there memorable episodes?

It was epic, to say the least. The recording the filming of the music video was insane because there were at least over 80 local acts throughout the years, from the 50s, if I’m not wrong. And to see superstars and rock superstars and pop superstars of our of our parents’ generation next to you, singing with you and talking to you—that’s insane. I met a few unfamiliar faces and then we exchanged contact details and they turned out to be like very, very old-time singers and musicians. They also come to me and they’re like, please don’t mind me, I don’t know you and please introduce yourself. But the funny thing was, … there were 200-odd people—there were 80 acts—and surprisingly, it was very easy to get everybody to stand in position. And when they say action, we get into character we sing. Sometimes I am in situations where there are too many creative people, and nobody can shut up and everybody wants to sing or everybody wants to talk and have fun, but for some reason, maybe because we knew there was time constraints and we were taking a lot of time from other people, so we kept it very short and the scheduling was amazing.

You’ve collaborated with quite a number of artists, from Nathan Hartono to Taufik Batisah. Who is one artist that you hope to collaborate with, and what kind of song do you reckon you’d do for the collab?

I’ve not really done any serious collaborations with Nathan or Taufik. Most of them were just me performing with them a cover or one of our songs. But if there is one act that I would like to collaborate with locally, it would be… well, it’s funny that I’m saying this because we are all very close-knit, but it just feels like the times not right yet. Sezairi or Shak’thiya or Mars—these are people that I have in mind that I really would love to write with. Internationally, probably Daniel Caesar or H.E.R or Alicia Keys… so many. Pharrell Williams. Mark Ronson too actually. (Laughs) That’s plenty of people that I would love to collaborate with. And the kind of song that it would be would probably be very ethnic. Something more Malay but also palatable for the non-Malay speaking [community], so something that’s got to do with melodies from classic Malay songs turned into like an R&B or something like that. It has to be R&B lah. R&B jazz or haunting jazz pop or something. But yeah, I feel like that collaboration has to come very soon (laughs).

“I am just learning to embrace myself and love myself for all that I am
instead of trying so hard to be somebody else”

Being a singer in Singapore is not easy, especially because the society is so pragmatic. What are some of the comments you’ve gotten when you first tell people you were going to be a singer?

Well, the people closest to me really were very supportive. I was very blessed to have very supportive parents. In even my extended family, the ones that will close to me, they were all very supportive of what I wanted to do because they believed that this route could actually take you somewhere. This route could actually make you happy and that it’s not necessary for all of us to be everything the society wants us to be. So that’s the most important thing. I feel like the people closest to you have to be the ones supporting you. It doesn’t matter what anybody else say because you spend the most time with your parents, your cousins and everything. So if that core system is intact and is powerful and is close-knit, then whatever the people say don’t really matter. I do get side-eyed, but it’s cool because I love what I’m doing and there are challenges but the challenges are not people, the challenges are in my head. The challenges are the voices that I battle with every day. And you know, I battle with self-sabotage a lot. So that’s what my challenge is. I don’t feel like it’s the environment, I feel like it’s how I perceive things.

 

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How do you deal with negative comments on social media? Do you read those comments?

I do read the comments. Sometimes I get affected, sometimes I just brush it off. It depends on how my day was. Most of the time, I can just shut them off but sometimes you know, I let it in and sometimes I’m so tempted to just answer one comment. And one comment becomes two to three, and you start replying and giving them the energy [to continue], so I do sometimes fall into that wormhole, but I try my best. I think the competition that I was in back when I was 19 kind of taught me how to like just take everything with a pinch of salt. Everybody now has a phone, everybody can get connected. We cannot control what’s coming out anymore. They can be the nicest people, but online, they can be the meanest beings. Everybody has something mean to say to people and they now have a medium to [do so], and we are the ones that get it lah because I guess it’s our responsibility to just learn to accept and ignore and not let it affect you. Yeah, it’s not that hard anymore.

You’re 25 this year, an age where some people experience quarter-life crisis. Have you had days when you second-guess yourself, and how do you get through those days?

I do second-guess myself a lot actually, but I think it’s also because I’m learning to be more introspective and more inquisitive, and I’m a slow learner; I’m a late bloomer. So I am just learning to embrace myself and love myself for all that I am instead of trying so hard to be somebody else or trying so hard to be like that other person, who is getting so much clout online. I do have all those doubts in my head, but I also thankfully have best friends around me who always have the right things to say and who are always there for me. I picked up meditation just to be able to… I don’t even know why I took up meditation. When I did, I just felt like that was the right time for me to start. I started early last year and that’s really been helping me with choosing my perspective. Oh, I also picked up yoga recently. That’s also been helping me to understand more about humility and to choose my perspectives. Although sometimes I forget, sometimes I get complacent, sometimes I think like, I’m a lot better in my head, so I can just not do this, but it is a lot of work that you got to put into yourself every single day. It’s about choosing to just wear your shoes and go out for a run or go to a class or something. And I still am struggling with it. But at the same time, I don’t want to look at it as a struggle. It’s a process and you just have to trust the process and that’s all I’ve been telling myself lately. Sometimes I crash and go and sink into that black hole. Sometimes I hold on. It’s a battle every single day. And I don’t think I’m the best person to answer this question because I don’t know if I found it yet, but I’m on that route. I was out even I was actually out for a year and I couldn’t sing anymore because my body just refused—like the muscles around my throat and neck area just refused to work with me. And when I went to get diagnosed, it was muscle tension dysphonia and like the doctor was like, “OK Aisyah, you have muscle tension dysphonia and your false vocal folds are sitting on your true vocal folds and now it requires a lot more strength to produce volume and produce sound.” And before she left me, she said, “OK take your medicine, take care of yourself, but also don’t forget about your mental health. If you could have one anxiety chair, sit in it and feel anxious and feel whatever you want to feel and give yourself some time and the moment you get up and off the chair, you’re a new person.” I’m still practising that. It’s so difficult but I take all the tips I can get.

 

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Mental health is a huge thing now. How do you ensure that you’re treating yourself right? What do you do to recharge and how do you deal with stress?

I try my best to keep active because keeping active is probably one of the easier ways for you to get one win in a day—and we are always looking for wins every day. We look for small or big wins—it doesn’t matter what it is—doing something for yourself in that day so that you don’t feel like s*** so much. So getting active is definitely one way I try to ensure that I’m treating myself right. I recharge by going to a simple basics class with my friends. I’ll go cycling. I love being alone sometimes, so I take myself away from people and just be on my own, solitary. I’m a lot kinder to myself although I admit that I could be more, but at this point, I really I think I’m still all right. But dealing with stress is draining. It definitely is and it’s best for you to have someone to talk to when you are going through it. I feel like there shouldn’t be one person trying to handle everything on your own no matter how self-aware or knowledgeable [you are]. I feel like talking to another person and talking to a professional can help you take yourself out of your mind and see yourself from a third person’s point of view and that normally always helps. So talk to a person. I always make sure I do and I always feel better after. The session has a lot of tears and a lot of banging and a lot of emotions but at least, it’s out there and it’s not killing you.

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We were looking through your Instagram and saw that you met Taylor Swift last year! How was that experience?

That was so crazy! OK, meeting Taylor Swift was insane. I am an all right Taylor Swift fan. I’m not like the biggest fan in the world, but my girlfriend, she’s such a big fan. So when she told me that she didn’t have anyone to go to the concert with, I was like, OK, you know what I’ll go with you. I would love to see what happens at a Taylor Swift concert. So she gave me the whole briefing. She’s like, if you go to a Taylor Swift concert, be prepared to see her fans dressed up at as Taylor Swift or one of the music videos. And then my girlfriend also said that sometimes in during the concerts, Taylor Swift’s mom would just walk around and pick out fans to meet Taylor backstage. And I remember saying, “What makes you think it’s going to be us? It’s not going to be us. There are like thousands of people in the stadium. It’s impossible.” And I spoke too soon lah, obviously.

 

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We were strategically placed where we were at the last row of the first column and at the end so we had a lot of space to dance. And we were dancing and suddenly, her face turned white and she was like, “Oh my God, that’s Andrea!” And I remember Andrea being Taylor’s mom because we were just speaking about it a few hours ago. And I looked behind and I was like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe this is happening. This is so insane.” My friend was just crying and I was whispering to Andrea, “I don’t have to go in but please just give her a pass. You would change her life if she gets to meet Taylor.” And bear in mind, my girlfriend is 12 years older than me (laughs). And she’s such a big fan but we both got a pass each and we both went in and she had all her costumes laid there, the couture, and she’s got her throne and she’s got cookies and Coca-Cola, soda, and she’s got like a bunch of Polaroids for fans to snap photos with. And it was so crazy because we were in there with the Swifties and it was like they knew each other. I was definitely the person who’s just watching, but my girlfriend was having conversations with the other Swifties and it’s as if she knew she knew them already, and as I was like, whoa you guys have this connection with each other. Music is crazy, music does that to people and to see that, it is amazing. We got to see her for a bit, but my girlfriend hoarded Taylor Swift so I didn’t get to see anything, which I didn’t mind. I just got to smell her. She smells amazing. But I was so glad that happened because very memorable for my girlfriend as well. And I was so glad that I went to I agreed to go to that trip with her and that happened.

What is your ultimate goal as an artist, and when do you hope to achieve that goal?

My ultimate goal as an artist, wow. As of right now, I just want to be involved in writing my songs because for a long time, I’ve always been singing songs at the people wrote for me, which I love and which has taught me a lot things, but I think I’ve moved on to this level where I want to be more involved in my songwriting, production of the song and the music video. So right now, I’m just immersing myself in that and hopefully in the next two, three years, I’ll be able to come up with at least two new bodies of work and I get to tour with it. I would love to tour Asia with it. If not Asia, even Southeast Asia. Oh, no, you know what? I think I think I can do Asia (laughs). And I want to go to L.A. I want to write with people in L.A. I have friends there who are into production and everything so that that would definitely be a goal for me for now.

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