Photos: Esther Lowless
In the pursuit of fame for her former band, local singer Esther Lowless did something at the time that is inconceivable to her now.
The petite 25-year-old ‘“ whose real name is Esther Low ‘“ decided in 2008 to don sexy threads as a contestant on a reality TV show on Channel 5 to be one of SingTel’s Grid Girls for the Formula One race.
Four years earlier, she had seen how Daphne Khoo, lead singer of indie-rock band West Grand Boulevard, got attention for her band when she took part in the inaugural Singapore Idol competition, finishing as third runner-up.
She thought she could do the same for her band Indus Gendi by being a SingTel Grid Girl, even if she did not enjoy it.
She told The Straits Times: “I think it was the whole general model culture I didn’t really like. I’m not judging the way it is, but it wasn’t for me.
I felt I had to be prim and proper, smiling and posing all the time.
And I hated the outfits.‘It did not quite work the way she hoped it would ‘“ the band broke up a year after her Grid Girl stint because some of the band members went overseas to study. But Low, who made it to the top 12 finalists, says it was a “good learning experience‘ as she gained confidence by “putting yourself on a pedestal for everyone to criticise or admire... and you had, to catwalk‘.
Low, who now performs as a solo artist and has received warm reviews in local media for her debut EP, Strange Place To Meet (2013), says: “I think we weren’t doing very well in marketing ourselves as a band, so I thought, hey, let me try that, maybe our band will become more popular. I hated it, but it taught me to be confident of who I am as a person, and sell that image of yourself.‘
She adds: “If you’re not a mainstream person, you don’t have to be to try to sell yourself. Just be honest and sincere.‘Honesty is a trait that runs through her new debut EP, which she launched yesterday at the Esplanade.
The self-funded EP, which she took two years to write and produce, is inspired by her harrowing experience of suffering a mental breakdown in 2009 and her journey to recovery. Low said a “series of events‘, coupled with being “in a stressful environment‘ led to her meltdown in 2009, and she sought professional help to get through it.
While she declined to provide details about her ordeal, she says: “I have a feeling that working on the EP helped me recover because I was focusing on this, therefore preventing me from obsessing about something that wasn’t real.‘
The experience translated into a six-song EP, representing six chapters of her emotional journey.
Low, who, studied music and audio technology at Singapore Polytechnic and later graduated from the Singapore Institute of Management with a degree in communications, says she was introduced to “the alternative world of music‘ during her polytechnic days.
Before going solo, the fan of Japanese post-rockers Mouse On Keys and home-grown progressive rockers Anechois had performed in other bands such as the now-defunct Indus Gendi and indie-rock group Monster Cat. She says she decided to go solo “just because‘ she felt like doing it, and came up with her stage name after an argument with her dad a few years ago.
She says: “Me and my group of girlfriends used our dads’ names as our middle names on Facebook for fun.
One day I had an argument with my father, so I dropped the middle name and changed it to Esther Lowless. “We patched up, but people started calling me Lowless anyway, so I used it as a stage name.
‘There is an enigmatic quality to her piano-driven songs ‘“ part lullaby and part rock ‘“ with an underpinning layer of melancholia that reminds one of post-rock bands such as American chamber music group Rachel’s and ambient indie electronic act Goldmund.
Although inspired by a personal experience, Low says her music is equivocal by nature, and listeners can interpret it however they want to., She says: “I think the purpose of music is just to express or to tell a story in any kind of art form, and I think that’s why a lot of artists want to do it in the first place, because they want to express themselves.‘