Malaysian singer-songwriter Alternate Jane on turning heartache into art. Plus, a special peek inside: her latest single ‘Skype Love’

By Mohani Niza

Janice Leong, 28, or Alternate Jane, is a full-time doctor and part-time singer-songwriter from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (she came up with her stage name from the indie band alt-J who sang on the soundtrack of the video game ‘Life is Strange’).

Alternate Jane entered the music scene through the debut single ‘Confidence’ which was released this May. The song tells about her experience of being in a toxic relationship and her confidence to finally walk away from it.

Now the young woman is back with another song: ‘Skype Love’.

“I recently released my second single ‘Skype Love’ in conjunction with the theme of Thanksgiving to remind us all to be thankful of the people who are still with us through thick and thin,” Alternate Jane told The Culture Review Mag. “This song was inspired by my university best friend’s ill-fated long distance relationship who are both busy doctors. No word can truly describe the pain and anguish caused by distance, and on top of that, the time difference!”

Pain is certainly a common theme throughout the music of Alternate Jane. Her music is deeply personal and raw with emotions. I asked her how she does this.

“Ironically, I wish it wasn’t so! Just like how a trained counsellor doesn’t necessarily have to undergo a certain trauma to empathise with his or her client,” Alternate Jane explained. “But undeniably, the significance of an evocative experience does lead to strong emotions that inspire a strong theme and mesmerising melody. This reminds me of Newton’s Third Law in Physics, where every action invokes an equal reaction.”

Alternate Jane added: “I noticed that I usually write best when it’s just the “right amount of impact” – not when her trauma is too overwhelming. She describes that she is in the state of limbo: akin to the deepest level of dreaming in Christopher Nolan’s movie ‘Inception’.

She explained that she has been through this phase twice: first, during her housemanship years where she experienced chronic stress and the second time is right now. “I’m in a stage of recovery, rebuilding my fragmented mind, suturing wounds inflicted on my heart and soul searching to reclaim my best self – a brilliant young woman full of kindness and love who has no qualms setting healthy boundaries and deserves to be treated with respect. I don’t always remember this, but I’m thankful to have many reminders along my journey towards recovery.”

Here are some interesting quotes from Alternate Jane’s interview with The Culture Review Mag:

On deciding to do music:

“I’ve always wanted to do music since my high school days, but it wasn’t until I’ve reached a crossroad in my adult working life that I’ve decided to make a break for it. The turning point arrived back in February 2018 during my psychiatry housemanship rotation, which was my last posting after a year-and-a-half of prior rotations witnessing countless life and death scenarios. I couldn’t believe that I had survived up until that point, and it felt like coming back from a war zone as a war veteran. Seeing depressed patients gradually recovering and discovering new motivation and goals in their lives inspired me to rediscover my own long-repressed dream of pursuing music.”

On her musical style:

“I would describe my music as driven by the 90’s and 2000’s female pop rock scene: The Cranberries, Garbage, Sixpence None the Richer, Natalie Imbruglia, Michelle Branch. [This is] infused with a rush of adrenaline Evanescence-style, and occasionally tempered with a touch of Indie folk ala Elliott Smith …. who himself was inspired by The Beatles and the Beach Boys. I’m a lover of all music genres inspired by the best bits in each genre.”

On falling in love with music for the first time:

“Hearing Amy Lee’s powerful, evocative mezzo-soprano voice for the first time on local radio through Evanescence’s hit “Bring Me to Life” as a 12 year-old was the turning point that moved me to start singing. This included early days of imitating her vocals and trying to impress my classmates for the sake of testing the waters.”

On her process of writing music:

“‘Confidence’”, despite being released as my first music single, was actually written 4 years after ‘Skype Love’. For some reasons, I always have the most inspiration in the months between July and September. I usually get my inspiration in the form of a melody first, which can be the cumulative essence of a few songs within a similar genre.”

On juggling a full-time job as a doctor while playing music on the side:

“I agree that it was near impossible to do this back when I was a busy medical student and house officer. I still remember the days of travelling back from Seremban when I was a final year medical student to perform a 4 nights’ gig at the KLPAC Short + Sweet Song Festival! Fortunately, now that I’ve completed my housemanship training, I have since been able to pursue music on a part-time basis over the weekends when I’m back in Kuala Lumpur. It is a two-hour drive from the town where I’m based for work on weekdays, Teluk Intan.

I have also been doing open mic gigs around Kuala Lumpur at places like The Ploy, Merdekarya and The Bee Publika. Every week is tiring but rewarding, as I get to pursue my music career in my own pace now that I’m self-sufficient as a working adult. Looking back, I may not have gotten to pursue music earlier, but things worked out just the way it was meant to be. Every project is borne out of passion and I don’t have to compromise on creativity due to financial constraint or make music that strictly adheres to the current trend. I’m free to explore music across the eras and pay homage to multiple genres. It might not make the best sense from a business point of view and it certainly isn’t an easy path… but I’m gonna enjoy the view from up here while I can, where it’s beautiful doing music out of passion.”

Listen below to her song ‘Skype Love’:

For more information about Alternate Jane, such as dates of her gigs, visit her official website.