Froya. Picture by Froya.
Froya. Picture by Froya.

I was born in Malacca but I grew up in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. It wasn’t as busy as KL, it’s just like a small town.

KK is full of friendly people, they’re very simple. We’re close to nature, like the beach and jungles and waterfalls. There are not a lot of things happening in KK. There are a lot of talented musicians and singer-songwriters in KK, they just don’t have a chance to come to KL.

I was really into music when I was really young, I knew that music was what I wanted to do but I didn’t know where to start. So I started with my education. I came to KL to study music and got my degree in music arranging. Straight after my degree, I went to work as a full time music composer for TV commercials at a studio.

I think I’m lucky because my parents aren’t the kind to ask me to become a lawyer or an accountant. They are artists themselves. My dad’s a painter, my mom was studying art as well. But there were times when my mom was a little bit like, “Hey, you’re getting older. Where is this going?” But they’ve given me a lot of support and I’m really thankful.

As far as I remember, my parents never really praised me a lot. They’re not very strict, but they just don’t say “yay, good job” or something. I know they’re okay with where I am right now. Cause my mom stopped calling and asking me to go back [laughs].

I have one younger brother. He likes music, he’s very supportive as well. But I guess, he’s more on the business side. But sometimes we talk about music and he gives me some really good suggestions.

My parents aren’t the kind to ask me to become a lawyer or an accountant. They are artists themselves.

I looked up a book of flower names and mushroom names and came up with this really long Latin, mushroom name. I jumbled up five letters and got “Froya”. Coincidentally, when I looked up online, Froya actually meant Goddess of Love and Beauty and nobody had taken that so I was like, okays, great.

When I’m not working, I will write my own songs because I’m really passionate about song writing. And that’s how I’ve been writing my own material over the past few years.

My very first show as Froya was under Moonshine, organised by Reza Salleh. It was at the Bee, Jaya One. It’s a little small stage. After that I received a very welcoming response. One of my friends who came to the gig, Az Samad, invited me to replace him for TEDxKL in 2011. Cause TEDxKL is such a big event, from there my exposure started growing.

I am a full time composer right now, 10am to 7pm. After 7pm, if I have band practice or I have performances, it’s like a whole day of music. Composition is my passion so I think this job is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.

I get the freedom to dictate what I want if I’m writing for myself, for Froya. But during daytime, writing for TV commercials is more about what the clients are looking for. I’m writing for other people so the direction, genre and production is not under my will. It’s about what other people want. I enjoy writing my stuff more.

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I always look up to female music producers like Imogen Heap, Björk and a few others. There are a lot. Mainly because they write their own songs and they produce in a way that is really suitable with their character as well. I think I have a lot to learn from them.

When I compose music I always take a few things into consideration. I’m not trying to be someone else, I’m not trying to force myself to achieve something I can’t. Like let’s say, if I can’t sing that pitch, I won’t force myself to sing that high. I just do something that is very comfortable for myself. It’s a long journey to find that, your own character, your own identity but I think it’s interesting.

I was really shy because I was worried about how other people would judge me and my music.

It could change. For me, what keeps me excited about music is that there are no rules, there is no right or wrong. It’s so free, you can explore or you mix things up together. So I think it’s more fun to do it that way instead of like, oh, I’m going for pop or I’m going for folk and that’s it, you know? I want to expand and I want to explore.

When I first started out, I had no confidence at all. I was really shy because I was worried about how other people would judge me and my music. After a while, I learned that music is not for other people to judge. Sharing shouldn’t be stressful. That’s one thing I learned.

Later on, I learned how to take control of my own direction and really speak up for myself. I changed my mentality. Now I think, “Hey, just focus on sharing and be happy. You would be lucky to be able to share rather than standing on stage and being scared to be judged”. That’s how I changed my mindset.

Panic Bird is about survival in the big city. How you constantly look out for a direction and a safety nest. So it’s basically more like my character. When I moved to KL, I was a panicked bird.

I’m constantly looking out for what’s best for my future, to settle down or musically, how do I grow. That is what the album is about. It’s my growth process, to remind me of where I come from, where I stand right now.

I think it took me five to six years, from the start until final mixing. Until today, I’m still finalizing tracks from the album.

A lot of people write songs when they’re down. I’m one of them. I feel more when I’m down so I write about what I’ve been through. Sometimes, I can compose joke songs as well. It doesn’t have to be sad all the time. According to my mood, if I feel like writing a happy song, then I would write a happy song, a love song or a depressing song.

I think the biggest challenge for this album is the continuity. From the first song to the last, it’s almost like a different genre but they still link together. In these five to six years, a lot of things changed and some of my music tastes changed as well. You can hear it in the album. I treat it like a diary of some sort. It’s a colourful album I hope.

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Jason is my colleague and he’s from New York. I thought his vocals would suit the song Dawn. So I asked him to try out singing that song and he did an amazing job.

I worked with Dick Chua [director of Froya’s music video Uncomprehended Child] to compose the music for his first short film, Bloody Fish. Ever since then, we’ve worked together, mainly because I think… it’s the communication. I worked with a lot of directors and Dick Chua is one of the few directors who actually knows what he wants. He has a clear vision of what he wants to achieve and so it’s very easy. We actually talk like friends and support each other as well. I meant, it’s kind of an honour as well that he always comes back to work with me.

Everyone has their own egos. Musicians, no matter who we are, we’ll all have a little of our own egos. But I’ll always remind myself and my friends, the most important thing is not who you are –  it’s about the music itself, the product. If treat that as a goal, there will be less conflict about “how I want to outshine you”.

I don’t have a manager because I can’t afford one. Haha.

I don’t get enough sleep. I’m really busy, but I think that is what I call live your life to the fullest. Don’t waste any moment. Just keep going and focus on your goals and stuff. I think it’s happier to live that way than have more time relaxing and don’t know what to do. That’s what I think anyway.

Compared to let’s say Europe, Australia, or New York, Malaysian audiences still don’t really understand what original music is and how hard it is to create and produce it. I think the difference is overseas, I felt that they actually understand where it comes from, like they would go out and support and buy tickets, really support the artist themselves. Here, I think it’s getting better though.

I have no idea what’s coming up but I hope good things will come. I always had the dream to probably have a little tour in Europe, if I have the connections. That’s my dream.

Interview by Lyn Ong

Michelle Lee, better known as Froya, is a singer and songwriter. Her break-out single “Fries and Cream” was released in 2012. She has since performed at Baybeats Festival, Urbanscapes Festival and Penang Island Jazz Festival. Her debut album Panic Bird will be released on 11 April, at Guinness Amplify Curates, The Bee, Publika.

Poskod.MY is giving away 10 copies of Froya’s album! Enter our competition here.


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