Music has always been vitally important to me and my earliest memories are all music related. I remember my first ever portable CD player. I remember singing to my dolls and cuddly toys. I remember listening to Mariah Carey’s MTV Unplugged set (go listen!) in my Dad’s car and being completely in awe of her range and ease in hitting whistle notes, high notes and then singing super low all in one phrase. I saw Mariah’s vocal agility as a form of magic and I completely identified with all that she sang about even though I’d barely experienced anything at all! (Needless to say I was quite the melodramatic child!) I started performing at my Catholic primary school’s talent shows and wrote songs in a girl band called Caprice with my best friend Libby. I took singing lessons aged nine with a classical teacher who made me (cringe) lie on my back with a book on my belly and sing with a puffed up cheeked smile. I went to Sylvia Young Theatre Summer School aged twelve and thirteen and sang and danced in the summer school productions which were a medley of different musical theatre scores from Cabaret to Chicago. I sang the lead of Dorothy in The Wiz and some chorus parts in Les Misérables.
Even though I started singing at a young age and took voice lessons throughout my teens, it was only in my twenties that I really made leaps and bounds in my vocal development. I took my first lesson at Voxbox aged twenty, where they specialize in a stable larynx technique. I’d been taking regular lessons at Voxbox for a few months with my teacher Kat before she got frustrated and annoyed with me. She gave me the ‘Look are you serious about this or what?’ lecture. And thank god she did as it was a kick up the butt I greatly needed! After that I cut down on smoking and practiced daily and only then did I start to develop my chest voice. I later had lessons with Becky Gilhespie and I worked more on my first bridge with her and tried to reverse the horrible habits I was picking up through singing with my band.
Regular shows with my band made me a ‘puller’. I pulled chest to the maximum, shouted through notes and was often very flat onstage. I do feel for all band singers. Loud drummers in rehearsal rooms really do have a lot to answer for! I sang way too loud and sometimes after gigs I could not talk at all. I listened back to recordings of lessons and ‘bup bup bups’ really helped me as did nasty ‘nay nay nays.’ I used the nasty sound when recording vocals (I can still hear the nastiness in the finished recording when I listen back. (Listen here if you like: https://soundcloud.com/tokyotaboo/not-a-man-youre-a-mess-1) There are moments in the verses where I flip to head voice (and not as a stylistic choice) and the vocal sounds a bit imbalanced: one minute flipped and heady the next a little too weighty and chesty.
There were many times in the recording studio where the ‘producer’ I was working with at the time would criticize what I was doing vocally. It’s not – insert vague, descriptive word here – do it more – insert other, vague descriptive word. They couldn’t really explain what they were after and simultaneously couldn’t demonstrate or explain what to physically do in order to get the results they wanted. It’s funny how they would act as if singing that note or in that particular way was easy but couldn’t demonstrate it! Lots of producers were all very happy working with me and taking my money but were not happy with what my voice was doing that day. ‘She can’t sing that high’ I remember one producer telling the engineer when we were working on a pre chorus. I was so resolute I would get to where I wanted to be I put up with their bullying. I guess I knew I wasn’t the best singer and just focused on working hard. I was always super proud of every song I wrote and recorded and could really see each tiny improvement.
I kept working on my voice and regular lessons with Leon Berrange and Rachel Black were a real game changer for me. I had weekly lessons religiously and practiced weekly sometimes for four hours at a time! I sat listening and copying singers like Beyoncé, Jessie J, Mariah and Whitney Houston line by line. I found watching American Idol’s Jessica Sanchez and other live or acoustic YouTube cover versions of songs really helpful as I could emulate those too and compare those singers to the original greats. Sure, I still loved the feeling of pulling (I can do a great Christina Aguilera impression) but I finally stopped resisting and started to figure out the benefits of a more mixed sound. All that my teachers were saying to me was slowly sinking in.
I started to really challenge myself and choose songs I never thought I could ever sing. I sang Listen, Love on Top, Chandelier, Halo, Who You Are, I Have Nothing…you get the idea. I recorded these songs with Leon and sang into a condenser microphone with my vocals loud in the mix. There was no way I could use too much volume now with the right balance in my headphones. When I listened back to what I was recording I could hear when I started pulling or shouting or flipping.
Recording is like holding a magnifying glass up to your vocals.
Not only did I challenge myself vocally but I also started to be fearless in applying for opportunities. I auditioned for The Voice, The X Factor (cringe), for function bands, session singing and now I’ve finally started teacher training with IVA and teaching where it all began at Voxbox all those years ago.
My song writing has completely changed. I now write lyrics that are really vulnerable, showing a side to myself I’ve always hidden. We (Tokyo Taboo) are currently recording new music and I am having the most fun! I used to be limited by my voice, writing songs only in a certain part of my voice that I was happy with. Now my voice inspires me. I’ll sing and really let rip. I’ll laugh, experiment with my voice and play with every color of my voice that I have available to me. I’ll pull, squeak, mix, shout, scream, whisper, flip, rap…but I’ll always go back to keeping my voice in balance and I will, no doubt, continuously attend my weekly lessons and keep learning.
I’m currently working hard on being positive and working on my confidence so that it matches my changed voice. Rejection takes many forms in the music industry (the zero labels replying even though you emailed thousands, playing to only the sound guy on what was supposed to be a busy Friday night gig, that metal band making fun of you at the end of your set…) but I’m really proud of everything I have achieved so far. I’ve played in New York, L.A., Malaysia..and this year alone Tokyo Taboo are playing in Norway, Poland, France and the US.
It really feels like I have come full circle and teaching is the next logical step. I’m currently teaching two female singers who have ‘light chest’ voices and a lot of vibrato. Both are writing and performing just as I was all those years ago and I am so happy to give back to them all I have learned along my singing journey. If I can make their journey even the slightest bit easier it will be so rewarding!