Audrey Tapiheru on the uncertain road to solo EP ‘LoveLock’: “I reached a moment when I thought, ‘Is this truly what I love?’”

Indonesian singer-songwriter and GAC member talks overcoming a creative slump and finding inspiration in the noughties for her “bubbly” pop pivot

As a member of Indonesian pop trio GAC, Audrey Tapiheru has racked up a decade of experience in the game – not to mention several Anugerah Musik Indonesia (AMI) Awards. But NME still finds her nervous when we meet to talk about her new music.

“Those nerves have to exist, am I right? I think when we’re no longer feeling nervous, that means something is off,” she rationalises.

Tapiheru does have some reason to be nervous. It has been two years since she last put out new music as a soloist (2019’s R&B-influenced ‘Daisy’) and her upcoming EP ‘LoveLock’ finds the singer-songwriter charting new sonic territory.

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A “bubbly” record with a “throwback vibe”, ‘LoveLock’ is just three tracks long: the poppy ‘Dime’, the ballad ‘Menanti-Nanti’, and ‘Constantly You’ (to be released later this week, on October 20). Tapiheru also describes her new record as “a glimmer of happiness”, though behind the scenes the road to ‘LoveLock’ was anything but.

“I feel like I’m still 17, but nope: it’s 17 plus 11!”

Tapiheru started coming up with song drafts and ideas for her solo EP in late 2019, a few months after GAC (rounded out by Gamaliél Tapiheru and Cantika Abigail) announced a hiatus. Unfortunately, she ran up against every songwriter’s nightmare: a year-and-a-half creative slump, thanks to the pandemic and Indonesia’s ensuing nationwide lockdown. Unlike her “introverted” brother Gamaliél who has no problem “making music in his bedroom”, Tapiheru’s songwriting process typically requires “an energy from others”.

“I’m between an introvert and an extrovert. Sometimes I need to be alone, but other times, when I’m by myself, I get, like, blank,” she deadpans.

In October 2020, her father, who had been suffering from declining health, passed away. “My mood [to make new music] was gone,” Tapiheru remembers. “It was, like, everything stopped, just like that. No inspiration. Nothing!”

Eventually, her creative slump proved critical enough to make Tapiheru question her entire career and whether it might be time for early retirement. “I reached a moment when I thought, ‘Is this what I want to do for years to come? Is this truly what I love? Is this even my choice?’” she confesses. Words of motivation from her family and friends couldn’t help. “Whenever someone cheers me up, I snap!” she laughs.

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After a year and a half of “being unproductive”, Tapiheru realised that regardless of the blankness she felt, being idle was the last thing she needed. Seeing her brother going forward with his solo career (his own first solo EP, ‘Q1’, was released in March 2021) further inspired Tapiheru to break her slump. “I was like, ‘What are you standing still for? You feel lost, but you’ve done nothing at all! Let’s go!’

“If I don’t release new songs anytime soon, how would anyone know that I exist? It’s not like I’m still promoting my old songs,” she quips.

But when Tapiheru was finally ready to face the drawing board, she surveyed the lay of the land and observed that the Indonesian music industry had changed dramatically, especially compared to her debut with GAC 10 years ago. How could she make a fresh impact? At 28, she was no longer a fresh-faced ingenue. “I feel like I’m still 17, but nope: it’s 17 plus 11!” she laughs.

Perhaps that’s why Tapiheru is debuting with a project that appeals to her inner child. As a member of GAC and a nascent solo artist, Tapiheru’s sound was a blend of adult contemporary pop and R&B. But ‘LoveLock’ draws specific inspiration from the bubblegum pop and teen pop music she used to listen to as a tween: Destiny’s Child, The Pussycat Dolls, Danity Kane JoJo and Stacie Orrico – particularly her 2003 single ‘Stuck’, one of Tapiheru’s all-time favourites and a song she still listens to.

And for the visuals of ‘LoveLock’, Tapiheru decided to channel the early noughties cartoons she loved growing up, such as The Powerpuff Girls, Polly Pocket, and Totally Spies. She dove back into the past right on time, she thinks: “A throwback to the ’00s is getting trendy right now.”

During the recording of ‘LoveLock’, Tapiheru worked with Gamaliél and Indonesian songwriter-producers Aldi Nada Permana and Kenny Gabriel. Being her brother, housemate, and “the person who understands me the most”, Gamaliél’s involvement in her EP was a no-brainer. She also credits him for helping her come up with both the sonic and visual concepts of her EP.

“I’m the type of person that’s like: I know what I don’t want, but I don’t know what I want. Luckily, I’m very grateful that I’m surrounded by people who love me and support me and help me find out what I want.”

In August, they wrapped recording for the EP’s opening song and what Tapiheru calls its “strongest first weapon”, ‘Dime’, featuring the rapper Popsickle. Lyrically, it’s about shooing away disrespectful men, but its opening lines could also be interpreted as the context of Tapiheru’s comeback: “Trying out new shoes / While I do my dance with all my friends / I’m getting my old groove / Got no one to prove”.

Countering the defiance is ‘Menanti-Nanti’ (‘yearning for’ in English), which stemmed from Tapiheru’s desire to write a ballad in the vein of JoJo’s ‘Never Say Goodbye’. To make ‘Menanti-Nanti’ stand out from other ballads in the airwaves, she nuanced its lyrics: “I’m yearning for someone, but I’m OK with it,” she points out. “I won’t get sad.”

“A throwback to the ’00s is getting trendy right now”

As for the yet-to-be-released final track ‘Constantly You’, Tapiheru says it’s a “massive throwback” and “the most adorable” song on the EP. Is she planning to develop the EP into a full-length album? She gives a coy response. “Is there a possibility? Let’s just say there is,” she giggles.

When ‘LoveLock’ is finally released, the EP will mark more than Audrey Tapiheru’s return to the music industry, but also a renewal of her passion for music itself. When all is said and done, the nerves fade away and what is left is a sense of relief.

“When we can finally write a song again and express whatever it is we want to express, that feels like, ‘Ah, I’m breathing again!’”

Audrey Tapiheru’s EP ‘LoveLock’ will be released October 20

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