Right after claiming the winning title of the 2009 Singapore Idol, Sezairi Sezali’s rise to fame has been nothing but phenomenal. Amassing loyal fan bases in and out of Singapore, the local music sensation rocked the indie scene with his first full-length album Take Two, which became 987FM’s highest ranked Asian song to date. Having landed a record deal with Sony Music, the bonafide star has since released a self-titled EP and a brand new hit single ‘It’s You’. We caught up with this talented singer-songwriter for a short chat, where he opened up about his love for music-making, felines and married life.
Hi Sezairi! You’ve been recording for some time in Sweden, what were some things you missed the most back home?
Oh man, the first thing I did when I came back was to go straight home – and my wife and I made mee soto. My wife makes the best mee soto. She’ll be like, “Dude! Let’s make mee soto!” and I’m like, “Yeah! I’m looking forward to this weekend!” And so we’ll make it together. I’m not into getting her to cook and me sitting down and waiting kind of thing.
That’s sweet! Did you miss your cats too?
Oh yeah! I have two or three that sleep with me at night, and while we were away in Sweden, they had to stay in the living room where there’s no air conditioning. The moment we got back, they were scratching like crazy at my bedroom door (laughs). So the first thing I did was to climb into bed with all of them and let them have some AC.
What’s the best thing about having cats?
I feel like they teach you a lot about loving, because they don’t give you an option. Like sometimes they jump on your keyboard, and I throw them off. But then I realise that’s not unconditional love; is a living thing less important then my game? No. It taught me that when you love somebody, you have to do it all the time. You can’t choose when you want to take care of it. You can’t adopt something or be in a relationship only because it’s advantageous to you. Yeah, I think about these things when I’m petting my cat (laughs).
You often feature cat avatars in your music videos and album art. Can you share with us why you chose to do so?
It was a fear that I had to overcome because my mum is afraid of animals, so I kinda caught it along the way since young. Back when my wife and I were dating, I would have my feet on the sofa because I found cats scary. She used to have this cat that just hated my guts and I’m like, “Dude, why?!” But she warmed up after a couple of years and before she passed away, she was on my lap for the longest amount of time. They taught me how to be patient, understanding and love unconditionally. I thought those are very important things I wanna keep reminding myself, so I took on the avatar.
What are some of the other fears you’ve had to overcome?
I haven’t got over a lot of things including my fear of transportation, flying especially. I have this impending feeling of doom whenever I’m on a plane; I always feel like something might go wrong. And I used to be scared of being at the front seat of cars. I love cars, you know? That’s the ironic thing. But whenever I was in the front seat, I felt like the car was going to bang something and that gave me a lot of anxiety. But I’ve gotten over cars, so next is planes. I get so nervous that I know what model I’m getting on and how it performs in the sky. Like, I know a triple 7 will be safer in what region because it has a bigger engine or something (laughs). I’m a walking trivia lah!
Let’s talk about your latest single ‘It’s You’. What was the inspiration behind the song?
I just wanted to write a cheesy ballad, really. The main thing I wanted to do when I started writing the song was to for once, put that person on a pedestal instead of being vulnerable myself. ‘Cause I’m very used to a style of writing where I’m very self-inflictive like, “Urgh I’m hurt, look at me!” But this time around, it was a challenge to write about something nice for once – something that could lift you up instead of dragging you down, and that was very liberating for me.
You’ve mentioned that the underlying theme is love. Did you write it with your wife in mind?
I don’t write things with her in mind, but she’s always on my mind (laughs). So everything that I claim to understand, without even thinking about her, it’s about her – you know what I mean? Love is something I feel comfortable talking about, because I understand it very well. Like when I talk about how men should treat women, I talk about it with gusto – I’ve thought about it a lot, I’ve practiced it, I’ve experienced when things go wrong. In ‘It’s You’, I sing about having to choose her daily, letting her lift you up and how “It’s okay to be vulnerable, you don’t have to be a man – what is the definition of a man?” When I sing it, I thoroughly believe in it.
Would you consider yourself a romantic? What’s the most romantic thing you’ve done?
I guess I’ve always been – it just wasn’t cool to admit it at a younger age, like your friends will say, “Oh, you’re so whipped!” I was brought up to think that it was wrong to think of someone you love all the time. It was borderline obsessive like, “Is it wrong to feel the way I feel?” But at this age I’m more like, “You wanna call me whatever, then call me lah. I’m above what you think of me.” I’m not very good at doing things, but I’m good at saying things. Especially with my wife – I know the vocabulary to use to get her to feel a certain way, and more often than not I’m not about the big gestures. In fact, we don’t get each other Valentine’s Day gifts, we’d just wake up every morning and say ‘I love you’ and it’s very normal for us to be publicly affectionate. I don’t feel like you should hide these things.
Name some of your current favourite love songs!
How has the local music scene changed, compared to when you first started out?
Oh, it’s totally different! When I first started out, the local music scene consisted of just a couple of punk and alt rock bands because those were the only things the niche crowd would look at. Everyone else would be listening to western music because that’s part of our media. But now it’s so diversified that I feel like classifications are useless in this day and age. Singaporean artistes have always been very inquisitive and with the tools we have now, everyone’s growing at an exponential rate. Back in 2009, there was no digital music distribution – if you wanted to listen to a Sezairi song you had to buy a CD or listen to the radio and there were only a few shops that sold albums of local musicians.
And since our content is also in English, people would be like, “Why do I need a local singer when I can listen to Beyoncé?” So that’s the extra struggle we have to deal with. There’s been people who paved the way, so you can see the road; whereas in English music, no one’s really paved the road for anywhere – it’s just a road going round and round. But all it takes is for one English artiste in Singapore to go all the way, and the road will be paved for everyone else. If you want to be an artiste, you can’t confine yourself to one territory.
If you could give a piece of advice to your younger self, what would you say?
“It’s not your fault.” (Laughs) The younger me was a very different me. 10 years ago, I was thrown into a lot of things real quick and I didn’t know how to deal with what was going on. And on hindsight I feel like some things I could’ve dealt with better, and some things just happened because they happen – it’s really nobody’s fault at the end of the day.
Lastly, what else can fans expect from you in the coming year?
Everything else that’s going to be released has a similar theme [to ‘It’s You], like sounds I’m familiar with and music I grew up listening to. So you can expect a lot more neo R&B – that kinda stuff.
Listen to Sezairi’s new single ‘It’s You’ on Spotify.