Janice is a doctor by profession, a singer by passion.
An unconventional mix of profession and interests, her journey to become a singer has not been easy. Despite having no prior experience in the music industry and no committed fan base, Janice aka Alternate Jane remained hopeful. With a daunting yet exciting journey that lies ahead of her, this is an uphill battle. Despite of it all, Janice persevered throughout the journey and has found it a liberating experience as she gets to do what she always wanted, and opens the door to countless, promising opportunities….
Sevenpie had the privilege to get in touch with Alternate Jane for an interview on her journey to become a musician. Check this out!
1. Hi Janice! You’ve recently taken a major step out of your comfort zone and into your music career. How has your journey been as a new artist?
Hi there, first of all, I would like to thank you for having me here. It is a real honour to be given the opportunity to share my story with you. My journey as a new artist has been an exciting, albeit uphill climb. Doing this mostly on my own, I initially found the business aspect of music to be daunting and it can be tough for someone with no prior background in the relevant area. However, it has been a highly liberating experience to pursue music as I finally get to do something I’ve always wanted to do since a decade ago. It feels like a rock has been lifted from my heart and I realised that we can never truly repress our innermost passion. I feel invigorated by being able to meet new people in the music industry and opening up possibilities of future collaboration. It is also a very humbling and heartwarming experience when fans from all over the world, long lost friends from years ago and even distant relatives approach me when they discover my song on Spotify or hear it being played on our local radio station Hitz.fm. Their words of encouragement are the fuel that keeps me going.
2. You’re a doctor by day and an all-out singer by night. Mind sharing with us the background behind your artist name “Alternate Jane”? Does it resemble a new side of you especially since you have two vastly different interests?
I first decided to pursue a music side career last year but had no clue how to do it. Naively, I did what the artists I loved in the 1990s and 2000s do – which is to submit their demos to the A&R representative of a record label and pitch their music, then hope for the best. So I spoke to a local record label director once and he was the one who actually suggested me to adopt a catchier name as an artist as my own name was a little plain. This encounter also helped me realise the reality of modern music business – to have a strong social media presence, committed fan base and consistency in releasing content or have no leverage for being signed as a label artist.
Going home dejected but still hopeful, I was determined to not be just a Plain Jane in the music industry and started to brainstorm a game plan which begins with a solid artist name. It was a fateful little driving into the sunset moment listening to Indie band alt-J (from the OST for the video game Life is Strange) and wondering what the band name stood for, that the name Alternate Jane was born. The name is also a celebration of women who come in all shapes and sizes, who are not merely Plain Janes but are beautiful, alternative Janes in their own right.
As a result, I have over the past one year lived a unique double life as Clark Kent and Superman did, or Kara Danvers and Supergirl. My day job as a medical professional keeps me grounded and humble while putting food on the table while being Alternate Jane brings me to life and opens a window into my soul.
3. You’ve just released your first-ever single in May – “Confidence”! Share with us your inspiration behind the song!
After a year of hard work and research, I finally got my debut music single “Confidence” released on major digital music platforms like Spotify. In essence, this song is about the conflict between wanting to hold onto an intoxicating connection with someone, yet at the same time trying to find the strength and confidence to let go of the relationship which has, in reality, became unhealthy and corroded my self-worth. The push and pull of emotions can be experienced through contrasting lyrics in the chorus and bridge.
The biggest irony for the song “Confidence”, perhaps, was that it was written about a period of time in my life when I had little to no confidence. Sometimes I think it helps to write about building Confidence when you don’t have it, because it’s like the Rene Descartes quote, “I Think, Therefore I Am”. And it worked for me! It was also my 2018 New Year’s resolution to challenge myself to write a full rap song, but I chickened out and hid the rap segment in the bridge segment of this song instead.
Musically, I wanted to pay homage to the 1990s and early 2000s female pop-rock artists who inspired me but add my own twist to the genre (fast-forward nearly two decades now), as you can see via the rap bridge, as well as to challenge myself to try out something less linear than my previous works. Guitar-driven music has always had a special place in my heart despite the lush, Electronica-driven soundscape of today, and I hope to blend these two eras as I write more music in the future.
4. If you have all the confidence in the world, what would you do?
Oh my, this is an interesting question indeed! If I had all the confidence in the world, I would work my way up towards becoming a billionaire, say “Whaddup Oprah?” and stand next to her and the Queen for the cover of Forbes magazine.
Okay just kidding.
Realistically, with all the confidence in the world, I would go out in my best attire and smile, approach another record label as who I am now as compared to one year ago. I will ask them if they would be want to continue on my music journey together with me but have nothing to lose if they said no. I would also approach my favourite local producers Darren Ashley (he did great work for Talitha Tan’s “Okay”) and Jeffrey Little (of Estrella) and ask if they would like to work on a song with me because those have always been my music mini dreams.
The same can be said alternatively, where I can put on my best attire and smile to tell the boy that I like, “Would you like to go out with me?” and hope that my words are music to his ears. Having all the confidence in the world helps with using interviews for course application and scholarships too, which will come in handy in the future when I apply for a postgraduate programme to study.
5. Share with us how would you want your listeners to identify with “Alternate Jane”? What makes “Alternate Jane” different from the rest of the local artists out there?
A little known fact about me is that I’m a pop culture and video game geek, so I relate strongly with the struggles of our underdog, common man hero Spiderman/Peter Parker, or even Superman/Clark Kent as both illustrate people who try to make ends meet, do their jobs and fulfill their responsibility and innermost desire to make a difference in people’s lives. On top of striving to become a doctor who makes a difference in people’s lives, I would love to make music that speaks to people’s souls through my stories of emotions and the human condition, and remind them that even as an underdog without a music degree or business experience you can still achieve something if you are passionate enough about it.
With Alternate Jane’s music, I would like to inspire my Malaysian listeners to always seek for music that connects with their soul, or even music that reminds them of their nostalgic formative years, as opposed to simply what is trending out there. Authenticity is very important to me as I write based on music that inspires me, regardless of the era they originated from. I know some genres like pop-rock music might not be popular in the top hits chart right now, but you will know in your heart the moment a song moves you, regardless of genre.
I realised that having a stable career apart from music gave me the financial freedom to qualitatively select my projects and gigs, without having to worry about which one pays more. While I love Electronic-based music, my unique situation allows me to explore without hesitation a style that inspires me most at each point of time, be it Rock, R&B or even Bossa Nova. I know some musicians have succumbed to the pressure to create the trendiest sounding, chart-topping hits only and relinquished their original sound as a result of that, which I understand as a business decision but find to be a real pity music-wise
6. If you could go back to the past, would you have done things differently: e.g. pursuing a music degree?
This is a good question indeed! I love how much thought your team has put into crafting the interview questions. Up until one year ago, I would have said yes, but as I actually commenced my journey as a doctor-musician I realised that this is probably my destiny to allow two contrasting sides of me to make peace with one another. To put my pent up frustration to bed, I have accepted that they can both co-exist harmoniously, or even synergistic-ally, whereby being a doctor fuels my dreams both in terms of songwriting material (doctors having difficult emotions during harrowing life and death situations, tough long-distance relationships due to being posted to work far apart from their partner) and resources (not having to worry about working multiple part-time jobs while waiting for a gig).
In the end, I have to thank my mum for shaping my current destiny. While I was unhappy that I couldn’t pursue music or writing in university, my last decade spent on studying and working in the medical profession helped me become an “alternate” type of musician instead, and indeed as an Alternate Jane looking into the music industry with a brand new perspective.
7) Venturing out into the music industry from your medicinal background truly is no easy step to take. You’ve even created your very own DIY bedroom studio! What has been your strongest motivation as you go through the hurdles? Mind sharing with us how have you grown, and your lessons learned so far?
Haha well, technically my DIY bedroom studio consists of just well-padded corners with blankets, a vocal recording booth consisting of a USB microphone facing a soft bed with pillows as vocal booth barriers and (gasp!) a three-ply tissue as a pop filter. Okay I’m joking about that last bit being a permanent thing, but I did try it out of curiosity once. And it helped! Who’s to say a tissue with its multiple plies doesn’t make a good pop filter. But fortunately for everyone, this is just my setup for making demos. I’ve been very lucky to have the chance to bring my music to a proper music studio setting to record the actual tracks, sometimes the cost of which are shared with friends, or like in the case of “Confidence”, I unexpectedly found someone who believed in the song so much he allowed me to record at his home studio at no cost. I will never be where I am today without you Josh (my producer), so thank you again.
The turning point in my life was when I learned that the difference between being a casual musician and one who consistently puts out great content is effort. In 2018, it was witnessing former Disney star Hayley Kiyoko and a college friend of mine, Serene Chua release their album and EP respectively that got me thinking… We are all of the same age, we are passionate about music, so what’s the difference between them and myself? The difference is effort. And the moment I started putting the effort in recording my songs and getting them to the right platforms, things started falling into place. A bit of healthy competition is a good source of motivation it seems! The positive feedback I’ve gotten from friends and family even from the demo stage of “Confidence” have been very encouraging, and their support keeps me doing what I do.
I became more confident the moment I stopped repressing my dreams, and the positive reinforcement I gained from the experience adds further to my confidence level. I think that is the reason why anyone who chooses to live their lives authentically will “glow” because they start to live in a positive feedback loop that generates confidence. An apt concept for discussion given that my song’s title is “Confidence” 🙂
8. Being a doctor and a musician surely demands a lot of time from you! How do you cope with your time with practice, recordings while being the busy doctor that you are?
During the weekdays I’m based in Teluk Intan, while I come back to Kuala Lumpur on weekends to visit my family, work on music-related projects and perform at gigs in town. As I’ve completed my housemanship not too long ago, I’ve been setting aside some time to prepare for my postgraduate studies (my main areas of interest are Psychiatry and Occupational Health), studying for the UK external papers while setting aside a fraction of time over the weekend to pursue my music dream. I’m anticipating busy years ahead in my life, and while I can’t predict ultimately whether medicine or music will predominate my future (ooh the suspense), one thing I know for sure is that the time for pursuing music is now. Especially before I’m too old, lose the youthful exuberance and playfulness in songwriting once I’m older and more jaded. Perhaps being in the late twenties is the sweet spot between naive and wise haha. And if I fail, I would at least leave with no regrets.
9. Share with us your all-time music inspirations!
Ahh this is a fun question. Let’s see, I am who I am today thanks to Michelle Branch and Marit Larsen of M2M for inspiring me to pick up the guitar, and Amy Lee of Evanescence who really got me out of my chair with her bone-chilling vocals to start singing. If this was an Alternate Jane’s Music Inspiration cake, at its core, it would have flavours inspired by strong 90s frontwomen like Shirley Manson of Garbage, Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries and infused with a dash of sweetness by Leigh Nash of Sixpence None The Richer. Sprinkle that with a bit of edge and angst from Nirvana, Linkin Park and Eminem, and top it off with a bittersweet caramel drizzle by Elliott Smith with his gift for melody and lush arrangements and alt-J with their unique, haunting brand of Indie folk-rock. Overlooking the whole music cake-baking project are none other than my all-time favourites, The Beatles, Beach Boys and Queen for sheer music quality, craftsmanship (harmonies, earworm-like melodies) and showmanship.
10. Where do you see Alternate Jane in another 5 years’ time?
Alternate Jane, if she pushes herself hard enough, in another 5 years’ time could be a medical specialist!
Okay back to the music aspect. People have initially questioned why I would jump into the music bandwagon in my late twenties, with a friend even asking me if I was doing this to prove my worth. I realised in the past one year, by taking baby steps and doing some soul searching, that what I enjoyed most in music was the meeting of creative minds and collaboration to combine different genres into something better. I love the explosion of good music lava from the resulting volcano that forms when two hot minds come together haha. Being able to share this bundle of joy with the world, is like a mother showing her newborn baby to the world. It’s a kind of satisfaction that is unique and difficult to find in my main career, likewise for the satisfaction that I get when I’m able to help others get better from illness. I’m really lucky to be able to experience the best of both worlds.
So while working towards the release of an EP and at least one full-length album in the future (bucket list plan!), I would really love to blend genres with all kinds of producers and make impactful music singles that can hopefully transcend boundaries like age, gender, and nationality. At the same time, I’d also like to try penning some songs for other artists or co-write some with them. Because working behind the scenes would be another fun and fulfilling way to spend the next 5 years musically as Alternate Jane. This way, I believe that even when we are old and grey, at least our music will live on through the voice of other artists.
11. Lastly, any advices you can share for aspiring artists and musicians out there who are also like you, being in a different industry than the music scene?
I can’t stress enough about the quote, persistence (and consistency actually) is the key to success. This can be a little tricky while juggling a separate career, no doubt. But any little effort you put during your free time is gonna bear fruit in the long run. Hone your skills, prepare your materials well, set up your social media accounts and keep trying to reach out to people in the industry, be it producers, record labels or even the media. Rejection just means you get to pick yourself up and try again until you get it right someday.
Self-love and self-awareness are also two important traits to keep yourself afloat in a tough world out there, be it music or another career you’re helming aside from music. Self-love is important for knowing your limits, and not pushing yourself to take on a project you’re not comfortable with or overwork yourself. No deadline or ideal (like wealth or fame) is worth losing your health over. Remember to always take care of yourself. Focus on the big picture rather than compromise with potential small gains.
Self-awareness also helps you identify your strengths and weaknesses. Give yourself more credit for the wonderful things you can do – for example, if you love writing, writing the artist or band biography would be a fun task and you save on hiring someone to do it. But the day you realise that it’s okay to admit that you can’t do something on your own, is the day you stop being so hard on yourself. For example, I’m aware that I’m terrible at photography and graphic designing, so I outsourced these tasks to individuals whose style I can connect with after doing due research. It’s okay to survey around for some time for a style that suits you and save up a budget you can work around with.
If finances is an obstacle during the production stage, you can save up, share the cost with your bandmates or anyone close who’s willing to sponsor you, or even set up a Patreon account to fund your project. If you’re lucky, one of your friends might have a mini home studio you can rent for a small fee. You can learn to do the mixing and mastering on your own, try out cloud mastering on LANDR for a fee, or save up for bulk track sending to a professional studio.
Sometimes, you never know if you would encounter a kind individual who goes the extra mile to do something special for you when we least expect them to. Miracles happen, as long as we don’t give up on ourselves. To quote a song title by the band Garbage, “The Trick is to Keep Breathing”. Hold on, stay strong and don’t give up no matter how tough it gets and you will see the fruit of your labor.