Shy, dreamy, frank, slyly funny – this cover song singer turned performer at the Gardens by the Bay and Mediacorp National Day Concert is slowly but surely stepping into the limelight – and her own. Kitty Purrnaz started out making covers of songs like Magnets by Disclosure and Stitches by Shawn Mendes on YouTube, before venturing into the world of music production with demos on Soundcloud. Perhaps it's too soon to call her a star, but something is definitely in the making, considering that her debut single 'cry' has garnered more than 600,000 streams on Spotify and picked up a couple of awards, including Best Indie Alternative Single of The Year at the Youth Music Awards 2021.
What's even more impressive is that she's doing it virtually alone – from songwriting, music production and performing to scheduling and PR. This quirky musician is currently also juggling her university studies with the production of her upcoming album, which she teases to have a different flavour from the heart-wrenching 'sad love song' that is "cry".
Through it all, Kitty maintains that she's just a regular girl – and wants to be treated as such. The next time you run into her (maybe she'll still be sporting the bright purple hair from her National Day performance), remember to say hi and maybe chat about video games and cats. For now, we find out more about her musical inspirations, her new EP, and what her journey as singer-songwriter has been like.
Hi Kitty, thanks for taking the time to talk with us! To start off, can you share how your started out in music?
Sure, I started music at around 9 or 10 years old. I was from a religious school where they didn't have arts or music in the curriculum. I didn't really like learning that, so I turned to music. I started out in songwriting before learning how to make it, because I'm a self-taught producer. After PSLE, I moved to Australia and that was when I started seriously pursuing music, but didn't have my start until I returned to Singapore in 2019. I was doing cover songs but didn't want to just post covers – I wanted to participate in performing live so I found and joined Noise Music Mentorship.
Was music an escape for you then?
Yeah, it was sort of an escape. Some people are born to be good in academics, but unfortunately for me, I was quite mediocre. So, music was an escape and it still is now.
You said you started out with songwriting. Are there any lyricists you look up to and why?
I really look up to Hayley Williams from Paramore – when I first started music my interest was in alternative rock. But as time went by I started to like Bon Iver and some local songwriters like Charlie Lim. His lyrics have a lot of depth to it, it's something you need time to think through.
From alternative rock to Bon Iver – that's a bit of a leap. How would you describe yourself as an artist now?
I would say I’m quite the average musician. I’m pretty simple and I don’t have much to go on about because I just started. Kitty Purrnaz is my stage name so I’m venturing more into pop R&B and indie alternative, along the lines of Melanie Martinez and Billie Eilish. I’ve been listening to a lot of Grimes too. And I’m studying music tech, where you study synthesizers and all, and I really want to incorporate those into my song.
Kitty Purrnaz – how did you arrive at your stage name?
It was in late 2018 actually. I have a pretty basic name, so I wanted something that was...strange. And I was young at that time too, so I didn’t think about whether it was cringey or quirky, you know? Because I’m a cat person, plus one of my favourite Marvel heroines is Kitty Pryde from X-Men, I put 'Kitty' at the front. And I was wondering, "what do cats do? They purr", so I put in 'purr'. And my nickname is Naz, so I put in 'Naz'!
It actually turned out strangely fitting for the music you produce now. Some of your fans have also referred to you as a 'bedroom chanteuse'?
Actually someone emailed me back when I posted demos in 2018 and 2019. They said they really liked my demos and called me a bedroom chanteuse, and I thought that was an interesting way to describe me.
And you’ve obviously moved out of your bedroom to a big stage like the Gardens by the Bay and Mediacorp National Day Concert – how do you feel about that?
I'm not even sure how it happened, but I'm quite grateful. I guess I'm really lucky honestly, because it's not something you can just easily get. I'm quite thankful to Sebastian from Mediacorp and the rest of the Mediacorp crew. I’m actually pretty awkward in front of the camera so they kind of helped ease my way through the whole process. I really couldn’t thank them enough. And they’re very patient also…I mean, the amount of times I tripped on set.
You had to perform some moves as you sang right?
It was definitely out of my comfort zone, but I realised after the performance that it helped me with my next performances. I was there with Christopher, who is one of the cameramen, and he helped me with the direction as well. I feel like a lot of it was the crew’s work honestly, I feel like I didn’t really do much. And I’m really glad they gave me directions because it definitely helped the whole performance. And I was there with Jacqueline Yap who was the main dancer. She’s really tall, and she’s a really good dancer. It was really fun working with her because she taught me ways to walk and shared some ideas about what to do too.
The idea was to do it all in one go so it would have been hard if the directions weren’t clear, but everything went really smooth because of the crew. So I’m really, really happy.
So, it seems that you're a pretty shy person. How is it like being thrust into the limelight?
My passion lies in the production side of things, like songwriting, music production, sound engineering, but because I sing my songs I guess it’s expected that I perform them live. I just didn’t expect for it to come really fast. But it's actually helped me get out of my comfort zone, and I don’t really view it as like ‘oh, now that I’ve performed at the National Day concert I’m a big star’. I’m still just the same as everyone – I still go to school, I still take the MRT. As long as people still treat me the same…I don’t really want to be treated like I’m so important or superior.
Let’s go back to your single ‘cry’. What’s the story behind the song?
Actually the song isn’t really about anyone. It’s more about a feeling. I wrote it in late 2019, and I was going through a period where…it feels very teenager and hormonal, but you know when you see couples and you feel kind of alone? Yeah, so it was that kind of feeling. It was in the moment, and then I looked back and realised I didn’t really have a good experience in that aspect of life. So I was just thinking, why do I always fall for people who aren’t good for me, why do I cry? It’s a bit like, why did I do that? It worked out I suppose, I’m glad that the song turned out okay. I think after I finished writing it I was like ‘eh, I don’t need to be in a relationship. There’s more to life.’
I’m still just the same as everyone – I still go to school, I still take the MRT. As long as people still treat me the same…I don’t really want to be treated like I’m so important or superior.
Love that outlook. And you have an upcoming EP later this year, right? What can we expect from the album?
I plan to release it at a time when we’re celebrating an event, like Halloween. The EP has a very Halloween vibe, it’s very different from ‘cry’. I like to release my songs near a certain holiday – like 'cry' was released on Valentine’s Day, it’s a sad love song.
My EP is very experimental – I don’t want to describe it as Billie Eilish because I don’t think im on that level, but it has a very Melanie Martinez and Billie Eilish vibe. I was actually inspired by Alice in Wonderland.
So, I’m getting some dark fantasy vibes.
Yeah, I’m truly excited. But I’m not sure how people will take it, because it’s really different. Hopefully it goes well.
I personally would love to see Shackles on your album. Will you release any of your old demos on the album?
For sure, for sure. I won't lie though, I actually didn't release any of the demos because there was an incident where my MacBook died and I had to reboot everything. So, the reason why the old demos weren’t released is because I actually lost it. Yeah, but I'm retracking the instruments, so I'll be recording.
And what was recording the album like for you? Do you do everything yourself?
I'm a perfectionist, so it took me five or six months just to finish 'cry', and it's kind of why it's taking me like so long just to finish a short EP. I wouldn't recommend it unless you like producing music yourself. I actually just make music on my MacBook. I have a digital audio workspace – I use Ableton – and then I have Focusrite as my audio interface and I use a RØDE NT microphone. That's about it. Honestly, I don't really have a big setup.
It was actually not stressful. It was really fun because it's something that I like doing. But the thing that I hate is that I was using a 2015 MacBook so it was really slow and it crashed a lot – I really don't enjoy that part. But I mean, it is what it is. You just have to make do with whatever you have.
You’re juggling both uni and your career in music, has that been hard for you?
I guess it's tiring if you don't like it, but I like studying and I like music so it's not really that much of a big issue. The only issue is lack of sleep. Yeah, but I think the one thing that's great about being in an art school or in a music school is that you can mix your work and your studies. So usually, during my free time, when I'm having lunch or something, I'll just go to the library, or I'll just sit down with some of my friends. And I'll just be doing some music, trying to fill in as much as I can.
But at the same time, I never really want to focus solely on just putting out music, I want to get my degree as well. So it's not easy, but it's not a burden if you love doing and studying music.
Outside of music, do you have anything else that you love to do?
Because I started my degree, I was actually working in swab operations. I had to wait for school to start and I didn't really have much to do besides music so I thought maybe I can just do my part for the whole COVID situation. And I actually really liked what I was doing. I was doing administration stuff but still had to work in the frontlines. We were swabbing dormitory workers and I actually really liked it because it felt like I was helping out society or something. And it's interesting to meet all the dormirtory workers – they all have their own individual personalities and you get to understand how tiring and difficult it is to be in their position. A lot of them were regular clients so we saw them every two weeks – it was nice to see them interact with us and remember us.
Otherwise I enjoy gaming as well. Music and gaming is my thing. I play a lot of FPS, like League of Legends.
And since it’s a Friday, where’s your favourite place to hang out on a typical night out?
Actually, I really like going to Coney Island. You know, when you live in a place like Singapore it can be quite hectic. Everyone's living a busy life in Singapore. So it's nice to be one with nature and just have some time to meditate or relax and not think about schoolwork, assignments, performances and all. Coney Island has a nice ambience and a nice vibe to it. I wish I could cycle though, I just don't have a bike. So, I just walk around and play in the water sometimes. It sounds very childish but it’s just nice.
If it’s not Coney Island then I play video games. Before COVID we’d have gatherings or go to some bars, or do somecafé-hopping. But because of COVID we have to follow the rules, so gaming is pretty much the only thing I do.
And just to end things off – where do you hope to be in 5 years time?
Hmmm, I’m just ready to see where life takes me, really. That doesn’t very convincing, does it? [laughs]