Killer Female Talent Spotlight: Okin Osan

Image: Okin Osan courtesy of Echo Room.

Author: Melody Menu

Welcome to the Killer Female Talent Spotlight: a fortnightly column dedicated to shining a greater light on female and gender non-conforming artists in the music industry.

There are many paths to music. For Okin Osan AKA Rose Chan, these stemmed from a familial love of 1950’s crooners, a teenaged appreciation of American punk, and writing songs home alone after school. Unearthed later as an adult, these songs form the basis of Okin Osan, capturing the angst and opportunity of teenagerdom within gritty melodies and nostalgic 8-bit tones. Put simply, these are lo fi pop gems for anyone who has ever had an awkward high school crush, sought comfort in video game music, or struggled with self-consciousness.

We talk to Rose Chan about musical influences, finding confidence in diversity, and Ben Lee’s album Awake is the New Sleep.

How did Okin Osan take shape?

Okin Osan is the moniker I use for the music which I’ve been writing since I was about 13. The first public Okin Osan thing that I did was my first gig in 2012 which was at FBi Social. It was this massive lineup of Sydney female musicians who were in Karen O’s punk opera ‘Stop the Virgens’.

How would you describe your music?

My music is fun, energetic, and nostalgic. It has elements of 50’s rock’n’roll, 80’s American punk, and 2000’s indie rock.

Tell us a little about the track ‘I Wanna Be That Girl’.

‘I Wanna Be That Girl’ is my latest single which was released in April this year. I wrote it when I was 16 and recorded it this year. It’s about having a high school crush on someone who is completely different to you. This song is good to dance to.

A number of your songs were written when you were a teenager – what was it about that period in your life that inspired you to write?

All the songs I use for Okin Osan were written between the ages of 13-18. I think I wrote songs in that time because I was home alone a lot and it was a way for me to pass time. I liked the idea of getting out my thoughts and feelings in a creative way that wouldn’t be obviously discovered by my family and friends. My music was a very private thing for me back then.

What made you want to revisit and record these songs as an adult?

I like using my old songs because I love nostalgia and reminiscing. I had so much stuff written in my old collection of songs that I didn’t want to go to waste just because I was too shy and self-conscious to record and perform when I was younger. I also like to keep some distance between the music I release and my current experiences as I’m a very private person.

You’ve described your music as ‘brought to you by 50’s rock’n’roll and 80’s American punk’ – what is it about these genres and eras that resonates with you?

50’s music is what I grew up listening to because my grandma would play her mixtapes to me every day when she babysat me. It’s the genre of music which I have the most intense emotional reaction to – both happy and sad. 50’s music has the best melodies. As for 80’s American punk, I love the way it sounds and the bratty attitudes of the artists. I wasn’t a naughty child or teenager but I was certainly cheeky and loved to challenge the status quo.

Who are some of your musical heroes?

My favourite musicians are Buddy Holly and Albert Hammond Jr. But I would say one of my biggest heroes is Debbie Harry. It’s hard to say who is my favourite Australian musician but Awake is the New Sleep by Ben Lee is a perfect album. Sure it can be naff at times, but it’s still so good.

How important is it to have diverse role models in the music industry?

It is incredibly important to have diverse role models in the music industry, especially for kids and teenagers. The first time I played my own songs publicly was 7 years after I wrote them! If I had seen more musicians who looked like me (Asian and short), I would have been way less shy and self-conscious with my music. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of amazingly talented dudes and skinny white girls out there, but there are a lot of the rest of us too! I want everyone to be represented and I’m grateful for artists like Karen O and Beth Ditto who gave me the confidence to play music.

Okin Osan play the Marlborough Hotel on Thursday July 12 with support from Neighbours the Band and Fenn Is Cool. Details here.

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