Break It Down: yams Gives Us the 411 on His Latest Album Ahead of the Release Date

Known for not shying away from dark topics such as family trauma and political commentary, multi-hyphenate producer and singer-songwriter yams has a brand-new album ‘day/dreams’ coming out on 21 May 2021, with an online listening party which will take place on 20 May evening to countdown and celebrate the release of the album.

Following the single release of part gospel influenced ballad and upbeat rap single, ‘do you drive a nice car’, and dual contrast 2-part singles ‘day/dreams & tears’, the upcoming album itself comes in a dual narrative. One narrative about a nation wrapped within a personal narrative of a protagonist enduring a restless fitful night as he flights through a string of dreams and daydreams, reliving his dream of love, loss, sleeplessness and stasis. The album centres itself around imperfect oppositions, day and dream, leaving and loving, runaway and home – things that are opposed and yet also not quite when presented together reveal much about the space in between.

yams explains, “When I started writing this album, I had 3 goals in mind – to present an alternative masculinity, to present something authentic, and to discuss issues not often discussed in the local music scene. Through this album, I hope listeners have a think about what dreaming means to them, what it means to be able to ‘dream’. As part of a young generation that is still finding its path and purpose, I hope that by asking myself these questions through this album of what home means to me and what does it mean to dream, I can inspire others to begin asking themselves these questions as well.”

Popwire recently dug deep with yams to have him break down each track of his upcoming album ‘day/dreams’, ahead of his online listening party.

Photo credits – yams

For starters, tell us who you are and what made you decide on taking the musician route?

My name is Yaim – well, I go by ‘yams’ as an artist. I fell in love with music many years ago, but only began singing at 19 and writing my own music at around that age. That was almost 7 years ago at this point. I think I’ve always connected with music on a deep level, and saw the appeal in how it seemed to create connections beyond barriers – no matter your age, language or background, I think music has the power to reach you. It certainly reached me early on, and was somewhere I found solace during both wonderful and terrible times of my life.

You dabble in music that’s clear as a singer- songwriter but also include rap and even gospel. What would you say defines your music? What exactly is the sound of yams?

Honestly, I think I’m still trying to figure that one out! I think I have pretty varied music interests – growing up, I was a guitarist who loved rock and metal. It was only a few years ago that I got into indie, alternative R&B and Hip-Hop. I think since then, it has been a process of learning how to fuse all these genres, into a style that is distinct and cohesive.

I think you could certainly say the ‘sound of yams’ is something that involves intention. I love music that’s intentional – whether it’s the story told through the lyrics, or the mood communicated through the song’s production. I really enjoy making music that’s almost… literary? In terms of weaving themes and motifs into the songs.

Your upcoming album ‘day/dreams’ is coming out on 21 May. Give us the deets! What is the album about and what do you hope to achieve with pushing out this album?

Yes! It is titled ‘day/dreams’, and I’ve been working on it for almost one and a half years at this point. The album was actually my final year thesis project in university. I started writing it from an almost academic, exploratory angle, beginning with questions like ‘what would it mean to try and write a “Singaporean” album’, ‘what would does “Singaporean” music sound like’ and ‘what does it mean to be an artist in Singapore’. I think I ended up with something that on one hand is very personal – full of my own experiences, my traumas, dreams, and nightmares – but also an album that’s almost  national in scope.  In that, I tried to capture the feeling of being a young artist, growing up in Singapore.  Instead of trying to write an album that acts as the ‘Essential Singapore Album’, I tried my hardest to translate my own experience – the feelings, sensations and colours of my Singaporean experience – into an album, and hope that people will find some sort of resonance in it.

I’ve always felt a bit lonely, growing up in Singapore – sometimes I feel like I don’t quite belong here. But I still love this country, very much. And I know many people my age who feel the same way – that they feel this same… tension between our hopes and dreams for the country and our lived experience of it. I hope that this album can give some comfort to others who might feel the same way as me.

Photo credits: yams

In 2-3 sentences each, can you break down every single that makes up part of this album?

Dang, tall order haha. I’ll try my best!

runaway: This was the first song I wrote in the album. It’s sort of me spilling out all the things about my country that I’m dissatisfied with, or torn up about, or that makes me sad.

home: The second track is the other half of the first track, and is in some ways, the opposite – capturing the sentiments of home and belonging that go against those initial criticisms listed in ‘runaway’. I wanted to capture that bittersweet melancholy, that my frustration only comes from a place of disappointment.

467/8: In the third track, my personal story starts to come in – This song is very much about my struggle with insomnia, and my ensuing battle with addiction that both solved and worsened the situation.

leaves: Leaving is a big motif throughout the album. In the first two songs, the protagonist is torn between leaving his country or staying – this song, and the previous song, introduce the protagonist trying to ‘leave’ his own body, and being left behind or left alone by people from his past. ‘leaves’ captures these feelings of abandonment, of escape.

fall: Narratively, this is where the protagonist begins to ‘fall’ asleep, but also slips into his deep subconscious. This was actually one of the last songs I wrote. In the album I tried to play with opposites – so, day / dream, runaway / home, leaves / loves, moon / dawn. But then I wanted to add tracks that would disrupt these dualities. Hence, the leaves – fall – stay trifecta.

stay: This is probably the sweetest sounding song on the track. There’s an insidious undertone though – stasis is a big theme in the album, and although in ‘stay’ it sounds sweet and wholesome, the hidden message is also something like… if you stay put, you’re not gonna change and you’re not gonna grow. Funnily enough, at first I wrote this song for my girlfriend and it was initially intended as a sweet song — and then I realized that there was this hidden undertone that was perfect for the album. She got a bit mad. She still brings it up sometimes.

peacock: I always knew I would write a song about this. When I was a kid, in primary school, there were these two peacocks in a tiny cage right at the entrance of the school. It’s one of those things where like – I look back, and think to myself: did that really happen? Was that real, or did I dream it? I wanted to make that surreal image into a metaphor for my experience with our national education system.

do you dream: I love this track. When I was writing the album, I was going around asking people to talk about their dreams and what they dreamt of. This particular conversation is with three of my best friends, at this kopitiam near Jalan Besar.

do you drive a nice car: This is one of the earliest songs I wrote for the album, and really cemented the kind of two-movement or multiple-movement approach that I lean on for much of the rest of the album (in that the first half of the song is wildly different from the second half). Fun fact: I originally wanted to name this song ‘day/dreams’, because the second half of the song felt so dreamlike. But I changed my mind.

This song is also very close to my heart. I came up with the hook almost two years ago now, over beers with my uncle. We were talking about my estranged mother, who walked out on my family four years ago – my uncle was telling me that she apparently drove a Mercedes now. It sounds a bit silly, but writing this song helped me process the trauma in a way nothing else could. I’m glad I got the chance to write her this letter (in song).

day/dreams: Maybe four or five songs into the album I knew dreaming was going to be a big part of it. It just felt so relevant to all the different concerns of the album – not being able to sleep, dreams of trauma that still haunted me, dreams for myself and my country. Ooh, I have another fun fact: the second half of this track, the angry rock part, is very inspired by Charlie Lim’s ‘Pedestal’.

tears: Something I had quite a bit of fun with throughout the album was sampling official government speeches. The idea somehow came to me to use Lee Kuan Yew’s famous speech from 1965 when Malaysia and Singapore separated, and – it’s honestly such a powerful speech. Ripe for sampling. This song is optimistic on one hand – dreaming of better days – but also deeply depressing on the other. There are a bunch of ‘typically Singaporean’ dreams – a nice car, a condo, a credit card, a house with a nice view, what we see as conventional markers of success. I tried to make it a bit unclear whether the protagonist actually wants those things or hates himself for wanting those things.

day/dreams & tears

moon: Okay, this is also a fun one. I was on a date with my partner, and we went to this cafe in Chinatown called ‘The Moon’. They have a guitar there, and it’s not very well-kept so it only had five strings, which is why the main riff in the song doesn’t use the high E string at all. I literally wrote the song in like five minutes, while my partner was reading a book. I wish it could always be that easy. It’s supposed to be a love letter from the moon to the sun, but in some ways it’s also a letter from the protagonist to his mother who’s abandoned him, and a letter from me to all the people I love. You decide for yourself.

loves: The hook is very Mac Miller and Chance the Rapper inspired – the half-sung, half-spoken rap style. This song and ‘leaves’ are supposed to bookend the album – at the end of ‘leaves’, you hear this tape recorder clicking sound, and then you hear it again at the start of ‘loves’. I wanted to convey this idea that the only solution to leaving, and all the people who’ve left, and your intense desire to be left alone is love. Is that cliched? Maybe a little.

dawn: This song was very inspired by my experience living in Brooklyn during the summer of 2019. I was pretty depressed, and my sleep was terrible – I was sleeping at 7AM and waking up at 7PM, so I basically lived in darkness. When I flew to Brooklyn, because of the time difference, my body’s sleep cycle kind of fit perfectly. The first day I was there, I remember waking up naturally around seven in the morning, hearing the birds chirp and feeling the sun on my face. Without a doubt, that was one of the most powerful moments I’ve ever felt. It was like, okay, I can maybe turn this darkness around. Maybe I can get out of this.

It is clear in your music that you’ve experienced a lot personally, are all the tracks in the new album based on what you have experienced or even observed first hand?

Definitely. In the past few years, I’ve really found music – or art-making – to be a powerful way to process my past experiences, and go through a sort of catharsis through writing the song itself. I also sometimes find it difficult to write something powerful if it’s not based on my own experience – as in, I sometimes feel like I’m not qualified to write about things that didn’t happen to me? Or I’m only qualified to speak about what I’ve gone through.

For example, on the album there’s a track titled ‘peacock’ which talks about my experience growing up in the Singaporean education system. It must be said, however, that as much as I criticise it, I’ve undoubtedly benefited from it as well, and I’ve had many privileges during my time as a student. So as much as I want to shine light on the problems of the education system and how unfair it is that many others do not have the same privileges, I have to start from a point of my own experience. If not it’s just me saying things that anyone can say. Does that make sense?

Let’s talk about your latest music video short film release of ‘day dreams & tears’, what was going on in the music video?

Haha, that’s a question I’ve received from quite a few people. I think the team and I had fun with the project. We weren’t setting out to make something with a tight narrative, but rather – just as how when you dream, things don’t quite make sense, we tried to translate this feeling of ‘dreaming’ into a visual story.

I’m really impressed, to be honest, at how our two directors – Dynn Othman and Koh Zhi Hao – imagined and created this dream-like landscape; how they took the dreamlike qualities of the music and transformed that into something visual. I have no idea how they did it.

You released the EP ‘Inconsistent’ last year. How would you compare this new album with the EP?

I think the EP was sort of a testing ground for me. ‘Inconsistent’ was the first time I tried my hand at assembling any sort of narrative through music, and I think it was great practice for the album.

‘day/dreams’ is a lot tighter, I think. I tried to be more intentional with the sort of things I was including throughout the album, to create a more cohesive listening experience. ‘Inconsistent’ is more like a collection of songs that are sometimes thematically related.

We also read that you are a producer. Could you share with us some of your past works with other artists? As well as a wish list (out of curiousity) of who you would love to work with as a producer?

Yeah! Mmm, I’ve composed a soundtrack for a short film by visual artist Yanyun Chen (who is an absolute genius and one of my favourite people to work with. Shout-out Yanyun!), I’ve made music with local musician Stephycube before – we used to be in a band together. I also have an upcoming performance with Russell Goh, who’s the lead singer of ROYAL ESTATE.

I think I have definitely been itching to work on more collaborations though, but with all the work I’ve had to do on the album I kind of shelved everything else. I’ve been meaning to do a collab with local producer ZIONN for a while – he’s a good friend of mine from school, but we haven’t found the time –  and I’m also really keen to work with other producers and vocalists. Working solo is great but I miss the creativity and spontaneity that inevitably comes when more musicians – and music minds – are introduced into the equation! I’ve been dying to feature a talented vocalist like Aisyah Aziz or NyaLi or Yao. I mean to be honest there are so many great voices in Singapore right now!

Finally, now that the album is out, tell us what’s upcoming for yams?

ANOTHER ALBUM!!!!! I’ve been itching to get back to writing for months at this point, but it feels like I have to finish this album first, you know? Like, don’t start Season 2 until you’ve finished watching Season 1. Or something like that. I’ve been thinking about themes around self & gender. But it’s too early to tell! Maybe it’ll be an album about teh tarik.

day/dreams Online Listening Party

20 May 2021, 8PM (SGT)

For the launch, yams commissioned 10 artists of different mediums, each crafting animations reflecting and responding to songs and themes of the album. The listening party will showcase all of their emotive and moving work, each paired with their respective songs. These artists include celebrated local artist, Yanyun Chen, recipient of the Young Artist Award in 2020, pixel artist and actor, Numhom Techalapanarasme, animators, Nicky Kang, Shelby Ellis Goh, Andrew Kwan, visual artists, Alexis Chen, Vanessa Thian, and Farheen Asim, and videographers and photographers, Abel Koh, Dynn Othman, and Koh Zhi Hao.