If you’re a musician, getting your Spotify #ArtistWrapped at the end of the year is probably like opening a present. For local independent singer-songwriter Nicholas Lee, who goes by the moniker N!ch, what he received in 2020 was something completely unexpected.

Even as a fairly new face to the music scene, that year saw him having amassed over 290,000 streams and 65,000 listeners across 87 countries, which was not only a pleasant surprise but proof that the hard work that went into putting his music out there had paid off.

The 27-year-old’s chosen stage name acts as a persona that allows him to fully express himself. “I find it harder to create if I were to use my own name. [It’s] kind of like [how] my own name has too much weight and baggage that disrupts my creative flow,” he shared.

His first EP Care Package was inspired by the pandemic

Image: Nicholas Lee

The hustle and bustle of the city came to a gradual halt when the pandemic worsened, and so did the activities of the music industry. Artists were cut off from the luxury of performing with an audience, and had to find alternative ways to connect with their fans.

Lee has been pursuing a songwriting degree in London, and on his way back, he was inspired to write his EP Care Package. During the Circuit Breaker period, he had the idea to produce Step Outside, which is one of four songs under the EP.

He shared that the song, which was completed in 5 minutes, was his favourite as it felt like the most authentic piece he has written to date. “The song was written for the frontline and essential workers during the circuit breaker period. It was an ode to their hard work and bravery,” he explained.

How his music journey all began with the video game Guitar Hero

Image: Nicholas Lee

Like the rest of his peers at 12-years-old, he was no stranger to the popular video game Guitar Hero 3. Having borrowed an Xbox from his cousin, he bought the game and played it for hours on end, which eventually sparked his interest in having a go at the actual instrument.

He also fondly recalled how despite having absolutely no guitar-playing skills, his first studio-jamming session with his secondary school friends got him hooked on creating music. “[We were] just a bunch of kids messing around in the studio trying to create something. It was so intoxicating and liberating,” he shared.

Self-taught from the tender age of 14 to 17 with mostly the help of Youtube videos, he also learned and practiced the guitar with a band that he had formed called NAVE, which was his first-ever music project.

He mentioned how learning to play the instrument was hard at the beginning due to the steep learning curve. And as a result of all that practicing, his hands were not spared from the common aftermath of bleeding fingers and torn skin. “What kept me going was the preparation for practice sessions with my bandmates. I always liked to show up ready to practice our next tune!” he exclaimed.

Even after all these years of practicing music, he always keeps in mind that “it’s a marathon and not a sprint”.

His pursuit of music was not met without critic

Image: Nicholas Lee

A graduate from LASALLE College of the Arts with a Diploma in Music (Guitar Performance), the pursuit of his music journey was and still is met with doubt. “I think it came as shock to my family and peers as no one thought I would or could be musically inclined,” he recalled.

Whilst he was advised to stay on the practical path of enrolling into a local polytechnic, he found someone close to him who stood on his side. “Fortunately my mother, on the other hand, encouraged me to pursue music and for that, I am eternally grateful,” he expressed.

And if you thought having to serve National Service (NS) after graduation meant that his passion for music was put on hold, you thought wrong; whenever he had free time, he would spend his days writing and composing music. After the completion of his NS, it came as no surprise that he went on to pursue music as his career.

Setting himself apart from his fellow musicians

Image: Nicholas Lee

When it comes to the local music scene, there’s no denying that household names like Gentle Bones, Shigga Shay or The Sam Willows take centre stage. As a performer himself, its no doubt that N!ch supports his fellow artists, with some of his favourites being Jasmine Sokko, Joie Tan and Ffion.

But amongst a pool of established and rising musicians, it is important to set yourself apart from the others. “[I try] to be as authentic as I can. I believe originality comes from being yourself [and] no one else can be you. I have my own lane and I am going to ride it the way I want to,” he shared.

If you’re wondering what top three songs he has on repeat currently, it’s Olivia Rodrigo’s drivers license, Justin Bieber’s Anyone and Drake’s Laugh Now Cry Later; hold on whilst we queue these jams on Spotify.

Stay tuned for the release of his first album

Image: Nicholas Lee

What we can all look forward to is the production and release of his first-ever album, which has been keeping him motivated. “The very thought of [finishing my first album] excites me and drives me to keep progressing with my career! I find that having a goal like that really helps with the rollercoaster ride of being a songwriter,” he gushed.

We were curious to know what his influences are when creating music, and he shared that he draws inspiration from stories, rumours, experiences and conversations. “These [topics] truly inspire my music as they are great material and motivation to write a tune. Almost all my songs have a story behind them [which are] mostly other people’s experiences,” he elaborated.

Lee’s journey as a musician has only just begun, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t aiming for the stars. He shared his ambition of having his music gain recognition on a global scale. Looking forward, he hopes to release more music to the public and even go on his own world tour after the pandemic. But despite those goals, he maintains a humble attitude for constantly learning. “I am in the midst of honing my craft as an artist and [am] constantly discovering and re-discovering myself,” he shared.

When asked if there is a message he would like to send across to his listeners he said, “I hope my music has brought as much value to you as you have done for me.”

If you would like to check out N!ch and his music, you can find him on Spotify, Songwhip, Apple Music and YouTube.

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Feature image from Nicholas Lee