Pam Oei writes song about late friend Emma Yong for band's new album
Local band Ugly In The Morning's third album pays tribute to late actress Emma Yong
Six years have passed since local theatre actress Emma Yong died from stomach cancer at the age of 36.
Yet she remains very much alive in local actress-singer's Pam Oei's memory.
This is evident in home-grown funk-rock quintet Ugly In The Morning's third and latest album, 3 Or More If You Can Afford It, which will be launched with a gig at the Esplanade Annexe Studio on April 14.
While the other members came up with the album's instrumentals, Oei - who joined Ugly In The Morning in 2013 and replaced original singer Eric Lee - wrote the melody and lyrics for the 10 tracks.
Among them is Emma Dreaming, a slow rock song that is a tribute to her close friend and fellow Dim Sum Dollies member Yong.
Oei, 46, told The New Paper: "I wanted to remember every detail of her, her distinct idiosyncrasies and physical expressions, like how she would scrunch up her brows when she disapproved of something.
"But when I do that, it is also painful because it can still hurt now. The song is my internal talk on how difficult it is to let her go but also to keep holding on."
Although Emma Dreaming was written two years after Yong's death in 2012, penning its lyrics was still an emotional experience for Oei.
For example, the song includes a line - What was that you said that you would do?/You'd go on fighting, you'd go all out - that references Yong's battle against cancer.
Said Oei: "I was lashing out because she said she would fight on, even though I know there was nothing she could have done."
Not only is Emma Dreaming the album's saddest track, it is also the most technically difficult one for Oei to sing, with several high notes.
"I don't know why I did that to myself," she said with a laugh. "I don't set out writing a song with an agenda. It depends on what the tune says to me, what the music tells me."
Sometimes, after Oei listens to the band's instrumentals, she can bang out a melody and lyrics instantly.
Other times, she would sit on it for weeks.
When that happens, she takes long walks around MacRitchie Reservoir for inspiration or sits at her desk at home, humming tunes with her headphones on.
Besides Emma Dreaming, two other tracks, Breathless and Riot City, have strong personal meanings to Oei too.
The former is dedicated to her son, who was three years old when she wrote it.
"At that age, he ran about a lot. He left me physically breathless, but he also took my breath away," she said.
"How can such a great little person come into my life? I really lucked out."
Riot City was recorded for the local black comedy Unlucky Plaza in 2015 and inspired by the 2013 Little India riot.
The film was written and directed by Ken Kwek, who is also Oei's husband.
She said: "It is a commentary on how we use (foreign workers) for our own purposes and move on. They are nameless to us. They are not 'people'.
"A lot of blame is given to alcohol, but I think the whole situation indicated how hard their lives in Singapore are."
WHAT: Ugly In The Morning's 3 Or More If You Can Afford It album launch
WHERE: Esplanade Annexe Studio
WHEN: April 14, 8pm
TICKETS: $25 from uglyinthemorning-3ormore.peatix.com