When the multitalented Tim De Cotta isn’t on stage performing his own music, he’s busy backstage pushing the arts and culture scene in Singapore. Tim is shaped by artistes such as Maxwell, John Legend, Common, and Mos Def, while his bass-playing flair derives from Derrick Hodge and Stuart Zender. With everything that Tim has accomplished, he’s always stayed true to his roots. Tim spares some time for us to share how he sees music as first and foremost a medium to express his thoughts, specifically on technology today (Black Mirror, anybody?), or to recreate a specific environment like being in an arcade. Something you, too, can experience when you catch him live in action at Laneway Festival Singapore ’18.
Images Henzy David
Who are your musical inspirations?
There are too many to mention. Through the years, I’ve gotten inspiration from many musicians, but mostly within r’n’b, neo-soul, soul, funk, and hip hop. I grew up on D’Angelo, Bilal, Common, The Roots, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild, Q-Tip, and almost anything by J Dilla. I love Marvin Gaye and Earth, Wind & Fire too. Recently, I’ve been into Jordan Rakei, Hiatus Kaiyote, The Robert Glasper Experiment, Derrick Hodge, Thundercat, and just digging up everything I missed along the way. I have a record collection of old school stuff too by like George Duke, Herbie Hancock, ‘Trane, Miles, Ella, also some Fela Kuti. And the list goes on…
‘Arcade Time!!!’ isn’t the same as all your other tracks. What was the purpose behind it? Is there a story to it?
I love painting stories in the music I make. And so, since I wanted to feature Mediocre Haircut Crew (MHC) on ‘Art Pure II’, and the fact that I really love video games, I wanted to create the setting of being in an arcade/gaming situation with them to tease an introduction to their later feature on ‘Art Pure II’ [on album The Warrior.]
While recording ‘Art Pure’, all the patches we used painted this arcade environment much more, hence the journey through ‘Arcade Time!!!’, ‘Art Pure’ and ‘Art Pure II’ is one. Think Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World vibes while listening to diss rap; which aptly starts with MHC and myself thrash-talking at each other.
Speaking of which, ‘Art Pure I’ and ‘Art Pure II’ are like total opposites of each other. The latter’s playful and the former’s somewhat serious. Why is this?
‘Art Pure’ is a song about keeping it real and staying true to my artistry, while also talking about [going] through experiences where these ideals were really challenged in the past. With the tone of the entire album being more political and serious, I wanted to change the feel of ‘Art Pure’ with the tones and vibe of the soundscape, coupled with a dose of collaboration. So I gave my take on ‘Art Pure’ to the MHC boys and what you hear on their verses were their perspective on it, which added a nice playful flavour to [part II]. I really liked the juxtaposition, and the rest is history.
“It’s like the world has gone crazy. And it still is going crazier day by day. I mean, Trump is president!”
In your music, there’s a repetitive theme of the digital world being a big part of society nowadays, and us being unable to separate from it (i.e. ‘The Warrior’ and ‘Disconnect’). Why is this important to you?
‘The Warrior’ is a protest about what I think is absurd in the world today. “Profitable Armageddon,” as a lyric goes, and how technology and the media serve to addict and numb more often than enhance and inform. But it’s also mostly about the human condition in an overpopulated world, and all the social distortions and mutations that constantly present themselves. It’s like the world has gone crazy. And it still is going crazier day by day. I mean, Trump is president!
‘Disconnect’ is a closer commentary though, on what I see around me in Singapore, and how the establishment is tone deaf and the people are just opiated away from opinion, so much so that they have forgotten to exercise that right. Though it also borrows from talking about the music scene/social media and how things can all seem a little fake at times, it also talks about perpetuating fake personas and blissful facades that feed narcissism and a disconnect from reality, where things aren’t always pretty and happy.
I really think music is a medium first and foremost, and that everyone can connect to the tribal need to feel a beat. On top of that with melody and lyrics, I think I have a responsibility to talk about these things and that’s why it’s important to [music-making]; and I love it. (Laughs)
“I don’t think I consciously incorporate slam poetry, but for me, I’ve always written poems and loving hip hop, I’ve incorporated a lot of rap in my music.”
You’ve incorporated slam poetry into your music. Which comes first for you, the words or the music?
There isn’t a fixed formula, actually. Sometimes it’s the music, sometimes it’s the content of what I want to talk about. I don’t think I consciously incorporate slam poetry, but for me, I’ve always written poems and loving hip hop, I’ve incorporated a lot of rap in my music. I love listening to Lauryn Hill, Common, Q-Tip, Mos Def, Black Thought, Lupe Fiasco, and more recently, Kendrick Lamar, and their amazing gift of flow and lyrical content. So, I gravitate to that naturally. Sometimes though, I do feel like I try to squeeze too many words and ideas in. (Laughs)
Are you keen on creating your own label? If so, what kind of artistes would you scout?
I’ve always been toying with the idea but I think if ever, that would be something I’d tackle later on in life, as I just don’t have the resources now… I don’t know if I ever will. Though if I did, I think I’d scout artistes who are honest and of course, with a certain musical style; more soul, jazz, and r’n’b in nature. But I’d definitely venture out to find good voices and good playing matched with great messages.
We heard you launched a crowdfunding campaign to help cover the cost of your shows and products. How did that go? What was the biggest challenge of this?
I did, but only for one show; my album launch. It went really well! The show saw a lot of old friends and family as well as new faces coming to a location off the beaten path. It was a night full of love and music – and drinks, of course. Needless to say, with the ambitious show setup, my greatest challenge was to run it smoothly and cover the cost.
If you could collaborate on a song with anybody, who would it be?
I think Hiatus Kaiyote or Jordan Rakei at this point. Black Thought and The Roots. Erykah Badu or the Robert Glasper Experiment would be a dream come true.
Who are your current favourite local musicians?
I don’t have favourites – I love SG music!
If you weren’t doing music full-time, what would you be doing?
I actually run an events company too, and we do the occasional programming and campaigns related to music and arts culture in Singapore. We just pulled off a successful campaign called The Great Singapore Replay with the National Arts Council and Temasek Holdings in 2017, which paid homage to local original music of yesteryear, remade by current Singaporean musicians. So, if I didn’t do music as much, running these events and campaigns would be what occupies my time the most.
Tim De Cotta is set to perform at Laneway Festival Singapore ’18 on Saturday 27 January ’18 at The Meadow, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore.