Nieces' fruitful feedback

The title song in Derrick Hoh's new Mandarin album, Lemon Tree, samples a 1990s Mandopop tune that his nieces learnt.
The title song in Derrick Hoh's new Mandarin album, Lemon Tree, samples a 1990s Mandopop tune that his nieces learnt.PHOTO: MODE ENTERTAINMENT

Singer-songwriter Derrick Hoh gets inspiration from his sister's young daughters

When penning songs, local singer- songwriter Derrick Hoh turns to two girls for inspiration and feedback - his elder sister's daughters.

His nieces, aged seven and four, often get to listen to his songs before they are released.

Hoh, 30, says: "Children will give honest responses. They will tell you straight up whether they like a song or not. When I tell them to check out Uncle's new song and they just turn away and leave, you know the song isn't that great."

He was speaking at the press conference to promote his new Mandarin album, Lemon Tree, earlier this month.

The title song samples the 1990s Mandopop tune Lemon Tree by singer Tarcy Su partly because it was one of the first Chinese pop tunes that his nieces learnt.

However, the little girls initially did not take to another tune on the album - the breezy Sunny Day. They were drawn to the song only after watching its music video, which was directed by Hoh and produced by his production company Moogo Studios.

"My nieces said, 'Wow, there are three Uncles in the video.' The video was edited to create three of me. They were really amused," says Hoh, the younger of two children of a housewife mother, 66, and a retired contractor father, 73.

Sadly, the inspiration behind the light-hearted melody of Sunny Day stems from a family tragedy. While promoting his English EP, All I Want, in Taiwan last year, his brother-in-law died from a heart attack.

Speaking in a mix of English and Mandarin, he says: "I cut short my promotions and headed home. His passing made me question the meaning of life - we're so busy all the time, but what's the point of all the hustle and bustle?

"I locked myself in the room for days. One day, I realised that I should pull myself together. Then I got the inspiration to write the melody and lyrics for Sunny Day."

The song's encouraging lyrics serve as a reminder to himself to stay positive, says the bachelor, who got his big break on reality TV singing contest Project Superstar in 2005.

Another song, the melancholic We Meet Again, is dedicated to his brother-in-law.

Lemon Tree is Hoh's first Mandopop album in five years since Change (2010) and Unclassified (2008). He has also released English works, a single Forever (2013) and the EP, All I Want (2014).

In 2013, he set up Mogoo Studios, which has produced corporate and music videos for local singers, including Kelly Poon.

Looking back on his decade-long show business career, Hoh feels fortunate to be able to share his music with listeners beyond Singapore's shores.

He says: "There was no one point when I felt upset with the course of my journey. I feel lucky. After I debuted, my first album went to Taiwan. I had the chance to take my songs to overseas Chinese listeners."

Though well-aware of the uphill battle ahead due to the bleak state of the music industry, he remains optimistic about his choice to pursue music.

He says: "Now, album sales are falling. Warner Music Singapore doesn't even release physical albums. Singers rely more on commercial performances and endorsements.

"Operations such as marketing channels may have changed, but what's important is that my passion for music remains."

•Lemon Tree is available on digital platforms such as iTunes, KKBox, Spotify and Singtel Amped.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2015, with the headline 'Nieces' fruitful feedback'. Print Edition | Subscribe