A heartfelt and inspiring interview with Jean Tan

We asked Singaporean singer-songwriter Jean Tan to tell us more about her new song, music and life as a music artist and were inspired and touched by what she had to say.

‘Oak Cherry Wine’ – the third single to her upcoming EP, was released just two weeks ago.

There is a sort of intrepidness to the new song, which we really love – a cross between Nat King Cole’s L.O.V.E and Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now. The colours are bold, while the viscosity is fluid yet delicately melding – almost like a glass of Oak Cherry wine against the backdrop of a fireplace. It is sad yet utterly heartwarming as well.

Indeed, the song offers endless contrasts and complexity in so few elements that it’s hard not to be intrigued. It is sentimental, but fierce. Sweet but not saccharine.

It is after all a song born out of Jean’s own story – her personal health struggles with kidney disease and the man who married her despite the uncertainty of a lifetime together.

AL365: Hi Jean, Vanessa here from AsiaLive365. Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Congrats on the new single. We are loving the rustic and bold viscosity of the song. We see that it’s a sort of “ode to love” and personal one. What drives the story behind this song, and is it speaking of anyone special in mind?

Jean Tan: ‘Oak Cherry Wine’ is an ode to love. Like the title suggests, this love is deep, strong, with a subtle hint of cherry sweetness. It knows you still have baggage and whispers love; embraces you in your blubbering, stumbling mess, and says “I am always here.”

I was in a rather broken state some years ago, having ended a painful relationship and struggled through some years of chronic kidney illness. At that point in time, I struggled to believe in human love, or the possibility of a true, faithful relationship anymore. Through the process of healing, I wrote this song as a pledge that I would sing this song at my wedding one day – and I did eventually, with a man who was brave enough to love me through better or worse, richer and poorer, in sickness and in health.

AL365: Why the title ‘Oak Cherry Wine’?

Jean: Wine represents marriage, typically because weddings are usually accompanied with some wine; but also because wine grows better and deeper with age. ‘Oak Cherry Wine’ was also written to represent the eventual person I was going to grow old with – cherry to symbolise sweetness, and oak to indicate depth. I wrote this when I was single, so this was a kind of figurative hope of things to come!

AL365: Tell us more about your upcoming EP. When will it be out and what can we expect to hear?

Jean: The upcoming EP is called Blooms and is a 5-track EP. It is mostly written in the acoustic vocal jazz brand that ‘Oak Cherry Wine’, ‘Serenade’, and ‘Fly’ (previously released singles) are written in, and all songs are produced by Dru Chen. Two more unreleased songs will be in the EP, which will drop sometime later in 2020.

AL365: We understand that you have kidney disease. How has that shaped you into being the stronger person and stronger artist that you are today, and what advice or words of encouragement do you have for someone in the same situation or facing a similar health problem or struggle?

Jean: For a start, I grew up not having expectations that life would be smooth-sailing (and it rarely is, even for others!). I had a cleft palate and lip and went through six reconstructive surgeries from three months of age till 17, so things were already rocky in the early years.

When I was diagnosed with kidney disease at 24, it was pretty hard-hitting, but I was thankful to have developed the skills to cope with pain and loss from my early years, and build new skills on top of that. More importantly, these 7-8 years of dealing with the illness was a lesson on having joy even in the midst of darkness. So while I went pretty rock bottom, it is through that experience that I learnt to lose myself and all the things I held dear – my music, work, social life, or anything I defined myself with – so that I would be free from those things. I learnt to prioritise relationships, and be kinder to myself and others. I learnt to process my thoughts and situations more deeply, and developed a greater awareness of the importance of mental and emotional health. Eventually, when I got better and all the surface things (e.g. work, love) started returning, I was able to hold them lightly in my hand, and pursue them while knowing in my heart what truly mattered. I have now stopped medication and have been in remission for 2 years now, so I’m really thankful for that.

For someone else facing a similar situation, especially if it has been a chronic condition, my encouragement would be to never lose hope of the possibility that things could be better – and, meanwhile, to focus on taking small steps from day to day. Focusing on the small things and celebrating little improvements each day helps to keep our hearts steady and buoyant at the same time, and eventually all these steps will amount to improvement over time too. Take heart, and keep on keeping on.

AL365: What sort of songs did you grow up listening to, or what sort of influences do you see in your songs?

Jean: I grew up listening to a smattering of influences, given that all members of my family loved music and had a wide range of preferences. There was classical, jazz, metal, rock, blues, and folk constantly in the house. Personally, I listened to and took inspiration from artistes like Eva Cassidy, Norah Jones, Lisa Ono, Joni Mitchell, Beth Orton, and Madeleine Peyroux. I found myself writing and settling into a primarily folk-jazz blend of songs eventually, which also fits the cosy, intimate and ‘chill’ settings I often perform at.

AL365: What do you miss most about performing live to a physical audience, be it a small intimate gig or a festival?

Jean: I really miss the face-to-face interactions and conversation I have with people in a live gig setting. That’s a huge factor for why I love doing music and sharing stories around it – connecting with different people, and listening to their experiences of life, love, and loss. I will probably do a live online show at some point with the release of the EP, so I hope I get to connect with some friends and followers again through the online space. Stay tuned!

AL365: Thanks again Jean! We are looking forward to hearing the EP soon!

Listen to more from Jean Tan below.

Cover photo by: Yao Tang

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