India, meet your brother from another mother, the fearless pop artist Joshua Simon
We’re going to take a chance and say you’ve never heard of Joshua Simon. And that’s okay, but here’s a taste what you’ve been missing out on — this acoustic cover of your favourite guilty pleasure, Kelis’ Milkshake, that outdoes everything that anyone has ever tried to do with this song.
Following the release of his first explosive single Murda, half-Indian, Singapore-bred Joshua Simon has finally released something he’s been working on for a while now — and it’s the alluring, loud and primal outcome of Tamil-classical meets dance pop, “watch me turn this club into a motherfucking temple” BॐBAY SAPPHIRE.
After hearing something like that, we just had to talk to this captivating artist. And spoilers: he doesn’t disappoint.
Image courtesy of Joshua Simon
Tell us a bit about yourself!
Hey Orijinal, this is Joshua Simon. I’m a 26-year-old independent pop artist, YouTuber and radio presenter on Singapore’s Kiss92FM. I have curly hair, I like eating sushi and I’m quite a nerd. Haha, I play video games a lot, I read, I watch a lot of movies and listen to all kinds of music.
I write about the lack of mainstream media representation of Indians in Singapore on this song. I write about my insecurities about being on Instagram these days haha. In the song, everyone’s got a six-pack around me and their Instagram game is like, next level.
Lots of Indian musicians intertwine traditional music with theirs, but it’s never been done the way it has in Bombay Sapphire. Where did you draw inspiration from?
First of all, thank you. I grew up quite culturally confused actually. My dad is Indian, my mother is Chinese. I spent a lot of time as a kid with my father’s side of the family, like my aunties and grandmother who are all Tamil. So it was a lot of Rajinikanth movies. Then at one point, I must’ve done something naughty, because my dad kinda threw me to live with my mother’s side of the family, just me and my grandmother (who only spoke teochew, a chinese dialect).
Then there was my uncle who would feed me all these Madonna, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston songs in secret. I was just this kid, taking it all in. 20 years later, I still am.
I’ve been working on my first album for a while now and I got quite frustrated with being patient in the process. I would write a song and it would take months to get it recorded and produced and mastered, and to find the right people to work with and distribute. This song happened really fast. It was just me and my laptop, after my radio show, in the office past midnight. Just revisiting these Tamil songs I grew up with and layering beats over it.
I’m obviously very inspired by M.I.A. who has really taught me to embrace my Tamil heritage and brown skin which is easy to sort of… not realise how precious it is… when everything around you is often white or Chinese-washed. She’s like my Indian Michael Jackson and there hasn’t been anyone else like her.
I write about the lack of mainstream media representation of Indians in Singapore on this song. I write about my insecurities about being on Instagram these days haha. In the song, everyone’s got a six-pack around me and their Instagram game is like, next level. It was just a fun song, an experiment. That I’d do bit by bit every night and send clips to my friends.
I had one fan, on WhatsApp, who told me to finish the song. I wasn’t going to, because it was just something I made for fun. He kept saying, “Finish it for me please.” So I did. And now…listening to it in full, and how accidentally and spontaneously everything just came together — it’s my favourite thing I’ve done. All the things I needed to make music were right in front of me. To export what had been bugging me in my head, all that release pent up in me just came out – without having to do the complicated, time-consuming process I mentioned earlier about putting out an album properly. The song is free, so if you find it, share it.
We take our cue from these (western) countries. If it’s cool there, it has to be cool here. Nothing else will cut it. So making it means, you have to have a plane ticket to either New York or LA or China, anywhere but here.
After years of doing mixes and covers, you’ve finally started releasing your own music. How do you think the response has been?
The first single MURDA came out September 11. It was produced by the insanely talented DJ duo, Bounce Squad, shout out to them. They’re very cool. The song is very cool. It’s, like everything I do, a mashup of all the things I like and dislike. For a start, I love horror movies, so I figured if we’re going to make a club anthem, let’s try to mix in some horror elements, just drench the the track in blood. I wanted something visual and chaotic. The response has been pretty sweet.
In my head, I thought, oh I’m going to be this massive superstar and my friends are all gonna worship me now and buy me dinner. But no. I’m still single. My friends still treat me like the idiot I am. And my mom still scolds me.
The fan reaction was great. I know a lot of them by their names and many of them have been following my career and supporting me for years. So I’m very grateful that they like the song and get..what I’m doing. I think the greatest thing is that, something as personal as your own song is now in people’s phones and iTunes; it’s a freaky feeling. You can like it, you can not like it, but it’s available for you to try.
I haven’t let my dad see the music video though. He is a pastor so… I don’t think he’s going to appreciate it haha. In time, maybe, I’ll… send him a link.
What do you think of the music scene in Singapore?
It is pretty remarkable. There are the really popular ones now like Nathan Hartono, .GIF, The Sam Willows, ShiGGa Shay, iNCH and Gentle Bones who are getting alot of love from the next generation. Then there are the ones bubbling under the radar like Linying and Sam Rui and Gareth Ferndandez and Maricelle and TheseBrittleBones and Lew and Stopgap, all of them rising up. I’m trying to do so many shoutouts haha but yeah they are all insanely talented and hard working. It’s a very inviting, very encouraging scene, you can just hit up any of these people I’ve mentioned and they’d probably be down to collaborate or tweet you back some advice.
Image courtesy of Joshua Simon
There aren’t any big pop artists in Asia the way there is in western countries (Ariana Grande, Beyonce, Rihanna etc). Why do you think that is?
Because… we are taking our cue from them. We take our cue from these countries. If it’s cool there, it has to be cool here. Nothing else will cut it. Everything else that isn’t on the Billboard Hot 100, is an underdog.
Let’s take Nathan Hartono for example, he’s been singing the same way he has been for years. He flies to China and suddenly comes back as ‘Singaporean of the Year’. His voice hasn’t changed. Our eyes are always everywhere but on ourselves.
So making it means, you have to have a plane ticket to either New York or LA or China, anywhere but here. I don’t like that. I understand it is what it is, but I’m not cool with it.
What does 2017 hold for you?
My album is pretty much done, I’ve called it ‘The Black Pill’. 2017, fingers crossed. I’ll find the right people and release it… or I’ll just leak it on Pirate Bay.
Last question. Would you be open to the idea of performing in India?
Absolutely, definitely, for sure. I’ve always wanted to go but I don’t know anyone who lives there or anyone that has been and can guide me. So if anyone is interested in showing me around haha, I’ll buy you a mango lassi.