Aug 10 2021. views 301
Inspired by her love for tea which is singer Romaine Willis’ amber nectar, her new single Milk and Sugar also captures the love for that special person in her life. Engaged in songwriting for the last three years, Romaine tends to write songs that connect to her emotions. Her new single was also featured on BBC Network Asia which undoubtedly is a great platform for the young singer. While the pandemic did affect her performing schedule, Romaine spent the lockdown working on a new collection of merchandise that she hopes to unveil shortly. In a wide-ranging interview, Romaine talks about her songwriting, the Sri Lankan music industry and her aspirations.
What is the song about?
Simply put the song was inspired by my love for a calming cuppa. I’ve always been a big tea lover. That intoxicating feeling of the first sip at the start of the day – that conviction that you can do anything! It truly is my survival juice, my morning fix. It is kind of how I feel whenever I’m around that special someone.
I was inspired to write this song when I was in the south of Sri Lanka, sitting next to someone very special and of course, sipping tea! All it took was something simple like him passing me milk and sugar (because that’s how I like my tea), and I just realised that he was the milk and sugar to my life.
The line “He’s milk and sugar in my tea.” Never left my mind since. When I got home that night, I knew I had to put something down on paper. So, I just sat down and wrote a chorus, verse, and then another until I had a complete song.
Do you write your own songs?
Yes, I do. It’s been 3 years since I discovered my love for songwriting. I tend to have certain songwriting habits I’ve developed over the years. The process almost always begins with a genuine emotion/ thought I experience and then I build it up from there.
Sankha B, another legendary singer-songwriter from Sri Lanka played an immense role in helping me discover, honour and nurture the writer within. You know how when you’re engaging in the most random activity, and your brain suddenly spits out a genius idea. In my case, it's usually a brilliant line for a hook. I used to tell myself “Oh I’ll definitely remember this when I get to writing later” and go back to whatever I was doing. Sankha taught me that 95% of the time, that brilliant idea will be forgotten, drowned in millions of other thoughts that will follow. So now I write them down instead. And some of them eventually turn into songs.
What was the audience response to the new single?
Beyond my wildest expectations! Since this was my first song, I’m not going to lie I was skeptical about it – being a bit of a perfectionist – since it’s not the usual sound you hear in Sri Lanka. I didn’t know what to expect from the audience.
Then people just loved the song! The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Still hasn’t dawned on me I’ve released my first official single! Such a milestone in my life and career. And for it to be featured on BBC Asia Network and top the YES homegrown charts? I’m humbled.
Who did you collaborate with?
I wrote the song myself and Randall Head helped me with the bridge. Murandu Music did the production, mixing and mastering. We had Ashane Bernard on piano, Shivy Fernando on bass guitar and Roshane Silva on sax.
The group was so easy and inspiring to work with; they were super talented but so humble and ego-neutral and did what was best for the song. I am super blessed to have got the opportunity to work with these artists who are also amazing human beings.
Due to the pandemic, the entertainment industry came to a standstill. How did you cope?
Not being able to perform was dampening, but I also feel that it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I never had the time to figure out what to do with my solo career; I never even knew my style. I remember a time when I was feeling very guilty about not making my own music whenever anyone asked me about originals. At that point, I had lost direction in my life and was quite miserable within. I craved for answers.
And with all that isolation came the brutal realization that if I continued to live my life the way I’ve always been living, I’d probably never get to see my goals come to fruition. It was like a switch went off and all of a sudden, I was a different person.
I made a conscious decision to see myself and the world differently. While there were some difficult and drastic changes that caught me off guard and overwhelmed me at times, there was also a lot that became better in my life.
I moved through my days so productively. I was doing more and procrastinating less. I learnt how to turn jealousy into inspiration. So, I started writing, hesitantly at first, but then more confidently. I had so many unfinished songs in my notebook, and I revisited them, completed the lyrics and added melodies. Now I have a big stock of originals lined up to be put out in the next two years.
Growth comes in unexpected ways. You just gotta learn to trust the process. Cause life is mostly about the journey and the seatmates, not so much about the destination.
What is your view on the music industry in Sri Lanka?
Our industry is filled with talent but it can be quite challenging to survive as an artist here. We lack a solid support system to nurture talent from the school level to encourage creative children. Teach them to turn their creative visions into reality and share it with the world. Every student and young person is bestowed with a talent, and when such talents are not recognized and encouraged early in life, I believe they are most likely to got to waste.
The local music industry definitely has room to grow, and it’s up to the artists – past and present – to make the way smoother for newcomers. If we build our support system right, Sri Lanka can absolutely go the distance.
How difficult is it for a newcomer to break into this industry?
I don’t think it’s difficult at all. However, the question is “how bad do you want it?” “How much of your energy are you willing to pump in?” Not just into your career but also into getting to know yourself? What makes you authentic, what is your magic, what moves you?
Work never feels like work when it’s backed by an undying passion for what you do. So, pick something that fills your heart whenever you do it, let it become your purpose and keep working for it until it becomes your profession. I swear you’re going to make it!
Your audience is mainly the English-speaking Colombo society. Do you have plans to penetrate the Sinhala mass market too?
I definitely want to step out of my comfort zone and penetrate mass audiences, but I will not say yes to every opportunity that comes my way, especially those that will force me to be what I am not. I will only make music where I can give a 100% and maintain my style. I don’t want to lose my authenticity to larger audiences and bigger revenues.
Currently, what are you working on?
Right now, I’m very focused on writing my own songs and making music. I’ve written so much music in the past two years, and every one of them is special since my feelings and experiences inspired them. They mean a lot to me, and I’m looking forward to creating unique music videos for them.
I’ve also been working on launching my own merchandise. I love anything that gets my creative juices flowing. My merch brand “Jade” is named after my middle name Jadelyn, and it’s a project that is very close to my heart. I’m so stoked to launch my “Milk & Sugar” merch very soon.
I’m working with my team and some great sponsors whose belief systems echo my own. There’s lots of work in the pipeline and lots of music to be launched. Stay tuned.
Romaine Willis @FB