Interview by Jocelle Koh with Andy Yeo
Transcript by Grant Zeng

Inspired by the aged Singaporean theme park, we picked Singaporean-Swedish singer-songwriter Andy Yeo’s brain about how he’s so deftly incorporated his culture and heritage into his latest album Haw Par Villa, where this motivation comes from, and went on some interesting tangents about our shared Hokkien heritage and what it feels like to be between cultures and identities.

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Jocelle: Hi, Andy, great to have you on the show.  Could you kind of introduce yourself a little bit to our audiences?

Andy: Yes. So, my name is Andy Yeo, and I’m a songwriter, and guitarist currently based in Sweden. And I just released my debut album. It’s called Haw Par Villa, and it’s named after the theme park in Singapore. And I worked a lot with music that’s based on contains a lot of improvisation. For example, my, my album would probably be categorised as jazz to most listeners. But I jump a lot creatively between different genres. For example, I’ve written a lot of electronic music and techno for dance companies, and I also sing in a post punk band called called Darkling. So musically, there’s a lot of different things going on. And on top of that, I also do like a lot of visual stuff. I usually do all the artwork for my different projects and some videos, animations and things like that.

Jocelle: So you, as you mentioned, you’re a guitarist, with Singaporean and Swedish background, right? So when was like the last time you were back? And like, what are some of the key memories you had of being in Singapore? Like, did you come back for like long periods of time? Or was it mostly like holidays kind of thing?

Andy: Usually, when when I go there, I try to stay at like a minimum of a month, sometimes more than that, so anything less than that, it’s not worth it.

Jocelle: That’s very long I was say like for Singapore, because a lot of people think that it’s like, a three, four day kind of place. So that’s really interesting.

Andy: Because I know like a lot of my cousins when when they travel abroad, it’s like so brief because they don’t have that much vacation, but as a kid in Sweden, you always used to have like two months for summer vacation. We always used to go and stay the full months. So yeah, I was I was back in 2018. So yeah, and I’ve been wanting to go ever since. But it’s been hard for obvious reasons.

Jocelle: Yeah. I mean, now it should be a little bit easier, right?

Andy: Yeah, definitely. So hopefully, I can go sometime this year.

Jocelle: Hopefully. So why the particular interest with Haw Par Villa? Like was it a place that you used to visit a lot?

Andy: Yeah, like, like, when I was a kid, we always used to go there. It’s always been like, some kind of, like, key location. Like every trip, we had to go to Haw Par Villa, it kind of became like some kind of tradition. And like, still, to this day, if I’m in Singapore, if I don’t go there the trip just doesn’t feel complete.

Jocelle: Wow. What is it about that place? Was it just like a ritual thing that you guys just always went there and you feel familiar with it? Or was it something about that park? Or like the, you know, culture or like the statues, the weird statues that really drew you guys to it?

Andy: Yeah, I mean, nowadays, I kind of maybe have a different view of it, because I just think the park is so beautiful with all the hand painted sculptures and some are really weird, but you know, in a really good way, I think. And it has such a beautiful atmosphere. But when I was a kid, I have really vivid memories of going there, and there used to be like an acrobatic show in the theatre. I had really strong memories of that. And you know, there were like, characters from all the Chinese legends walking around in costumes, and you could take pictures with them. I really used to love like, the Monkey King and things like that. So yeah, I just have a lot of strong memories. And it’s kind of like, some kind of grounding thing. Like in Singapore, I always have to go it’s like some kind of anchor in a way. 

Jocelle: Oh, I see. Cool. Yeah, that’s really interesting. I, I didn’t know that they used to have like those, like acrobats and all those things happening. But I’m curious to know as well, like, because you mentioned that you’ve, you know, these songs have come about across like a 10 year span, and you’ve been involved in lots of different projects during this time as well, right? So can you share a little bit about like how you started to become, to get into like the music industry, or like the creative industry? 

Andy: So I remember since when I was quite young, I saw the movie The Crow on TV. Do you know which movie it is?

Jocelle: Is it the scary one?

Andy: Yeah, it’s a bit scary, like, quite goth, and quite dark.

Jocelle: I think I’ve heard of it, but I have not watched it.

Photo provided by Andy Yeo

Andy: I always watched Bruce Lee movies since I was really young, because because my dad’s like a martial artist. So it was on for him in the house. So we always used to watch Bruce Lee movies. So from that I kind of found out about The Crow because it’s his son who plays the main character. And there’s this amazing scene in that movie where he was like, playing electric guitar and like a burning rooftop and it’s It’s just amazing. So, from that moment on, I wanted to play guitar. Then it kind of took a few years before I really started playing guitar. I played violin for a few years and played some drums. But then I really started getting more into guitar and that type of thing.

Jocelle: Cool, so basically, like, even how you started getting into music is very inspired and influenced by your heritage as well. Because like, Bruce Lee is a cultural icon, right?

Andy: Definitely. Yeah. I think yes. Because yes, like I said my dad’s a martial artist, as well. So I think also for martial arts, this love from from that, that kind of spilled over into me, like many aspects of my life, like the music and like, how I practice and like the discipline and something about like that. Dedicating my life to something in. 

Jocelle: Cool. That’s a really interesting combination. So did your dad teach you martial arts? When you…?

Andy: Yeah, it’s like, since I was really young, we started practising martial arts. It was actually like, the way we played at home was like, through doing martial arts, yeah, sparring and everything.

Jocelle: What kind of martial arts does he do? Or like, does he do all kinds?

Andy: He’s a taekwondo grandmaster. So he came to Sweden in the late 70s to teach and from there on, my mom started training and… 

Jocelle: The rest is history. Awesome. So he’s Singaporean. 

Andy: He’s Singaporean.

Jocelle: Got it, got it. So I think that’s such a cool like concept. And I can totally see how, you know, your culture is really ingrained into your music and in such a way. Would you say that it’s rare to find musicians such as yourself in Sweden, as well? Who have this kind of background? Who’s making this kind of music? 

Andy: Yeah, I think yeah, I think maybe it is. I definitely feel that there’s something unique about, like, my mix of culture and style. I play I think, and also I do, I do, like, have some some kind of plans in, in the future to like, maybe do it even take it even further. Further. For example, I’ve become really inspired by like Beijing opera and the percussion they use. And I love those rhythms. So I want to, like incorporate that somehow. And also, I have an uncle who sings really good. He sings a lot in Mandarin. He does a lot of busking in Singapore, and like, that’s really getting me to the music. So yeah.

Jocelle: Awesome, then you must have like a very, like, creative family I feel. So I can definitely tell from like, I really enjoyed reading the stories about each of the songs as well, like you shared a lot about that on your Instagram and stuff. Can you share a little bit with our listeners? Like, what is your favourite song on the album? And like the story behind it?

Andy: Yeah, so I think it can be kind of hard to choose, because it, it can depend on the day and my mood. But if I have to choose, I think I’d say, maybe Snake Eyes because this is something that I really love to play. And it’s such fact that I dedicated to my dad, actually. And the title refers to us both being born in the Year of the Snake, my dad in 1953, and me in 89. And yeah, I guess I don’t know what it’s like for you. But sometimes I just reflect on like, because being from two cultures, I can some sometimes kind of see how, like different cultures kind of show affection to each other. And I feel like maybe some of my Swedish friends and in some other cultures, and the people are kind of more verbal with their affection and kind of really physical but I feel like maybe in Asia and Singapore, there are other ways that you should show affection like with actions and how you like you take care of each other in other ways. I feel like my dad really always been there for me and been really important in my life. And like still to this day. I mean, I’m a grown man, but he’ll still come knocking on my door with like, cabbage and tofu because he knows but it’s what I love to eat, he’s just, he just always goes out of his way to make my life easier. Like even if I tried to say I don’t need his help, he’ll be there for me, so I guess this was kind of my way to try to show gratitude and affection to him because it can be really hard to express those those things, even to the people who are the closest.

Jocelle: I think, different, as you mentioned, like different cultures show affection in different ways. And I feel like in Singapore, it’s not very fine Asian culture, you know, it’s very subtle like you. They’re very good families that will say, Oh, hey, I love you, man. Like, give you a hug or whatever, you know, it’s more about like, oh, have you? Have you eaten yet? Or like giving you your food until you tell them I don’t want to eat this anymore. You know, that kind of thing. So that’s really beautiful that you have that connection with your dad and you wanted to put it into the song. And you mentioned I mean, you mentioned that your Instagram handle is hokkiensnake, which I find very interesting because I’m guessing snake is because you’re born in the Year of the Snake. And is your father Hokkien?

Andy: Yeah. Exactly.

Jocelle: I found that really interesting, because, you know, usually the West, people don’t really go down to like the nitty gritty of like, your heritage and like, for myself, like I actually grew up in Australia. But when it was only when I came back and started living in Singapore, that I started delving a little bit more into not just me as a Singaporean, my identity as Singaporean, but like, my identity as a Hokkien person because my family is also Hokkien. Because sometimes my, you know, people would tell me, like, oh, you know, like, you eat so Hokkien and like your taste is, so Hokkien and I’m like, “What does that even mean?” I’m not really sure, you know, so then I found that really interesting that, you know, it seems like it’s a very big part of your identity. So I just wanted to ask a little bit more about that, like, what role has Hokkien culture played in your life?

Andy: Yeah, I guess I do feel some kind of, like pride to to be part of this kind of culture in a way, like in a wholesome way, I guess. And yeah, and I do think like, the Hokkien culture, and Hokkien vibe is something unique. It’s something special. 

Jocelle: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s very intangible though. Like, I feel like, it was very hard for me to grasp, like, what it actually means to be Hokkien. Whereas I think… 

Andy: What would you say are some key elements of it? Do you speak Hokkien?

Jocelle: A little bit because my grandfather can’t speak English. That’s a very good question. I don’t know. Like, you can think about that, too. Because for me it’s like–

Andy: There is something though I feel.

Photo provided by Andy Yeo

Jocelle: Like, I mean, it started for me, because like, my auntie was asking me like, she was telling me, as I mentioned, like, you’re very Hokkien in the way you eat. And I said, why is that? And then she said, Oh, because you’d like to put a lot of like, sauce, like, in your food, like in your rice that you can’t have food, like, dry? Yeah, so she told me that, and then she told me that like, you know, certain people, like for example, if you’re Peranakan or something, then you like to have your food another way. And you like all those different, like, spices and things like that, which I don’t really like. Actually, I’m also a quarter Peranakan but I’m not, I think I’m more Hokkien in in the way I eat according to her. And then I guess it’s really about, like, just bits and pieces that my family tell me. So like, sometimes they’ll just share a little bit. Like, you know, this is just what we do, you know?

Andy: Yeah. Yeah. I can definitely relate.  Especially the thing with the sauce in the rice, it’s just something we do.

Jocelle: Yeah, I love sauce in my rice.

Andy: Everyone else is like, oh, this keeps coming through when I eat.

Jocelle: Yeah. So I think maybe food is a very important differentiator. Because definitely, like for people who are Cantonese people who are Hakka, they all have different kinds of food. But I mean, I don’t really talk about this with people a lot. So I don’t know if my observations are accurate.

Andy: But I they are especially because it’s your it’s your kind of… how you perceive it. And also one thing that made me reflect on sometimes it’s because then why is it so important to me, it’s because, like being a child of two cultures, like I think a lot of bicultural people have this kind of strange feeling of on the one hand, you feel like you’re really part of both. But at the same time, like when I go to Singapore, people always ask me where I’m from because I don’t really look like a Singaporean. And when I’m in Sweden people were asking the same thing because I don’t really look Swedish, so at the same time, you kind of feel like you don’t really belong anywhere. Like you’re you’re kind of your own thing, and you also have to navigate this kind of identity search in a way. And I always felt like my Asian Singaporean heritage was like a big part of me. So I guess I was always drawn to that and kind of had to, like find little ways to, to nourish that part and kind of keep it alive.

Jocelle: Definitely. I mean, it’s, I guess it’s like maybe a little bit tiring as well. Like, you have to keep explaining yourself when that is your identity. Like, it’s what you, you know, resonate with the most. And I can totally relate because like, basically the show Everywhere and Nowhere, is titled as such, because of my heritage, like, as a third culture kid, like, I feel like, I’m everywhere, but I’m also like, nowhere at the same time. But I guess for me, because I look clearly Asian. So like, when I’m in Australia, like people do, some of them, they can tell that I’m, you know, I have an accent. So they’re like, oh, you know, are you from Singapore? Are you from wherever? And I’m like, you know what? I’ve lived here for like, over half my life like, yes, yes, just because I have an accent doesn’t mean that I am not like a really, like, I don’t have significant experiences in this country. And then moving back to Singapore as well. Like, I feel it’s the other way around. Like because I do have family here, so they’ll very immediately assume that I know a lot about Singapore and just be like, oh, why don’t you know this? Why don’t you know that? Well, I just came back you know? So it’s like, it’s same, it’s different, but the same? I really relate to that. So you mentioned that you haven’t been back to Singapore, for quite a while now. I’m guessing, obviously, because of COVID and stuff. But the next time that you’re back in Singapore, what would you say is like the number one thing that you would like to do? And what is the number one thing that you want to eat?

Andy: There’s so much I don’t know where to begin.

Jocelle: I’ll give you a couple.

Andy: Really sad that they’re tearing down Tanglin Halt, I think at the moment. Our grandma used to have an apartment, there’s but it got relocated to Queenstown now, so we kind of have a place there. So I’m really looking forward to checking that place out and see what that’s like. So I’m looking forward to that. And also, I’ve been like vegan for like 16 years, so there’s so much Singaporean food that I’ve been missing, especailly from Singapore food, but now there’s there are a lot of vegan and vegetarian restaurants opening up I noticed, so definitely looking forward to having like, like some vegan fishball noodles or meat. Or some laska I know the Green Dot has a pretty good laska. I’m looking forward to going with my girlfriend as well, so like showing her all my favourite places to her, Haw Par Villa of course.

Jocelle: Yes, of course.

Andy: And she’s she’s half Korean, so we’re probably gonna do like some kind of little Asian tour.

Jocelle: I think that’s it for our time today. Thank you so much, Andy, for sharing your story with us. I’m so happy that we got this chance to catch up. Do you have anything else you wanted to share with our listeners or your plug your socials or anything like that?

Andy: Yeah, my Instagram is hokkiensnake as we said. So you should keep people updated there. And yeah, my album is called Haw Par Villa. It’s on all streaming platforms and so on. So it’s been great thing here. Thank you for having me.

Jocelle: Thank you, Andy.

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Disclaimer: This transcript has been edited for clarity purposes.

Watch the interview on Asian Pop Weekly’s YouTube Channel

Listen to Everywhere and Nowhere live on Indiego 9pm to 12am SGT every third Thursday of the month, and on demand anytime on Spotify and iTunes! Follow Andy Yeo on Instagram, or check out his music on Spotify.